Kitchener-Waterloo

Four easy steps to get your BBQ ready for the summer

Regardless of how much or how little you used your barbecue last summer, now is the time to do a spring cleaning for safety and better entertaining. Here are some basic barbecue maintenance and cleaning tips from CBC KW food columnist Andrew Coppolino.

Now that spring is here, give your barbecue some love

Whether you’ve covered it or not, whether it’s sheltered or not, over the fall, winter and early spring your barbecue takes a beating and suffers through all kinds of heavy, blustery and dirty weather. Give it some love early in the spring so you can get round to using it right away. (Vincent Desrosiers/CBC)

When pleasant summer weather rolls in, it is almost as if your backyard becomes an additional room in your house. The barbecue is often the focal point.

Regardless of how much or how little you used your barbecue last summer, now is the time to do a spring cleaning – for safety and better entertaining. Here are some basic barbecue maintenance and cleaning tips.

1. Get some basic cleaning supplies together

Whether you've covered it or not, whether it's sheltered or not, over the fall, winter and early spring your barbecue takes a beating and suffers through all kinds of heavy, blustery and dirty weather. Give it some love early in the spring so you can get round to using it right away.

Put together some basic household cleaning equipment: a few good quality towels that you don't mind getting dirty, a brush, a pail and some soap and water, and maybe a shop vacuum cleaner. Except for perhaps some cleaning solution that can act as a de-greaser, there's really no need to buy anything special. The one thing you don't want to use in your barbecue clean-up is oven cleaner: it's corrosive and can damage barbecue parts.

On a surface you can work on, take out the cooking grates and brush and scrub them down. If these are cast iron, remember to re-season with oil and heating them in your barbecue as per the manufacturer's instructions. Seasoned grates are important for helping prevent foods from sticking as you grill, especially at higher temperatures.

2. Take apart and check barbecue parts

Keep a the tinfoil you used to grill with, crumple it up and voila! An instant grill cleaning tool. (Flickr/Anders Adermark)

By removing a few barbecue parts, you can basically see all the innards of your barbecue. Remove the heat tamers or plates and clean them up. Then look at the burners and burner tubes beneath them. These can wear out quickly depending on use; deterioration can mean hot spots and lack of even heat distribution when you are cooking.

Check the other internal elements of the barbecue such as lava rocks and bricks, if you have them. Grease, oils and foods can build up and cause flare-ups. A lot debris, food and otherwise, can build up in the cast iron grill body, the main part of the barbecue. Clean it out — this is where a shop vac could be useful. 

Outside the body of the barbecue, check that gas quick-connection sockets and any regulators are in good shape. Make sure hoses are free from cracks and deterioration, knobs are working properly and that the push-button igniter is working. These sometimes fail with heavy use and exposure to the elements: universal replacements are relatively inexpensive. It's the same with thermometers built into the barbecue lid: they can fail over time but are easily replaced. Make sure the grease catch beneath the grill body is in place. The exterior of the barbecue will likely need soap and water, a brush and some good cloths, and grease-cutting solution, especially so you don't get a smeared, smudgy look on stainless steel. 

AP Photo: Mark Duncan

The same steps pertain to kettle-type barbecues and simple charcoal grills – what might be called braziers. The cooking grates need to be brushed down and re-seasoned. Grease and bits of debris that form on the barbecue lid need to be brushed off. Remove the base grill which holds the charcoal and give it a good cleaning. Empty the bowl if there is old charcoal and ash and wipe it down. Soapy water and a steel wool pad work well. Check that the ash-catcher (if there is one) beneath the bowl is in good repair. Air circulation control is a big part of charcoal grilling, so make sure the vents at top and bottom work well allowing you to control your fire temperature. 

3. Venturi tube insect check

An important word about venturi tubes in gas barbecues: these tubes run from the burner to the control valves of your barbecue. They permit air to mix with the propane or natural gas that you burn in order to cook on the barbecue. If the gas flow is obstructed, a fire could start in your barbecue where you don't want one.

Because they are open to the air, and regardless of whether or not they have screens to prevent bugs and debris from entering them, it is wise to check that gas can move freely: clean the tubes with a venturi tube brush (yes, there is such a thing) – or a home-crafted length of flexible wire. Venturi tubes should be checked regularly throughout the barbecue season.

4. Clean up as you go

You might say that barbecue and outdoor entertaining are an emotion, a state of being almost, that we look forward to each spring. There's a certain freedom that comes with cooking for and entertaining guests and family in your "backyard room." Keep it simple and stay on top of the maintenance. A full summer and early fall of barbecuing can mean for a lot of grease and cooking debris buildup. Cleaning up regularly during the season will mean a lot less work for the spring start up.

Additional tips

Save that aluminum! If you've used some foil wrap to cook with, don't discard it: crumpled up into a ball, it makes a good tool to scrape down soiled grates after barbecuing.

Keep an old barbecue rocking a bit longer

If your barbecue is on its last legs and you're trying to get yet one more summer out of it, add charcoal bricks or lava rock around the burners to help prevent hotspots and distribute the heat more evenly.

About the Author

Andrew Coppolino

Food columnist, CBC Kitchener-Waterloo

Andrew Coppolino is a food columnist for CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. He was formerly restaurant reviewer with The Waterloo Region Record. He also contributes to Culinary Trends and Restaurant Report magazines in the U.S. and is the co-author of Cooking with Shakespeare. A couple of years of cooking as an apprentice chef in a restaurant kitchen helped him decide he wanted to work with food from the other side of the stove.

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