Rekindle the Flame: Grill Tune-Up Tips

Fix that old cooker and bring back the thrill of the grill.

Has the spark gone out of your relationship? Have you been thinking that a curvy new model might be more fun than your dependable, tried-and-true friend? I’m not talking about your significant other; it’s your old gas grill that’s got you down.

If your grill isn’t cooking like it used to, you’ll be surprised at how easy (and inexpensive) it is to bring it back to life. Replacement parts for just about every brand are available, and the work is not complicated. With a few hand tools and brushes and the proper paint, you can re-ignite that spark and recapture the thrill of the grill.

Disassemble and clean
Before you begin, be sure the gas is turned off and disconnected. Thoroughly cover the work area with drop cloths or newspapers, refurbishing a grill is dirty, greasy work. Then start by removing the cooking grates. Many grills use porcelain-coated grates that require nothing more than a good scrubbing with an abrasive block or a stiff wire brush (photo 1). Use a brass pad rather than steel on cast-iron cooking grates. If you have chromed grates, it’s easiest to buy new ones or upgrade to porcelain or cast iron.

Scrub off grease and debris from the cooking racks with an abrasive block (like the Grill Stone shown here) or a wire brush. If the grates are heavily corroded, replace them.

Remove the rock and rock grate, and scrub off any grease or residue with a wire brush. (If the rock is more than a few seasons old, replace it.) Check whether the igniter is working by holding a small hand mirror behind the igniter collector and pressing the ignition button. If you see a strong spark, the igniter works. If not, remove and replace it (photo 2).

Remove the vapor bar, hold a mirror behind the igniter collector box and push the igniter button to look for a good spark. If necessary, replace the igniter.

From beneath the grill, use pliers to unclip the burner assembly from the gas supply tubes. Disconnect the igniter wires and lift the burner out of the grill (photo 3). If it’s badly corroded, replace the burner with a new unit. Otherwise, clean the venturi pipes with a special venturi cleaner brush (available where gas grills are sold), and use a small finish nail or a length of fine wire to clean out any clogged burner holes (photo 4).

Unhook the igniter wires, unclip the burner from the valve assembly and lift the burner assembly out of the grill body.

Clean the insides of the venturi tubes with a venturi cleaning brush, and open any clogged burner holes with a small pick, wire or finish nail.

Legislation mandates the use of overfill protection devices (OPD) on propane cylinders. An OPD stops the inflow of gas once the tank reaches 80 percent of its capacity, allowing room for the propane to expand as it warms and drastically decreasing the chance of an uncontrolled gas release. All tanks made since September 30, 1998, are OPD-equipped, and propane filling stations are prohibited from filling any non-OPD-equipped cylinders. An OPD-equipped tank is easy to identify by its triangle-shaped hand wheel and the letters “OPD” stamped in plain sight (see photo). Most older valves have five-pronged hand wheels. If you have an older tank, you can pay to have it retrofitted with an OPD at a propane refill center or exchange it for one that’s OPD-equipped.

Use an adjustable wrench to remove the valve orifice, and with a toothpick, clean out any debris or spider webs – for some reason the little critters love to build webs inside the orifice during the fall (photo 5). Then scrape off the residue inside the grill body with a plastic putty knife and remove it with a shop vacuum (photo 6).

Remove the hex-head valve orifice and make sure the hole is completely clean. Use a small pick to remove any debris from the inner portion of the valve.

Use a plastic putty knife to scrape buildup and debris from the inside of the grill body. Remove the residue with a shop vacuum.

Paint and reassemble
Remove any wood parts and sand with 100-grit sandpaper. Stain and seal them in one step using a good-quality water-base deck-sealing product.

Sand away any oxidation on the outside of the grill body with 220-grit sandpaper or Scotchbrite pads. Mask off any areas you don’t want to paint; then spray the grill body with high-temperature-rated grill paint such as Rustoleum’s High Heat Bar-B-Q paint (photo 7). When the paint is dry, reinstall the burner and igniter, vapor bar, rock grate, rock and cooking grates.

Wash the grill exterior with soap and water, and use 220-grit sandpaper or a Scotchbrite pad to remove any rust or oxidation. Spray the grill body with high-temperature-rated grill paint. Follow the paint manufacturer’s instructions for application and curing.

Test for leaks
Reattach the propane tank; then turn on the gas at the tank, but don’t light the grill yet. Using a small brush, coat all of the gas fittings and junctions with a 50/50 soap-and-water solution or gas leak-detector liquid (sold at most hardware stores, see photo 8). Watch for bubbles, they indicate a gas leak, and you’ll need to repair the offending parts before you light the grill. If no bubbles form, all the fittings are tight, and you’re ready to cook.

Reinstall the grill components and turn on the gas, but do not light the grill. Check for gas leaks at all connections by brushing on a leak-detector liquid. Bubbles indicate a leak that must be repaired before lighting.

If your grill has cast-iron cooking grates, you’ll need to re-season them after you’ve removed the rust. Once your grill is ready to light, thinly coat the grates with vegetable shortening, and preheat the grill for 15 minutes. Then set the grates in place, turn the heat to medium and let them cook for one hour.

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