How to clean your barbecue to prep it for summer

Before you fire up the barbecue for the first time, especially if it's been sitting around after a long winter, make sure it's prepared for optimum performance this summer by giving it a good scrub. A clean machine makes for tastier, healthier meals.

How to clean your barbecue to prep it for summer

Washing inside and outside surfaces

If you cleaned your barbecue properly before putting it away in the fall, this step shouldn't be too difficult. Still, it will need a cleaning as dust, insects and other critters can accumulate in and on it during the winter months. Here's what you'll need to do:

  • Remove the grill grates and clean any inside and outside surfaces with two parts hot water to one part grease-cutting dishwashing liquid.
  • With gas barbecues, if the gas parts are not removable, cover them with aluminium foil to prevent any water from leaking inside.
  • Use a nylon bristle brush to avoid scratching the metal surfaces, especially if they're stainless steel.
  • Follow with a hot water rinse.
  • Towel dry to remove excess water so that surfaces are damp, not dripping with water. If it's sunny and warm, you can allow the barbecue to fully dry in the sun. On the other hand, allowing it to dry in a cold damp area may encourage rust to form on certain metal surfaces.
  • Finally, using a clean cloth apply a light coating of vegetable oil to the barbecue's outside surface. That'll keep the barbecue shiny and lubricated against the elements. Wipe off any excess oil and allow it to fully dry for 24 hours before using the barbecue.

Scrubbing the grates

Several methods work well to clean the grates upon which the food sits, just above the burners.

  • First, scrub them with a metal wire brush and the hot water and dishwashing liquid combo described above.
  • If they're too encrusted for elbow grease alone, spray them with a grill cleaner, an oven cleaner, or coat with a mixture of two parts ammonia and one part water. Wear gloves and protect your eyes when using these types of cleaners! 
  • Place the treated grates in a garbage bag lined with paper towels, tie the top closed and stash the bag out of reach of pets and children for a couple of hours or even overnight – powerful, corrosive chemicals are at work.
  • Try not to let the chemical cleaner touch any aluminium or painted surfaces on the barbecue.
  • When you reopen the bag to remove the grates, point the opening away from your face to avoid inhaling the potent fumes.
  • Thoroughly hose off the grates, wipe them down with hot water and dishwashing liquid, then rinse.
  • If you have a self-cleaning oven, you can put the barbecue grates in the oven and let the cleaning cycle do all hard work for you – but always exercise caution and keep an eye on them.
  • After cleaning, put the grates back on the barbecue and re-season with vegetable oil.

Special care for a propane barbecue

It's a good idea to take these additional cleaning and maintenance steps, especially at the beginning of the barbecuing season:

  • For starters, ensure the propane is turned off at the tank before cleaning.
  • Inspect all parts for cracks and corrosion and if any are damaged, replace them immediately. Replacement parts are usually available from hardware stores, home improvement centres, and speciality barbecue retailers.
  • Using a pipe cleaner or non-metallic bottlebrush, clean the hoses which carry propane to the burners. These hoses make an excellent hiding spot for spiders, whose nests can block the flow of propane and cause an explosion – not a great start to a barbecue dinner.
  • Check for leaks in the propane tank connectors. Brush around the connections between the propane tank, the regulator and the hose with soapy water and turn on the propane. If you smell propane or see bubbles, turn off the propane immediately, tighten the connections and repeat the test. If the propane is still leaking, take the propane tank and hose to a hardware store, home improvement centre or barbecue retailer.

Cleaning the lava rocks

Lave rocks are simple to clean, but still require a scrubbing from time to time.

  • Use a stiff-bristled brush, or remove the rocks and clean them with a degreasing cleaner, available from most hardware stores.
  • Periodically turn the lava rocks to burn off the dripped grease.

To reduce clean-up between uses

Between uses there are small things you can do to make cleaning less of a chore.

  • Leave the barbecue turned on for about 10 minutes (with the cover closed) to help burn off grease from the grates and rocks immediately after cooking. Just don't forget about it!
  • Next, allow the barbecue to cool and then scrape away the residue with a wire brush.

This job will be even easier if you lightly coat the grates with a non-stick cooking spray just before you put on the food.

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