Clean your barbecue grill? Might want to wait until spring

I’m a fan of grilling all year round — even in the snow and ice of winter — but many people pack up their grills in the fall. If you’re someone who puts your grill away for the six cold months, consider the idea of not giving your grill a hardcore cleaning before putting it into storage.

The baked on crust that surrounds the metal on your grill grate will help protect the grate from rusting during the winter months. Rust can’t oxidize the metal grate if air and water aren’t able to directly come into contact with it. Instead of scrubbing the metal until it shines, take a clean, dry, cotton rag and wipe off all the large food crumbs and burned bits, but leave the black coating intact on the grate. Next spring, when you start up your grill for the first time, you can heat up the grate over the fire for 10 minutes and then scrub the grate thoroughly with a metal grill brush over the open flame (obviously wearing a really good oven mitt and using a grill brush that is up for the job). Fight the urge to do this type of deep cleaning now, though.

If you have a charcoal grill, you’ll want to empty any remaining ashes out of the bottom of your grill before storing it for the winter months. Please, be smart and only empty cold ashes from your grill so as not to hurt yourself or start a fire. Once the ashes are removed, use the same dry, cotton rag you used on the metal grate and wipe out the inside of the grill. It doesn’t need to be sparkling clean, you just want most of the ash out of the kettle of your grill. Again, the remaining ash will protect the interior of your grill from rusting during the winter months.

If you use a gas or electric grill, you can also use the dry, cotton rag to wipe down the cooking elements on the inside of your grill. Be careful not to damage them — a light touch is all you need. Gas grill owners will want to disconnect the tanks from the grill and return the empty to the rental company for a voucher. The voucher will let you start back up in the spring without having to pay another deposit for the tanks, and you won’t have to worry about storing the gas tank over the winter (something that can be dangerous if the tank isn’t completely empty).

You may want to dust off the exterior of your grill before storing it, but this step isn’t even all that important. It is important, however, that you cover your grill with a grill cover. The grill cover isn’t perfect, but it will help to keep most moisture out of your grill while it’s not in use. Moisture is the grill’s most common enemy, and you want to protect your grill from this adversary.

What you can give a good cleaning are all your grilling utensils. If any items need replacing, you may want to replace them now so you’ll be ready to go on the first warm day of spring. I like to replace the metal grill brush annually.

11 Comments for “Clean your barbecue grill? Might want to wait until spring”

  1. posted by MT Nickerson on

    Good tips. I am one who uses my grill year-round, though even here in Maine. A Hawaiian shirt a couple sizes larger than normal fits fine over a nice warm jacket- and I stand a bit closer to the grill in the winter, too. Life is good.

  2. posted by Juhli on

    Great advice unless you live in a mild winter climate where it is above freezing most of the time. We did not clean ours one fall and found quite a crop of mold when we opened it the following spring.

  3. posted by creative me on

    I’m a 4 season griller. A good “season” on the cast iron grills is the best non-stick there is. I burn off the big chunks at the end of a meal. Then next time, I let it get good and hot and scrub with a wire brush before turning it down to use it again. Trust me, its clean at that point. I live in a temperate area so there is no reason to retire the BBQ for the winter. We had Tandoori Grill tonight, mmmmm the perfect meal for a chilly October evening.

  4. posted by Heidi Poe on

    Hmm, interesting. There isn’t enough room in my apartment complex to grill anything outdoors, but I’ll keep these tips in mind for the future!

  5. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @Juhli — Carbon doesn’t mold (in fact, it’s often used in air filters that remove mold from the air), so what happened was you didn’t get the big chunks of food off your grill before you stored it. Only carbon, the charred black gunk, should remain if you follow the advice I’ve given in this post.

  6. posted by Rebecca on

    We also grill year round, here in WI the Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter turkeys are done on the charcoal grill. Steaks on New year and Valentine’s day. And any day in between. Love it!

  7. posted by Christina Rodriguez | The Diva's Home on

    Luckily I don’t have to clean my grill since that is my husband’s territory! I’m going to recommend the advice here to him, though.

  8. posted by JB on

    I agree with @juhli, in our warm climate even getting the large bits of food off doesn’t stop the mold from invading after a month or two. Maybe there is something you could put back on the cleaned grill to protect it, like some kind of oil that won’t turn rancid? Hmmm…

  9. Avatar of Erin Doland

    posted by Erin Doland on

    @JB and @juhli — Something else must be getting in the grills, so I think your only solution is to use your grill all year round! If I were in a warm climate, I’d have an outdoor kitchen and cook out of it most nights — wouldn’t want to heat up the house :)

    I’ll also do some more research to try to figure out what is plaguing the inside of your grills. Carbon doesn’t mold, so something is taking up residence on the carbon. I’ll investigate …

  10. posted by JustGail on

    I wonder if JB and juhli’s grills are molding on places like under the lid or other places that don’t get hot enough to form carbon? If that’s the case, maybe it’s a grease film that doesn’t get burned off that’s getting moldy?

  11. posted by Damon on

    Amen to year round grilling. You know that guy in the neighborhood that’s always out there shoveling a foot or two of snow off the deck in January so he can use the grill? Yeah, that’s me.

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