Grill marks, wood smoke and the perfect flame are some of your best friends when cooking amazing meals. Rust, loose bolts and leaky pipes, however, are some of your worst enemies when it comes time to fire up the grill. When you stop to think about it, it's kind of amazing that a grill, a piece of equipment that can cost more than an oven and a refrigerator combined, sits outside unused in the ice, rain, snow and cold for the entire winter. Being exposed to the elements can have negative consequences on the grill, making it potentially unsafe when you start to cook outdoors again. Use this as your check list each new grilling season before you get serious about using your grill.
Obviously, depending on what type of grill you have, you will have different parts you need to check. However, the first thing you should do when it comes time to fire up the grill again is make sure that the grill is in good working order. If you have a gas grill, make sure the hose from the tank to the grill is tight and not leaking. No matter what type of grill you have, make sure the lid fits properly and that any doors or air valves are still there and that they are sliding and spinning smoothly. The time to ensure that the grill works like it should is long before the fire has started, and you suddenly find you can't shut off the flow of air to a fire that has gone out of control.
Rust can present a huge danger to grills for two reasons. One, it can let fire escape through it, which is bad. It can also prevent knobs from turning or valves from closing. You've already checked that anything that can move is still able to do so, but it's also a good idea to make sure that there are no visible rust spots. If there are, try to remove the rust and be sure that there are no holes where the fire goes. Even if your grill is supposed to be rustproof, check it for rust. Sometimes individual components might not be rustproof and can cause problems.
Grills at rest can pick up a bit of wobble. Before you start to grill, take the grill out and make sure it's still steady. Check the grill's wheels to make sure they can still roll and haven't started to go lopsided. If you have children, simulate one of them running into the grill to make sure that a chance collision won't topple the whole thing.
Another thing most people don't consider is the surface on which the grill rests. You may buy all the winter protection in the world for your grill, but if the bit of patio or deck on which the grill rests is cracked or rotted, you may still be in for a safety hazard. Again, the way to test this is to put the grill in its rightful place and make sure that it's not going to easily fall over.
Finally, after you've examined the grill, examine the grates on which the food rests. Make sure they are rust free and totally clean. You don't want last year's food or this year's rust on whatever you are grilling, so make sure all that residue is completely gone. Also, apply gentle pressure to the grates to make sure they haven't cracked, which might cause your food to go tumbling into the fire.
Once you've completed this checklist you are on your way to grilling with renewed confidence.
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