Every time I go to the Home Depot in the summer, I stare longingly at the shiny, manly grills lined up out front like soldiers waiting for orders. They’re so new, and have so many knobs and buttons! They can smoke, grill, or keep baked beans warm!
Like most Americans, I had an old grill on my back porch. It was a little rusted and had years of wear on the rack, but it could still turn out a decent hamburger. So instead of buying a new grill, I saved money by restoring and upgrading my old grill to its former glory – and added a few bells and whistles along the way.
Want to do the same? Follow these nine easy steps to get the grill of your dreams.
How to Restore Your Old Gas Grill
1. Clean It Out
Every time you use your grill, it accumulates all sorts of soot, ash, and grease. At least once a year, you need to put on some gloves and give it a good cleaning (i.e. include it in your house spring cleaning checklist). If you have a shop vac, use it to hoover out all of the particulates that have settled in the bottom of the grill. Next, remove the burners and use the vacuum to clean them out as well. Finally, use a wire brush to scrape off as much gunk as you can from the interior, and vacuum again.
2. Inspect the Burners
You want to check and see if the burners are still in good working order. First, light them – the burners should light quickly and burn evenly. If they don’t, you should probably replace them. Replacement burners can be purchased at a hardware store or from the manufacturer. If the burners appear serviceable, remove them and give them a good scraping and cleaning.
3. Ensure Adequate Heat Distribution
On a gas grill, you should always have something between the flames and the food to distribute heat. Your grill should have a lower rack between the burners and the upper rack in order to hold ceramic briquettes and lava rocks. Lava rocks look cool, but briquettes have the advantage of being easy to clean. To clean a ceramic briquette, soak it with vinegar and then scrub with a wire brush. If you are unable to clean them, replace them.
4. Upgrade Your Cooking Surface
Many low-end grills come with stamped steel grates that are covered with porcelain. They are not great when new, and get even worse as you use them and clean them with a wire brush. It’s easy to upgrade your grill by purchasing a new grate. Stainless steel is the best, followed by porcelain coated steel bars. Some people prefer the fantastic grill marks created by iron grates, but remember that you will need to clean them by hand and re-oil them after each use.
5. Re-Paint the Body
Most inexpensive grills are made of cast aluminum that is painted black. The paint will fade over time, but that is no reason to throw away the grill. You can easily re-paint your grill with special, high temperature black spray paint. Never use any paint that was not clearly indicated for use on an outdoor grill. When painting, focus on the exterior of the grill, as the interior will be blackened with soot and will never be clean enough to hold a new coating of paint.
6. Add a Drip Guard
One of the problems I had with my old grill was that the drippings from my meat would puddle up on the lower rack of my grill. I added a drip guard shaped like an inverted V and now drippings roll right off, reducing flare ups. Universal drip guards are sold at most hardware stores.
7. Replace the Igniter
The piezoelectric ignition system common on most grills has a somewhat short lifespan. If you find yourself throwing matches on your gas grill, it is probably time to replace the ignition system. Fortunately, a new ignition assembly is inexpensive and can be purchased at most hardware stores.
8. Switch to Natural Gas
There are few things worse than running out of propane while you are cooking on the grill. If you have a natural gas connection at your house, it may be time to convert your grill to use it. First, find a kit made by the manufacturer to convert from propane to compressed natural gas (CNG). Many grills will have that option, but not all. Next, hire a plumber to come out and install a gas extension line to your grill. Now you can enjoy your barbecue knowing that you will never run out of fuel.
9. Add a Rotisserie
For less than $50, you can add an electrically-operated barbecue spit to just about any gas grill. Nothing is quite as good at a juicy rotisserie grilled chicken that is slow cooked and self-basted.
Your old gas grill may look like it is on its last legs, but it probably still has some life left in it. By strategically replacing various parts, you can restore its function to where it was when it was new – or perhaps even better.
Do you have any experience upgrading or restoring your gas grill? Share your best tips in the comments below!