People who live in the northern states or who choose to travel south after Christmas, typically put their grill away in the fall. Of course, a grill is a major investment. Simply leaving it to sit on the deck all winter leaves it at high risk of problems next spring. Rain, snow, and melting water that interacts with wood ash or leftover drippings can cause corrosion problems.
Ice and snow buildup can damage lids, crack thermometers, and bend components. Even a stray ice icicle falling from a roof edge or a pergola can cause major damage to your pride and joy.
Whether you have a charcoal, gas, electric or wood pellet grill, there are things you can do to clean and protect it against the ravages of winter. Following these steps will help prolong the life of your grill, and reduce your chances of running into a problem when you fire it up again next spring.
Step One: Thoroughly Clean The Grill
During the summer you might be able to get away with leaving your grill a little dirty between cooking sessions. A quick scrape of the grill and dumping out the drippings tray might be enough to get you from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
With a gas or charcoal grill, you should fire it up to maximum heat for at least 20 to 30 minutes. This high heat will dry out lingering drippings and burn away fat deposits, grease and food debris. This will also make it easier to scrape down the grill grates. Make sure to get the spaces in between each grated or metal rods.
Don’t forget about other things like the drip pan, side tables, storage shelves, and cabinets. Food debris in these areas can be very attractive to rodents during the desperate cold winter. They can also translate into lingering foul odors next spring.
A little degreaser and some elbow grease will go a long way toward cleaning away excess food debris from drip pans and grease management systems. Just don’t use industrial cleaners on areas that will contact food such as the grill grates or searing burners.
If you have a somewhat complex gas grill, you might need to disassemble some parts to get at grease and debris. If you have wood pellet grill, make sure to completely clean out the ash pot, and vacuum out all traces of wood pellets, dust, and fibers from the hopper.
Step Two: Lightly Oil
Water mixing with even a trace of wood ash or grease can create a corrosive substance that can tarnish, rust or damage metal during the long winter months. Applying a light sheen of food-grade cooking oil to grates, ash pans and other areas where water might accidentally pool can help prevent direct contact with moisture.
Flaxseed oil is food grade safe. It tends to be one of the go-to hydrocarbons for something like this. You want to avoid butter and other fats that have a percentage of water content. You simply need to soak some onto a clean paper towel or shop rag and gently wipe it on. If there’s a hard-to-reach area, you can get by in a pinch with cooking spray.
Step Three: Cover the Grill
Covering a grill protects the hood, cart, cabinet or other components from direct contact with the elements. It’s especially important for stainless steel grills, which can tarnish or lose their sheen when exposed to water and other elements of winter.
In the case of a wood pellet grill, you absolutely need to cover it to prevent water and ice from potentially infiltrating the hopper and other critical components.
Custom Grill Cover vs Generic
Some grill manufacturers offer covers that are custom-tailored to the shape and dynamics of the grill. If the cover came with the grill as part of the purchase, then you absolutely should use it. When it comes to buying a custom cover at a second purchase or choosing to buy a generic cover, you will have to weigh the price.
If you take out your measuring tape, you might just be able to find an inexpensive generic cover that will fit the bill and spare your pocketbook. Just don’t go too cheap, or you risk water getting in through a gusset or grommet. If possible, you should prioritize covers that have some type of tie-down or elastic band to make sure strong winter winds don’t blow it away.
I wouldn’t recommend a tarp, as it can become brittle and crack or rip in deep cold. They also tend to get trapped in ice, which can rip if you need to move or use the grill.
If you live in an area that sees bone-chilling, cold temperatures or a lot of snow, then you need to invest in a robust grill cover. Many cheaper options grow so brittle in the cold that they will crack when disturbed by a blustery wind or big snow load. Alternatively, you can get a middle-of-the-road cover and plan to replace it each year.
Special Considerations For A Propane Gas Grill
Propane grills need a few extra considerations when you are putting them away for the winter.
If you have a gas grill, make sure to disconnect the lines. Store any propane tanks away from the ice and cold. Ideally, you want to put it in your garage rather than in the basement, just in case of a leak.
If your gas grill has a battery-powered electric start, you should remove the battery and either discard it, or put it into another compatible appliance. Then securely seal the battery compartment to prevent mice from potentially trying to turn it into an over-winter home.
You should then wrap burners in plastic or cover them with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Wrapping them again in plastic will also help prevent any lingering gas in the lines from leaking.
Double-check all the gas lines and couplers for signs of cracks or other physical defects. Make sure that all connections are either secured under a shelf or inside a cabinet. If you can’t secure a connection in a way that prevents meltwater from touching it, you should consider putting it inside a plastic bag and either duct taping it or securing it with zip ties.
What About My Grill Tools?
All grill tools and accessories should be brought in the house. Give them a meticulous thorough washing. You can then store them in a plastic bag in the house or keep them under the grill hood. If you don’t clean them properly, the grease and other traces of food debris could invite mice and other rodents to check out your grill.
What If I Want To Use The Grill Again In Winter?
More than one person has pulled out the grill for the holidays, or just when they got the itch for some tasty grilled food. I know people who will give their grill a good cleaning and then pull it into the garage for temporary storage and keep it ready until Christmas. This lets them do things like smoke a turkey for Thanksgiving, or roast prime rib in late December.
Instead of grilling on the patio, they roll it out into the driveway. When we hit the new year, they will thoroughly winterize it again until the snow melts and winter fully gives way to spring.
If you do thoroughly winterize your grill and you want to use it again, you will need to go through all the steps to get it ready again for the spring. Then after you are done using it, you should winterize the grill again.
As you might imagine, this is much easier with a charcoal grill than it is with a gas or wood pellet smoker. Some people will keep a cheap portable charcoal grill on hand for those times in the winter when they want to scratch the itch for grilled food. Then they use their gas or wood pellet unit during the rest of the year.