How to Properly Prepare Your Grill for the Winter
Chances are good that once the weather starts to get bitter and cold, you are not likely to get your grill set up again until the spring sunshine melts the snow. Properly storing your grill indoors protects it from damage from harsh winter weather so that when grilling season finally returns your grill will be as ready as you are.
Storing your grill for the season requires a little work but you will be thankful that you spent the time to make sure your grill is stored properly next season.
Can I Leave My Grill Outside?
Leaving your grill outdoors is not ideal, but it also isn't the end of the world if you properly prepare your grill. If you don't already have a grill cover, you should invest in one that is water and dust-resistant. It is best to store your grill under a covered area whenever possible – and that goes for in the summertime also. Grillers that live in areas that receive snow and sub-zero winter temperatures should try to find a way to store their grill indoors. A portable storage shed, a carport, or a garage make ideal storage locations.
Can You Store a Grill in the Garage?
Storing your grill in the garage makes a lot of sense. The garage or storage shed might be pretty cold, but these areas should be free of moisture that will cause corrosion and rust to form. The important thing is that you properly prepare the grill to prevent rust and corrosion.
Storing Propane Tanks
Gas grills that use propane tanks for fuel require the same basic care to store for winter as their charcoal or pellet counterparts. You should always disconnect the pressure regulator and make sure the tank is fully closed before storing the propane tank. It is perfectly safe to store propane tanks outdoors during winter, even in the coldest temperatures. We recommend storing the tanks somewhere that they are not sitting in snow or constantly getting wet to prevent rust and corrosion from affecting the valve, but otherwise, the tank won't be damaged by cold weather.
It is not recommended to store propane tanks indoors because the valve can leak and cause propane gas to accumulate. Not only does this smell terrible, but it can also cause a serious safety issue indoors. Something as simple as the pilot light on the water heater can cause propane gas to ignite and explode.
Storing Lump Charcoal and Pellets
Moisture is the enemy of charcoal and pellet fuels. We recommend using a suitably-sized container with a watertight lid to store unused lump charcoal and compressed wood pellets to prevent them from absorbing moisture. If lump charcoal gets wet, it will eventually dry out and be okay to use, but pellets will turn into sawdust and aren't good for much other than absorbing oil spills in the driveway once they dry back out.
How to Prepare a Grill for Storage
Following these steps will ensure that when you are ready to use your grill again, it will be in good working order and ready to be used. It may seem like a hassle to prepare your grill for the winter, but you have invested time and money in your grill and there is no reason to let that go to waste by not properly preparing a grill for winter storage.
The following grill storage tips are ones that we have developed over the years to make sure that the harsh Ohio winters don't destroy our favorite grills and smokers.
1. Fire Up the Grill
The first thing you will do is fire up the grill and get the cooking and charcoal grates good and hot. Heating the grill grates lets the stuck-on food loosen up and makes cleaning them easier. Follow the best practices for cleaning the grill grates on your particular grill. If you want to know the ways that we have found to get charcoal grates clean, you can check out this handy article.
The main thing to remember is that you want the grill grates absolutely clean of grease, food, crustiness, and anything else. Don't forget to clean the areas where the grill sits also. When you have everything clean, wipe it all down with a thin coat of cooking oil to prevent rust and corrosion.
2. Clean the Grill
Disassemble the top of the grill by removing the cooking grates and any other things that are easy to take out. You can use a shop vac to suck out bits of gunk that have fallen into the burner area, but don't use the vacuum if your burner area is greasy or oily. If that is the case, you'll need to remove the greasy, oily stuff first. Hot, soapy water and a good wire grill brush are the best bet for getting stuck-on gunk removed. Don't overlook the slide-out grease tray.
Remove the burner cover on gas grills and make sure that it isn't rusty or coated in grease and food residue. If it is, consider replacing it. Inspect the burners for damage. Clean them as much as possible, paying special attention to the areas underneath the burners. Most gas grills have removable burners that simply unbolt and lift out to make maintenance easier. It is a good idea to pull the burners and clean the bottom of the cooking area completely. Inspect the area in a charcoal grill where the charcoal burns for damage and replace things as necessary.
Use hot soapy water to clean all the interior surfaces of the grill including the hood and the burn box area. Keep an eye out for flaky paint. If the paint is flaking, you will want to use a grinder to remove all of the paint. There is a lot of debate about whether painting the inside of a grill is advisable. It should be noted that even high-temperature paint meant for barbecues is not designed to be used inside the grill. We tend to treat our grills and smokers like cast iron rather than paint. The process is pretty simple to do and is much safer than paint.
All you will do is get the grill very hot, then wipe it down with a cooking oil that has a high smoke point. Peanut oil is one of our top choices. Once the grill is very hot, simply wipe down the surfaces with oil on a rag or a paper towel. Be sure to wear heat-resistant gloves for this procedure. you want as thin of a layer of oil as possible. Continue letting the grill heat until you don't see smoke anymore. Turn off the grill and let it cool. Then, heat it up again and repeat the process three or four times. Eventually, the oil will create a durable, non-stick, food-safe surface that won't flake or cause off flavors.
3. Perform Any Maintenance Jobs
This is the time to replace rusty, burned-out burners, change out the heat deflector, and repair damage. If your grill grates are bending from heat, are rusty, or are broken, it is time to replace them. Inspect things like the rubber hose that runs between the burner and the propane regulator on gas grills for cracks and melted spots. Bend the hose slightly in your hands and look for cracks in the rubber. Cracking is a sign the rubber is getting brittle and the hose should be replaced.
Clean and oil the lid hinges, wheel bearings, and any other moveable parts. Don't forget to clean the shelves and trays that are attached to the grill.
4. Use Cooking Oil to Keep Out Moisture
Cooking oil is your friend when it comes to weather-proofing a grill. Oil keeps moisture from causing rust and ensures that when you are ready to use your grill, it is just a matter of wiping everything down with a clean cloth. Even areas that don't see snow will experience higher humidity in the winter and using cooking oil prevents surface rust that can lead to structural rust issues if left untreated.
5. Disconnect Any Propane Tanks (if you have a gas grill)
It is a bad idea to leave a propane tank connected when the grill is being stored. Proper storage of propane tanks is a safety issue. This is particularly important when storing the grill indoors as propane tanks can be a hazard. Remove the propane tank and store it outside in a covered area where moisture and snow are not accumulating on the metal surfaces, but the tank can withstand temperatures far below natural conditions and can handle extreme fluctuations without problems. Wiping the surface of the propane tank down with a light film of cooking oil will help prevent rust and corrosion.
6. Use a Grill Cover
Even if you are storing your grill in a garage or a storage shed, it is a good idea to use a grill cover to prevent damage. A grill cover prevents damage from items that may get stacked on top, keeps dust and dirt to a minimum, and discourages critters from getting into the grill. A tarp and bungee cords make for a decent, low-cost option if you can't find a grill cover for your particular grill.
7. Select a Climate-Controlled Environment for Storage
The best places to store grills and smokers are in climate-controlled conditions. A storage shed or a garage are good options, but if you don't have these available, you might consider a rental climate-controlled storage unit for the wintertime. Just remember that you should never store propane tanks indoors, even in a storage unit. Most rental units will have rules that prevent you from storing propane tanks and fuel indoors.
Taking a little time to ensure that your grill is properly stored for the winter will ensure that it is in good shape in the spring when you are ready to fire it up. Regular cleaning of the grill grates and the cooking surfaces during the grilling season will make it easier to winterize your grill, so you should make a schedule that you can follow to keep up on cleaning your grill all year long.
We know that lots of people will keep grilling and smoking even in the dead of winter. We do it too. A few inches of snow on the ground isn't enough to keep us from firing up the smoker, but you should also follow safe practices.
Never use a grill indoors, ever. Gas, charcoal grills, and pellet smokers emit carbon monoxide that is deadly when it concentrates.
If you are going to use your grill in the winter, make sure you have plenty of airflow. Simply opening the garage door isn't enough. You'll need to add exhaust fans and make sure that there are no chances of life-threatening carbon monoxide accumulating.