A gas grill is basically a simple device, but grills can and do get balky and fail to perform properly, usually at the worst times.
A breakdown is much less likely if a grill is periodically given a simple tuneup and a safety check.
A typical grill consists of a storage tank for liquid propane, or LP, (bottled) gas; a valve to start and halt gas flow; a tube to deliver the gas to the burners, and an igniter to start the fires. Most LP grills are portable and have wheels.
Some stationary grills use natural gas for fuel and don't have a storage tank, but the rest of the mechanism is similar to that of portable grills.
A tuneup for a grill simply ensures that all parts are clean, safe and in good working order. The owner's manual for the grill should be used for reference during any tuneup, and checked for specific directions for such procedures as removing or reattaching a fuel tank, burner or supply line. Most manuals also contain instructions for obtaining replacement parts.
Never use a grill that appears to have a dangerous defect, such as a leak, badly rusted tank or cracked supply line, until the defect has been corrected.
Checking the fuel tank and supply line is a good first step in a tuneup. Examine the tank and its seams for signs of deterioration, and check all fittings to make sure they are tightly connected. Wipe the supply line with a damp cloth, and look for cracks or other damage.
If a grill has not had a leak test for some time, test it. This is especially important for portable grills that have been moved frequently, since moving the grill can loosen fittings.
To check for leaks, brush a 50-50 solution of liquid detergent and water on all fittings and connections at the tank, on the weld around the center of the tank, and on the valve at the burner end of the fuel line. Always check for leaks when a new or newly refilled fuel tank is installed.
Bubbles in the soap film indicate a leak. Most leaks can be halted by tightening fittings.
When the fuel system checks out, the cooking grids and briquettes should be checked and cleaned if necessary. Greasy briquettes can be cleaned by turning the greasy side down (do this when the grills are cold, of course). The next cookout will burn off the grease.
If the grids and interior of the grill are greasy, they can also be cleaned by burning off. The grill should be watched closely during this operation, and should be well away from any flammable material.
To burn off, light the grill, and keep control knobs on the preheat setting. Close the grill, and allow it to burn for 15 minutes. Open the grill carefully, keeping alert for a flare-up, and continue burning with the lid open until the flame is normal.
Most manufacturers recommend a more thorough cleaning of a grill at least once a year, with removal and washing of grids and heat-distribution plates. (Heat-distribution plates are used in grills that don't have briquettes.) Cleaning methods vary, depending on the type of grids or plates, so consult the owner's manual for specific directions.
A tuneup should include checking and cleaning the burner anventuri tubes. The venturis, or metal tubes attached to the underside of the burner, sometimes become clogged by spider webs or other debris. Clogged venturis can cause poor ignition, no ignition, or a dangerous flashback.
Study the position of the burner and any attached parts, such as the igniter, before removing it. Often it is necessary to remove only a single screw to free a burner.
Carefully lift out the burner and clean the venturis with a special brush or a small rag tied to the end of a piece of stiff wire. Also clean the burner with a soft brush or cloth, and open any clogged gas holes with a piece of wire.
Clean the electrode -- a small ceramic tube in a bracket that is often attached to the burner -- and its wire with a soft, soapy cloth. Check for tight connections, and examine the electrode for cracks. Igniters sometimes fail to work because they are improperly positioned in the bracket; check the manual for instructions if there is igniter failure.
Before replacing the burner, clean the gas outlets in the valve at the burner end of the fuel line. The venturis fit over the outlets when the burner is in correct position.
Readers' questions and comments should be sent to Gene Austin, c/o The Features Department, The Baltimore Sun, Box 8263, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101.