Grill Safety & Maintenance

Grilling season is once again in full swing, so it’s time to revisit the subject of grill safety and maintenance. Wooden Sun services both gas and charcoal grills, and we recommend having your grill inspected and serviced by a qualified technician once a year. Additionally, there are some simple safety and maintenance tips you can follow to extend the life of your grill and make sure your outdoor events are safe and fun for everybody involved.

Let’s start with the safety precautions:

  • Never use any grill indoors; carbon monoxide can build up in an enclosed space, posing a possibly lethal health hazard to everyone in the home.
  • Grills should never be used underneath a deck or balcony, or directly next to a wooden structure. Keep your grill away from flammable materials, and make sure children and pets stay a safe distance away.
  • When using a charcoal grill or smoker, there’s always the potential for sparks, embers, or hot ash to escape. We recommend a non-flammable grill mat to provide ember protection, as well as to make it easier to clean up food spillage. Wooden Sun carries these grill mats in a few stock sizes, but other sizes, shapes, and colors are available from the manufacturer.
  • When starting a gas grill, the lid should always be open. If the flame has gone out (blown out by the wind, for example), turn off the grill, wait 15 minutes for the gas to dissipate, then re-ignite the pilot.
  • Prior to the first cookout of the season, check the burners and air mixers for spiders and other insects. They are attracted to the smell and cozy spaces under the hood of your grill. Webs can reroute the gas so it comes out and ignites where it shouldn’t. Come by the shop and we can show you where to look, or schedule our techs for a thorough checkup.
  • Before you use your grill for the first time each year, be sure to check the gas line and connections. You can do this by applying a soap-and-water solution to the hose, gasketing, and connector valves. If bubbles form, there is a leak. Turn the gas off immediately and have your grill serviced by a professional before trying to use it again! Any time you are unable to trace and eliminate a gas smell, call 911.
  • Never store propane tanks in an enclosed space like a garage. If you store your grill inside, remove the tank an store it outside.
  • And, of course, always read the user manual that comes with your grill, and follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding use and proper maintenance of the grill.
This ceramic smoker cover has space for the top chimney vent.

This ceramic smoker cover has space for the top chimney vent.

Covers are available for both freestanding and built-in grills.

Covers are available for both freestanding and built-in grills.

A common maintenance issue we’ve encountered is condensation buildup when a tarp or other impermeable material is used for a cover. There are a wide variety of grill covers on the market with a water-resistant exterior, and some sort of breathable material on the inside. Many are ventilated to allow additional moisture to escape. If you need a grill cover that Wooden Sun doesn’t carry,  give us the dimensions of your grill (height, width including any side shelves, and depth), as well as whether your grill is built-in or freestanding, and we can find a cover to fit.

A few additional maintenance tips:

  • Clean cooking grids and drip trays regularly. Grease and salt speed up corrosion, and pooled grease can easily ignite.
  • In addition to checking for gas leaks, check all valves and connectors for rust and other corrosion. Remove all rust with a wire brush, and apply a rust-resistant paint to the area.
  • After you finish grilling, turn all burners on high for about 10 minutes; this will vaporize most of the remaining drippings and grease.

Enjoy your grilling, and have a safe and happy summer cooking season!

Charcoal: What Should I Use? For Us, Natural Lump Charcoal Is the Only Way!

May is National Barbecue Month, and what better way to kick off the celebrations than an in-depth exploration of charcoal, its different forms, and how it got that way? But wait, I hear you say, charcoal is charcoal is charcoal, isn’t it? It’s actually a bit more complicated than that. Here, then, is an overview of the two most common kinds of charcoal, and the difference between them.

The charcoal briquettes you get at the grocery store are actually compressed chunks of ground charcoal and sawdust, as well as non-wood products such as coal dust, limestone, starch, borax, and sodium nitrate (not exactly what we want in our food!). The advantage charcoal briquettes have is their even size and density, which allows for a more predictable burn rate in less expensive grills. The disadvantage of briquettes is that they produce far more ash than lump charcoal, and this ash can choke the fire, limiting the heat output. With a small charcoal grill, this may not be a problem, but the volume of ash produced means that briquettes won’t work in ceramic smokers like the Primo or Kamado Joe. They also cannot be easily used for more than one cooking session. Additionally, briquettes have no flavor of their own, and so impart no flavor profile of their own to the food cooked over them.

Traditional charcoal kiln. Image courtesy of Kamado Joe.

Traditional charcoal kiln. Image courtesy of     Kamado Joe.

Lump charcoal, on the other hand, is made from hardwood which is burned slowly in a low-oxygen environment over a period of several days, through a process known as pyrolysis. (Readers may remember from our chimney safety post that pyrolysis can occur when clearances to combustibles are not met for wood stoves or fireplaces, or when venting materials aren’t connected right; essentially, this means that an improperly-installed wood stove can gradually turn your wall studs into charcoal! Pyrolysis: bad for houses, good for cooking.) This low-oxygen environment is created when wood is either placed into an oven/kiln, or covered with earth and straw, then closed off and left to burn slowly and steadily until the wood is fully oxidized and hardened. The hard wood chunks are then broken down into lump charcoal, which is filtered to remove crumbs and dust.

Because it has no fillers or binders, lump charcoal produces less ash than briquettes, burns hotter, and heats about 20 minutes longer per pound of fuel. Here at Wooden Sun, we use 100% hardwood charcoal in our grills and ceramic smokers, and feel that for flavor, lump charcoal really can’t be beat. We also like to cut the air off after cooking, let the fire die out, and use the remaining charcoal for the next grilling session, which is very difficult to do with charcoal briquettes. A bag of good lump charcoal should have very little dust (there’s always some that settles in the bottom during shipping, but more than a little indicates that your charcoal supplier hasn’t adequately filtered their product before packaging), and only a few small chips.

Whichever form of charcoal you choose for your outdoor cooking, steer clear of lighter fluid. It can impart a nasty chemical flavor to your food, as well as being environmentally unfriendly. There are a variety of fire starters available out there (usually made with some combination of paraffin and compressed sawdust), and products like the Looft Lighter and BBQ Dragon will keep hot air moving over your charcoal to get it up to temperature faster.

 

-P.S. The links below aren’t actually relevant to your choice of cooking fuel, but your blogger encountered them in the course of her research, and found them too interesting not to share: