maintaining a charcoal grill

Maintaining a Charcoal Grill

See perfect guide to extending the life of your Weber Charcoal Grill, or others. View life of charcoal grill components.

Introduction to Maintaining a Charcoal Grill

In maintaining a charcoal grill, we’ve got you covered for making proper decisions in several areas. We’ve also written an article on “How to Keep Coals Hot, using briquettes or lump charcoal while grilling or smoking”, if you were looking for that. Keep reading and this will empower you for better decisions regarding the following 3 decisions during times of grill issues:

  1. Repair the part.
  2. Replace the part.
  3. Buy new grill.

How to Make a Charcoal Grill Last Longer

Learning how to make a charcoal grill last longer involves working on its components in between grilling sessions. Sometimes a faulty part can be repaired but other times it’s best to replace it. Sometimes it just needs periodic cleaning. Your individual charcoal grill may not have all of these upcoming components described and you might have other components than aren’t shown. So, keep reading to see what pertains to your grill.

This post references a lot of info from all the grills I’ve experienced a couple dozen in the past (about 5 decades!). But the current one I’ve had for a number of years is the Weber Performer Deluxe Charcoal Grill so, there will be some references along the lines of what Weber Charcoal Grills have in common.

Overall, this will give you an indicator of caring for all the aspects of the charcoal grill to keep it running at maximum performance. The important thing is to take note that there are some important areas of the charcoal grill to care for, as you want all areas to work when your planning to grill.

Charcoal Grill Components Life and Care

Here are some charcoal grill components that might need occasional replacement in your charcoal grill. You might have more or less of these components listed.

The life cycle shown for the components will vary a lot. This represents not the cheapest charcoal grill but a reasonably good one on the low end all the way up to the premium side of things. There are no guarantees as there will be those who have to replace their bottom storage shelf in 2 years and others will last 15 years. It’s all depending on the brand and model of the charcoal grill but also depending on how you’ve cared for it.

I’ve owned low end charcoal grills that were never covered from the weather and they lasted about 2 and sometimes 3 years. And I’ve had some low end ones with a weather covering that lasted 3 to 4 years. I’m on a premium Weber charcoal grill with a weather covering in its 6th year and next year I’ll be replacing the charcoal bins. Nothing else has needed replacement. I go to the Weber Charcoal Grill Replacement Parts area of their site.

  • Grill grates, 3-10 years
  • Charcoal Bins or holders, 2-6 years
  • The grill shelf crank to raise or lower the grilling shelf, 4-10 years
  • The Ash Bin or tray, 2-10 years
  • Ash One-Touch Cleaning System, 4-8 years
  • Wheels, life of grill
  • Storage shelving, 5-10 years
  • Charcoal Ignitor, 3-7 years
  • Grill Lid, 4-10 years
  • Grill Body or Kettle, 4 to 20 years

Grill Grates

The grill grates are best maintained by scrubbing them each time just before lighting the grill. This is where an accessory such as a grill brush is best used. Just a good brushing can get off the bulk of residue from the last grilling.

grate inner center
Grate inner center
grate outer portion
Grate outer portion
grate for charcoal
Grate for charcoal

However, some will get and use a brush as part of the conclusion of ending the grilling process. This is a good thought; however, it will expose some of the grill grates to be more bare and likely to increase the likelihood of some rusting before the next grilling day. So, to reduce rusting and extending the life of the grates, you can leave the residue and scrub them just prior to use.

For those who have a concern of leaving actual uncharred food particles on the grates after grilling, the recommended solution is to remove and wash the grill grates, after they’ve cooled down, with detergent and rinse thoroughly.

Charcoal Bins or Holders

Charcoal bins or charcoal holders are those little things that charcoal is poured into and lit for grilling or smoking. Not all grills use them. For those that do, there is limited maintenance but there is some care for them.

An example of care is to try to avoid bending them too much out of shape when grabbing them with tools. Another example of care is to avoid getting them exposed to the rain or moisture. One way is to keep them stored in the grill in their usual place. Although the best way would be to store them in a moisture free environment, that’s not very practical.

charcoal bins
Charcoal bins (starting to show rust – good for 1-2 more years)

With that said, the more air tight the grill lid is, the better protection the bins will have over time, while stored within the grill. I’ve noticed they start to show signs of rust within about 2 years but they still work absolutely fine. After about 4 years, there might be more rust but they still work okay. It’s when the metal starts to break apart at any area, you should definitely look to replace them.

The Grill Shelf Crank

The grill shelf crank is that thing you turn to raise or lower the grill grate. Some will raise or lower the cooking grate. Others will raise or lower the hot charcoal shelf or grate, which is under the cooking grill grate. Either way, these usually don’t have issues but they can start to get “cranky” and difficult to turn.

When cranking difficulties occur, it might have residue that’s built up on its threads or gears, even just a little bit. You can usually clean the buildup off with a brush or cloth but not such a coarse brush like the grill brush.

How you clean the crank, you’ll want to recoat it with a high temperature grease or spray. You don’t want to clean them without recoating them because once rusting begins in this area, it’s almost impossible to repair them afterwards. Another area to look at for this issue are the hinges that are used on the grate or shelf that is rising or dropping. Sometimes those might need a greasing boost, although that’s usually rare.

The Ash Bin, Basket, Bucket, or Tray

The ash bin or tray of the charcoal grill will vary. You can maintain hot coals if these don’t overfill.

Some charcoal grills don’t have this feature so you’ll have to scoop ash out from the area that held the burning charcoal, after it’s cooled down and is safe to do so. To protect the grill body or kettle, you should empty these ashes out frequently to prevent increased rusting.

ash bucket in place
Ash bucket in place
ash bucket removal for dumping
Ash bucket removal for dumping ash

With the ash tray, these are very convenient but often are very shallow. So, for that type, it can be messy since ashes will be as higher mounds in certain areas and will hit the grill body’s lip when pulling the shelf out, and will spill to the ground. But, if you plan to empty it frequently after grilling sessions, you might not experience this issue.

With this type of pullout tray, usually the metal begins to rust rapidly and can hold moisture easily as it has a wide open large surface. It’s a great idea to cover it with a couple layers of foil and change the foil out once or twice a year. It will help protect the metal and slow down the rusting experience. Eventually these trays have to be replaced when they rust out too much to hold ashes any more.

With the ash bin or ash bucket, these are usually the best and most convenient. You basically just have to remove the bucket, dump the ashes, and return the bucket in place. They only become extra messy if they’ve overfilled and weren’t emptied often enough.

Ash One-Touch Cleaning System

The Weber Charcoal Grill One-Touch Cleaning System is a great unique feature that literally swipes ash from the kettle into openings leading to the ash bucket. You use its handle to turn it back-and-forth to push ashes into the openings. It looks like a propeller with 3 blades.

It’s maintained by periodic cleaning when cleaning out the kettle interior. At times, however, you might have to unblock it, usually easily done, if there are any food items that need to be dislodged for unblocking it or for smoother movement. It can last many years with little or no maintenance.

ash one touch cleaning system dislodging blockage
Ash one touch cleaning system dislodging blockage
ashes emptied using one touch cleaning system
Ashes emptied using one touch cleaning system

Grill Wheels

The grill wheels rarely have issues during the life of the charcoal grill. However, this is only because most people won’t roll their grill around much. You should wipe the outer and interior areas at least once a year.

If you are moving your grill by pulling it out of a storage shed or out from under some eaves each grilling session, you might eventually have wheel failure in some manner. Fortunately, most brands offer affordable wheel replacements in their parts section.

grill front locking wheel
Grill front locking wheel
grill rear wheel
Grill rear wheel

Storage Shelving or Leg Support

Not all grills have any storage shelving but those that do, there sizing can vary quite a bit. They can be anywhere from a small triangle (aka “Triangle Leg Support”) to more than one shelf the size of the entire grill. Usually any charcoal grill storage shelving doesn’t have an issue with shelves that are behind front panel doors.

grill bottom storage shelf
Grill bottom storage shelf
grill bottom storage shelf close up
Grill bottom storage shelf close up (starting to show rust)

If there are any life expectancies, those occur usually just for openly exposed shelves. Every couple of years, it’s good to clear off any shelving contents and clean them up with a mild detergent. Then, you wipe them with a damp cloth to remove that detergent and let them dry out for at least an hour, followed by returning their contents for continued usage.

Charcoal Ignitor

This type of charcoal ignitor is the kind that might be built-in to your charcoal grill. They usually involve a small, disposable gas canister designed for this.

There are different parts of the charcoal ignitor that can fail. These parts might involve gas line tubing, the spark ignitor, batteries, a few other miscellaneous pieces. A lot of the time, it’s best to replace the entire charcoal ignitor system because by the time you’ve replaced one piece of it, another piece or two have become disturbed and may fail soon as well.

However, there are 3 distinct sections involved on a Weber grill. For example, there is the Burner Tube Kit (for the Touch-N-Go ignitor system). And then there’s the Hose and Regulator Kit that includes the gas tubing to connect to the Burner Tube Kit. This is an extremely expensive kit. And finally, there’s the gas canister holder and control knob.

grill self ignitor control panel
Grill self ignitor control panel
grill self ignitor full view
Grill self ignitor full view
grill self ignitor sparker
Grill self ignitor sparker

Charcoal grills with a self-ignitor system are best served with ensuring the grill is covered between usage for added protection and a longer life. Just ensure you leave the lid off while any ignitor is dispensing gas or sparking to light it.

Grill Lid

Most people won’t think of the grill lid as having a life but there are some issues that can occur over time. While the lid may last the life of the body of the grill, there are some models that will be shorter. Some grill lids may shift in shape over time and won’t securely fit as well over time.

Other issues that might occur will be the outer paint may start to peel or the lid itself may begin to rust. Other things about the grill lid is the handle for lifting the lid might need replacement. And, many lids will have a temperature gauge but, usually these rarely fail.

grill lid top
Grill lid top
grill lid bottom
Grill lid bottom (needs cleaning)

Fortunately, in most cases, when the lid starts to have issues, the grill itself has experienced its own issues and you don’t need to be concerned about it separately.

Grill Body or Kettle

The grill body or kettle is often the longest lasting component of the charcoal grill, next to the grill frame itself. Grill bodies can differ across different models, and of course, across different manufacturers. Some brands or cheaper models have a known reputation for lasting just 2-4 years and others in a higher range for lasting as long as 20 years or more!

There’s a strong indication you’re getting in the higher range if you model gives a warranty on the body or kettle itself, such as 10 years, for example.

interior grill kettle
Interior grill kettle – needs cleaning
charcoal grill kettle
Charcoal grill kettle exterior

The charcoal grill body or kettle is best maintained by keeping the grill covered when not in use. Then, every few years clean it out, interior and exterior. You just follow manufacturer methods for such cleaning and you can get a specific detergent that’s recommended for charcoal grills. Myself and others popularly use “Zep All-Purpose Cleaner & Degreaser” for cleaning charcoal grills.

zep cleaner for charcoal grill
Zep cleaner for charcoal grill

Should I Clean my Charcoal Grill After Every Use

I used to wonder “Should I clean my charcoal grill after every use”? And I answered it differently over the decades. The final answer is “Clean some of it every time and the rest of it at periodic times”. Keep reading to see the recommended cleaning schedule.

Perhaps like you, over the years, I’ve minimized my maintenance time and focused on grilling it and serving it. Eventually, I learned to take better care of my charcoal grill in order to reduce overall spending of failing components and to minimize crisis issues when starting up the grilling process. The result has been less costly and less stress.

Every Grilling Session Cleaning

So, I do a hard quick scrub of the grilling grate before lighting up the grill. I wipe off the work space area on the grill just before covering the grill.

Every Few Months Cleaning

Every few months, I might spray around to clean the grill overall on the exterior grill lid, kettle, and frame, including the wheels.

Every Few Years Cleaning

About every 2-4 years, I’ll do a thorough cleaning of the entire grill, inside and out with a professional detergent like Zep and the garden hose. Some will do this annually at the start of the grilling season in the Spring. I’m careful not to get wet any components that shouldn’t be. This kind of cleaning is never done on a planned grilling day.

The Charcoal Grill Covering

There are a ton of charcoal grill coverings available. I’ve gone through the ones that were cheapest off the shelf that lasted a year and the expensive ones that lasted almost 3 years. You can look at customer reviews on such an item, just like anything else. If you get a cheap one, just be prepared to replace it frequently.

I always recommend people get a grill cover that is close to matching the expected life of the grill. There’s no point in spending a lot to get a 7 year covering for a cheap grill that will only last about 3 years. That’s only because the old covering usually doesn’t match the size of the replacement grill when you decide to change it out.

You can get a King Kong brand of grill covering from Wal-Mart or Amazon. The manufacturer’s actual site was last showing as unsecured or not at all so, the resellers are the way to go. It cost me the same as the heavy duty one from the big box store that lasted just 3 years. They make them form fitted for the make and model of grills, if you choose to go that route. I’m on my 5th year and it’s showing very little fading, no wear, no cracking, no creases, and no tears or fringes. I only added a grill canopy 6 months ago so, it was always exposed to the elements before that time.

When To Replace Grill

Here are some examples to give you an idea of when to replace just parts or when to replace the grill. When charcoal grill components start to break, there are times where you consider whether to repair grill parts, replace parts or buy a new grill. Some parts will break more often than others so, the decision to replace grill parts or buy a new grill requires some knowledge about how long parts are usually going to last.

However, it also requires knowledge of about how long the functional life of the charcoal grill is estimated to be also. So, let’s look at an example to illustrate how such a decision can be made.

Example Broken Part Costs $15 And is Easy to Replace

Let’s say you have 1 part that’s broken and you’re considering to replace it or replace the grill. If the part is $15, it would usually make sense to just replace that part, if it’s easy to perform the replacement task.

Example Broken Part Costs $35 And is Not Easy to Replace

In this example, we’ve stepped up the difficulty in 2 areas. One area is that we increased the cost of the broken part and the other is that it’s going to be more difficult to perform the replacement. In many cases, we might still opt to continue to replace that grill part. The only thing that might change this decision is if other factors beyond this are being considered such as if it’s a $100 grill to start with and it has a few other things that are starting to age.

Example Broken Part Costs $50 And There Are Other Issues

So, now we’re starting to look at the crossroads with considering replacing a $50 grill part. If this is a $100 grill and there are other issues, it’s a pretty fair bet to consider replacing the grill.

However, if this is a $350 grill, it would depend on what those other issues are. Usually, with such a grill, replacing that part would be the correct decision. However, if the other issues are simply replacing a couple of other components, totaling about $120 for all 3, it’s still a good decision probably to just replace all 3.

Example Failing Part Costs $70 And There’s Rust In Several Places

Let’s assume it would be reasonably painful to grill without replacing this $70 part. And if there are areas of rust in important sections like the lid, kettle, or grates, it’s time to consider replacing the grill if it was under $400.

If the grill had cost more, it’s a good idea to total up the cost of replacing all the deteriorating components and the estimated future life and failure costs of all other components of the grill. In other words, think through the estimated remaining life of the grill that you could maintain if you replaced all those parts.

If all of those parts (and your time) tally up to be about 50-75% of what that grill cost, it’s probably a good decision to plan to replace the grill. And, if other parts will be needing replacing in about 2 years or less, it’s time to think about replacing the grill even if it’s about 1/3 of the original grill cost.

There’s also the consideration of upscaling a replacement grill with newer features. You usually don’t do this until it becomes too much of a hassle in grilling with the current one due to excessive issues.

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I hope this has helped you overall in maintaining your charcoal grill in a good working order. Also, I hope it makes you rethink the decisions behind replacing certain parts versus replacing the grill itself. With good maintenance, you’ll encounter less issues each time you’re ready to grill with charcoal.

And with good decision making about replacing parts or buying a new grill, you’ll spend less money in the long run. And, as I’ve emphasized Weber charcoal grills, you might want to visit their troubleshooting FAQs section of Weber Charcoal Grills, in as case you’re experiencing a specific issue with one. Next, go through these great grilling posts including grilling recipes and start getting ready for a cookout!

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