Winterizing Your Grill & Outdoor Kitchen Appliances
Your grill sees you through a summer’s worth of warm cookouts, so why shouldn’t you see it through the cold winter months? You owe it to your grill — and your entire outdoor kitchen, for that matter — to shield it from the elements during the harshest season of the year. And if we’re being honest, you owe it to yourself as well, unless you enjoy buying a replacement grill every spring after the ravages of winter have taken their toll. Winterizing your grill is an absolute must if you live in colder climates, but it’s not as simple as stowing your trusty searing machine in a shed and heading inside for some hot cocoa. (Note: we’re using “winterize” to mean preparing your grill for long-term storage.)
To make this process easier for you, we’ve assembled our top grill winterization tips, along with some pointers on how to get your entire outdoor kitchen ready for snowy season. Of course, you don’t have to go to every extreme if you live in a moderately cold climate. Maybe you can grill well into the fall or even year-round (greetings from Louisiana!), but most grill masters have to take at least a few months off because of frigid temperatures. Keep in mind that what you’ll find here are general guidelines for those who face the most extreme conditions — always consult your owner’s manual or contact your manufacturer for specific winterization practices.
Winterize Your Grill
First things first: let’s clean that grill! We’ve written extensively about how to clean a gas grill and our top pellet grill cleaning tips (don’t forget to empty the pellet hopper), so study up and make sure your grill is spotless before the first freeze arrives. Not only does cleaning before winter save some work in the springtime, but removing food debris also helps prevent corrosion and makes it so your grill isn’t hiding a desirable food source for mice or insects looking for a place to ride out the winter. Trust us, the last thing you want to find when you open your grill for the first cook of spring is a family of rodents. (Though if that is your thing, be sure to check out our great selection of rodent recipes, especially Grill Master Randy’s Smoked Rat-atouille.)
When it comes to corrosion, grease and food residue trap moisture over time, thereby promoting harmful oxidation of the metals in your grill. Then there’s the problem of mold, which can’t grow below 40 degrees but may find some life in the weeks heading into and out of winter. While it’s true that these problems occur year-round, they become an even bigger issue during winter when they can go unnoticed for months.
After you’ve thoroughly cleaned your grill, follow these steps for winterizing your grill (depending on the severity of the winter weather in your area):
- Coat your grill grates with a light layer of cooking oil using a spray or a rag, just like you would when normally seasoning them. You’ll be ready to cook when spring arrives, plus the coating will block out moisture than can rust your grates while they lie dormant. Just be sure to use an oil that won’t go rancid (coconut oil, palm oil, and grapeseed oil are all good examples), replace the grates into your grill, and turn all your burners to high for about a minute or so to vaporize excess oil. Too much oil left on the grates can attract insects and wild animals.
- Wrap your burners in plastic wrap or plastic bags if you expect the grill to be out of commission for several months. This keeps spiders and other insects from nesting inside the venturi and burner ports. If you choose to wrap the burners, we strongly recommend you don’t reinstall them in the grill, especially if you’re the forgetful type (burning plastic is the surest way to ruin spring’s first grill session). Instead, just place them on the cooking grates and close the lid. Other parts worth wrapping: your grill’s gas line that’s disconnected from the propane tank, and the gas orifice that feeds the burners.
- Polish the exterior of your grill to give it an added layer of protection. If your warranty permits, you can even use a spray-on corrosion inhibitor, which should be available at most auto-part stores. Make sure you apply such spray to the exterior only — it isn’t food-safe, and therefore doesn’t belong near any cooking areas.
- If your grill has an electronic ignition system, remove the battery so the contacts don’t corrode during the winter.
- Remove your rotisserie motor from the grill, if present. Even if it’s waterproof, the motor should be stored either in your home or garage, or within your freestanding grill cart.
- Place an appropriately sized grill cover over your grill, especially if you plan on leaving it outside throughout the winter months. Prolonged exposure to the elements will shorten the lifespan of your grill, no matter how high quality it is. Think of it this way: would you rather pay a small fee for a grill cover, or replace the entire grill every few years? We know where we fall on the matter.
- Store your grill in a covered or enclosed area, if possible. Not everyone has a spacious shed or garage for long-term storage, but being entirely out of the elements is the best possible protection for your grill. If anything, tuck it below an awning of your home or move it as close to a covered parking area as you can. Should no covered areas be available, a grill cover becomes even more important in the fight to preserve your grill. A note for propane grillers: never store propane tanks indoors, even if that’s where you plan to keep your grill over the winter. As we noted in our article covering propane tank storage and care, you should always store your cylinder upright and in a well-ventilated space.
While we’re on the topic of freestanding propane grills, be sure to go through the drawers and cabinet of your grill cart in search of anything like food, herbs, or seasonings that can decompose. Leaks or rotting food can eat through the metal cart, making for an unpleasant springtime surprise. Oh, and if your freestanding grill will remain outdoors during the cold season, it’s OK to leave your propane tank on the cart as long as it’s disconnected and the valve is shut off.
That may seem like a lot of work, but winterizing your grill is relatively simple and well worth the time and energy. (Not convinced? Imagine your future self eating a T-bone steak among the springtime blossoms. Yeah, we thought that’d work.) The only other piece of advice we can give is to check on your grill a few times throughout the winter, just to ensure mold isn’t growing. Finally, we feel compelled to again remind you to check your owner’s manual or call your manufacturer for winterization instructions for your specific grill. The goal of winterization is to protect your grill, not void your warranty.
Winterize Your Outdoor Refrigeration Units
Besides your grill, refrigeration appliances are the outdoor kitchen components most in need of winterization. Failure to do so can result in permanent damage to both their exteriors and compressors as they struggle to regulate internal temperature against the frigid climate.
Let’s break down how it’s done:
- Start by turning off the thermostat within the unit, then unplug it to shut off the entire appliance.
- Immediately remove all food and drinks. Throw out anything that has expired (we’ve been guilty of this before), and store the rest in your indoor refrigeration appliances. Don’t forget to empty any ice bins or ice makers, too. Pro tip: transfer their contents to an ice chest to chill some beers to be enjoyed as you winterize your outdoor kitchen.
- Just like with your grill, you should clean your refrigeration unit inside and out (give your freezer or ice maker time to thaw before starting). Mild soap and water or a simple cleaning spray will work just fine on the internal cabinet, while the exterior needs stainless steel cleaner (if applicable) or any other manufacturer-recommended cleaning agent (for different materials). Assuming the manufacturer permits, the exterior of refrigeration units is another place where you can put spray-on corrosion inhibitors to work. Just make sure you don’t clean any part of your appliance with harsh chemicals, which can damage the metals used in construction.
- After cleaning, ensure your refrigeration unit is completely dry inside and out. Any remaining water will invite mold, mankind’s worst enemy. OK, one of mankind’s worst enemies.
- Store your refrigeration appliance, upright and uncovered, in a shed or other covered enclosure.
- Optional: to be extra protected against mold, place an opened box of baking soda inside your refrigeration unit. The baking soda will absorb any moisture left behind in a stubborn spot you couldn’t quite dry, plus it’ll eliminate any funky smells when you open the door after months of storage.
Don't Forget Your Water Lines
Once all your refrigeration appliances have been cleaned and stored, it’s time to clear out the water lines in your outdoor space. Forgetting this step can lead to massive plumbing expenses — water left in utility pipes can freeze, expand, and burst through the water lines. Yikes!
To make sure that doesn’t happen, head to your indoor plumbing system and shut off all water supply lines that lead to your outdoor space. All you need to do from there is drain the remaining water from every pipe that was connected to your already-winterized outdoor kitchen components. For your sink, just open both the hot and cold taps until water stops flowing. Extra-diligent homeowners can also unscrew the faucet to wipe up any excess water there, then reattach it to the sink or store inside for the winter. We’ve heard from many homeowners who also pump compressed air into their drain valves to be completely sure no water is left to freeze.
How to Winterize Your Outdoor Kitchen
Grills and outdoor refrigeration appliances are without a doubt the big-ticket items when it comes to winterization, but there are a few more things you can do to prep your entire outdoor space for winter. Are you ready to read one more list?
Well, we made one more list, so here we go:
- Sort through your cabinets and storage drawers to remove any food items that might rot or attract wildlife in this soon-to-be dormant part of your home.
- Clean and/or treat your BBQ island countertop, which will bear the brunt of the winter weather. Your approach will differ depending on the material: stainless steel should receive a layer of polish (and, again, possibly a corrosion inhibitor if allowed), wood needs to be oiled or sealed, and stone requires a sealer as well. Consult your contractor for specific cleaning or treatment instructions.
- If you experience severe winter conditions, find a place to store your patio furniture so it isn’t exposed to the worst of the elements. A garage, shed, or basement will do just fine.
- Unplug electrical components and store them indoors. It might not be a bad idea to completely shut off power to your outdoor kitchen by turning off the breaker switch that supplies electricity to the area. Should you find winter moderate enough to enjoy your outdoor space, all you have to do is flip that switch back on.
Congratulations, your outdoor kitchen is ready for everything winter can throw at it! We hope your winter is mild and brief so you can get back to grilling, but in the meantime, we’ll be sure to sear a couple steaks for you in the 70-degree January weather we’ve grown accustomed to in Louisiana. Two parting reminders for you as the snow rolls in: winterization takes some effort but is necessary to protect your investment in outdoor living, and you should always consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions. (Seriously, we can’t stress that last one enough.)