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Is rust formation normal in gas grills

QuestionTo clean our gas barbecue recently, I removed the grill and the three burners. Thick pieces of rust (as large as the palm of my hand) flaked off the burners. Fearing that the burners would break through, I handled them gently. My husband burns the grill clean almost every time he uses it, and it is always covered and stored under the patio near the house. Is this rust formation normal?

AnswerYes, it is common for rust to form on gas barbecue burners. The burners may be made of sheet metal, stainless steel sheet metal, cast iron, pipe stainless steel, cast brass, or cast stainless steel. All will rust except pipe stainless steel, cast brass, and cast stainless steel. Cast brass is frequently found in commercial settings because it will not burn through, warp, crack, or twist, but it will not last as long as expensive cast stainless steel, which is unaffected by grease.

Rust formation depends on such factors as the type of metal the burners are made from, the climate (e.g., rainy), the location (e.g., salty seaside air), the types of food cooked (e.g., acidic), and the trace amounts of water present in both propane and natural gas. Additionally, water is a byproduct of combustion so it, too, contributes to rust and discoloration. It's unfortunate, but simply firing up your barbecue sets rust formation in motion.

For best performance from a gas barbecue, regularly inspect the burners, paying particular attention to the seams along the edges near the burner ports. The folded metal in these areas can trap grease, allowing corrosion to set in. Also check the burners for thin spots in the metal and clogged or enlarged burner ports in cast iron burners.

I would be concerned if the burners are rusted or burned through; if the burner's seams are splitting; if burner ports are clogged or swollen shut (as in cast iron burners); if the burner's metal is thin to the touch, pieces have broken off, or pieces break off in your hands; and enlarged ports. These situations will cause the burner to work improperly so the unit will be unsafe and will cook unevenly.

Burners, including cast iron, typically last from two to five years, depending on climate, location, usage, and the quality of construction and maintenance. Thick cast stainless steel and cast brass burners have a protective ridge so drippings cannot contact the ports. The warranty on these burners generally covers burn-through, rust-through, twisting, warping, and other common problems.

You can slow down rust formation by regularly cleaning the burners. Follow your owner's manual to remove them from the unit, and use a pipe cleaner or straightened paper clip to clear any obstructions from the burner holes and inlet hole. Do not use a wooden toothpick as it may break off and clog the port, and take care not to enlarge the ports. Check to make sure there are no insects or insect nests blocking the inlet holes.

Another area of concern is the deflector shield (flame tamers or whatever or gas grill manufacturers call them) that sits just above the burners. This shield collects food and grease, so be sure to remove and clean it too.

If the grill is to be stored for a period of time, lightly coat the burners with cooking oil and wrap them in a protective cover to keep out insects. As a general rule, the entire unit should also be covered between uses with a tailored protective cover or one especially designed for your unit, not a generic cover.

I cook on a fully stainless steel unit and on a less expensive standard unit and have discovered that a burn-off after each use helps to keep both units clean. First I turn all the burners to high for about ten minutes to burn off food and grease and brush the racks immediately after burn-off. Next I open the hood and allow the grill to cool and to allow any remaining moisture to escape after the burn-off.

Also after each use, I wipe down the overall unit with a hot rag and a nontoxic biodegradable all-purpose cleaner, like Simple Green®. Finally, I cover the grill for storage until its next use.

At least twice a year I clean the racks, burners, and deflector shield with Simple Green®.

The bottom line is preventative maintenance. If you take care of the grill and burners, you should be able to extend the grill's life beyond the manufacturer's warranty until you can no longer find replacement parts on the market.

Copyright © 2005 LAF/C.R.S., Inc. All rights reserved.
Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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