Five ways to tune up your barbecue for grilling season

Here's how to breathe new life into your old grill

By Ryan Shervill


Photo by Roger Yip

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Many of us own barbecues that have seen better days. These backyard workhorses get left outside in all the elements, and are then called upon to perform for neighbours and friends hungry for an outdoor feast.

While you can go out and buy a new barbecue, there is another option. By investing in some replacement parts and a couple of hours of elbow grease, it is possible to bring your old grill back to like-new condition and appearance, and keep it from going into a landfill.

Is your barbecue old and seemingly obsolete? No problem. There is a large assortment of universal parts designed to fit just about any barbecue available. I did a complete restoration of a grill I had salvaged from a neighbour's curb. The parts are all available from your local home-improvement store.



What you need

High-heat barbecue paint, $6

Burner, universal H-shaped, $50

Replacement grill set, $35

Heat distribution plate, universal, $20

Ignitor, universal, $25

*All prices are approximate

1. Extreme makeover

It's quite simple to make your barbecue look like new. The first step is to do a thorough disassembly and cleaning. Break down the barbecue as completely as possible - or as far as rusty hardware will let you. Use a strong degreaser and a pressure washer to remove as much grime as you can. (The cleaner it is, the better the paint will adhere.) Scrub any corroded areas with a wire brush and wash again. Once the parts are completely clean and dry, cover any areas you don't want painted with masking tape. Apply several thin coats of high-heat barbecue paint, both inside and out. This aerosol paint dries quickly to form an attractive matte finish.




2. Burn, baby, burn

Probably the most common replacement part, burners come in a vast array of sizes, shapes, configurations and materials. Direct replacement burners are available for most newer models, but if you can't find one for your old relic, there are several universal types. Be sure to measure the size of your existing burner and check whether it is of one-piece or split construction. (Barbecues with two burner knobs are split systems.) Match the size and type of burner as closely as possible with your old one. While sizes vary, the universal sets generally feature the burner body, bend-to-fit tubes and gaskets. Make sure you keep the old burner handy to help set up the replacement.





3. Grill power

The grills tend to see a lot of abuse and are generally the next thing to go on a barbecue. This fix will make your outdoor feasts taste better, and make cleanup at the end of a meal easier too. There are replacements readily available, in both fixed sizes and expand-to-fit configurations. Take measurements and, if you can, take the old grills into the store with you to get the best match. Installation couldn't be simpler: just drop the new grills in place.





4. The heat is on

Most older barbecues use a combination of a wire grid and a layer of lava rock or ceramic briquettes for heat distribution. Generally speaking, the grates and rocks don't last very long, as the heat fluctuations and dripping fat tend to take their toll rather quickly. While looking for a replacement grid, I came upon an alternative: heat distribution plates. These are essentially louvered ceramic-coated metal plates designed to cover the burner, distribute the heat evenly and prevent flare-ups. Most new barbecues come with some form of heat distribution plate (also called vaporizer bars) instead of rocks. I found a universal plate that expanded to the proper dimensions for my project barbecue. Simply screw the plate in place and you're ready to move on to the next (and final) fix.



5. Start me up

It seems that every barbecue I have ever owned had the same type of igniter: the twist-to-ignite units that work great for about a week. I don't know why they don't last, but I always seem to find myself igniting the flame with a match while defending my eyebrows. I found another universal part that I hope will end my grief: a piezoelectric ignitor. This handy little starter installs in the hole from your old ignitor and uses a single AA battery and an electrode to provide the spark required. Instead of searching for the matches after hitting the ignitor, I now hear the satisfying whoosh of the burner igniting.




The finished barbecue, ready to grill.


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