Rusted: Can I Leave My Gas Grill Uncovered During Winter?

When we were getting the house ready for winter this year we were cleaning up the yard and the big thing we had left out was the gas BBQ. I always leave my grill out and uncovered, and I was wondering if that was the right thing. I did some research to find out if it was safe to expose my BBQ to the winter weather.

So can you leave your gas grill outside and uncovered during winter months?  If you have a high quality stainless steel barbecue, it can easily stand up to the cold, damp, and snow of winter weather.  If your barbecue is lower end (made of  lower quality stainless steel, sheet steel, or cast iron, it should be stored or covered to extend its functional life.

Your barbecue can stay outside in the winter regardless of what it’s made from, but some will hold up better than others – the amount of work that you put into your grill at the start of winter will dictate how well it survives.

Barbecues and Winter

Whether or not to cover is a hotly debated subject, with as many opinions as there are people to hold them.  How well your barbecue will hold up to winter weather depends far more on what it’s made from than how well you take care of it, unless you baby your grill to the extreme.  Covers have as much chance of trapping moisture inside the grill as they do of keeping it out which can cause as much damage to your barbecue as the winter conditions.

Low end barbecues are typically made of sheet steel or cast iron, both of which will easily rust in the weather – winter or summer.  Moisture is the main enemy and an inexpensive barbecue cover will also trap moisture in, making the rust expand more quickly and destroying the burners.  If you are going to keep a grill made of sheet steel or cast iron outside during the winter, make sure that you remove the cover and wipe it down frequently or use it regularly (at least once a week)

More expensive and higher end barbecues are made of good quality (300 series, non-magnetic) stainless steel – the higher end the BBQ the more and higher quality stainless steel you’ll find in it.  Stainless steel is very hard to make rust, requiring a particularly acidic environment or really high heat before it will start to corrode.  Stainless steel grills will stand up to almost any weather without an issue and will last a very long time compared to the less expensive grills that can quickly rust.  If you do decide to cover a stainless steel grill at any time, make sure that it gets a lot of use, or frequent cleaning and airing so you don’t need to deal with the bad things trapped moisture can bring.

It’s never a bad idea to have your grill in a covered location like a porch or under an overhang (assuming that you’re following all appropriate safety porch – never us a gas grill inside, for instance) that keeps the grill protected from weather, dirt, and debris while allowing access to light and wind to keep the grill dry.  No matter what your grill is made of, if it’s in a controlled environment that limits moisture exposure it will last longer.  It’s also really easy to grill in the winter when you’re not clearing snow every time you want to turn on the cue.

One exception around the recommendation not to cover a higher end grill is in the coastal regions.  With the higher salt content in the air from the oceans, there is a much higher chance of corrosion of the grill.  In those locations you’re best to cover your grill and make sure you use it often, or remove the cover to wipe it down and get rid of trapped moisture to extend its life.

If You Are Going to Cover

If you are going to cover your grill it’s important to get a good cover that will let the moisture out when covered.  These are typically more expensive covers that have vents, or covers that are made of a breathable material.  Covers that don’t have the appropriate venting or breathable materials will trap moisture in with your grill and can lead to corrosion.

Most covers are not completely waterproof.  Both the seams of the covers and any vents in the cover will let moisture in.  A cover also won’t cover the bottom of the BBQ, and water on the ground will evaporate up and be trapped by the cover.  BBQ covers do a good job of keeping garden chemicals, dirt, bird droppings, and pollen off the grill, but may actually make it more inviting for rodents and insects.

Storing Outside Without Use

If you’re going to store your BBQ outside and not use it through the winter, there are several steps you can take in order to keep it protected from the elements.  You will need to cover the BBQ with a high quality cover to make this method effective.

How to Prepare Your Grill to Weather the Winter:

  1. Burn everything off: Turn your grill on high and let it burn for 15-20 minutes.  This will start he cleaning process, kill off any bacteria or mold in the BBQ, and carbonize any remaining food elements on the grills or inside the cover.
  2. Shut off the fuel source:  Whether this is propane or natural gas, turn the fuel off at the source and disconnect it.  Never store a propane tank indoors – it will take any weather that you can throw at it and can be stored outside in a well ventilated area..
  3. Clean the BBQ thoroughly:  Give the BBQ a thorough cleaning.   Take the grills out and fully clean them.  Take the burners out and fully clean them, including the grill holes to ensure you get even heat.  Clean out the inside of the cook box and the grease pan, and replace the grease pan.  Fully dry and replace the burners.  You can see a step-by-step video here.
  4. Spray grills with cooking oil:  The oil will help protect the burners from moisture and corrosion through the winter.
  5. Cover your grill:  Put on your high quality cover.  Remember, even with a great cover you’re going to have to take care of the grill during the winter.  Take the cover off at least once every two weeks, wipe down the barbecue, and let any moisture evaporate.  It will, even in winter. If the cover is damp at all, let it dry before replacing it.

Based on everything I found, I’m going to continue to leave my grill out uncovered during the winter.  I’m going to make sure that spend a little more time cleaning it in the fall, but I love the winter grilling, and I think my BBQ will continue to handle the weather.

Related questions

How do I protect my burners from spiders if I’m storing for the winter?  While I haven’t tried it, I’ve read that covering your burners with a plastic bag or plastic wrap will keep the spiders out of the burners.  Make sure you check the burners for moisture under the plastic when you let your grill out to dry every couple of weeks.

Can I cook on my grill during the winter?  Absolutely!  Winter cooking can be some of the best cooking, but remember that with the air temperature so much lower, every time you open your grill cover you’ll let out most of the heat and the cold will get to the food.  It’s much more important to cook with the lid down during the winter.  Just make sure you don’t light it up if there is plastic on the burners!

What about charcoal gills? Charcoal grills follow a lot of the same standards as gas grills, but are typically smaller and can be stored in a shed or garage.  For winter, clean them thoroughly and put them away if you can – otherwise follow the same kinds of steps as the gas grill for winterizing.

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