How to Start a Gas Grill

Starting a gas grill is not as easy as turning on your oven. You need to think about doing several things all around the same time—you’ve got to open the tank, turn on the burner, ignite the burner and get those other burners lit. Plus, you have to do it all safely. 

We’ll go over how to start a gas grill so you can begin your journey to becoming a grill master.

Getting Started

The producers of gas grills have been making the task of lighting them safer and safer. There are, however, a few guidelines you can follow to make this an even safer practice. 

First of all, there’s a four-part mantra that you can chant. This will help you remember the steps to safely lighting your grill. Use it, especially if it’s been a while since your last grilling session. 

You just have to remember to keep your KOOL:

  • Keep the lid open.
  • Open the gas valve.
  • One burner on. 
  • Light the grill.

This is the basic mantra for lighting your gas grill. Below are more detailed instructions. 

How to Start a Gas Grill infographic

How To Start a Gas Grill Using an Automatic Starter

  1. Always start with an open lid. The last thing you want to do is give the gas a chance to accumulate in a closed grill. 
  2. Most grills will have a propane tank sitting under the grill. Often, but not always, behind a little door. If you don’t find a tank there, you may have a tankless grill. This kind of grill gets its fuel directly from the natural gas supplied to your home. In that case, you can skip the next step. 
  3. Once you find the tank, locate the knob on top and turn it counterclockwise. Keep turning until you can’t turn it anymore. Doing this allows the gas to move through the gas line and up to the burners. 
  4. Stand up and face your grill again. There will be two, three or four large dials facing you. These are for turning the burners on. There should be another switch, which is usually on the left and sometimes red. It might read “starter” or “auto-ignite”. This ignites the burners.
  5. Turn the dial of the burner that’s directly beside the ignite button. Set it to high. Next, press the ignite button. 
  6. You should hear and see the burner ignite. You will also feel a little heat from the one burner.
  7. It’s now safe to close the lid. To light the other burner, turn them on to the highest setting. The flame from the already lit burner will see to it that they get lit. 
  8. Before you start to cook, wait until the temperature reaches 500–550 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the thermometer on the grill to check this. If there isn’t one, just wait 15 minutes. 
  9. Once you’ve reached 500 degrees, you can change the temperature to what you need for cooking. 
A gas grill with the burner dials and auto-ignite.

How To Start a Gas Grill Manually

  1. Again, start with an open lid. This should be something you do without even thinking when you’re starting your grill.
  2. Next, think about the gas source. Open the valve that you find attached to the propane tank. Remember it’s counterclockwise and open it fully.
  3. Without an auto-ignite button, you’ll need some kind of flame. The best thing for this job is either a long fireplace match or a lighter wand. Both are good at getting your flame close to the gas source. 
  4. There will be a hole in the side of the body of the grill. This is where you will insert your flame. Before lighting your match or lighter, put your hand on one of the burner dials. This should be the burner that is closest to the hole where you will place your flame. 
  5. Light your flame, and then turn the burner dial to full or high. Carefully put your flame source into the hole. The burner should light pretty quickly. 
  6. Once you see a flame in the first burner you can close the lid. Turn on the other burners, and they will light on their own. 
  7. Again, wait 15 minutes, or when the temperature gauge reaches 500–550 degrees Fahrenheit.
  8. Now it’s time to cook. You can adjust the temperature to whatever your cooking needs are. 

Grill Won’t Light?

You’ve followed the starting instructions above, and the grill still won’t light. There are a few other things to look into. 

You May Have a Broken Auto-Ignite Switch

Unfortunately, because you use it a lot, your starter is often the first thing to go in the life of your grill. The good news is that if it does go, you can always use the above manual lighting instructions. 

If there’s no hole for inserting a flame, you can simply put the flame near the burner.

Eventually, you should replace the starter by contacting the company that manufactures the grill. Before making that replacement, make sure that it truly is an auto-ignitor problem. You’ll know it’s not working if the sound it makes is different from when it was working.

Your Burner Isn’t Working

If your grill doesn’t start, even though you’ve checked the auto-ignite or you’ve tried starting it manually, it might be time to replace your burners. These little guys don’t last forever. 

For some people, this will mean that it’s time to buy a new grill. But for the home handyman or someone up for the challenge, they can be replaced. You can buy the burners at a hardware or home center or online. 

Your Propane Is Too Cold

Some folks who live in colder climates insist on grilling all year long. And why not? You can put on your parka and gloves and go to town. But all that cold air does have an effect on your gas grill.

Extreme cold air can make your propane malfunction. Propane is a liquid, after all, and prone to freezing. You can’t store it indoors; this is extremely unsafe. But you can make sure you store it in direct sunlight. Another method for die-hard winter grillers is to buy an electric heating blanket made just for grill tanks. 

A woman grilling in front of snow-covered hills.

Other Things That May Go Wrong With Your Gas Grill

There’s a Gas Leak

Of all of the signs that there’s a problem, the most unsettling is a hissing sound. Well, the hissing sound should be troubling because it means you have a gas leak. 

The quick and easy fix is to shut off the gas at the tank level. This will bring safety to the area immediately. But now, unfortunately, you won’t be grilling until you deal with this problem. 

The first thing you should do is check to make sure you actually have a gas leak. There’s a pretty easy way to check for this. 

  1. Add a little bit of dish soap to some water. Now you want to apply this soapy water anywhere on your grill that carries the gas from the tank to the burner. You can apply it with a paintbrush or spray it on with a spray bottle.
  2. Once you’ve applied the soapy mixture, turn on the gas and look for bubbles along the gas line. Bubbles mean you have a leak. 
  3. If bubbles form on a connection, you are in luck. This just means you need to tighten the connection. Give it a good turn and check again. 
  4. If the bubbles appear on the rubber line, you are going to need to replace the line. 

The Rubber Pipes Are Old

The rubber pipes that carry the gas to the burners can become rigid over time. They lose their flexibility and will start to wear quickly. To avoid having an unexpected gas leak, as mentioned above, replace rigid rubber pipes as soon as you notice them. 

The rubber pipe is attached to a regulator. If you’re going to replace the pipe, you might as well replace the regulator, too, as they’re usually sold together. The regulator can also deteriorate over time, so if the pipes are old, the regulator probably is too.

Preparing Your Grill for a New Grill Season

How To Hook up the Gas Tank

If this is the first time you’ve used your grill this season, or if you have refilled or replaced your tank, you will need to know how to hook up the gas tank. 

Propane tanks are most commonly stored under, behind or on the side of the grill. Place the tank in the appropriate spot for your grill and attach the gas line safely to the propane tank. 

Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions regarding attaching the gas line. If you can’t locate the instructions that came with your grill, you can usually find them online. 

‘Tis the Season… To Season

If your grill grate doesn’t have a porcelain enamel coating, it’s a good idea to season them before starting a new grill year. 

This is easily done by spraying the grill grates with a high heat cooking spray. You then turn your grill on medium heat and wait 15 minutes. The oil should start smoking and then burn off. Once that has happened, consider your grill seasoned. 

Fire Safety

The National Fire Protection Association says there are 10,600 home fires started by grills in an average year. You certainly don’t want to be one more added to that number.

Something easy you can do is have a fire extinguisher on hand. If you have a spot to keep it near your grill that’s protected, this is the best place for it. If not, keep it just inside your house or garage. Make sure it’s easy to get in a hurry and that all family members know where it is. 

When the grilling season starts, take a look at your fire extinguisher and make sure it’s in good working order. 

Food Safety

Don’t forget: the food safety rules you follow in the kitchen also need to be followed in the backyard. If a plate or utensil touches raw meat, it must not touch cooked meat. This is a rule that requires special consideration for grilling. When you’re outside, you might feel too lazy to go in the house and get a clean platter or a clean set of tongs. 

At the beginning of grill season, remind yourself and your family members about these rules. Also, be sure to have plenty of grill utensils on hand.

A cook using tongs on a gas grill.

Grease Tray Maintenance

If you didn’t do any maintenance of your grill at the end of last season, it’s a good idea to do a little at the beginning of a new season.

The number one thing to check is the grease trap or tray. Depending on your grill, there should be a place that holds excess run-off grease. It could be a tray or a cup—or both. Locate these on your grill. Usually they’re removable and easily cleaned. 

Of course, doing this at the end of the grilling season would be best, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. So make it a part of your pre-season routine. 

Grease Tray Preventative Steps

After all the work of cleaning your grease tray, consider some preventative maintenance. This only works with the large grease tray, not the grease cup. 

After cleaning, pour a thin coating of sand on the bottom of the tray. This stops the grease from bonding with the tray and makes cleaning up much easier. 

I don’t recommend using aluminum foil for this job. The metal foils have two disadvantages. For one, with all that heat, they tend to bond with the metal of the grease tray. This makes it hard to separate them when cleaning.

Metal foil also reflects heat. So, when you’re grilling, the foil will reflect the heat back onto your grill. This could create premature wear of the metal on your grill. 

Final Words

Grill season should be a time of relaxation and fun. Now you know how to start a gas grill, make sure to follow the above rules, so your grill season is also safe. 

Take the time to review safe grill starting practices, know how to troubleshoot problems, and create a pre-season grill maintenance checklist. Once you’ve done these simple things, you can relax and enjoy outdoor cooking. 

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