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17 Apr 2020

This is why your barbecue won't light, plus other common barbecue problems

Common barbecue faults are easily avoidable if you take the necessary steps, according to a recent Which? survey

If you've got the space for it, an outdoor barbecue can lift your spirits and help take your mind off the troubles of the wider world. But having a barbecue that won't light is a common frustration that could keep your grill stowed away all summer long.

Whether you've got a gas or charcoal model, struggles with getting it to light or failing to get it burning altogether is the most common problem for owners.

That's according to recent expert research survey* carried out by Which?, investigating and scoring the reliability of the products bought from a variety of barbecue brands.

Read on to find out about why you might have trouble getting your barbecue to light, how to avoid it and get help with dodging other commonly reported faults.

Or go straight to our new guide on which barbecue brands to buy to make sure you buy a grill that won't let you down.

Before heading into the garden to light up your grill, make sure you check the latest advice from your council on lighting barbecues, bonfires and wood-burning stoves during the coronavirus pandemic.

Some have advised against this due to its potential to aggravate respiratory conditions. Check our recent news story rounding up the recent advice.

Keep it clean

Cleaning your barbecue can be a chore, there's no doubt about it. But if you don't clean and dry it properly after use, it's sure to make it harder, or even impossible, to light the next time you use it.

On gas barbecues, leftover food, fat and oil can cause mould to build up in the grill hobs and the tubing that connects to the gas canister. This blocks gas from flowing out of the hob properly and will prevent it from lighting.

Charcoal barbecues aren't safe from this kind of build-up, either - if you don't clean it properly, vents will get blocked up and a moist drum will make the fuel you put it in struggle to stay lit. Leftovers can also encourage your barbecue to become a home for hungry critters, too.

Use the right tools

Rubber gloves and a brush with steel bristles should be your kit for protecting your hands and dislodging stubborn, stuck-on food debris. If you don't have these, try rubbing it with a ball of kitchen foil.

Oven cleaner will work a treat on a barbecue, but if you want to use something more environmentally friendly, a combination of warm water and vinegar will work too.

Check the manual

Before you clean it, it's worth checking the manual to see if any cleaning products or methods will invalidate your warranty.

The manual may also have cleaning recommendations specific to your barbecue, or recommend the best products to use. Many barbecue manufacturers produce their own cleaning products.

Dry it properly

This is a step many people will miss, but it's just as important as cleaning if you want your grill to last.

Leaving your barbecue wet or damp after cleaning or use will encourage rust to build up, which can render it unusable. barbecues rusting to this point was the second most commonly reported fault in our survey.

To avoid this, dry your barbecue with a lint-free cloth after cleaning. You can also use the cloth to buff it to keep it looking like new after each use.

Want a model that's good enough to make all the maintenance worth it? Check out our Best Buy barbecues to see the top models we recommend.

No smoke coming from your charcoal barbecue?

Charcoal barbecues can be notoriously tricky to light, which may have a hand in why difficulty lighting was the most commonly reported fault in our survey.

There are a few simple things charcoal barbecue owners can do to make life much easier for themselves.

Tips to make lighting a charcoal barbecue easier include:

Clear out the ash properly

Not many of us will admit it, but a great number of people who own a charcoal model will only remove the leftover ash from their barbecue at the end of the summer.

Leaving ash for a long time will cause it to get moist and thicken into a thick, dusty paste. This will be difficult to remove later, and it disrupts the air flow to the coals, especially at the bottom. This makes it much harder for the coals to stay lit.

Make sure you scrub all of the ash out properly once it's cooled down after use. You'll thank yourself the next time you use it.

Use the air vents

Almost all charcoal barbecues have some kind of vent that can be open or closed for controlling air flow to the burning coals.

If you own a kettle barbecue like the one shown above, the vents will likely be located on the hood. For standard or oil drum barbecues, the vents are usually found on the sides of the basin.

Once the coals are lit, keep the vents open. They will allow oxygen an easy path to the bottom of the fuel pile and get your barbecue going quicker. You can shut them again once the coals are ready to cook over.

Group the charcoal

You don't always need to fill the entire basin of your barbecue to cook on it. In fact, only burning fuel in one area of it opens up the opportunity to the other parts of the grill as a warming rack or, if you have a hood, an area to roast or bake your food.

But even if you do plan to spread the coal throughout and use the whole grill area to cook, it's worth grouping the charcoal together when you first light it.

A thinner, taller pile of fuel will do a much better job of going up in flames than a wider, shorter one. Once it's burning through and turning white, that's the time to spread it out using a stoker or a similar tool.

Barbecue chimneys are worth investing in if you want this to be even easier - they can be picked up online for little more than £10.

Keen for a new charcoal model? Our top charcoal barbecues guide can help you pick one that isn't a pain to light.

Store it away properly

The sight of a barbecue left out to the elements is one many of us will be familiar with, and is unfortunately one of the biggest problems.

Leaving a barbecue outside will subject it to a daily dose of moisture and cold, which is a fast-track to rust and mould, and will dramatically reduce its lifespan.

Tips for storage, include:

Choose a space that's warm and dry

A garage is the ideal option, as they are usually a similar temperature to your home and provide reliable, solid protection from moisture.

A shed is sufficient too, although they are cooler than garages. They still provide adequate protection and are dry on the inside (as long as there's no damp gardening tools or machinery in there, too).

Cover it up

If you don't have a garage or shed, or even if you do, it's a good idea to cover your barbecue when it's not in use. This will go a long way to keep it dry and dust-free if you're storing it away for a while.

Most barbecue manufacturers sell covers for the specific model you've bought. These are best, as they fit snugly around the grill and usually have ropes or hooks to help secure them.

If you do have to store your barbecue outside, a good cover could be a lifesaver for the grill.

Separate gas canisters

Always make sure your gas canister is disconnected and switched off properly before you store it away, and don't store the canister with the barbecue.

Gas canisters should never be stored in your home and should always be upright and out of reach from children and direct sunlight.

Anything that can get warm or ignite should be kept well away from gas canisters, too.

For our picks of the top gas models money can buy, check out our top five gas barbecues guide.

Other burning problems

Struggles with getting the barbecue to light and rust making it unusable may have been the most commonly reported faults in our survey, but they were not the only ones we found.

Barbecues becoming warped or disfigured was also a common fault, which was experienced by one in 10 owners we surveyed.

Other faults our members reported, include:

  • Controls, such as grill knobs on gas barbecues, becoming faulty
  • Foldable features, such as hoods or side tables, breaking
  • Gas leaking
  • Grills or trays breaking
  • Stand collapsing
  • Wheels coming off

Our tests find poorly designed models all too often, which is why our independent barbecue reviews are so important.

*Survey of 1,025 barbecue-owning Which? members carried out in January 2020.