I get to see thousands of barbeque grills at their worst. People call me when the grill will not heat properly, can’t ignite or begins to fall apart with rust and corrosion. I repair gas barbeque grills and I get to see how you treat your BBQ. The most common misconception I deal with is a belief grill ignitors do not last. Many customers will tell me their barbeque grill has served them for over ten years but the ignitor stopped working within six months. More often than not, when I test the ignition it works just fine aside from being ignored for the past nine and a half years. Inject a little education and most clients are able to use the barbeque grill ignition for many years before needing a replacement part.
A gas grill ignitor is made up of several different parts although most backyard chefs envision it as a single fragile item. The module is often referred to as a spark generator and generate sparks is what it does. A module can contain a button to act as the electronic switch, spark generator and battery pack. These items can also be installed separately depending on the barbecue grill design. The switch is usually accessible but the ignition module is mounted behind the control panel. Placement behind the control panel keeps you from breaking it and keeps the weather from directly affecting its performance.
The electrode is attached to the module by an electrode wire that runs into the firebox of the gas BBQ grill. The electrode acts just like a spark plug in your car. The charge from the battery is activated when the button is pressed, rotary is turned, control knob recessed, etc. The battery charge is converted within the module and sent to the electrode. The electrode sparks and gas ignites. It is really that simple and the simpler the tool, the more difficult to damage.
A barbeque grill ignition electrode should be easy to locate in the firebox of your gas grill once the cooking grates, briquette tray or heat shields have been removed. It will even look like a small spark plug with a porcelain housing and a steel rod coming through it. Often there will be a second steel rod mounted alongside the rod coming through the porcelain. Many barbeque manufacturers will place a stainless steel collector box over the electrode to protect it. Whether your gas grill electrode is a single steel rod in a porcelain sleeve, two steel rods or is contained in a stainless collection box, this is where the electric charge arcs to ignite your gas grill.
One reason a barbeque grill ignitor will seem to function poorly is the same reason the spark plug in your car must have its gap adjusted when it is installed. Whether the electrode is grounding against the gas grill burner, the collector box or secondary steel rod, the distance has to be close enough to make a strong connection but far enough apart to maximize the exposure to gas flowing from the burner. Check the gas grill manual and properly gap the distance to achieve the best spark from your ignitor.
If you purchased your gas barbecue grill from a grill store as opposed to a giant retailer selling everything but properly educated in nothing or buying it online and assembling it yourself the specialty grill store will have completed this for you as part of the assembly of the grill.
The primary reason most people believe their gas BBQ grill ignitor is broken is grease. The electrode must mount inside the grill near the gas burner in order to access the gas as it leaves the burner. The proximity to the gas it ignites also places the electrode in the path of falling grease. Grease, dirt, rain, water and pieces of food all combine to hinder the effectiveness of your gas grill ignition. When the button is pushed, clicked or turned and the gas does not ignite most backyard grillers will assume the ignitor is broken. Often it can be a single drop of grease that is stopping the arc from connecting to the ground.
Even the rare client who truly does clean their gas barbeque regularly will focus on the grill parts they can see or the BBQ parts that touch their food. The more devoted cook may remove the cooking grates to clean the rock tray, heat shields and sometimes poke put the gas ports on the gas burner. All this is great but an extra thirty seconds to lightly brush the collector box or the exposed electrode will keep the ignition function safely through many years of use. When you clean the electrode, rely on your de-greasing spray. If too much pressure is applied and the porcelain sleeve gets cracked, the electrode will have to be replaced. Spray the de-greaser, lightly brush the steel rods then replace the battery and activate the switch. Most ignitors today use a battery operated button but many grills still use rotary knobs or piezo clicking buttons. Check the arc to make sure the spark is a solid blue and adjust the gap if necessary.
I have assisted thousands of backyard chefs over the past several years and a vast majority of them have believed a faulty ignitor was standard practice on a gas grill. It is not. A little education and a little maintenance and your ignitor will exceed your expectations and safely ignite your barbeque grill every time.