Traeger grills are a fantastic tool for the backyard pit master, but they also represent a significant investment. (They ain’t cheap, in other words.) So if you’re like me, looking at the looming shift in weather patterns and wondering how to protect your grill during the cold winter months, take it from someone who has done it wrong in the past and figured it out the hard way: there’s a couple things that could help prevent a painful start to next year’s grill season.
#1: Thoroughly Clean the Grill
This should be obvious, but I’ll spell it out just in case. If you’re going to be leaving your grill unused for a long period of time, it’s best to get all the residual food bits and grease out of the system and give it a good scrub so there’s nothing to attract unwanted guests — either of the microscopic or macroscopic variety.
Start with the bits that actually touch food, namely the grate and the drip pan. I personally use a drip pan liner when using my grill, which keeps the grease from contacting the pan itself and makes cleaning a breeze: just lift out the old liner and replace it with a new one. However, this doesn’t help with the collection drain on the right side of the grill — that sucker you’re going to need to de-grease and clean by hand.
The bucket on the outside of the grill is another place where a bucket insert is super useful for making cleaning a snap. During the winter, you’re probably going to want to either take that bucket inside or store it in the grill itself, also.
The grate will need a little direct TLC. You’re going to want a wire brush for the scrubbing, and a cleaning agent to get all the residual grease off the inner bits. I use CirtuSafe, which is a natural degreaser and cleaner that doesn’t have any of the harmful chemicals you might find in other cleaners. (Call me crazy, but I like knowing that my food won’t be tainted by anything next time I go to fire up the grill.)
With the direct contact surfaces cleaned, it’s a good idea to give the rest of the upper enclosure a scrub as well. This area gets a significant amount of splatter from meats, and smoke residue can build up on these surfaces.
Also important to remember is to remove all of the spent pellet residue from the bottom of the grill. Remove the grate, the drip pan, and the support arch to get at it. A utility vacuum might be a good idea, but an old fashioned gloved hand does a good enough job. This section doesn’t have to be perfect, just clean-er.
#2: Mix Diatomaceous Earth in the Hopper (And Underneath)
In my experience, the hopper is the hot spot for insects. Whether that’s burrowing into the wood pellets in the hopper or making a nest underneath near the delicate electronics, they seem to like it quite a bit. I once found an entire wasp’s nest under the hopper after a winter hiatus.
One way to discourage this behavior (without harmful chemicals) is to use diatomaceous earth in the hopper and underneath. This very fine powder is not harmful to you, your pets, or your grill (at least, it hasn’t caused any issues for me in my time using it) but it kills bugs better than any pesticide that I’ve seen. It works by getting into the cracks between insect’s joints and quickly dehydrating them. Using a food grade version like this one is recommended just in case some eventually makes its way into the grilling area.
#3: Move Your Grill Under Cover
Again, probably a bit obvious but I’ll say it anyway: if you can, move your newly-clean grill to a spot that offers some protection from the winter elements.
A garage would be ideal, sure, but really anything from a shed to under an awning is better than nothing. Whatever you can do to get it out of the elements and keep it as protected as possible.
#4: If Cover Isn’t Available, Wrap It Well
Personally, a protected spot isn’t an option for me at the moment. My garage is too small for the grill and I don’t yet have a large enough shed in my back yard. So my grill gets covered with a Traeger grill cover that’s custom made for my specific grill. It does a good job generally keeping the grill dry even during the Austin rainy season, but during the winter I like to supplement that with some additional tarping, just in case.
#5: Disconnect The Grill from Power
Lastly, but MOST IMPORTANT, disconnect the grill from the power lines.
This is how I fried the on-board electronics of my grill last year. Silver lining, I suppose was that it gave me the experience needed to write my article on how to troubleshoot your Traeger grill. But for those not looking to follow in my footsteps (myself included), you can avoid electrical issues by physically unplugging the grill from its normal power source.
And there you have it — how to winterize your Traeger grill. With any luck, this will keep your grill pest-free and in perfect working order until it’s time to start cranking out some delicious brisket again. At which point, all you should need to do is plug it in, give the grill a quick scrub, and flip the switch.