There are few things that say summer quite like the sweet, smoky sizzle of a backyard grill. But after spending months forgotten on a porch, shrouded in polyester and pelted by the elements, your BBQ star typically needs some TLC before it’s back in serious searing shape. So, get your “Kiss the Cook” apron ready: These hacks will help you and your trusty meat-cooking machine get all fired up for grill season.

1. CHECK FOR GAS LEAKS.

The trade-off for gas grills’ swankier appeal is that maintaining them and keeping them safe requires some extra attention. To make sure your gas grill hasn’t sprung a dangerous leak and that everything’s working properly before you get grilling, brush your gas lines with soapy water and check for bubbles—which indicate a crack—when the gas is running. If you spot any, tighten your connection or replace the line.

2. MAKE YOUR OWN CLEANING SOLUTION.

Mix one part water and one part distilled white vinegar in a spray bottle and go to town on your grill’s interior. Replace the lid, let the solution soak in for an hour or so, and cooked-on residue and gunk should be broken up enough to easily wipe off when you’re done.

3. TRY AN ONION.

For an even more natural approach, some suggest heating up your grill to bake off some crud, then rubbing down the still-warm grates with a sliced onion, cut-side down, on the end of a fork. The move seems to loosen up grit and make a grill easier to clean.

4. MEASURE YOUR FUEL LEVEL.

Your steak will have to wait if your gas grill is low on propane, so think ahead by checking your fuel level before inviting over the neighborhood. One nifty trick if your grill doesn’t have a gauge: Pour a glass of warm water down the side of your tank. Wherever the water starts to feel cool on the tank is your fuel level.

5. GET BRUSHING.

A sturdy brush with wire bristles has your grill cleaning covered. The supplies you use to clean with vary based on what type of grill you’re working with and the part of the grill you’re cleaning (dish soap and water work for many grills; stainless steel cleaner is recommended for stainless steel exteriors; rotisserie style grill grates do best with just lemon juice and water). Make sure you haven’t left any bristles on your grill surface after your vigorous brush-down.

6. CLEAN OUT TUBES AND BURNERS.

A toothpick, pipe-cleaner, or paper clip works to de-clog any build-up in your gas ports or tubes (make sure the propane is turned off beforehand).

7. CHECK YOUR FLAME COLOR.

Not all flames are created equal. The pros at This Old House advise grillers to be wary of an all-yellow flame on a gas grill, as it won’t be as effective as the blue fire with yellow tips you want. Flames without the blue color probably means there is not enough pressure coming from the gas tank. They recommend using a similar tactic as when your computer stops cooperating, i.e. turning everything off—the tank, the control valve—disconnecting the tank, opening and closing the valves, and then reconnecting and slowly turning the gas back on. If that doesn’t work, it could be your burner ports have gotten wider over the years. Might be time to replace them.

8. KICK SOME ASH.

A charcoal grill has a habit of collecting ash and unburned chunks of briquettes. Before you start using yours for the season, scrape and empty any ash, including whatever’s in the ash catcher if you’ve got one. If you’re using a gas grill, empty the grease trap.

9. HAVE A MUFFIN TIN HANDY.

A summer breeze is lovely and all, until it knocks over your half-empty ketchup bottle. Keep your fixings organized (and, may we say, attractively displayed) by using an empty muffin tin for all the mustard, pickles, and onions your burgers require. Though you might want to keep it covered when your diners aren’t using it to protect your BBQ sauce from bugs.

10. OIL UP.

A light coating of oil or cooking spray prevents rust and keeps food from sticking—making grill prep for next grilling season just a little easier.

All images via iStock.