What To Do If Your Grill Won’t Light

It’s a beautiful sunny day. Your family is hanging out in your backyard, you’ve got a few fresh steaks seasoned and ready to go on a platter. All that’s left is to fire up the grill and get to grilling. You’ve been waiting all year for this moment. You go over to your grill, hit the gas, and push in your starter button. Here we go.

Except… nothing happens.

You try again, and there’s still nothing.

And just like that, your barbeque dreams fade away.

But don’t fret! Issues with getting your grill to start are some of the most common. Folks struggling with getting their grills to start are probably the most common support issue that we deal with.

While you might think this means you won’t be able to get grilling today, sometimes the issue is simple user error. Here’s everything you should do when your grill won’t light.

Grill Won’t Light? Start With Patience

Do not get frustrated! One of the first things to go on a grill is the ignition. Most people automatically grab the stick lighter and abandon the ignition all together then try to see what the issue may be. 

Though, we find, when your grill won’t light, there’s nothing really wrong. Quite often (especially after it’s been awhile since you’ve been at your grill) it can take a try or two to get your grill to light. This is normal — and can be for a number of reasons. While you shouldn’t just continuously crank the gas and pound your starter (seriously — please don’t do that!), don’t immediately panic if your grill doesn’t start. Usually it is a simple fix.

Instead, step away from the grill, wait a minute, and try again.

Depending on the type of grill you have, you might not be giving your grill enough time to ignite. Some grills have slower ignition sequences than others, and sometimes the gas takes a few seconds to get through the burner enough to create a spark. This is especially true with infrared burners. Typically, it takes a longer amount of time for the gas to reach the entire surface area of the burner — which means that it takes a few seconds before it will ignite. If you have a center fed tube U Burner, you may want to open the valve and give the gas time to go through the center tube first.

If there’s no gas there, there’s nothing to ignite, which means that you’re not going to be able to start your grill. 

The most popular ignition systems are:

Piezo Rotary Spark Generator

Piezo Spark Generator - This is an ignition that usually comes as a push button or a rotary turn style. You hear a hard snap that creates the spark. These are typically found in older grills. We feel the are the most reliable ignition system created. As you know it is functioning when you hear the snap. You simply plug the electrode in and you are good to go. The most easy to repair as well.

DCS 9v Battery Spark Generator

Battery powered igniters - these spark generators will use a AAA, AA or 9V battery. These generally fail (quickly) when the battery corrodes in the unit.

Lynx Hot Surface Electrode

Hot surface ignition - this system uses a transformer that requires electricity to power the ignition. These electrodes glow when heated. Most often, this type of ignition is used in the higher end grills (such as FireMagic, Twin Eagles and Lynx). The involve lots of wiring in the grill (this means more difficult to replace) that will need replacing at some point. 

Use the Proper Starting Procedure

Before getting into all of the things that might be causing your grill to not start, it’s important to know that you’re starting your grill in the right way.

First off, your grill manufacturer should have a standard start procedure for you to follow. Regardless of what we say here, their procedure is what you should be doing, so before following our steps, please grab your manual and take a look to see what they say. It’s likely that your grill might be slightly different or require a different procedure.

With that out of the way:

  • First, open the lid to your grill.
  • Next, ensure that all of your knobs are in the OFF position — including any side or accessory burners.
  • Examine your propane tank. Turn your propane off.
  • Disconnect your propane tank.
  • With your tank disconnected, turn your knobs to HIGH and let them sit there for two to three minutes.
  • Now turn your knobs back OFF and screw your hose back on.
  • SLOWLY turn your gas supply on — slowly turn the valve, do not quickly turn it.
  • Wait a solid ten seconds (sometimes more, depending on the size of your grill) for the lines to pressurize.
  • After you’ve waited a sufficient amount of time, light your grill as your usually would. Typically, that means turning your burner(s) to high (or start, on select grills) and pressing your igniter switch.
  • Once your grill has ignited, you can slowly turn your gas up to where you want it to be.

You should follow these instructions (or your manufacturer’s instructions) every time you start your grill.

Just One Burner — Or All of Them?

Not every grill is the same. Some grills have push-button igniters, some have battery igniters, some have independent ignition, and others have one igniter for every burner.

If your grill isn’t starting — well, what exactly isn’t starting? Do you hear a hard snap, or a rapid ticking or do you see a spark coming of the metal electrode tip?

If it’s just an individual burner, it’s likely the problem is localized to just that area of your grill. That could mean a problem with that specific electrode, burner holes are clogged, or the transformer (if it is an electric ignition) or maybe the wire came loose. Will the localized burner light with a stick lighter? If yes, we know it is most likely an electrode issue. If not, then it may be clogged burner ports or orifice or maybe even a valve issue.

If you have a single ignition source, but only a few burners are igniting, that also helps narrow it down. In that case, you know that the problem is localized to the burners or igniters themselves — but likely not the rest of the system. On the other hand, if none of them are starting, that might mean an issue with the spark generator, or an issue with the actual electrical system itself (preventing the signal from the button you’re pressing to the igniters).

If you have a battery igniter, check to see if the battery is charged (or if it needs to be replaced).

Another easy trick is to try lighting the grill manually. If you can’t, that means that there’s no gas being sent to the burners. Depending on if that’s the case for all of your burners, that can help you determine if you have a problem with one burner or your entire gas system (which could mean your regulator was tripped into bypass mode).

Tip: If your grill uses a spark generator (either piezo or battery) and uses traditional ceramic electrodes with a metal tip, look for a spark coming off the tip of the electrode. If you see a spark... we know that there is nothing wrong with the spark generator and electrode. We now look at the burner port holes. Are they clear and free from debris? If yes, then you may need to (gently) grab a pair of needle nose pliers and move the electrode metal tip closer (or further away) from the burner port holes. 

Problems With Your Regulator or LP Tank

The regulators job is to keep you safe by delivering a steady amount of gas to your grill.

Often, a grill not lighting (or producing a low flame) is a sign of a bad regulator — or one that’s in bypass mode. If you don’t follow the correct startup procedure (found above), your regulator can snap into bypass mode.

Bypass mode is a safety feature designed to stop gas from escaping in the case of a leak. When you don’t follow the proper procedure for starting your grill, too much gas can escape before the pressure has a chance to equalize, and this will cause it to snap into bypass mode. When that happens, your regulator will greatly reduce or completely stop your gas flow.

If this happens, it’s fairly easy to reset your regulator.

Simply turn off your gas at the propane tank and remove the hose from your tank. Next, open your grill’s lid and turn all your burners on high. Wait a few minutes, turn your burners back off, and re-connect your propane tank.

You’ll notice that this procedure is identical to the proper starting procedure — that’s because it’s relatively easy to trip the regulator on many grills, so getting in the habit of doing this “reset” before you start is just a best practice to follow when grilling.

If following this procedure still doesn’t fix your grill, it’s possible that your regulator is bad. Typically, though, if a regulator is starting to fail, you’ll notice issues far before your grill fails to light — such as your grill not staying at a steady temperature.

If your grill is Natural Gas, or you have a high end grill, your grill may also be equipped with an appliance regulator. These are usually found close to the manifold.

Dirty or Clogged Burners or Igniter Electrodes

A clogged or damaged grill burner can prevent a grill from igniting. In order to inspect your burner, make sure your propane or gas is disconnected from your grill. Next, let your grill air out for a minute by leaving the lid open. After that’s done and you’re certain it’s safe, remove your grill grate and any flavor bar and inspect the physical burners underneath. Check the tubes and ports for any spilled materials or debris. If it’s been awhile, dirt, grime, or even insects can get into these parts and create clogs. If there is debris in the way, clear it out (and then move on to your other burners — if one is clogged, the others likely are, too).

While you’re here, check the igniter electrode. Grease and sauce splatter are fairly common on these — and carbon buildup can prevent a spark from forming. Take a cotton ball with some rubbing alcohol and try cleaning the metal tip of the electrode. Some ignition systems use a battery — so check that while you’re here. Also make sure to inspect the wiring as well. While dirty wiring won’t prevent your grill from starting, frayed wires will — not to mention being dangerous. We’ve certainly heard of small animals crawling up and chewing on them (as well as other lines) so make sure to visually ensure that they aren’t damaged.

Trust us — even if your grill was in a space where it should have remained undisturbed, we’ve seen far stranger things happen!

Test Your Grill’s Ignition

Check that all of your igniter electrodes are sparking — this might be easy to see depending on what kind of grill you have. If one isn’t sparking, check the wiring for that particular burner. If none are, then check the writing on all of them.

If you don’t find any wiring issues, pull out each electrode and look for any physical deformities. Cracks on the ceramic insulators or metal tips could prevent a grill from sparking.

If you don’t find any issues there, you’re going to need to grab a multimeter to test the ignition module. Use your meter to check for DC voltage between the electrode and the burner. With one prong touching each side, press the ignition and see if you get a reading. If you measure no voltage, you’ll need to replace the ignition module.

Last resort.. use a stick lighter or give us a call to help troubleshoot.

Propane or Gas Issues

It might seem obvious, but sometimes the issue has nothing to do with your grill at all. Do you have propane in your tank? If you don’t use propane, but instead have a direct gas line, check to make sure that it’s on — and that you have gas to the rest of your house. Check to make sure any safety shutoff valves are open. As always, you should inspect your entire gas line before the start of the season.

If everything seems fine, you should check for a gas leak in your grill itself.

To do this, make sure everything is off and cool. When it is, make a solution of soapy water and spray it (or brush it) onto your gas lines and connectors. Open the gas tank, and look for bubbles. If you see any, you know you’ve got a leak. Make sure to wipe the solution off after you’re done testing for leaks.

Weather Problems

While our scenario above specifically mentioned a bright sunny day, not everyone waits for perfect weather to grill — and that can cause a few issues.

In damp weather, it can be difficult for your grill to light. Depending on the type of ignition your grill uses, moisture can prevent it from sparking — and preventing your grill from starting. This is true of battery igniters. Often, the battery is left in the spark generator for some time and will corrode. It may be a good idea to remove it if you are a seasonal griller. Even grills that require electricity to start may experience issues. While these are fantastic and reliable over the long-term, they require a transformer to power the ignition and long term exposure to the elements can cause damage to the transformer. You can test this by seeing if any other electrical accessory with power on such as the grill control knob or interior lighting. Also check the GFI outlet.

On the other hand, if you’re trying to get your propane grill to light in the middle of winter, you also might have issues. This is because the vapor pressure of propane drops with temperature. While that doesn’t mean your grill won’t light in cold weather, it does mean that if your other components aren’t in good condition, their flaws will become more apparent in low temperatures. A minor clog or blockage might not make itself known until the temperature drops, for example.

Another issue in cold temperatures is water freezing within your gas lines. If your grill is exposed to the elements, water can make its way into its plumbing. While that usually isn’t a big deal, during the middle of winter, that water can freeze and cause damage to your lines (or even block them completely).

A simple solution to temperature problems with propane is to simply bring your tank indoors for a bit before grilling, so that it warms up to your indoor room temperature.

Time For a New Grill or need to Replace Parts?

Regardless of if you just need to find replacement parts for your grill, or you’re in the market for a brand new one, The BBQ Depot has your back.

At the BBQ Depot we pride ourselves on our vast knowledge and experience when it comes to choosing a grill that will last. We’ve been selling and repairing grills for decades and we know which ones can be relied on and which ones cannot. Let’s make this the summer you finally buy the grill you’ve always wanted.

Contact us today with any questions and we’ll help you find the reliable grill you’re looking for.

by Tracy Hollander on 23rd Jul 2020
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