Warning: Don't Clean a Gas Grill This Way

Once Considered Effective, This is a Dangerous Method with Modern Grills

Dirty Grill
Dirty Grill. Victor Sandyawan / EyeEm

A common folk remedy for a dirty gas grill goes back decades and is similar to the method by which self-cleaning kitchen ovens are cleaned. The method went like this: 

  • Cover the cooking grate with aluminum foil, turn the grill to high for 20 minutes, let it cool, and then simply brush off the ash. The foil holds the heat from the gas burners under the grates and reduces virtually everything to a fine dry ash that can be easily cleaned up.

    While the sounds like a great idea, most modern grills simply can not take the heat. Perhaps, long ago when most gas grills were made with all heavy cast-iron parts, such a method wasn't a problem, but today it is, when the grill firebox is more typically made of stamped steel and burners are intended to be consumable parts that wear out and can be replaced.

    The intense heat created by this cleaning method can warp cooking grates, crack ceramic igniters, and cause metal fatigue in the burners. Worse, the captured gasses can combust, gas lines and hoses can melt and the temperature inside enclosed carts can exceed the safe temperatures for storage of propane tanks. Why should anyone take my word for it? You don't have to. The official position of Weber is:

    Weber does not recommend this type of method at all. Covering the cooking surface could trap gas and become a fire hazard and blocking the airflow causes very high heat that can damage valves, burners and supply lines that may make the grill unsafe to use. We do recommend consumers always preheat their grill on high for 10-15 minutes. This will burn off all of the food particles and prepare the grill for grilling. 

    And Char-Broil has this to say on the subject:

    We ​agree, it’s simply a bad idea to clean any grill in this manner. It’s also particularly dangerous. Blocking off the grate can overheat the entire firebox, and force heat into areas not necessarily designed for excessive heat. The firebox could warp, the porcelain could overheat and bubble or burn off/drip off, the gas train (valves, manifold, hoses, tank) could overheat causing catastrophic failure, hot flue gases could be forced out through the various holes in the firebox, which could lead to damaged side shelves. Consumers should always follow the manufacturer’s recommended cleaning methods.

    Several other manufacturers have similar comments on this method. Unfortunately, even some reputable media outlets still point to the foil incineration method (as it is sometimes called) as the best way to clean a dirty gas grill. The truth is, this can be very dangerous and since manufacturers warn against it, this may void the warranty if a gas grill is damaged by this method.

    If you run across anyone advocating this method of cleaning a gas grill, do not follow the advice, even if they claim to have used it successfully. It's possible that a grill may accept this treatment one, twice, or even more often, but eventually, your chances of destroying the grill or causing a serious accident are substantial.