How to Clean a Barbecue Grill

Person using tongs and a spatula grilling food outside.

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Luckily, the time spent maintaining a grill is minimal, and the payback for the effort is enormous. It doesn't matter if you're dealing with a top-of-line model or a cheap knockoff: A major seasonal cleaning combined with every day (or every-use) scrub-down will improve your grill's cooking performance. A clean grill will cook food better and it will be free of residue that could possibly contaminate it.

How Often to Clean a Barbecue Grill

For health and safety reasons, not to mention the taste of the food, a barbecue grill should be treated just like you treat your kitchen stove. Clean it after every meal preparation.

What You Need

Supplies

  • Stainless steel grill brush with scraper
  • Rags
  • General-purpose dish soap
  • Stiff nylon brush

How to Clean Barbeque Grill Grates and Racks

Grill grates and racks—and any other surface that touches food—should be cleaned after each use. For best results, wait until after you've grilled.

  1. Brush Off Grates and Racks

    Immediately after each cooking session, brush off the grates and racks when they are cooler but still warm, using a high-quality stainless steel grill brush to clean off food particles.

  2. Scrape the Grates

    Use the brush's built-in scraper (if it has one) for burned-on food, or use a separate scraper tool.

  3. Wipe the Grates and Racks

    Wipe the grates and racks with a damp rag to remove loosened bits, and make sure there are no loose brush bristles left on the grate (you really don't want a wire bristle in anyone's food).

    If you have a cast-iron grate, clean it completely, then brush on some vegetable oil with a paper towel to keep your grate in proper shape. Bare cast iron needs to be inspected regularly because it is more likely to rust.

  4. Soak the Grates and Racks If Needed

Cleaned after every use, the grates and racks on your grill will avoid a heavy buildup of grease. If you forget to do this for too many cycles, you may need to soak the parts in a large bucket filled with a mixture of hot water and dish soap, which will help loosen baked-on grease.

How to Clean Charcoal Grills

Grills that burn charcoal have unique issues related to the large quantities of ash generated. Here's a schedule for how to clean charcoal grills.

  1. Empty Ashes After Each Use

    Clean out the residual ash in a charcoal grill after each use. A pile of ash left on the grill can collect moistureand ash plus moisture can equal a cement-like substance that's can be incredibly difficult to remove.

    To make quick work of ash cleanup, keep a metal (not plastic or anything combustible) bucket with a lid next to the grill, and dump the ashes and spent coals into it when everything has cooled down. Store the bucket somewhere where it won't get wet.

    Transfer the collected ash to the garbage when the bucket is full and you're positive there are no coals still burning. Ash disposal becomes even easier if you opt for lump charcoal since it creates relatively little ash when compared to briquettes.

  2. Clean All Parts Once Each Year

    At the beginning and end of each grilling season, or at least once a year if you grill year-round, give your charcoal grill a thorough cleaning with hot soapy water and a stiff nylon brush or fiber scrub pad.

    For complete cleaning, perform this work systematically, beginning with the surfaces up under the hood, and moving down to the side walls and bottom of the cooking chamber. Make sure to thoroughly clean the drip pan.

    Conclude by wiping down the outside of the grill from top to bottom, using warm water. Wipe dry to prevent rust.

  3. Take Your Time

This can be difficult work if you haven't done it in a while, so be prepared to spend some time. You may go through several scrub pads and many buckets of warm water. Most people find it most satisfying to do this deep cleaning at the end of the grilling season, before storing the grill for the winter. That way, the grill will be clean and ready to go when the next grilling season begins.

How to Clean Gas Grills

People with gas grills often think they are home free when it comes to cleaning their grills because of the "clean" setting on many gas grills. This setting does heat up the grill and burns off some of the particles, but it isn't a substitute for regular cleaning.

  1. Clean Grates and Racks After Each Use

    Cleaning chores are much easier if they are done often, after each use of the grill. This is critical with gas grills since the high temperatures can bake on grease and foods, making it challenging to clean the grates and racks once they cool and the grease hardens.

    Make sure to clean these parts after every cooking session.

  2. Clean the Heat Deflectors

    Many gas grills have thin steel plates, angled in the shape of a V, that separate the burners from the cooking chamber. These heat deflectors serve to distribute heat evenly around the cooking chamber and prevent the gas flames from burning the foods directly overhead. Grease and food residue often drips down onto these deflectors.

    Clean the deflectors after every three of four uses of the grill by removing them from the cooking chamber and scrubbing them with warm soapy water and a nylon brush or scrubbing pad. Dry them completely before putting them back in the grill.

  3. Clean All Parts Once a Year

    Clean everything else—including the burners themselves, the side walls, the bottom of the cooking compartment, and the drip pan—at least once a year, using warm, soapy water. This seasonal or annual cleaning requires some simple disassembly so you can clean each part separately let and dry it thoroughly before reassembling the grill. Make sure to disconnect the gas hookups before removing the burners.

    The burners require special attention. Makes sure the jets (the tiny holes where the flames emerge) are free of debris. A thin wire or small nail can help to open up any holes that are plugged.

    Conclude by wiping down the outside of the grill, using warm water. Wipe dry to prevent rust.

  4. Inspect All the Parts

The annual cleaning is a good time to inspect all the parts and replace any that are worn or damaged. Grill burners can eventually wear out, as can the heat deflectors and other parts. Hardware stores sell many of the parts necessary to tune up a grill, and the grill manufacturer may offer them for sale online.

Cover Your Outdoor Grill

It may seem obvious, but covering your grill is a must if you're keeping it outdoors. Without a cover, all the dust, dirt, pollen, cobwebs, and insect mess that covers your deck or patio during the off-season will equally cover your grill. Also, grills stay dryer under a cover, which helps reduce corrosion of the metal parts.