To love grilling is to love your grill and, as with any good relationship, maintaining it takes some work. Luckily, the time spent keeping a grill happy 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 and keep your relationship on solid ground for a good long time.
Cleaning 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. Brush the grates and racks when they are cooler but still warm, using a high-quality stainless steel grill brush to clean off food particles. Use the brush's built-in scraper (if it has one) for burned-on food, or use a separate scraper tool. 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).
Cleaning Charcoal Grills
In addition to cleaning the cooking surfaces, clean out the ash in a charcoal grill after each use. A pile of ash left on the grill can collect moisture, and ash plus moisture can equal a cement-like substance that's a monster to remove.
To make quick work 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.
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.
Cleaning 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.
On top of cleaning the grates and racks with each use, clean the heat deflectors under the cooking grate every third or fourth time you grill. Clean everything else—including the burners and the bottom of the cooking compartment—at least once a year. 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.
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 that 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.