May 15, 2023

How to Clean a Grill Safely and Effectively, Whether You Use Charcoal or Gas

By Emily Farris

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Whether you’re busting out your grill for the first cookout of the summer or it's always grilling season at your house, it's important to know how to clean a grill. And that includes deep cleaning—which should happen annually at the very least, and more often if you’re a frequent or year-round griller.

A clean grill will perform better and last longer than a dirty one, and it's better for your health too. That's because a dirty grill can harbor more than just cancer-causing carcinogens—it can also be a breeding ground for bacteria and mold, and it might even attract hungry critters.

Some people like to take a self-cleaning-oven approach and fire up an empty gas or charcoal grill for 30 minutes or longer to burn off any undesirable pathogens. While that can be an effective pre-clean, it's not the safest way to clean your grill, and it doesn't get it truly clean, either. No, not even if you go at the grates with a wire brush (a tool I recommend exclusively for deep cleaning) when the flames die down.

Deep cleaning a grill is a multistep process that involves removing dry debris and degreasing and de-gunking the components with a soap or vinegar solution, preferably when the grill is cold. It requires some elbow grease, and maybe even switching up your cleaning products, but the good news is that if you stay on top of both deep cleaning and maintenance cleans, the whole process is pretty quick and easy. Plus, food that comes off of a clean grill is just more appetizing, anyway.

So, without further ado, here's how to safely and effectively clean your charcoal grill or gas grill.

Deep cleaning your grill means cleaning the inside and the outside, though most of your effort will be dedicated to cleaning the interior components.

What you’ll need to deep clean your grill:

A good rule of thumb for cleaning anything is to clean top to bottom, because as you work, you dislodge gunk and debris that can fall onto whatever happens to be below. So when cleaning a grill, you want to start with the inside of the lid—especially if it's hinged, as it is on gas grills. If the lid is a completely separate piece, like on a Weber Kettle charcoal grill, you can set it aside and clean it at any point.

DRY STEP: If you use your grill often, there's probably a lot of what looks like peeling black paint under the hood. This is actually carbonized grease, and it's pretty satisfying to scrape off with a putty knife or grill scraper, then you can remove whatever's left with a wire brush. (And I want to reiterate that a deep clean is the only time it's truly safe to use a wire grill brush because if you follow these steps, there's no risk of a bristle getting stuck to a pork chop or hot dog and ending up lodged in someone's throat.)

WET STEP: Once you’ve done all you can with friction, use a solution of dish soap or white vinegar (either will act as a degreaser) and warm water with a soft sponge or microfiber cloth to wipe the remaining grime from the inside of the lid. As an alternative to diluted vinegar or soapy water, you could spray the inside of the lid with dish spray or vinegar spray and let it sit for a few minutes before wiping it away with a warm, wet cloth, repeating as necessary until no cleaning solution remains.

DRY STEP: With the cooking grate(s) still positioned inside the grill, use your wire brush to remove as much as you can from the grates. If they’re really gunky, you may need to use a putty knife or a specialized grill-cleaning tool to dislodge all of the cooked-on bits. Flip the grates and repeat on the underside.

WET STEP: Remove the grate to a stable surface and use your warm water solution (or spray) to wipe away the remaining grease and grime from both sides. If your grates are really dirty, you can saturate them with a food-safe degreaser. Let the degreaser sit for as long as the instructions indicate, then wipe everything away with a scouring pad or nylon grill brush. Repeat as many times as necessary to get the grates clean, then be sure to remove all of the degreaser with your warm water solution before setting your grates aside to dry.

DRY STEP: Remove the charcoal grate and bump or brush off any loose ashes. Empty all the ashes from the bowl (and ash catcher, if you have one) into an ash bucket or trash can. If necessary, use your wire brush to dislodge any big chunks of buildup. You can also use a hand broom and dustpan or Shop-Vac to clear out whatever remains in the bottom of the bowl.

WET STEP: Use a solution of warm water and dish soap (or vinegar) to wipe the bowl and charcoal grate clean just like you did with the inside of the lid and cooking grate. Depending on how dirty your grill is, you may need to use a scrubby cloth or sponge for this step. Give the bowl a final wipe with a clean, dry, microfiber cloth.

Before you clean the inside of your gas grill, make sure the gas supply is turned off. This is a good chance to inspect your gas line or propane tank for damages and defects too.

DRY STEP: Use your wire brush or scraper to remove any debris from the burner hoods (these are the usually-tent-shaped metal pieces that Weber calls Flavorizer Bars), then set those items to the side. Gently clean the burner tubes with your wire brush or a nylon brush. Use a light touch across the tubes instead of working lengthwise, so you don't push buildup from one hole into another. Next, brush or scrape away anything built-up inside the firebox and on the heat deflectors, then remove the heat deflectors and set those aside. Remove the grease tray from under the burners and empty the contents into your ash bucket or trash can (this will include everything you just dislodged). Then scrape or brush the grease tray and set it aside. Use a towel or broom to clear out anything that may have fallen under the grease tray.

WET STEP: Use a solution of warm water and dish soap (or vinegar) to wipe the firebox and grease tray clean just like you did with the inside of the lid and cooking grates. Depending on how dirty your grill is, you may need to use a scrubby cloth or sponge for this step. Give the firebox components a final wipe with a clean, dry microfiber cloth and replace the disposable drip pan liner.

Put all of the clean, dry components back where they belong, close the lid and wipe down the outside of your grill with a fresh batch of whatever wet solution you used to clean the inside. If your grill is stainless steel, you can use a special stainless-steel cleaner (but that's not necessary).

Enjoy cooking on your clean grill!

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In addition to a regular deep clean, you should also do a quick clean of your grill grate after every grilling session, just as you’d tidy up your kitchen's everyday cooking messes.

What you’ll need to maintenance-clean your grill:

Once the grates have cooled completely or are merely warm to the touch, brush lengthwise with a nylon grill brush. Use a built-in or separate scraper to remove any really tough bits.

If you’re set on cleaning your grill while it's hot, you should still avoid a wire brush. In addition to safety concerns, scraping sharp metal bristles across hot porcelain-enameled cast-iron grill grates (which most higher-end gas grills have) can damage the coating and cause the grates to rust prematurely. That said, you also do not want to use a nylon brush on hot grates, or the bristles will melt.

As an alternative, you can DIY a pretty effective bristle-free grill brush with a wad of aluminum foil and sturdy, long-handled grill tongs. Just grab the foil with the tongs and push it up and down the grates as you would an actual grill brush, and rotate the ball as it gunks up. The foil method may still wear down enamel coating over time, though, so an even better option is to steam clean your grill grates with this specialized brush that uses a durable, absorbent pad. Simply dunk it in water (it doesn't even have to be hot water) and use it on hot grates just like you would with a metal grill brush.

When the grates are clean and dry, add a little vegetable oil (or any neutral oil with a high smoke point) to a folded paper towel and wipe the grates to thinly coat them like you would when cleaning a cast-iron skillet. This helps to prevent rust and can help to keep food from sticking next time you cook.

Remove fully cooled ashes from the bottom of a charcoal grill and dump the ash catcher if you have one. If you’re using a gas grill, check the grease tray and drip pan. You don't need to empty these every time you cook on your gas grill, but you should absolutely peek inside of the grill to inspect both trays so they don't overflow.

Unless you move your grill into the garage or shed every time you’re done cooking (and cleaning!), you can prolong its life by covering it. A grill cover not only keeps the outside of the grill clean, it protects the body of your grill from the elements, which prevents rust, corrosion, and fading. The best grill covers are both waterproof and UV-resistant.

What you’ll need to deep clean your grill: DRY STEP: WET STEP: DRY STEP: WET STEP: DRY STEP: WET STEP: DRY STEP: WET STEP: These 29 Classic Gourmet Recipes Get Us Hyped for Grilling Season What you’ll need to maintenance-clean your grill: