I don’t live in a warm climate, so my grilling season is limited to a few months out of the year. And that’s probably why I never learned how to clean a grill. Which, when you think about it, is kind of gross. Sure, I would drag the grill out in the spring and give it a once over, but I don’t think I ever gave my grill the attention it deserved.
It never occurred to me that learning how to clean a grill wasn’t just about getting the ashes out of the bottom. A clean grill performs better, cooking my food evenly every time. And, learning how to clean a grill properly, I found out, means that I spend less time scraping and cursing, and more time grilling and eating.
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Why Should I Learn How to Clean a Grill?
Other than eliminating the “ick” factor, it’s important to understand how to clean a grill to help keep it in good working order. A clean grill functions properly (and we don’t just mean it grills your meat). A clean grill heats properly. That means that not only are you able to heat your grill to the proper temperature but also that the heat is spread evenly throughout the cooking area. An evenly heated grill means there are no cold spots where only half your food gets cooked.
Learning how to clean a grill also helps you know how to eliminate grease buildups that could flare up when you cook. In a charcoal or pellet grill, this means no flames where and when you least expect it. Which means you (hopefully) won’t burn your food. In a gas grill, the grease can collect on the ports, making it harder for the gas to flow properly and less likely that the grill will heat evenly.
When you know how to clean a grill properly, you are learning how to extend your grill’s life. Regularly cleaning a grill helps ensure everything functions properly year after year.
Two Types of Cleanings: Occasional and Deep
When we talk about cleaning a grill, we are talking about two types of cleanings: occasional and deep cleanings. You should plan to do each during barbecue season. However, keeping up with the occasional cleanings means you will have a lot less work to do during the deep cleanings.
Occasional cleanings don’t happen every day, but they also don’t happen “once in a blue moon.” Occasional cleanings happen after every use. Using and cleaning a grill is no different than using and cleaning a cooktop. The odds are pretty good that when you use the cooktop, you splatter grease or sauce on it. At the end of the day, you probably wipe down the cooktop so that the splatters don't bake on (and so it doesn't attract ants). Obviously, if you eat out one night, you don’t need to clean your cooktop “just because.”
The same goes for the grill. It’s not necessary to wipe it down once a week, or even every day if you haven’t used it. You only need to clean your grill after you use it. Now, most cooktops cool down quickly, meaning you can safely wipe it down not long after you use it. However, a grill can take as many as 24 hours to cool off. You may have to wait until the next day to clean your grill, but you should do it as soon as you can.
Wipe down any obvious dirt and grease on the inside and outside of your grill. There's no need to take the grill apart. You can save that for the deep cleanings. Clean any stuck on food off the grill grates. If you see any large chunks of food lying in the bottom of the grill, get those out as well. Then, a quick wipe with soap and water and you’re all set.
A deep cleaning is a lot more than just wiping down the grill and cleaning up any spills and splatters. A deep cleaning gets into all the tiny cracks and crevices of the grill and eliminates the grease, grime, and left behind food.
Once a month is a good rule of thumb when scheduling your deep cleanings during barbecue season. Obviously, if you’re a once a month griller, you might be able to get away with every other month. Heavy grillers should consider bumping the schedule up to at least twice a month.
Let’s Learn How to Clean a Grill
What we cover here is how to deep clean the grill. We’ll assume that you are wiping the grill down and cleaning up after yourself every time you use the grill. Also, the procedure for cleaning any kind of grill (pellet, charcoal, or gas) is almost exactly the same for all grills. Where there are special considerations to worry about, we’ve noted it in this guide.
Get the right tools
Start by getting the right tools. You may or may not want a pair of heavy-duty rubber gloves. But, you will definitely need a grill brush . Because it will probably see a lot of abuse, consider buying a new one every year to ensure your brush is in tip-top shape. A clean brush with bristles that haven’t been worn down through use will help cut your cleaning time down. Also, consider grabbing a putty knife (that you earmark “for grill only”) to help with the extra caked on stuff. In a pinch, a balled up piece of aluminum foil can substitute for a grill brush or putty knife.
You don’t need a special grill or oven cleaner to get your grill clean. While you can use special cleaners, hot water and regular dish soap will get the job done. You’ll also need rags or paper towels. And, don’t forget the elbow grease.
Prep your grill
Make sure your grill is completely cool before you attempt a deep clean. Experts suggest you don’t use the grill at all at least 24 hours prior to the deep clean. If you have a gas grill, make sure you turn off and disconnect the gas before you start your cleaning. If you are cleaning a pellet grill, make sure you remove the pellets before you clean. Wet pellets will no longer work (because they will clump together). Also, make sure to keep the inside of your pellet grill dry during the deep clean. The electronics in the grill don’t mix with water.
Clean off the grates
Start with the grates. One method is to simply turn the grill on to a very high heat and let everything on the grates turn to ash. It’s very similar to the way a self-cleaning oven works. Once the grill is cool, you can remove the grates and wipe them clean.
However, it is possible that heat alone won’t get the grates clean enough. In that case, you can soak the grates in a soap and hot water mixture. Let them soak for 15 minutes (or longer if they’re really dirty) then scrub with the wire brush. Repeat if necessary.
Vacuum the bottom
Really. You can use a heavy duty shop vac to get all the food particles out of the bottom of your grill while the grates are soaking. But, if you don’t have a shop vac, there are other ways to clean out the bottom of your grill.
In many grills, the bottom part is removable or has a lid that slides open. Either remove the bottom and dump out the ashes or slide open the cover and release the ashes into a bag. Sweep out as much of the ashes as you can, or use a wet rag to get the rest out. Any remaining residue might need to be scraped out with a putty knife or the wire brush. Wash with some soap and water then rinse.
Wash out the grease collection tray
This is where all the grease gathers. Not only is it gross, but it can also be dangerous to let the grease build up for too long. Also, it’s the kind of thing that can attract animals. Remove the grease tray and scrape all the accumulated grease into a jar. Don’t just wash it down the drain. You could damage your pipes. Then wash the grease tray in hot soapy water until it is squeaky clean.
Wash everything else
Depending on the type of grill you have, there may be other things to clean. There might be things covering your grill burners that could use a once over. Or, you might have ceramic briquettes or lava stones in your grill. Basically, you should clean anything inside the grill with hot water and soap. Consult your owner’s manual for specific instructions about how to clean a grill with special parts. Lastly, don’t forget to clean the grill lid inside and out.
A special note about gas grills
If you have a gas grill, you’ll want to make sure you clean out the grill’s burner tubes. The burner tubes help distribute the flames throughout the grill to give you an even cooking heat. However, like everything else in the grill, over time the portholes in the burner tubes can get clogged with grease and ash. This can affect how evenly your grill heats.
To clean the burner tubes, take the grill brush and brush across the portholes. It’s important to go across (the short way) and not lengthwise (up and down the length of the tube). Brushing across allows you to sweep and remove the debris from the porthole. Going lengthwise likely means you’re just transferring the dirt from one porthole to another.
Maintaining That Shiny Clean
Keeping up with regular cleanings after every use will go a long way toward maintaining that deep clean. Make sure you scrape off the grill grates after every use and clean the ashes out of the bottom of the grill regularly. These two things will go a long way toward keeping the grill clean between deep cleans.
Also, consider using a cooking spray or oil on the grill grates every time you use them. This will help keep food from sticking to the grates. And, it will help keep food from breaking apart when you take it off the grill grates, meaning nothing falls to the bottom.
Less Cleaning, More Eating
Now that you know how to clean a grill, you can see that it’s really about making sure you clean it after every use. While you probably won’t escape using elbow grease, regular light cleanings combined with periodic deep cleans will help you maintain the life of your grill (and your sanity) for years to come.
Looking for some more information about how to clean your grill? We’ve got you covered. Here’s a great step-by-step visual guide showing you how to clean your grill.