First step to a successful BBQ season: Cleaning the grill

Whether you’re a charcoal champion or prefer to get down with gas, clean that thing!

Key tips to remember

  • Clean your grill after every use
  • Do a deeper clean between seasons
  • Watch out for wire brushes
  • Skip the toxic cleaners
  • Keep your grill covered and dry

In the pantheon of neglected chores, cleaning the grill may reign supreme. It’s just that there are so many other things we’d rather do, especially when the weather gets nicer. The idea of the results of a fantastic grilled meal in the backyard is what we focus on. The before and after cleanup that we should (ideally) take care of on both ends tends to drift toward the backs of our minds. 

Before you know it, we’re treating our grills like a neglected horse: riding them hard and putting them up wet. This, dear reader, is no way to treat our grills. No, we must give these essential, family-and-friend-feeding tools the respect they truly deserve…and keep them clean…especially if we want them to continue to safely provide some of our finest meals, reliably and for years to come.

If you’re wondering how to clean a grill, it’s not the most complicated task for a DIY-inclined person. You don’t need to call in a professional. You can do this. Roll up those sleeves! Put on some old clothes and resolve to take care of some serious grill business. It’s time to knock out those built-up carbon deposits from grilling occasions past. They can get in the way of your grill’s optimal functionality, breed bacteria and generally just make things gross. Go ahead and plan some time to clean your grill before you’re down to the wire. You won’t need the pressure of guests arriving when you do your first deep cleaning in a long while.

Cleaning supplies

You can spend tons of cash on all sorts of special grill cleaning tools, products and supplies, but why bother when you can keep it simple, biodegradable and nontoxic? Skip all the chemicals and fancy gadgets and get back to basics. 

If you must, you can make an exception for a very specific yet arguably unnecessary grill cleaning tool, but for the most part, your DIY grill cleaning kit will comprise items you already have around the house. If you must use a specially designed grill brush, it’s up to you, but you’re probably already aware of the danger of broken metal wires or tines in your food and the havoc they can wreak on your picnic (and digestive) parade. 

Your grill scrubber needn’t be designed specifically for grill cleaning. Common dishwashing pads and sponges work well too. Steel wool is an all-purpose grill-gunk exfoliator for extra-tough-to-remove deposits, and vinegar is your acidic yet non-toxic friend on this grill-cleaning venture. 

Here are more simple cleaning supply ideas for your consideration:

  • Grab a bucket with hot water and paper towels (or better yet, rags from old t-shirts).
  • A pair of cooking tongs works pretty well with a foil ball or paper towels, if you must.
  • Grill brush alternatives, like scouring pads and scrubbers of all kinds, work well too.
  • A putty knife can be a handy tool for removing layers of baked-on gunk from grill interiors.
  • Scraping tools of all kinds, from wooden to plastic, make cleaning a grill grate a cinch.
  • Dishwashing gloves are a great idea for keeping your hands grill-gunk-free.
  • Regular old dish soap is excellent for cutting into that stubborn grease buildup.
  • Simple Green is great if you need something a bit stronger that’s still food safe.

Cleaning the grill

You’ll want to start with a grill that’s still warm but not hot enough to burn you when you touch it. Start by cleaning the grates with the sponge, scouring pad or steel wool of your choice. You may even want to consider scraping it down while it’s still quite hot using a long-handled grill brush. This way, the leftover food bits fall through and get burned to a crisp in the flames. 

Scour the inside of the grill and lid. After you’ve finished with the scraping and scouring and are back to a more touch-friendly heat level, you can move on to additional cleaning of the grates with clean, wet rags. Follow that with the application of vegetable oil, creating a nice coating over the entirety of the grates.

Charcoal grills: Special considerations

Charcoal grills require more frequent cleaning but have fewer parts to manage. We recommend cleaning yours after every use, and while you’re at it, do your grill a huge favor and keep it out of the rain. Store it in a covered area. Better yet, add a fitted cover to keep it even cleaner. If you don’t want to buy one, a tarp is better than nothing. 

If you don’t dump old ashes, you’ll block airflow underneath your coals, which impedes your ability to control cooking temperatures and could lead to a fire. Dump ashes into a covered metal container once they’re completely cooled, and  don’t make the mistake of trying to speed up the process by pouring water on them. This is a big mistake that creates lye, corrodes metal and could give you chemical burns. 

At the end of your grilling season, get in there for a deep cleaning with the gloves and the bucket of soapy hot water. Break out the hose, spray down the insides of the grill and scrub everything thoroughly, including the grates and insides of the kettle and lid. Then rinse and degrease with something like the nontoxic, biodegradable, food safe Simple Green we mentioned earlier. Let it sit for a half hour to penetrate, and then soap and rinse with hot water once more before letting it all air dry. Don’t forget to add that light coating of vegetable oil on your cooking grates as a finishing touch.

Gas grills: Special considerations

Get in the habit of checking the grease pan under the firebox. The last thing you want is an impromptu grease fire. Clean the grill grates regularly, pretty much as you would with a charcoal grill, but be careful if you have porcelain-coated cast iron grates, as they can be damaged if you try cleaning them when they’re hot. 

Try running the grill for ten minutes on high with a closed lid, then turn it off, open the lid, let it cool and begin your cleaning regimen once it’s safe to touch. The remnants of your last meal should now come away from the grates more easily. Burner hoods should be inspected for buildup of grease, as should burners and their ports. Clogs can happen, which you can clear out with a metal wire (after turning off the gas and the grill). Any removable parts like grates, hoods, heat deflectors and grease pans can be soaked in the bucket with the soapy hot water, if you’re doing a deep clean. 

You may not have to get in there up to your elbows in soapy water and scrubber sponges to thoroughly clean your gas grill as often as with a charcoal grill, but doing this at least once at the beginning and once at the end of the season is recommended to keep things running smoothly. Still, you’ll want to get into the habit of at least a cursory brushing and cleaning of the grates before each use, including that recommended light coating of vegetable oil.

Best practices year-round

Whatever type of grill you have, get in the habit of giving it at least a light cleaning after every use. That way, all the fatty, greasy, saucy drippings won’t have a chance to build up and turn into stubborn carbon deposits, blackened through and through, and you won’t have to use nearly as much elbow grease the next time you clean. To keep the exterior of your grill clean and looking great, first refer to the manual to make sure you won’t damage the surface or paint with any harsh cleansers. A 50/50 water and vinegar spray solution is often all you need, with the addition of something like Simple Green for more baked-on spots.

If we’ve piqued your curiosity in the home-improvement and cleaning category, check out our homeowner’s summer checklist while you’re here, or review our tips and tricks for a magical spring cleaning, but that’s not all. We also have some simple changes to make your spring cleaning more sustainable, so go forth, clean and prosper…with helpful hints from Cinch Home Services. Thanks for stopping by.

The information in this article is intended to provide guidance on the proper maintenance and care of systems and appliances in the home. Not all of the topics mentioned are covered by our home warranty or maintenance plans. Please review your home warranty contract carefully to understand your coverage.

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