Whether it’s the start of grilling season or the tail-end of summer, chances are your grill is due for a cleaning. A deep degunking once every season, and an occasional spruce-up here and there, not only helps your grill last longer but leads to better-tasting food, too. Planning to serve up the ultimate grilled vegetable salad, or classics like a grilled burger, steak or chicken? A clean, well-functioning grill is the key to optimal flavor, right along with the best grilling temperatures and marinating tricks. Here are all the tips and tools you need to get your grill looking like new.
What to Know Before You Deep Clean Your Grill
We’ll walk you through all the steps of grill cleaning in detail, but here’s a quick overview of the process. First, know that grill cleaning can be messy, so you may want to cover your patio or deck with a dropcloth. Then, once you’ve gathered your supplies, you’ll remove the grill grates and set them aside to clean. If you have a gas grill, you’ll remove the burner covers and clean those too. Next, you’ll clean out the insides of the grill (find the specifics for gas vs. charcoal grills below) and scrub the grill lid interior. Clean and dry the grill grates. To finish, you’ll wipe the exterior clean and make sure all parts are dry before returning them to the grill. Ready to start cleaning? Here are all the nitty-gritty details to make your grill sparkle:
What You Need to Clean Any Kind of Grill
Whether you have a gas, charcoal or flat-top grill, there are some common supplies you’ll use for your cleaning. Here’s the ultimate list of grill cleaning products and tools:
Nylon Grill Brush for Cold Cleaning
Nylon grill brush - This is the MVP of grill cleaning. The bristles are made of durable nylon, which means you can deep clean all types of grill grates – including coated ceramic.
Heavy-duty scrubbing sponges - If your grill is particularly dirty, you might need more than one of these, but never use a synthetic scrubber on a hot grill since it could melt.
Steel or copper scrubber (optional) - These curly metal scrubbers can come in handy for hard-to-remove gunk.
Angled Measuring Bucket
Bucket or tub (optional) - A large bucket can be useful for soaking your grates.
Dish soap - One labeled as “degreasing” or “grease-fighting” is best.
Baking soda (optional) - You can use baking soda as a gentle, non-toxic scouring powder to boost your scrubbing power.
Cleaning spray (optional) - An all-purpose, degreasing cleaning spray or a cleanser designed for grills can come in handy for stubborn gunk. Just be sure whatever you choose is non-toxic and safe to use on a cooking surface.
Coal Rake with Grate Lifter
Putty knife, scraper or metal spatula (optional) - A flat metal scraping tool can be used to chip off crusty bits. The tip of the nylon grill brush has a stainless steel scraper with cut-outs (to clear off burnt-on bits).
Rags - Cut-up old towels work great. (Note: Wash these as a separate load of laundry afterwards.)
Rubber gloves - You’ll want to protect your hands during this messy cleaning job.
Shop vacuum (optional) - A shop vac can be a handy helper for removing the last bits of debris and ash.
How to Clean Every Type of Grill
Here’s a simple guide to cleaning any kind of grill, both inside and out.
How to Clean the Inside of a Gas Grill
Before you do anything else, turn off the gas source. If you use propane tanks, remove the tank entirely. Next, remove the grates and follow the appropriate grate-cleaning method listed below. You’ll also need to remove and clean the burner covers (aka burner hoods, the v-shaped metal plates that sit directly above the burners). To clean the burner covers, scrub them with your scrubber and hot, soapy water; add a little baking soda to the sponge as you scrub. (Removing any grease is important to prevent flare-ups.) Most gas grills have a catch pan that you can pull out: Brush it off and clean with a degreasing dish soap.
You can use a shop vac to suck up any debris that may have ended up inside the grill, or just use a paper towel or rag to brush the bits out of the bottom. Refer to your owners’ manual for the specific instructions on how to clean the burners themselves. It’s important to regularly brush these off to keep the openings clean for safety and for even heating. Wipe down the exterior and any work spaces, as described below.
How to Clean the Inside of a Charcoal Grill
Remove the grates and follow the appropriate grate-cleaning method listed below. To clean out the inside, remove any charcoal you plan to use again and set it aside. Remove excess ash in the grill and empty the ash catcher. Next, scrub out the bowl and ash catcher with a heavy-duty scrubbing sponge and warm, soapy water. Rinse with plain water. Wipe down the exterior with a fresh bucket of warm, soapy water. Dry the inside and exterior thoroughly with rags.
How to Clean the Inside of a Flat Top Grill
More commonly found in a commercial kitchen, a flat top grill requires a different cleaning method. If your flat top has a cast iron griddle, wash it with hot water, mild dish soap and a sponge. Do not scour with abrasive tools or cleansers. If your flat top grill is stainless steel, you’ll want to invest in a griddle cleaning tool (usually a reusable handle with disposable pads and screens). Warm up the steel flat top, pour on warm water, then scrub, scrub, scrub with the griddle cleaning tool.
After cleaning, use paper towels or rags to wipe off any excess liquid. When the grill is completely dry, use a paper towel or rag to coat the griddle with a thin layer of oil to create a protective layer on the grill surface.
How to Clean Grill Grates
Each time you grill, scrub your grill grates as you’re cooking and while the grill is still hot. That will prevent gunk from building up and let you stretch the time between deep cleanings. Keeping the grill grates clean makes food less likely to stick, which is especially important with notoriously sticky items like grilled pizza, grilled vegetables, or grilled tofu. Plus, squeaky-clean grill grates make for the perfect char marks on your grilled burgers, steaks and barbecued chicken. But if yours have gotten gross, here’s how to deep clean the grates:
How to Clean Stainless Steel Grill Grates
Stainless steel grates are popular in part because they’re easier to clean than other types of grill grates. First, scrape the grates with your grill brush to remove as much caked-on food as possible. Next, if your grates are extra gunky, soak them in a bucket of hot, soapy water before scrubbing to help loosen the cooked-on food and grease. Then scrub the grates with your heavy-duty scrubbing sponge or stainless steel scrubber. Pay special attention to any places where two parts of the grate meet and grime tends to build up. Add baking soda to your sponge to boost your scouring power. Dry grates thoroughly before returning them to the grill.
How to Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates
Many cast iron cooking grates have a protective porcelain enameled coating on them (see below), but if you have untreated cast iron, you need to be mindful of its tendency to rust. For that reason, you’ll want to skip the soaking step; in fact, you can skip using any water at all. Instead, scrape the grates thoroughly with your grill brush or a curly metal scrubber. Then fold a paper towel into quarters, saturate it with vegetable oil, and lightly rub the grates with the oil. (If you have a gas grill, turn on the flame to heat the oil so it forms a protective layer of seasoning.)
If your cast iron grates are starting to rust, you’ll need a more aggressive cleaning method. You can either scrub the grates with warm, soapy water until the rust is gone or soak them in a 50/50 vinegar-water mix. Then scrub off all the rust with a heavy-duty scrubbing sponge or metal scrubber. Dry thoroughly before re-seasoning the grates. Instead of adding a single coat of oil, repeat the process at least twice to seal the cast iron.
How to Clean Porcelain Grill Grates
Never clean porcelain-coated grill grates when they’re hot. Once grill grates have completely cooled, soak in warm, sudsy water. Use a heavy-duty synthetic scrubbing pad to remove any built-up gunk. Don’t use a metal scraper tool or a grill brush on porcelain-coated cooking grates: The metal can damage the coating. Wash off residue with warm, soapy water and dry with a rag.
Grill Cleaning Hacks [Or How to Clean a Grill Without a Brush]
You’ll find all sorts of grill cleaning hacks online. Some work better than others, and some are effective but come with caveats. If your grill brush has gone missing, here’s how you can still get your grill clean with household items:
How to Clean Grill Grates with Vinegar
Mix two cups of vinegar with one cup of baking soda to form a paste. Coat your grill grates with the paste and seal them up in a garbage bag overnight. Rinse them off the next day.
How to Clean a Grill with an Onion
Cut a large-ish onion in half, spear it on a grill fork, and run the cut edge over the grill grates to dislodge any food.
How to Clean a Grill with Tin Foil
If you have stainless steel grill grates or uncoated cast iron, you can use crumpled aluminum foil to scrape them clean once they’re cool enough to touch. However, do not follow any advice to lay aluminum foil over the grates, turn the grill to high and let it run: This is not safe. And make sure not to use this method on porcelain-coated cast iron since it can chip the coating.
How to Clean the Outside of a Grill
The outside parts of most grills are typically a combination of stainless steel, painted steel, enameled steel, and plastic—and each should be cleaned differently.
How to Clean a Stainless Steel Grill Exterior
If you have a stainless steel exterior on your grill, the main thing you’ll want to avoid is scratching the finish. Stainless steel is coated with a thin layer of chromium oxide film. Never use an abrasive cleanser or scrubber on stainless steel—even paper towels can scratch some stainless finishes. Instead use a soft cloth and a specialty stainless steel cleaner to bring the surface back to its original shine.
How to Clean Painted and Enameled Grill Exteriors
Use good old-fashioned soap and water. Fill a bucket with warm water and degreasing dish soap, and wipe the exterior with rags or a cellulose sponge. After wiping the surfaces with the soapy water, rinse them with plain water, and dry thoroughly with a clean rag.
How to Clean Plastic Parts of a Grill
Any plastic bits on a grill can be cleaned with soap and water or a non-toxic all-purpose cleaner. Gas grill knobs can often be removed for deep cleaning.
How to Clean the Inside of a Grill Lid
You may notice something that looks like peeling paint on the inside of your gas grill’s lid. Don’t panic: It’s actually a residue of grease and carbon that starts to peel off over time. The peeling residue is not toxic, but you still won’t want it flaking onto your food. To clean the lid, simply scrub off the peeling bits with your grill brush; then scrub with your heavy-duty sponge, soap and water. Dry thoroughly.
How to Clean a Rusty Grill
If you see signs of rust anywhere on your grill, take action immediately to remove the rust before it spreads. But don’t use a commercial rust remover, which can leave a chemical residue on the grill. Try scrubbing rusty areas on the interior with a heavy-duty scrubbing sponge and soapy water. For stainless exteriors, stick to a stainless steel cleaner designed for grills.
How To Keep a Grill Clean After Use
Ongoing maintenance is critical to keeping your grill in top working condition. Once you’ve removed food from the grill, use your wire grill brush to scrape the grates clean while the grill is still hot. Address any spills on the work surface on the side of the grill with warm, soapy water. Wash your grilling equipment after each use—dishwasher-safe barbecue tools make that easy—and store those items indoors.
If you forget to clean the grates after cooking, all is not lost: Before you start cooking, turn the grill burner(s) to high, then brush the hot grates with your wire grill brush.
If you have a gas grill: Check the grease pan after each use. An overfilled grease pan will result in a serious mess. If your grill manufacturer has disposable trays for the grease pan, use them. Anytime you see the grease approaching the top, simply let it harden and then throw the whole thing away.
If you have a charcoal grill: Never put water onto the ashes in a charcoal grill. Instead, close the vents and lid and let the fire extinguish naturally. Once the grill has completely cooled, remove the excess ash.
How to Maintain Your Grill
In addition to keeping your grill clean after you use it, and doing an occasional deep-cleaning, invest in a grill cover to make your grill last longer. This will prevent rust and protect your grill from the elements. A grilling tool rest will go a long way towards keeping your work surfaces clean. Another way to keep your workspace clean is to use a mise-en-place method (in which you prep and organize all of your ingredients beforehand), then carry your food and tools to the grill on a baking sheet. Finally, if you move your grill around a lot, you should also check its nuts and bolts to see if they need tightening.
How to Clean a Grill Brush
Don’t forget to clean your grill brush: Regular cleaning removes food caught between the bristles and prevents bacteria from forming. The easiest way to clean a grill brush is with another grill brush. Submerge both brushes in a bucket of hot, soapy water and then rub the brushes against one another. Allow them to dry thoroughly. If your grill brush is rusty or losing bristles, it’s time to replace it: Grill brushes usually need to be replaced every year, if not more frequently.
How to Clean a Cast Iron Grill Pan
If you’re grilling inside on a cast iron griddle, wait until the pan has cooled enough to safely handle it. (If there are lots of charred-on bits, you can add a little water to the pan while it’s still hot and scrape at the grill ridges with a metal spatula.) Scrape and rinse off any pieces of food. Next, fill the pan with warm water and just a couple of drops of dish soap. Use a cast iron pan brush to scrub away the greasy residue. Rinse and dry thoroughly before storing.