- The easiest way to keep your grill clean is to brush it before and after cooking.
- To clean dirty grill grates, soak in vinegar and baking soda, scrubbing with dish soap if needed.
- Deep clean your grill once or twice per grilling season, or every few months if you use it often.
When the weather is right, nothing's better than grilling up steak, corn, burgers, skewers — just about anything. But when was the last time you cleaned your grill? Really cleaned it?
A tidy grill is one of the keys to grill-out success. Dustin Green, the Director and Culinary Grill Master of Weber's Grill Academy, explains that regular grill maintenance "prevents low temperatures, uneven heat, and food sticking to the grates, which are all possible side effects of poor grill cleaning and conditioning."
Whether your grill of choice is gas or charcoal-powered, regular maintenance is key for optimal performance.
Give your grill a quick clean before every use
While you don't need to deep clean the grill every time you use it, giving the grates a quick clean before you start will help prevent food from sticking, help avoid flare-ups and make for an overall better grilling experience. "I recommend this as part of the preheating process," says Green.
- Check the grease tray. If you're cooking with a gas grill, check before preheating — if it's full, empty it before proceeding.
- Check the ash catcher. If you're using a charcoal grill, check before preheating. If full, empty the ashes into a metal container or piece of aluminum foil, wrap them up, and throw in the trash.
- Preheat the grill. Green recommends letting it heat up for 15 minutes; any food debris will turn to ash, making it easy to remove with a grill brush.
- Brush the grates. Use a wire brush to remove anything still clinging to the grates, leaving behind a nice, clean cooking surface. When choosing a brush, Green recommends "a handle long enough to keep your hands, arms, and clothing away from the open flame and heat of the grill."
- Oil the grates. Fold up a paper towel into a tight rectangle, saturate with oil, and use a pair of metal tongs to wipe the oil all over the grates.
How to deep clean a gas grill
Regular grill maintenance will help keep your grill working smoothly, but even if you're diligent about brushing down the grates, your gas grill will need some TLC after a few months of use. Note that since you will be disassembling some parts of the grill for cleaning, you will need to know how to put it back together again, so take photos for reference if needed.
1. Remove the propane tank. Ensure that the gas is in the off position and remove the gas tank from the grill.
2. Brush the grill grates. Remove the grates from the grill and use a grill brush to clean both sides thoroughly. For a deeper clean, wipe with warm, soapy water.
3. Clean the lid. Use a grill brush or plastic scraper to clean off any black flakes or debris from the underside of the lid. For a good scrub, dip the brush in warm, soapy water before each use.
4. Clean the burner covers and tubes. Gas grills tend to have heat tents (sometimes called bars or emitters) that sit on top of the burner tubes to help cut down on flare-ups. Remove and clean them using the grill brush or a plastic scraper. Use a grill brush to carefully wipe the burner tubes, brushing in the direction of the portholes to avoid clogging them.
5. Scrape the interior. Use a plastic scraper and the grill brush to clean any build-up on the sides and bottom of the inside of the grill, using soapy water as needed. Once the inside of the grill is clean, push all of the debris into the grease tray.
6. Empty the grease tray. Remove the tray and wipe it clean. Place any grease in a disposable container, like a metal can, and let it harden before throwing it in the trash.
7. Clean the exterior. Use grill cleaner or soapy water to clean the exterior of the grill and side tables. If you have any persistent grease stains, dust them with baking soda and use a damp cloth to scrub away.
8. Reassemble. Carefully put the grill back together (consult the manual if needed) and reattach the gas tank.
How to deep clean a charcoal grill
Charcoal grills are trickier to start than gas grills, but they're also easier to clean, thanks to the absence of a gas fuel system. If you've neglected your grill for several months and let it collect dust, then give it a deep clean before putting it back to work.
1. Brush the grill grates. Remove the grates and give them a thorough cleaning with a grill brush on both sides. If necessary, scrub with warm, soapy water.
2. Empty the ashes. Remove the ash catcher and empty the ashes into a metal can or a piece of aluminum foil. Discard in the trash. If needed, use the grill brush to clean the catcher.
3. Clean the charcoal grate. If you have a kettle-style grill, use the grill brush to clean the charcoal grate, dipping the brush in warm, soapy water as needed.
4. Clean the interior. Use a plastic scraper and the grill brush to clean the sides and lid of the interior of the grill. Steel wool or balled up aluminum foil works well for stubborn build-up on the interior or the grates, and soapy water can be used as needed.
5. Clean the exterior. Use soapy water to wipe down the exterior of the grill.
6. Reassemble. Replace any removed parts, such as the charcoal grate or grill grate.
Clean dirty grill grates with a baking soda soak
The grates are where food comes into contact with your grill, and you certainly don't want old burnt pieces of food sticking to the outside of your steak or burger.
But sometimes it takes more than a good brushing to get your grates where they need to be.
To deep clean your grill grates, remove them and coat them in a mixture of vinegar and baking soda. You can contain them in a large bucket, tub, or garbage bag. Depending on how dirty the grates are, you can let them soak for up to 12 hours. Then, scrub away any remaining gunk and rinse them with water. For extra grease-cutting power, you can add dish soap to the mix. Dry the grates with a towel before placing them back on the grill.
Different types of grates might need slightly modified care. Here's what to know about each type:
- Stainless steel. Getting stainless steel grates super hot helps melt away food pieces and grease. You can try covering them with aluminum foil during this process to concentrate the heat.
- Cast iron. Like your favorite cast-iron skillet, cast-iron grates need to stay clean, dry, and seasoned with oil to keep them from rusting.
- Porcelain coated. The coating can chip off and lead to rust, so err on the gentle side when brushing or scrubbing, and avoid materials like steel wool and metal scrapers. Also, Weber notes that you shouldn't use any dish soap or cleaners containing citrus, as it can also corrode coated grates.
After cleaning and thoroughly drying the grates, use a paper towel to coat them in a high-heat cooking oil such as vegetable oil.
How often should I clean my grill?
Whether you have a charcoal or a gas grill, how much cleaning you need to do depends on how often you fire up the grill.
Give it a quick clean before every use and a deep clean once or twice during a grill season. Green recommends every three months for serious grillmasters.
Maintain your grill between deep cleans
To reduce the amount of cleanings you need to give your grill, make sure you're keeping it protected from the elements and periodically checking for damage. Here are some of the most important maintenance steps you can take:
- Keep it covered. Green notes "a tight-fitting grill cover will help protect your grill from moisture" and keep it cleaner in between uses. If possible, store the grill in a covered space like a garage or shed when not in use.
- Brush and re-oil after cooking. Though you should scrape down and oil your grill grates before each use, it's a good idea to scrape them after each cooking session as well to remove stuck-on food bits before they have a chance to sit. Re-oil your grill grates with a high smoke point oil to re-season them. This will help prevent your food from sticking and rust from developing.
- Look out for rust. If you don't take proper care of your grill, it can be susceptible to rust. Green explains that "it's important to inspect your grill for rust before each use and replace anything that has a hole or crack in it."
The key to a great grilling experience is a clean, properly working grill. Keep your grill in tip-top shape by giving it a quick clean before every use and a deep clean every few months during grilling season.
A grill brush, a plastic scraper, soap and water, and some elbow grease should get the job done. For extra dirty grates, give them a soak in vinegar and baking soda, taking care not to damage the porcelain coating, if your grates have one.
Laurel Randolph is a food writer, cookbook author, and recipe developer based in Los Angeles, CA. She has written four cookbooks, one of which was the #2 best-selling cookbook of 2017. Laurel has contributed to such publications as EatingWell, Food52, The Spruce Eats, Paste Magazine, Serious Eats, Eaten Magazine, Los Angeles Magazine, and more.