How to Clean a Grill: Tips for Gas, Charcoal, or Pellet Smoker Grills

Summer is here, and you know what that means … it’s grilling time! If your grill has been sitting idle in the last few months, chances are, it needs a thorough cleaning. Grease and carbon build up when cooking, and these are something you should be concerned about. When grease and carbon deposits are left uncleaned, they can modify the taste of food and lead to the premature breakdown of your grill and its components.

We’ll show you how to clean a grill in time for your summer cookouts, broken down by the three most common types of grills available in the market. For hygiene and food safety’s sake, don’t forget to clean your grilling tools before the cookout.

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How to Clean a Charcoal Grill

Carbon build up develops on charcoal grills.
Photo Credit: Chris DeGraw/Digital Trends

Over the course of the year (or the grilling season, depending on your outlook on life), charcoal grills can develop quite a bit of carbon buildup, and can even see a bit of rust form on iron grates. Also, that excessive ash in the bottom can billow up and ruin your T-bone and/or block your dampers, so even when you’re not doing a deep clean of a charcoal grill (which is needed less than with gas to be sure), do the bare minimum and clean the grates and clear the ash.

What you’ll need:

  • Disposable latex or nitrile gloves
  • Paper towels
  • Grill brush (steel or other stiff bristles)
  • Scrub brush (stiff non-metal bristles)
  • Grill cleaner (dish soap and water works in a pinch)
  • Vegetable oil (a half cup will do)

Step 1: Dump Ash and Scrub Grates

Scrub the grill grates with a wet grill brush
Photo Credit: Chris DeGraw/Digital Trends

Scrub your grill grates with a wet grill brush as soon as you’re done cooking over charcoal, even if you’re not going to stop the party and clean the grill then and there. Regardless, when it is time to clean, remove the grates, lift out the ash pan (assuming your grill has one, if not you’ll simply be picking that little Weber or Lodge grill up by hand), and dump all ash.

Step 2: Spray Foam Grill Cleaner

A dirty grill that needs to be sprayed with a cleaner.

Wipe remaining ash off the pan (or out of the bottom of the grill) and then spray the grates and interior with your foaming grill cleaner and let it sit for several minutes.

Step 3: Use Grill Brush

A person cleaning the grill.

Use your stainless steel (or good and stiff) grill brush on the grates and your scrub brush on the ash pan and inside the grill, then rinse everything down with water. Then let the components dry.

Step 4: Clean exterior

A red brush on top of a grill.

Put the grill back together, close it, then use the grill cleaner (or soap and water) to clean the exterior of the grill.

How to Clean a Gas Grill

We will show you how to clean a grill in eight simple steps.
Photo Credit: Chris DeGraw/Digital Trends

Gas grills are the easiest to use — just turn a knob for your fuel source and press a button or strike a match to ignite it — but they can be the most annoying to clean. As more drips of melted cheese, spatters of fat and grease, and more food bits in general fall past the grates, the burners get more gunked up and eventually less effective. The more often you clean a gas grill, the less messy the process is each time and the more years you’ll get out of the thing.

Before you start, gather these items (or their equivalents):

  • Disposable latex or nitrile gloves
  • Paper towels
  • Grill brush (metal or other stiff bristles)
  • Scrub brush (stiff non-metal bristles)
  • Grill cleaner (dish soap and water works in a pinch)
  • Stainless steel cleaner (again with the dish soap)
  • A plastic sandbox toy shovel or equivalent
  • Newspaper, cardboard, or tarp (to save your deck/patio)
  • Hose, bucket of water, or better yet a pressure washer
  • Vegetable oil (a half cup will do)

Step 1: Use Grill Brush

The first step to cleaning a grill is to run it on high heat for 10 minutes. Use your grill brush to scrape at the grates.

Start by running your grill on high heat for 10 minutes, then use your grill brush to scrape away at all those grates.

Step 2: Remove Grates

Let the grill cool or use gloves to remove the grates.
Photo Credit: Chris DeGraw/Digital Trends

Let the grill cool (or use gloves) and take off the grates and set them aside on your newspaper or cardboard or tarp, then take out the heat deflectors, flavor bars, and essentially anything that can be popped out by hand, so everything except the burners (which should be removed and cleaned annually, the rest of this is monthly if you can manage it) and set aside as well.

Step 3: Use Grill Cleaner

Spray a grill cleaner on the interior and components of the grill.
Photo Credit: Chris DeGraw/Digital Trends

Use the best spray cleaners to spray all over everything you just pulled out, making sure it foams up and coats all surfaces. (If you are going the soap-and-water route, get things submerged in soapy water.) Consult the spray you are using — some may explicitly say to not spray the interior of the grill with it.

Now spray the entire interior of the grill with that foaming grill cleaner (again, if you’re able), then get back to your grates, heat deflectors, etc., which should now have set covered in foam for five to 10 minutes; grab your grill brush and scrape away at every inch of every component.

Step 4: Use Scrub Brush

Use a non-metal scrub brush to clean every inch of the grill, including the burners. Rinse and wipe with paper towels.
Photo Credit: Chris DeGraw/Digital Trends

Turning back to the grill itself, use your grill scrub brush to scour away at every surface in there, including the burners (unless they were caked with stuff, in which case you need to remove and clean them or you’ll clog their holes), then rinse with water and wipe with paper towels as needed.

Step 5: Clean Grease Tray

Remove the grease stay if there’s one. Scoop out as much of the grease as possible at the bottom of the grill.
Photo Credit: Chris DeGraw/Digital Trends

Now remove the grease tray if one is present, or else use that little shovel to scrape at, loosen, and scoop out as much of the grease and mess at the bottom of the grill as you can.

Step 6: Wash and Rinse Grill Parts

Blast the components with a pressure washer, or rinse them using a hose. Use water and wet paper towels to remove filth from the grill’s interior.
Photo Credit: Chris DeGraw/Digital Trends

If you have one and can use it where you won’t damage grass, decking, or make a stain on a patio, blast all the components you removed with a pressure washer; if not, rinse ’em all off with a hose. Then let it all dry. Use water and soaking wet paper towels to get as much filth out of the interior of the grill, then leave it open and let it dry, too.

Step 7: Use Vegetable Oil on Grill Grates

Put everything back, save for the grill grates. Wipe the grill grates with a thin layer of vegetable oil.
Photo Credit: Chris DeGraw/Digital Trends

Now put everything back together except the grill grates, which you should wipe with a thin layer of vegetable oil (not enough for drips) before returning to their home. Your next grilling session will be cleaner for the oil (and … the cleaning) and your next grate scraping will be more efficient and effective.

Step 8: Clean Exterior

Close the grill and use paper towels and a stainless steel cleaner to clean the grill’s exterior.
Photo Credit: Chris DeGraw/Digital Trends

Close the grill, and then use paper towels and the stainless steel cleaner to clean the outside of the grill, working from top to bottom.

How to Clean a Pellet Smoker Grill

Pellets placed inside a pellet smoker grill.

Good news! If you know how to clean a gas grill, you can easily clean a pellet smoker. Ditto a charcoal grill. In fact, all you need to do here beyond removing all the components and cleaning them as you did with the other grill parts (coat grates in foamy spray, let sit, then scrub, then rinse, e.g.) is to get all that fine ash out of the bottom of the grill. You can do that with a shop vacuum, or by using a soft-bristled brush to sweep them to one side of the grill then lift them out by the cupful or with a dust pan.

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