How to Clean a Grill, Whether You Barbecue with Gas, Charcoal, or Wood Pellets

You know those charming, long-winded introductions so many people write when sharing this favorite recipe or that useful how-to or whatnot? Surely you love all the personal anecdotes and clever quips that come between you and the simple, straightforward information you actually want, no?

No. You don’t. None of us has time to have his or her time wasted, not these days. So instead of me tickling you pink with tales of the time JP knocked my full -loaded charcoal grill into a bed of ivy (sorry, JP) or how I managed to kill a plot of grass by using a pressure washer to clean grill grates and so on, let’s just jump right in.

Here are the best ways to clean a grill, broken down by the three most common types of grills out there.

How to Clean a Gas Grill

propane grill hero image
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, because as more drips of melted cheese, spatters of fast 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)

Now let’s clean that gas grill, baby!

  1. Start by running your grill on high heat for 10 minutes, then use your grill brush to scrape away at all those grates.
  2. 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.
  3. Spray the grill cleaner 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.) Note: before the next step, consult the spray you are using — some may explicitly say to not spray the interior of the grill with it.
  4. 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.
  5. Turning back to the grill itself, use your nonmetal 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.
  6. 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. (Oh, put on the gloves after step 1, by the way… sorry!)
  7. If you have one and can use it where you won’t damage grass, decking, or make a stain on a patio, now blast all the components you removed with a pressure washer; if not, rinse ’em all off with a hose. Then let it all dry.
  8. Use water and soaking wet paper towels to get as much cleaner (and filth) out of the interior of the grill, then leave it open and let it dry, too.
  9. 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.
  10. 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 Charcoal Grill

charcoal grill
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 dong 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.

Now gather this stuff:

  • 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)
  • Vegetable oil (a half cup will do)

Now to clean a charcoal grill right quick

  1. If you think of it, 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Use your metal (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.
  4. 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 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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