Here’s What You Need to Know About Cleaning Your Gas or Charcoal Grill

published Jul 25, 2022
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Grilling is a beloved American pastime, but while the ribs and burgers might be worth the effort, not many people enjoy the mess left afterward. Grills can get dirty — and fast. Depending on what you’re cooking up and what kind of equipment you have, you need to clean everything, from fat to charred food bits to charcoal remnants. Luckily, they’re not too difficult to clean, especially if you keep up with maintenance. 

I spoke with Christie Vanover, owner and pitmaster at Girls Can Grill, to get her favorite cleaning methods for charcoal and gas grills. Here’s what she had to say. 

For People With Gas Grills

If you own a gas grill, you’re in luck. “Gas grills are among the easiest grills to clean because they run completely on propane or natural gas, so you don’t have any leftover charcoal or pellet ash,” Vanover says. All you need to focus on is cleaning the leftover food residue from the grates.

Clean After Every Cookout

If you hate having to scrub your grill out, then make sure you do some maintenance cleaning after every cookout. “After you remove your food from the grill, turn the heat to high and leave it running for another five minutes. Use a grill brush to scrape away any food that has stuck to the grill grates. Then, simply turn the grill off and it will be ready for your next cook,” shares Vanover.

But not all grill brushes are created equally. You want one with strong wire bristles that will do most of the heavy lifting, and a metal scraper on the end to chip away at stubborn pieces. She recommends the Cuisinart Comfort Grill Cleaning Brush. If the scraper doesn’t work, use a spray bottle filled with water on the grates to help soften the debris.

If you don’t have a grill brush on hand, you can also use a rolled-up ball of aluminum foil to achieve a similar effect. “It won’t work as well as a brush, but it will help remove some of the residue,” says Vanover. If the grill is still hot, make sure you wear heat gloves so you don’t get burned.  

“In addition to residue on the grates, your food will also create drippings that will collect in a small pan under the grill. Be sure to keep an eye on that and replace it before it fills up,” she warns.

As for the exterior of your grill, all you need is a damp microfiber cloth to wipe down the surface, which you can then dry with a second towel. “For stubborn grease, you can use Goo Gone or Simple Green. If you have a stainless steel grill, keep it clean with Sprayway Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish,” says Vanover.

A Deeper Clean Is Needed Every Few Months

After a while, your grates will need a proper scrubbing. Vanover recommends using an EarthStone GrillStone Cleaning Block, a pumice-like block that gets into places the wire brush can’t. “Once you clean them, rub on some vegetable oil to season the grates, so food doesn’t stick during your next cook.”

Clean the Inside Once a Year

Since you’re not using charcoal, you might not think it’s necessary to clean the inside of the grill. But Vanover recommends doing so once a year. “Depending on your grill, you should be able to use the straight edge of your grill brush to push all the build-up toward the hole in the bottom of the grill,” she says. It will fall into the grease pan, which you can then toss out and replace with a new one.

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For People With Charcoal Grills

Charcoal grills are a great addition to any backyard thanks to the flavor the coals add to meat and vegetables. But they require a little more maintenance than your average gas grill — but not as much as one might think! Here’s how to keep them clean all summer long.

Clean After Every Use

Much like with the gas grill, it’s a good idea to clean your charcoal grill after every use. The first half of the cleaning method is the same as the grill one: Once you’re done using the grill, let the coals burn for another five minutes, keeping the grates hot. Then use your wire brush, aluminum ball, or spray bottle to help scrub the grates clean.

But here is where we veer off: “Then, close off all of the vents on the grill to suffocate the oxygen. After several hours, the coals will be extinguished, and you can remove them from the grill,” says Vanover. “Some people recommend spraying water inside your charcoal grill to put out the coals more quickly. This is not a smart idea. The contrast of high heat mixed with the cool water can crack the enamel on kettle grills, which can lead to rust. If you have a ceramic charcoal grill, the cracks can be even more devastating and can ruin your grill.”

Once it’s time to remove the ash, don’t toss it directly into the trash. Instead, put it in an aluminum can you specifically use for ash, and close it with its designated lid. “This way, I ensure the coals have several days to completely extinguish before they are combined with other trash that is flammable,” she says.

Once the ash is removed, wipe down the inside with paper towels. You don’t have to do anything fancy unless you have a lot of grease buildup in the bottom of the grill. Then you would need to put on some nitrile gloves — which are the blue exam gloves you see doctors wear — to protect your hands, and wipe it up with paper towels. 

The exterior is just as easy to clean. “You can simply wipe off any dust with a damp cloth. If you have grease splatters, you can use a cleaner like Simple Green or Goo Gone. Look for the bottles designed for barbecues and grills,” says Vanover.

Deep Clean Once a Year

For a yearly deep clean, Vanover recommends cleaning the grates with Member’s Mark Commercial Oven, Grill, and Fryer Cleaner — but it shouldn’t be used without precautions. “Be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. You should wear impervious gloves and eye protection. It’s pretty potent.”

Once you’re done cleaning the grill, make sure you rinse your grill and fully dry it so you’re not surprised with rust down the line. ”Then, re-season it by spraying it with cooking spray and allowing some charcoal to burn inside for 45 minutes to an hour,” she says.

This post originally appeared on Apartment Therapy. See it there: How to Clean Your Gas or Charcoal Grill — After Frequent Cookouts, Tailgates, and Parties