How To Clean a Charcoal Grill

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Whether it’s your own grill or one that’s up for shared use in a park, charcoal grills do require some cleaning and maintenance to make sure they function well and cook your food properly. Here’s what to do.

First, Here’s How Often You Should Clean a Charcoal Grill

If you own a charcoal grill, you should give it a deep clean at least once during the grilling season, or even twice if you grill often. Why? You don’t want carbon or ash buildup in your grill, or rust buildup on the grill grates.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

Cleaning out public grills before you use them is also recommended, as you don’t know who was there before you, what they made, or how long it’s been since the grill was last used.

How To Clean a Charcoal Grill

What You’ll Need

  • Grill brush or coarse cleaning brush
  • Aluminum foil
  • Paper or plastic bags
  • Bristle brush or putty knife
  • Fork (optional)


  1. Gather your cleaning supplies: You’ll need a grill brush, foil, paper or plastic bags, a bristle brush or putty knife. You may also want a fork.
  2. Clean the grill grate and the charcoal grate: If you can, remove the grill grate. Clean it with a grill brush or other coarse cleaning brush. Repeat with the charcoal grate on a kettle charcoal grill.
  3. Scrub with aluminum foil: A ball of aluminum foil makes for an excellent scrubber. Use it to clean any remaining gunk or debris off the grate.
  4. Clean the bottom of the grill and the lid: Brush or wipe any debris out of the bottom of the grill (for a public grill, place a hand in a plastic or paper bag to sweep the debris out of the grill and into a second bag). If there’s an ash catcher, empty it. Then, use a use a bristle brush or putty knife to scrape off any peeling black stuff (usually carbon flakes and grease). On kettle grills, wipe down the outside of the lid and grill with soapy water if desired.
  5. Put the grill back together: Put all the parts of the grill back together; now you’re ready to grill! (If you’re using a public grill, you can line the grill grates with foil and poke some holes in it with a fork before lighting the grill.)

Important Notes on Maintaining Your Charcoal Grill

  • Check your ash catcher: Every time you grill, make sure the catcher is not full, and empty as needed.
  • Brush the grill grates before grilling: After you preheat the grill, brush the grate with a grill brush or wadded piece of foil to remove the burnt bits of food from the last grilling session. It’s easier to loosen the bits when the grates are hot.
  • Oil the grate: Oil the hot grates before grilling so food doesn’t stick.
  • Brush the grates after grilling: If you have time, brush the grates one more time after grilling.