The Worst Grill-Cleaning Mistakes You’re Probably Making (and How to Avoid Them)

published Jun 3, 2022
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Credit: Shelly Westerhausen

As the days get longer and the weather warms, we’re all looking for more ways to take cooking outdoors. But for the most successful grilling season, you’ll want to keep your grill in tip-top shape. To help you get the best results all summer long, we’ve rounded up the worst grill-cleaning mistakes you can make — and how to avoid them. 

Credit: Danielle Centoni

Mistake 1: Not Cleaning the Grill Grates Right Away

Scraping off stuck-on food while the grill is still raging hot is a whole lot easier than cleaning a cold grill. It also minimizes the chance of food remnants moldering and mildewing on the grates in between grilling sessions, which can damage the seasoning or coating, or cause rust. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Mistake 2: Using the Foil Incineration Method to Clean Grill Grates

There’s an old method for cleaning grill grates that sounds too good to be true — because it is. The foil incineration method involves covering the grill grates with a layer of foil and heating the grill on high for 20 minutes to trap the heat and incinerate food remnants into ash — no scrubbing required. Sounds great but the trouble is, today’s gas grills aren’t made to handle heat this intense, and you can end up with warped grates and damage to the burners, igniters, and the fire box — not to mention melted gas lines. Don’t do it!

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Mistake 3: Using an Old Wire Brush

Many grill brushes on the market are made with metal or brass bristles, which do a great job of scraping food bits off of hot grates. But studies have found that the thin metal bristles can eventually get dislodged from the brush over time and stick to grates, where they can end up in your food — and eventually in you! If you choose to use a metal grill brush, examine it closely for loose bristles before each use and replace it at least once a year or more if you grill on the regular. Some alternatives to wire brushes include a wad of aluminum foil (preferably held with tongs), a coiled wire scraper, grill bricks, and grooved wood or metal scrapers. Nylon scrapers are best for ceramic or porcelain grates but must be used when the grates have cooled.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Mistake 4: Not Cleaning Your Grill Brush

A lot of gross gunk gets caught in a grill brush every time you use it. To ensure you don’t end up rubbing old food and rancid oil onto your grates next time you use it, be sure to give your brush a quick clean after use. Rub the brush against the bristles of another one to dislodge the big stuff, then rinse in hot soapy water. For a deeper clean, soak in a bucket of soapy water. Keep the brushes indoors and protected from the elements to prolong their life. And be sure to check brass brushes for signs of rust, and any metal bristle brushes for loose bristles. 

Mistake 5: Not Checking Your Propane Tank

Ever realize you’re out of propane after spending time prepping for a feast? Get in the habit of checking the tank after each grilling session so you can make a note to get more before the next gathering. Also, at least once a year, check the hose and propane tank for leaks by applying soapy water along the hose and the valve. If you see bubbles forming, there’s a leak. Bubbles on the hose means you’ll need a new one. And if you see bubbles on the valve, turn everything off and try reattaching. If it’s still leaking, you’ll likely need a new valve or tank.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Mistake 6: Not Coating Cast Iron Grates with Vegetable Oil

Cast iron grill grates should be treated like a cast iron pan. That means keeping them clean and coating them in a light layer of vegetable oil to protect their seasoning and prevent rust. After scraping the grates clean, dip a paper towel or rag in vegetable oil and rub on the grates (using tongs or a grill mitt if the grates are still hot).

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Mistake 7: Not Cleaning Out the Ash Pan 

Charcoal grills accumulate ash in the ash pan. That pan should be cleaned out after each grill session once the ashes have cooled. Otherwise, the ashes can collect moisture and become extremely hard to remove. 

Mistake 8: Tossing Fresh Ashes in Anything Other than a Metal Can

Whatever you do, don’t toss ashes in a paper bag or plastic bucket. Even if the ashes seem cold, they could harbor embers that can ignite anything combustible or melt plastic. Keep a metal bucket or can with a lid near the grill to safely collect the ashes and spent coals.

Credit: Shutterstock/G_r_B

Mistake 9: Not Keeping the Grill Covered Between Uses

This is an important tip! The number-one way to prolong the life of your grill is to keep it covered when it’s not in use. Leaving it exposed to moisture — from pouring rain or morning dew — and organic matter like dirt, dust, leaves, and bird droppings can damage the finish and lead to cracked hoses and rust inside and out. 

What tips do you use to take care of your grill? Share your suggestions in the comments below.