James Brown of Grill Nation, who chronicles his grilling pursuits on TikTok, YouTube and Instagram, says that the best way to keep a grill in good working order is “simply just use it. It’s typically the ones that people neglect that don’t make it very long because you know, fire and heat? It’s good for a grill.”
Fire and heat are indeed good for a grill, and are essential elements to keeping a grill clean. But fire and heat alone won’t clean a grill, so we turned to Brown and Jason Pruitt, a grill master and training manager at the Weber Grill Academy, to ask about the right way to clean charcoal and gas grills. Brown and Pruitt detailed the steps to take that will keep your grill clean and in good working order. (If you’re in the market for a charcoal grill, check out our guide to the best models on the market.)
“It’s important to keep your grill clean for peak performance,” Pruitt says, “whether you’re using a gas or charcoal grill. A clean grill equals better performance. Better performance equals better food. Better food equals smiling faces and full stomachs.”
How to clean a charcoal grill
Step 1: Scrape the grates
Clean the cooking grates with a grill brush. This is typically done before every use while the grill is preheating to remove leftover debris from the last grilling. This should be done before and after every use. Check out more of our favorite grill brushes here.
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Step 2: Check for rust and other damage
Pruitt emphasizes the importance of inspecting your grill for rust before each use. “You should replace anything that has a hole or crack in it,” he says. Surface rust, which is often found on welded joints, can be easily removed using a nonacidic oil like WD-40. To help prevent rust, the grill should be deep cleaned at least once every three months, according to Pruitt.
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Step 3: Clean the lid
When the grill is cool, use a grill brush to clean off any built-up carbon from food on the underside of the lid. Steps three through five should be done at least every three months, according to Pruitt. Brown recommends that frequent grillers deep clean their equipment every six to eight uses.
Step 4: Clean the bowl
Remove accumulated ashes and old charcoal from the bottom of the bowl and from the ash catcher. Then, scrape out the inside of the bowl with a plastic or rubber scraping tool to clean off the top of the cleaning system blades and the rest of the bowl; Pruitt advises that people who don’t have a bladed cleaning system scrape the bowl more regularly.
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Step 5: Clean the exterior
Use warm, soapy water, or a grill exterior cleaner, and a microfiber cloth to clean the outside lid, side tables, porcelain-enameled and plastic surfaces outside of the grill. Avoid using stainless steel and other abrasive cleaners or polishes on a grill’s exterior.
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How to clean a gas grill
Step 1: Scrape the grates
Clean the cooking grates with a grill brush. This is typically done before every use while the grill is preheating to remove leftover debris from the last grilling. This should be done before and after every use.
Step 2: Clean the lid
Before deep cleaning a gas grill, disconnect the gas tank from the grill. Then, when the grill is cool, use a grill brush to clean off any built-up carbon from food on the underside of the lid. Steps two through seven should be done at least every three months.
Step 3: Clean the flavorizer bars and burner tubes
Brush or scrape the flavorizer bars with a grill brush or silicone scraper. Then, using a grill brush, clean the burner tubes by brushing in the direction of the port holes.
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Step 4: Clean the screens and heat deflectors
Using an old toothbrush, gently brush the air shutter screens until clean. The heat deflectors can be cleaned with a grill brush or a silicone scraper.
Step 5: Clean the cook box
Clean the cook box by using a scraper to chip away any buildup along the sides and bottom. Push all the debris into the grease tray.
Step 6: Clean the grease tray
Remove the grease tray and scrape any debris into the disposable drip pan. Replace the drip pan after wiping out the grease tray. This should be done at least once a month for optimum performance.
Step 7: Clean the exterior
Use warm soapy water or a grill exterior cleaning product to clean the outside lid and side tables.
Tips and tricks
Cleaning a grill is only one aspect of keeping it in tip-top shape. The experts we spoke to shared some tips and tricks for caring for a grill, and for restoring one that has seen better days.
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If you’ve neglected your grill grates, scraping them clean with a grill brush might require more elbow grease than is reasonable. Enter: Carbona’s Oven Rack & Grill Cleaner. To use it, pour the entire bottle into the provided bag along with your grill grate, seal and shake to ensure racks are coated. After a few hours, remove the grates and rinse them clean.
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Brown points out that some foods are harder on your grill than others, and offers a helpful tip. “Something like bacon grease is going to create way more of a mess,” he says, “if you don’t use a proper drip pan.”
He likes a foil pan that has at least 3-inch sides, and cautions against using aluminum foil for the job. “I would avoid creating any kind of aluminum foil sheet “boat” because they’re so flimsy. If it’s not at a level surface, those [drippings] will favor one corner or one side, tip and catch fire,” he says. Brown also recommends deep cleaning a grill after cooking something with a high fat content, regardless of when it last was deep cleaned.
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When picking out a grill brush, Pruitt says to look for styles with a handle long enough to keep your hands, arms and clothing away from the open flame and heat of the grill. “A long brush is also helpful with reaching different areas of the grill when deep cleaning,” he adds.
Before each use, check your brush for damaged or loose bristles and replace grill brushes at least every season (more often for frequent grillers). Brown swears by this Weber grill brush, which he says “has a good wire brush on it, and then at the very tip it has a little groove that glides around the grates and helps to remove that crust.”
For more grill brush recommendations, check out our guide to the best grill brushes.
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Another safety tip for both cooking and cleaning is to wear a pair of grilling gloves for extra protection. “I also like to use grill gloves when preheating and cleaning to protect myself against high heat,” Pruitt says.
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When it comes to storage, a good grill cover is a must. “Use a tight-fitting grill cover to protect your grill from moisture when not in use,” Pruitt advises, adding that for additional protection it’s best to have a dedicated storage spot for the grill. “If possible, move the grill to a covered space, like a garage or shed.”
Brown also recommends storing a grill in a covered space, and offers this tip for preparing it for the offseason. “Once you clean it out, coat the grates with a cooking oil with a higher smoke point and then light [the grill] again.” That heat and oil work together to create a nonstick coating on the grates, Brown explains, similar to the process of using cooking oil to season a cast-iron pan. Brown recommends doing this from time to time during your active grilling season, and suggests that people who store their grill in the offseason do two to three rounds of oiling and heating the grates prior to putting the unit away for winter.