How to Clean a Grill Quickly and Easily

Before your next backyard bash, learn how to clean a charcoal or gas grill. Your barbecue will be better than ever.

With grilling season in full swing, you’re likely firing up the grill on the regular. But when was the last time you cleaned the appliance? Chances are, you look forward to grilling more than cleaning, and we get it. Still, while fire may destroy a lot of gross stuff, no one wants to eat a hamburger made on a filthy cooking grate. Besides, knowing how to clean a grill quickly and easily means this tedious task doesn’t have to be a major chore.

So, why should you bother learning how to clean a grill the right way? Mike De Los Santos, owner of Mike D’s BBQ, says that a clean grill not only makes your food taste better but it also prolongs the life of the equipment—and that’s as good a reason as any after you’ve taken the plunge to buy a grill.

Whether you’re a grill master or a total newbie, once you know how to clean a grill, your backyard barbecue will never be the same. With that in mind, we talked to two grilling experts about the best way to clean your charcoal and gas grills. “I always say a clean grill is a happy grill,” says executive chef David Rose of Omaha Steaks. Here’s how to make your grill happy.

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Gather your supplies

Before you begin the cleaning process, collect your supplies. Depending on the type of grill and the extent of the mess, you may need:

  • Grill brush
  • Grill scraper
  • Putty knife
  • Aluminum foil
  • Rubber gloves
  • Grill degreaser
  • Nylon scrubber or sponge
  • Paper towels
  • Vacuum
  • Dish soap
  • Vinegar (optional)
  • Baking soda (optional)

How to clean a charcoal grill

Grilling purists know that a charcoal grill will impart a smoky, authentic char to meats, veggies, pizzas and everything else you throw on it. Charcoal adds such flavor that we’re often willing to overlook a questionable—even dirty—grill. But every few months, De Los Santos says, it’s time for a deep clean. Here’s how to get your charcoal grill shining like (almost) new before you fire up those hot dogs.

Step 1: Clean the cooking grates

Rose and De Los Santos both say the key to cleaning a charcoal grill is to start as soon as you’re done cooking. It’s much easier to get food remnants off the grates right after you grill than once they’ve cooled, De Los Santos says.

So, while the grill is still hot, grab your grill scraper or brush and clean the grates. Instead of a wire grill brush, which can leave behind metal bristles that may eventually end up in your food, Rose recommends using a natural-bristle option called palmyra. “Since palmyra is plant based, it’s much safer to use than a metal brush,” he says. If you only have a stainless steel wire grill brush, simply take extra precautions. If you’re noticing wear and tear or are worried bristles are missing or coming loose, toss the brush. And always check your grill grates before cooking.

Another option? Clean your grill with an onion or use aluminum foil. If you’re going the foil route, just ball up a couple feet of it and use it to scrape the grates. (Grill tongs make this safer and easier.)

Spraying or wiping down your grates with a neutral oil, like grape seed, every time you cook will make this step a snap. De Los Santos says that if you consistently maintain your grill grates every time you grill, you can avoid using degreasers on your cooking surface come cleaning time. (Grill-grate cleaning is kind of like cleaning a cast iron skillet—you want to remove cruddy, burnt-on food, but you’re not trying to get them shining like brand new.)

Step 2: Allow the grill to cool

hands placing cooled charcoals in aluminum foil for disposalTMB Studio

After scraping your charcoal grill grates, put the lid on, close the vents and leave it alone for at least 48 hours to let the ashes and leftover briquettes completely cool. Don’t rush this step! You could burn yourself, melt your garbage bin or even start a fire.

After 48 hours, remove the grates and set them aside. Pour the ashes out and wrap them in aluminum foil. If you’ve been using a paper bag for this step, reconsider. Aluminum foil is a better choice because it won’t go up in flames if a stray hot coal happens to spark. Wrap the ashes tightly and dispose of the container in your exterior garbage bin.

Step 3: Clean the grill interior

scrubbing the grill interior with grill brushTMB Studio

Prepare yourself: This is going to get dirty. Give the interior of your charcoal grill a scrub with a grill brush to remove carbonized food and buildup (you may want to wear nitrile or rubber gloves during this deep clean).

Then spray the inside of the grill with a degreaser, including under the lid. Wait for it to work—usually a few minutes or more—then scrub with a non-abrasive scrubber or sponge. Rinse or wipe down with paper towels or microfiber cloths, according to the degreaser’s directions. “Almost any degreaser that is sold will work,” De Los Santos says, but he likes degreasers made especially for grills, which you can find online or in any store that sells grills.

wiping interior of charcoal grillTMB Studio

Ideally, you’ll clean the grates every time you cook. But if your grates are really bad, or if you just want a fresh start, grill degreasers are safe to use on grates as well. (Always choose a food-safe option.)

Soap and water work on charcoal grills, too, and De Los Santos and Rose say you can even hose grills down with a garden hose or pressure washer. It’s important to allow your grill to completely dry before closing it up, which will prevent rust.

Step 4: Clean the grill exterior

The hard part’s done. Compared with the inside, the outside of your charcoal grill should be a walk in the park.

How to clean it? Wipe down the exterior of your charcoal grill with the grill degreaser and paper towels or with soap and water. Rinse well. Check the legs and handle, and open and close the vents to look for hidden grime. Allow the grill to completely dry.

How to clean a gas grill

Gas grills might not have the charm of charcoal, but you can’t beat them for convenience. Besides, they can cook up a mighty juicy burger.

Like charcoal grills, gas grills don’t need to be deep cleaned very often—maybe twice a year—but if you use yours a lot, increase that rate considerably. “If you grill regularly,” Rose says, “it’s important to stay on top of cleaning every couple months because debris and splatter can easily build up.”

If you’re grilling tonight (or any night), scrape the grates after grilling and rub on a little oil to season and prep the cooking surface for next time. This will make cleaning, deep or otherwise, a breeze.

Step 1: Clean the cooking grates

Dinner’s served, so it’s time to relax, right? Nope, sorry!

No matter your type of grill, the cleaning process starts the same way: with a scrub-down of the hot grates. Just as you would with a charcoal grill, be sure to clean the grates immediately after cooking.

The same tools apply to both types of grills too, so go ahead and use a brush with palmyra bristles, a ball of aluminum foil or even a halved onion.

Step 2: Allow the grill to cool, then disassemble it

Once you’ve cleaned the hot grates, turn off the grill and let it cool down. (If you forgot to scrape food after cooking, turn on the grill for a few minutes to heat up the grates, then scrape them clean and allow the grill to cool.)

Next, disconnect the gas and power connections. Once the grill parts are cool enough to handle, it’s time to disassemble the grill for deep cleaning. “Remove the grill grates, grease traps, interior panels, electronic components, electric cords and gas hoses,” Rose says.

Step 3: Clean the grill interior

cleaning drippings pan of gas grillTMB Studio

As you remove components, scrape or brush any carbonized material into the bottom of the grill. Getting rid of crusty buildup first will make the actual cleaning and scrubbing much less messy. Once you’ve removed the components, grab your vacuum and suck up all the debris sitting in the bottom of the grill or still clinging to the sides and lid.

Next, Rose likes to use warm, soapy water and a non-abrasive sponge or microfiber cloth to clean the interior of his gas grill and all of the components. “Don’t use any abrasive pads,” he says, “as they will scratch the finish of the grill.”

Soak the parts, or dunk your sponge in soapy water, and scrub until they’re clean.

Step 4: Clean the grill exterior

For run-of-the-mill dirt levels, wipe down the exterior of your gas grill with warm, soapy water and rinse well. If your grill exterior is very dirty, Rose prefers a homemade degreaser—made from dish soap, vinegar and baking soda—over commercial options. Apply the solution to the exterior and allow it to sit for 10 to 15 minutes, then rinse. You can even use a pressure washer, according to Rose and De Los Santos.

Once all components are clean and rinsed, let your gas grill dry completely. Then apply a neutral oil to the hinges and grates to prevent rust, Rose says.

How to keep your grill clean all season long

Now that your charcoal and gas grills are clean as new, it’s up to you to keep them that way! The professional cleaning tips below are a good place to start.

  • Scrape the grates after cooking. Every time you cook, clean the cooking grates while they’re hot.
  • Oil the cooking grates. Rub a neutral cooking oil on the grates. This makes your grill easier to clean and prevents food from sticking.
  • Cover your grill. Grills are metal, and they will rust. The elements are no friend to grills—charcoal, gas or otherwise.
  • Remove ash. De Los Santos says leaving ash in a charcoal grill encourages rust. Plus, Rose says ash-free grills are more efficient. Do this important task every other grilling session.

About the experts

Ally Childress
Ally Childress writes for work and fun, covering topics from technology and trends to cleaning and gardening. She's a licensed electrician with a degree in English, but you can usually find her outside digging in the dirt or taking her dogs to the lake.