Easy Grill Cleaning for 3 Different Grills

Grill Cleaning: The Definitive Guide


Your Grill Can Get Pretty Grudgy

No offense, it’s just an occupational hazard.

When we’re slugging BBQ glaze, marinades, and tons of different meats and veggies across the grates all day, we make quite a mess.

Cleaning your grill isn’t just a requirement for food safety, but it’s actually something you need to do to keep potential health risks at bay to the best of your ability.

Grill cleaning ensures a long, happy life for your grates, and it can prevent future flare-ups from happening if you play your cards right.

Today, we’re going to go over absolutely every little detail you need to know, whether you own a gas grill, charcoal, or electric—it’s all covered, and it’s going to help you keep a cleaner outdoor kitchen area, every single time you grill.

Cleaning Each Grill by Category

Alright, to kick things off, we need to assess what type of grill you’re using.

Since I can’t just magically know that, I’m going to go over a way to clean the three major grill types: charcoal, gas, and electric.

Some of these are going to be easier than others, but a lot of the same basic principles apply.

Later on in the guide, we’ll be discussing proper cleaning and sanitizing, which you can apply to any grill type on the market.

Just be sure to keep a stock of the cleaning agents we’ll be discussing in this guide.

Cleaning Your Charcoal Grill

Soot and buildup are going to ruin your charcoal grill unless you do something about it.

This quick and easy cleaning guide has you covered.

  • Start by emptying out the ashtray of all its contents. If you have a fire pit in your backyard, you can consider leaving some of this in there to suppress weeds from growing through. If not, find a way to dispose of this.
  • Utilizing a wire brush (which should come included with your grill tool kit), you have to begin scrubbing away any remaining debris or gunk left on the inside. Do this dry at first. Scoop any solid debris or char out of the tray.
  • Get a small container of hot soapy water. Let the brush sit in it for about thirty seconds, then scrub the ashtray out as hard as possible. We want this to be clean, but you don’t have to make it sparkling. The goal is to get ash and soot away from the edges.
  • Let your ashtray air dry. Using the same brush with the soapy solution you’re going to hit the grates one by one and scrub vertically. In the end, drag the brush horizontally against the grate sections that hold everything together. Let this air dry off to the side.
  • Using the same wired brush, clean the inside of the lid. When done, bring some paper towels throughout the entire grill to get patches of moisture up. Let this air dry.
  • Take this time to clean the top of the lid with a chemical spray, as well as the side trays, the rack, and wheels. Focus on the smaller parts while everything dries so you aren’t wasting time.
  • After 30-60 minutes, everything should be dry. Replace the ashtray first, then the grates. Ensure everything fits in properly.
  • Using a paper towel, rub olive oil or vegetable oil on the grates. Use a healthy amount. You don’t want this to drip into the ashtray (otherwise you could end up with a grease fire the next time you light it up), but you don’t want any drop spots on the grate, either. This will ensure food doesn’t stick next time you go to cook.

You’re done and ready to go.

Just be sure to pop a grill cover on this so it can stay perfect until you’re ready to use it again.

Cleaning Your Gas Grill

Gas grills need a little extra TLC.

Some of the steps will be similar to cleaning your charcoal grill, but not all of them will apply.

Get ready to get your hands dirty.

  • Turn the gas line off and close the valve. Remove the gas canister entirely and place it far away from the grill, leaving absolutely no possibility of explosion or damaging your gas canisters. With live gas lines, always use safety precautions. There’s a chance you could tap the fast ignition button, and we want to avoid any problems.
  • Start by emptying out any remaining ash left in the catch tray. To do this, you will remove the grates and then the collection bin at the bottom. Tip it into the garbage, or use it to line the bottom of your fire pit if that’s an option. Just find a way to get rid of what little ash remains. Some collection bins might be difficult to remove due to the burners.
  • Use a cotton rag with a very small amount of water (just enough that it’s damp but not enough that it drips) to clean the visible sections of your burned at the bottom of the basin. This will remove enough soot to prevent a buildup and eventual blockage.
  • Using a container of soapy water, begin scrubbing out the bottom of your grill, being careful to not splash the burners. Do your best to remove all the soot.
  • With your grate off of the grill, hold it over your container of soapy water and brush thoroughly. Go up to each line from the grate and scrub until all visible residue is gone. Grease can still be tricky, but if you put these back without being fully clean, you run the risk of starting a grease fire right away.
  • One this is clean, use this and any other removable parts (such as warming shelves/grates) off to the side so that they can air dry.
  • Clean the inside of your grill lid, and work from there. Clean any visible areas where soot has built up. This would be a good time to run a rag through your chimney stack and the underside of the sliding lid on top.
  • Inspect the gas line you removed earlier. If it’s still in working condition, it’s fine to reuse, but check for buildup or splits in the tubing. We don’t want to return this to the grill just so it can leak gas through the burners.
  • Clean the top of your lid and any outside components. This can include the side shelves, the under rack, the wheels, and the lens on your built-in temperature gauge. Now is your time to give some TLC to the other parts of your grill.
  • Once everything has dried, return all items back to their place.
  • Use a paper towel, fold it up, and add a liberal amount of vegetable oil or olive oil. Very carefully apply this to the top of your grate so there are no dry spots left. You want enough that it coats the grates, but not so much that it drips down into the burners that we’ve just cleaned. This prevents food from sticking the next time you use your grill.

Everything is all set.

Replace your propane tank, and cover your grill until you’re ready to use it again.

Cleaning Your Electric Grill


Your electric grill is probably going to be the easiest grill type to clean out of this lot.

There’s a bit of an annoying part in the middle, but it’s definitely less exhausting than a gas, pellet or charcoal cleaning regimen.

  • First thing’s first: unplug the thing. It’s too easy to forget this one, but it needs to be completely unplugged before you bring a drop of water near it.
  • Remove the grates and drip pans. You’re going to see a ton of grease built up in here, but don’t be alarmed; it’s just part of the process. Since electric grills don’t let the fat evaporate on a direct heat source, it lingers around. It’s worth it to cut down on the PAHs that enter your grilled food.
  • Empty the drip pan and remove any visible char or stuck-on food from the grates. Bring them both to a sink.
  • Using a soft bristle brush, drag a hot soapy solution across the grates and scrub gently. I say gently, even though these are heavy-duty grates because they’re often aluminum coated and we wanted to protect the coating as long as possible.
  • Put the grate in a large plastic bag (clean trash bags work), and leave the drip pan to continue soaking. In that plastic bag, make a solution of two parts vinegar and one part baking soda. It’s going to foam up on its own when you seal the bag. Let it sit for about ten minutes.
  • While those sit and soak, bring your spray bottle and rag outside to the grill. Spray down the side shelves, under shelves, and the top of the lid. Get everything nice and sparkly clean, including the legs and the temperature gauge. Now’s as good a time as any, you know?
  • Go back inside and remove the grate from the bag. Rinse it off in the sink. It should be completely sanitary, and free of stuck-on grease and debris. Dry it with a clean cotton cloth, and then continue to let it air dry for about 30 minutes.
  • Clean out the greased pan. Try to use your sink hose to really apply water pressure and get all the gunk out of there. Hit it with a rag, and then leave it to air dry.
  • Return your components to the clean electric grill. Take the time to inspect all the elements as you piece them back together to ensure you did everything properly. Plug it back in, and let it stay on high for about ten minutes to cook off any remaining flavor from the vinegar.

Why You Should Have a Grill Cover

Covered Grill

Grill covers are usually only talked about when it comes to physically protect your grill or keeping the paint from peeling off.

Well, there’s more to it than that.

Grill covers protect you from germs that just get carried through the wind, bird droppings, debris that could carry actual soil on it, and insects.

How much of a punch in the gut would it be to clean and sanitize your grill, just so that mother nature could come in and ruin it all in the span of one afternoon?

Get a waterproof cover that you can affix to your grill for it to be effective.

The Real Risk of Grease Fires

Look, nobody wants to be the reason a grease fire (*) starts.

They’re pretty unsettling, and it burns the heck out of your food at the same time.

Grease fires occur when oil heats up to its smoking point and then is pushed over the edge.

This temperature is usually around 450° F.

That explains why you don’t broil things in your oven with a ton of oil, you know?

Oil and grease are very similar, but grease (from animal fat) actually starts smoking around 375° F.

Normally, your food is dripping grease right down into the fire source, but these individual drops can smoke and burn away quickly.

They’re already in a fire, you know?

It just burns up and renders it useless.

The real risk is when there’s a lot of oil or grease in one concentrated area due to lack of cleaning.

The most likely spots in your grill to start a fire are the grates or the sidewalls near the lid closing point.

Why It’s Important to Clean Up Soot

Grill Soot

I won’t go too deep into it, but soot is basically what’s making your food taste like garbage.

It’s unhealthy, and it sticks to your food and ruins it.

You can only put so much soot on a surface before it doesn’t stick to itself anymore, and then it starts to circulate in the air of your closed grill and magnetize to your food. It’s a problem.

But if you only grill with an absolutely spotless grill each and every time, then you’re basically designating the soot to stick to the top of the lid or the edge of the basin instead of your food.

These soot particles rise with the heat and the smoke, so when they hit the underside of your lid, they should stay there.

Apart from that, it has a bit of a stench when you open your grill if you’ve left soot behind.

It doesn’t really set the mood for making outstanding food, you know?

Sanitizing Your Grill

Sanitization is the home stretch, it’s what makes all your grill cleaning worthwhile.

If you don’t effectively sanitize your grill at the end, then you might be leaving behind harmful bacteria and germs, such as E. coli, salmonella, and other foodborne illness-causing germs.

Thankfully, sanitizing takes very little time, and I’m willing to bet you already have everything you need to get started.

Baking Soda and Lemon Mixture

Lemons And Baking Soda

This is actually something that exists in the beauty healthcare world as well; people put this on their faces all the time to kill dirt and germs, and you’re going to use the same method on your grates and utensils.

Mixing two parts lemon, one part baking soda creates a reaction within the sodium bicarbonate in baking soda.

In lemon juice (which can be fresh-squeezed or bought in those yellow bottles from the store), citric acid comes out to play, and the two make a very powerful cleaning agent.

This is a little harder to spread around and use than our next method, but it gets the job done effectively.

White Distilled Vinegar

White distilled vinegar is just what we know it as, but scientifically, it’s referred to as acetic acid.

It’s basically the ultimate germ killer that comes with zero side effects.

I mean, we ingest it in recipes and on potato chips, you know? 

Acetic acid is responsible for killing germs such as salmonella, E. coli, and other bacteria commonly associated with food safety.

If you’re cleaning your grill and notice a little bit of gunk still left over during the sanitization process, white distilled vinegar is powerful enough to break down stubborn food particles and stuck-on gunk.

It’s pretty powerful stuff.

Grill Cleaning Makes for a Better Grilling Experience

A clean grill means clean-tasting food, every single time. And grill cleaning doesn’t have to be such a pain that you avoid taking care of your grill.

You were already scrubbing your grill before, but now you’re going to be meticulously sanitizing it, and ensuring it looks as glorious as ever.

It’s not just about how your grill is going to end up looking, though that is a pretty nice bonus.

Utilize these methods to ensure that nobody questions how the food was made, that nobody inspects the grill in a not-so-casual manner before snagging some chops off the plate.

Keep it fresh.

* https://www.quirkbooks.com/post/worst-case-wednesday-how-put-out-grill-fire

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