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How to Clean Gas and Charcoal Grills for the Best Barbecue Season Yet

how to clean a grill - charcoal grill in backyard

Unsplash/Aral Tasher

If you've never cleaned your grill before, you might be unsure how to approach the ash or charcoal residue that comes with hosting regular cookouts. But whether you're cleaning a new grill for the first time or freshening up the reliable grill you've loved for years, it's not hard to bring your favorite outdoor cooking station back to life again.

If you go too long without pulling out the scrub brush, a dirty grill can cause foodborne illnesses or increase the risk of fire when drip trays are filled with flammable fats. And with a buildup of ash or food inside, meats and seafood may not cook all the way through—but even putting any grilling worries aside, it's always best for the food you fire up on the grates to come out evenly cooked and delicious every time. We asked expert Melissa Homer to share her best tips on cleaning propane and charcoal grills, and all it takes is a few simple steps to make your grill ready for barbecue season.

Meet the Expert

Melissa Homer is the Chief Cleaning Officer at MaidPro.

Ahead, find out exactly how to clean every type of grill, no matter the mess: And get ready to plan your next cookout.

How Often Should You Clean a Grill?

Similar to your kitchen appliances, how often you need to clean your grill depends on how frequently you cook with it. “At a minimum, you should deep clean your barbecue at the start of each grilling season," says Homer. "If you’re a grilling junkie, don’t go longer than two to three months before your next deep clean."

Things You'll Need

  • Rubber dish gloves
  • Grill brush
  • Dish soap
  • Plastic putty knife
  • Sponge with a non-abrasive scrubbing back
  • Microfiber towels or paper towels
  • Avocado or canola oil
  • Two gallon-sized buckets

How to Clean a Propane Grill

how to clean a grill - propane grill cookout with meat and vegetables

Getty Images/ArinaHabich

Step 1: Prevent Fires By Checking for Gas Leaks

Check for gas leaks (which are the biggest source of gas grill fires) by applying a light soap and water solution to the gas hose. If there’s a leak, you'll notice bubbles developing on the surface. Service your grill immediately when leaks occur.

If your grill ever catches fire, shut the lid to cut off the fire’s oxygen supply, then turn off the gas. Don’t reach for the baking soda: Metal covers shield most gas grill burner systems, and the cover will prevent baking soda from working. If you use a fire extinguisher, ensure that it’s designated for grease fires, or you could make the flames worse. 

Step 2: Clean the Exterior

Mix one tablespoon of dish soap into a gallon of hot water, then dip your sponge and wipe down the grill’s exterior. Rinse and dry the surface with a microfiber towel or paper towel. If your grill is made of stainless steel, opt for microfiber: Paper towels have bits of cardboard in them and can scratch the grill's stainless steel surface.

Step 3: Preheat Your Grill

Preheat the grill on high for 10-30 minutes to burn off any leftover food residue. As your grill heats up, any food remnants will turn to ash.

Step 4: Scrub the Grates

Open the lid, shut off the gas, and allow the grill to cool for a few minutes before scrubbing the grates. Dip the grill brush into your cleaning solution, then scrub the grates on both sides. After rinsing and drying, rub avocado or canola oil on all sides of the grates with a clean washcloth to protect them from rust. 

Remove any flavorizer bars (the inverted V-shaped pieces of steel that sit below the cooking grates and above the burner tubes) and scrub them in the soapy bucket with your brush. Rinse and dry. 

Step 5: Wash Your Burners

Scrub the burners with your grill brush in an up and down motion—not lengthwise across the burner bar—to keep debris out of the burner holes. Locate and remove the thin metal reflector plates at the bottom of your grill, then empty the drip tray into the second bucket. After scrubbing them clean with the grill brush, rinse and dry each plate.

If you find that some interior parts of your grill aren't coming clean with a standard scrub, it might be easier to replace them: Many parts can be switched out for less than $15, so you can save yourself the time of scrubbing a heavily corroded, rusty, or carbon-covered part.

How to Clean a Charcoal Grill

how to clean a grill - charcoal grill cookout with meat and vegetables

Getty Images/LauriPatterson

Step 1: Clean the Exterior

Mix one tablespoon of dish soap into a gallon of hot water, then dip your sponge and wipe down the grill’s exterior with your cleaning solution (using the rough side as needed). Rinse and dry the surface, taking care to use a microfiber towel in place of paper towels if your grill is made from stainless steel.

Step 2: Scrub the Grates

Open your grill, then dip the grill brush into the soap solution and scrub both sides of the grates. Rinse and dry the grates with a microfiber towel before rubbing canola or avocado oil on all sides with a clean washcloth to protect them from rust. 

Step 3: Remove Built-Up Ash

Remove the charcoal ash and charcoal grate holders. If the grill does not have a catch, place your second empty bucket underneath the bottom holes. Using a plastic scraper, remove any loose debris from the inner sides, lid, and base of the grill basin, pushing any debris through the hole at the bottom.

Step 4: Scrub Inside the Lid

Scrub the inside lid and kettle bowl with a grill brush and soapy water, pushing all debris and water through the hole. Rinse the surface with fresh water and dry. Replace all clean items, leaving the lid open until everything has thoroughly dried, then close and cover with a grill cover.

Standing water can damage your grill: A cover guards against lousy weather and rodents, but most importantly, it protects against “ash paste,” which forms when rainwater mixes with the charcoal ash at the bottom of the grill. When it hardens, ash paste turns into a cement-like substance that’s nearly impossible to remove (and reduces the efficiency of your grill). 

Tips to Keep Your Grill Clean Longer

how to clean a grill - clean grill with fresh food

Getty Images/Omersukrugoksu

You can prevent the buildup of ash and food on your grill by wiping down the grates after each use. Use a damp washcloth or paper towel to remove excess debris to keep your grilling surface fresh between deep cleans with a soap solution and grill brush.

For propane grills, wipe down the flavorizer bars, burners, and drip tray after a few barbecue sessions. For charcoal, clean out the charcoal ash and grate holders, then push any debris out of the bottom holes or onto the ash catch.