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A well-kept grill is safer, looks great, and simply just works better.
With grill season nearly upon us, now’s the time to get your equipment primed and ready for another season of backyard cookouts, burgers, and barbecue. Before you start planning a barbecue, the very first step is to clean the entire grill of the remnants from last summer’s culinary adventures. Even if you wiped down the grill before putting it away for the winter, it’s important to start each new season with a thorough cleaning.
Here’s why: The same grilling practices that makes those Instagram-perfect, flavorful char marks on your burgers and steaks also produce carbon deposits on virtually every surface of your grill, including the grates, hood, interior of the firebox, and flavorizing bars and burner tubes (on gas grills).
Those crusty carbon deposits aren’t just ugly; grease and sugary sauces can stick to them and harbor bacteria. And excessive carbon buildup can cause the grill to heat unevenly, not reach full operating temperature, and gas-burner tubes can prematurely fail.
To make the grill easier to clean in general, you should give it a quick scrub after each use. Follow these simple steps throughout the summer: Use a wire brush to scrub the grill grates clean after every cooking session, and be sure to remove any loose wire-brush bristles before firing up the grill. If you barbecue frequently, say at least once per week, thoroughly clean the grates every two months. And twice a grilling season, you should give your grill a thorough cleaning, which will help it cook better and last longer.
By the way, the basic cleaning procedures presented here are essentially the same for gas or charcoal grills; charcoal grills just have fewer parts.
You’ll find dozens grill-cleaning tools, gadgets, and gizmos online or at your local hardware store, but nothing can beat a long-handled wire brush, a wire bottle brush, a five-gallon bucket, and some elbow grease. Avoid using chemicals to clean your grill, since they can impart an off taste to foods. Instead, all you need is some warm water, grease-cutting dish soap (like Dawn), and a thick paste made of cleaning vinegar and baking soda.
If your grill has stainless-steel exterior surfaces, a dedicated stainless steel cleaner goes a long way toward making it sparkle. You’ll also need a pair of long-cuffed rubber gloves and a few disposable scouring sponges and several cotton rags. When cleaning stainless steel, wait for an overcast day; the hot sun can make it hard to remove streaks from stainless-steel surfaces. Plus, it’s more pleasant working in cooler weather.
💡 You can use regular white vinegar, which is about 5 percent acidity, to clean your grill. But cleaning vinegar is stronger at 6.
To clean a gas grill, start by firing it up, closing the hood, and letting it come to full temperature. Wait at least 30 minutes for the extreme temperature to singe any stuck-on food or grease. Next, dip the wire brush into a bucket of warm, soapy water and scrub off all the carbon from the grates. Then turn off the gas, and disconnect and remove the propane tank. Let the grill cool completely.
For charcoal grills, simply dump the old charcoal briquettes into a metal container. Then, scrape away any caked-on charcoal dust and debris with a putty knife.
⚠️ If you’re not absolutely positive that the briquettes are completely cold and dead, set them into a bucket of water.
Once the grill is cool, remove all the grates and flavorizer bars and totally submerge them in a tub of warm, soapy water. Let them soak for at least 30 minutes. Remove anything else from the grill that you can easily take off, such as burner-control knobs, warming racks, and grease trays. The burner tubes on most gas grills are removable, too; look for a single screw or cotter pin on one end of each tube. Stripping down the grill in this way will make it much easier to clean.
With the grill grates and flavorizer bars removed, the inside of the firebox is exposed and ready to be cleaned. Start by putting an empty bucket underneath the firebox, directly below the grease tray opening, to catch the soapy water and debris you flush out. Use a plastic putty knife to scrape off any caked-on gunk from inside the firebox.
Next, use a wet/dry vacuum—either full-size or portable—like Milwaukee’s M18 hand vacuum to collect any remaining loose debris. Since wet/dry vacs are mostly workshop items, you shouldn’t feel bad about using one to suck up the gunk that’s collected in your grill. Once the firebox is clean, rinse it out with a garden hose.
After the grates and panels have soaked, take them out and scrub them with the wire brush. For really stubborn crud, mix a paste of white vinegar and baking soda and apply it directly to the worst caked-on bits. Rinse all surfaces clean, making sure to thoroughly dry cast-iron grates to avoid rusting. And this is also a great time to inspect the porcelain grates for chips, which may eventually lead to rust. Clean any chips or rust thoroughly and coat with oil to form a protective film when the grates are seasoned before you use it again.
💡 Take a large piece of aluminum foil, crumple it up into a ball, and then use it to scrub cooking grates clean of baked-on food particles.
Inspect your burners for signs of corrosion or anything blocking the row of flame-emitting holes. Burner tubes are inviting spots for spiders to lay eggs if your grill goes unused for a while. Take a wire brush and brush back and forth across the row of holes. Then use a wire bottle brush to clean out the inside of each tube.
Empty the bucket of dirty water, then refill it with clean water and a few squirts of dish soap. Now scrub down the entire outside of the grill using a large kitchen sponge. Be aware that steel wool, metal sponges, and coarse scouring pads can cause scratches, so avoid using them on finished surfaces. After washing the outside of the grill, use super absorbent micro-fiber towels to wipe down and dry all surfaces.
Stainless-steel cleaner works great as a final touch, but it won’t remove heavy buildup or baked-on gunk. Spray on the cleaner, wait a few minutes, then wipe it off with a clean, dry cloth. If there are tough greasy spots, try using straight vinegar, then wipe down with plain water. If grease and oil spots persist, you may need to use a stronger grease cutting cleaner.
Once the grill is sparkling clean and thoroughly dry, reassemble all the parts you removed. Take care to get the burner tubes back into proper position with cotter pins or screws. And wipe down cast-iron grill grates with a light coating of vegetable oil.
Finally, reconnect the propane tank, close the hood, and fire up the grill for at least 15 minutes, then turn it off. This will help burn off any cleaning residue, season the cast-iron grates, and confirm that you reassembled everything properly. The only thing left to do is get some burgers, dogs, and steaks and invite over a few friends.