How to Clean a Grill for Delicious Backyard BBQ

Discover the best way to clean a grill, whether you choose to cook over gas or charcoal.

Your barbecue is about to get a lot better! While it's crucial to brush up on your grilled steak technique and ace your burger temperature, the most important step of the grilling process actually occurs after you use the grill. Learning how to clean a grill (yes, you need to do it every time) makes it easier to achieve the fresh yet smoky flavors of your favorite grilled recipes.

Plus, everything you cook on the grill will be easier to flip and remove from the grates when the surface is clean—which means your best burger starts with a squeaky clean grill. Cleaning your grill is a quick task that will help keep your friends and family healthy, and can even make your burgers and brats taste better too.

Whether you prefer cooking with charcoal or gas, these Test Kitchen-approved tips on the best way to clean a grill will help you achieve professional-level results at your backyard barbecue. We'll show you how to clean outdoor electric grill, the best techniques for cleaning a griddle grill, and walk you through how to clean a BBQ grill for your best backyard burgers ever.

scrubbing dirty grill rack with sponge
Photo: Jacob Fox; Stylist: Joseph Wanek

How to Clean a Charcoal Grill

Prevent food from sticking to your charcoal grill by cleaning the grates after each use.

What You Need

  • Heat-resistant mitts
  • Stainless-steel grill brush
  • Bristle-free grill brush (optional)
  • Mild soap
  • Steel wool
  • Towel (optional)

Step 1: Let Coals Cool and Scrub Grill

Allow the coals to die down a bit before cleaning, but keep in mind that particles release easiest when the grate is still warm. To clean a charcoal grill, slip on heat-resistant mitts or grill gloves for safety. Scrub steel racks with a long-handled, stainless-steel grill brush or a bristle-free grill brush to avoid dangerous bristles in food.

Step 2: Dispose of Coals

Once the charcoal grill is cool, dump out the burned coals and dispose of them carefully.

Step 3: Wash and Thoroughly Dry

After the grate and grill are both fully cool, wash both using a mild soap and steel wool. Then allow all pieces to dry (or wipe dry with a towel) before topping the grill with the lid and storing away from the elements. (The drying portion of this grill-cleaning process is essential so you won't have to learn how to clean a rusty grill!)

scrubbing grill rack with wire brush
Photo: Jacob Fox; Stylist: Joseph Wanek

How to Clean a Gas Grill

The best way to clean a gas grill starts by cranking up the heat after every use.

What You Need

  • Stainless-steel grill brush
  • Soft cloth
  • Warm, soapy water
  • Buckets
  • Handheld vacuum
  • Shop vacuum (optional)
  • Hose with sprayer
  • Towel

Step 1: Remove Residue from Grill

Turn your grill to high for 10 to 15 minutes with the lid closed to burn off any extra bits—similar to how you'd clean your oven. Turn off the grill and let it cool slightly, then loosen the residue from the grill rack with a stainless-steel grill brush. This not only prevents sticking but also helps to avoid flare-ups (surges of flames) the next time you cook.

Step 2: Clean Inside and Outside Grill

Once your gas grill is completely cool, wipe the inside and outside surfaces with a soft cloth and warm, soapy water.

Step 3: Clean Caked-On Grime

If the grime is really caked on, remove the grill grates and soak them in buckets of soapy water for 15 minutes or more. Rinse with clean water and wipe the grates dry.

To clean the inside of a gas grill, grab a handheld vacuum or shop vacuum. Use a grill brush to dislodge the soot, then suck it up with the vacuum. Spray clean with a hose and wipe with a towel to dry.

How to Clean a Griddle Grill

If you've cooked on a cast-iron skillet, you've probably heard the advice not to use soap—and the same applies for your grill griddle. Using soap or chemicals will strip away the seasoned surface of your griddle, which means food will stick to it and won't taste as good. However, it's still important to make sure the surface is properly cleaned after each use.

What You Need

  • Metal spatula
  • Boiling water
  • Grill tongs
  • Towel
  • Seasoning oil (optional)
  • Clean cloth (optional)

Step 1: Add Water and Scrape Residue

Once you're done cooking, take a metal spatula and scrape away any remaining food or grease. While the griddle is still hot, pour water on the metal surface. The water will boil and steam off any remaining food particles, so it can help to continue scraping with the spatula as you pour the water. Then, use grill tongs to wipe a cleaning towel over the hot surface to soak up any leftover water and remove the remaining food bits. If needed, repeat the process until the griddle is totally clean, then let dry completely before using again.

Step 2: Reseason Grill

You might choose to re-season the grill after cleaning it. To do this, let the griddle cool off a bit. You want it warm, but not so hot the oil sizzles and smokes. Then, pour a very small amount of seasoning oil (about the size of a nickel or smaller) onto the warm surface and use a clean cloth to spread it around. The cloth will soak up some of the oil as you rub it into the griddle, so you're left with a seasoned surface that's not oily to the touch.

How to Clean a Smoker Grill

Also similar to cast-iron skillets, many smokers are seasoned with an oily coating that protects the interior from rust. When cleaning a smoker, it's important to maintain this coating while getting rid of ash and excess buildup.

What You Need

  • Grill brush
  • Damp cloth
  • Putty knife

Step 1: Clean After Each Use

Remove and dispose of ashes and leftover grease from the smoker after every use.

Step 2: Scrub and Scrape

Scrub the grates with a grill brush, and wipe up grease or spills with a damp cloth. Scrape away large deposits of grease or cooked-on food from the cooking chamber with a putty knife or similar tool.

How to Clean a Flat-Top Grill

Although most commonly found in restaurants and other commercial kitchens, flat-top grills can make a great addition to your outdoor cooking setup, too.

What You Need

  • Griddle scraper
  • Warm water
  • Scouring pad
  • Towel

Step 1: Scrape and Steam

To clean a flat-top grill, start when the surface is still hot. Use a griddle scraper to clear away bits of food and grease. Carefully pour warm water onto the surface (be prepared for steam) to help boil off additional buildup.

Step 2: Scour and Dry

Use a scouring pad attached to a scrub handle to clear away any residue that remains, then rinse the surface and wipe clean with a towel.

How to Clean a Grill without a Brush

If you don't have a grill brush handy, try a long-handled metal spatula or grip a ball of foil with a pair of tongs and rub the grates. Either works well to clean a grill without a brush, allowing you to scrub the grates to make them grime-free.

leather wrapped grill utensils
Dana Borremans

How to Clean Grill Accessories

Grill accessories, including brushes, spatulas, tongs, and other cooking utensils, also need cleaning after each cookout. Even for utensils that are technically dishwasher-safe, the best way to clean grill utensils is usually to wash them by hand. Tossing greasy grilling tools into your dishwasher can lead to clogged plumbing and an even bigger mess. Instead, soak grilling utensils in a mixture of hot water and a few drops of a dish soap that's designed to cut through grease. Use a scrubbing sponge or bristled brush to loosen cooked-on food and grease, then rinse the utensils and dry well with a clean cloth.

Best Products for Cleaning a Grill

The right tools are key to the most effective clean. An all-in-one grill-cleaning kit, such as the Weber Grill Cleaning Kit ($64, Weber), makes it a cinch and can get you well on your way to learning how to clean a BBQ grill. If you prefer to stock up on individual elements or just need a few cleaning tools to round out your barbecue tool kit, consider these items:

With these tips, you're armed with the best way to clean a grill, no matter what tools you already have on hand. If you're going to be cooking up grilled recipes regularly, make life a bit easier and stock up on all the grill cleaning tools. If you only pull out the grill a couple of times a year, stick to soapy water and use our tips on cleaning a grill without a grill brush. However you tackle it, it's important to clean your grill after each use and before and after grilling season to keep your equipment in peak condition for outdoor cooking.

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