Your barbecue is about to get a lot better! Once you learn how to clean a grill, it will be easier (and tastier) to cook all of your favorite grilled grub, including burgers and fruit. Discover the best way to clean a grill, whether you choose to cook over gas or charcoal.
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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 occurs after each time you use your grill. Learning how to clean a grill makes it easier to achieve the fresh yet smoky flavors of your favorite grilled recipes. Additionally, everything you grill will be easier to flip and remove from the grates when the surface is clean. 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.

scrubbing dirty grill rack with sponge
Credit: 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. 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 like these Premium BBQ Gloves ($13, Amazon) for safety. Scrub steel racks with a long-handled, stainless-steel grill brush or bristle-free grill brush ($20, Amazon) to avoid dangerous bristles in food. 

Once the charcoal grill is cool, dump out the burned coals and dispose of them carefully. 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 don't have to learn how to clean a rusty grill!)

scrubbing grill rack with wire brush
Credit: 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. Turn your grill to high for 10 to 15 minutes with the lid closed to burn off any extra bits. Turn off the grill and let it cool slightly. Loosen the residue from the grill rack with a stainless-steel grill brush ($7, The Home Depot). This not only prevents sticking but also helps to avoid flare-ups (surges of flames) the next time you cook. 

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

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. Remove and dispose of ashes and leftover grease from the smoker after every use. 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. To clean a flat-top grill, start when the surface is still hot. Use a griddle scraper ($15, Walmart) to clear away bits of food and grease. Carefully pour warm water onto the surface (be prepared for steam) to help boil off additional build-up. Use a scouring pad attached to a scrub handle ($20, Target) to clear away any residue that remains, then rinse the surface and wipe clean.

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
Credit: 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, such as Dawn Ultra Dishwashing Liquid ($1, Target). 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.

What to Use to Clean a Grill

The right tools are key to the most effective clean. An all-in-one grill-cleaning kit, such as the Weber Stainless Steel Grill Maintenance Kit ($40, Weber), makes it a cinch and can get you well on your way to mastering the best way to clean a 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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