How to Properly Clean Your Grill, According to Experts

A dirty grill can pose health and safety risks, so we spoke to an expert on how to best keep your grill clean, from charcoal to gas to flat-top.

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How To Clean A Grill
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Many home cooks include a grill on their list of beloved kitchen tools (even though it’s likely on a deck or patio, not actually in the kitchen). Why? Exposing food to flame locks in moisture and boosts the benefits of marinades and seasonings thanks to a high-heat sear. Plus, it imparts a smoky taste that’s hard to replicate with other forms of cooking. You can grill almost anything — meat, seafood, pizza, flatbreads, veggies, and fruits — and despite the diversity in options, most grill recipes are relatively simple to follow and quick to prepare. They share another common thread, too: Their secret to success is starting with a clean grill.

Why Clean Your Grill

Doesn’t the high heat of a grill make it self-cleaning? Not really. When you don’t clean your grill, grease and burnt-on food particles from past grilling sessions build up. That grease and food could harbor and even attract germs, which isn’t just unsafe — it’s unsavory. Rancid oil or burnt marinade are not the flavors you want your grill adding to your meal. Removing them is why Birmingham, Alabama, chef Sedesh Boodram of Anvil Pub & Grill keeps his grill clean. “Mold and bacteria can get onto your food, potentially making you sick. Although the flames help kill some of it, only cleaning can eliminate it,” he says. 

And if you grill red meat, some of those black bits clinging to your grates could contain harmful carcinogens formed when its fat is incinerated, as the edges of a nice thick ribeye often are. A seriously dirty grill could be a fire hazard; thick layers of old grease (like those in a neglected grease trap) can flame up.

Not yet convinced to give your grill the care it deserves? Consider this: Stuck-on grime also affects your grill’s performance, hindering it from reaching and holding the right temperature. Add interlopers from the outdoors (pollen, bugs, leaves, etc.) that find their way into your grill when it’s not in routine use, and you’ve got a recipe for food that doesn’t cook evenly, might stick, could be coated in substances linked to cancer, and won’t be as tasty as it could be if you’d kept your grill clean. 

And there’s no reason not to: Properly cleaning your grill is not as challenging or time-consuming as you might think. Complete a few, fast clean-up steps every time you’re done grilling; if you do, you’ll only need to deep clean once or twice a year.

How to Properly Clean Your Grill, According to Experts

 Jennifer Kornegay

Tools You’ll Need to Clean Your Grill

Grill brush

 Grillaholics Pro Brass Grill Brush - Softer Brass Bristle Wire Grill Brush for Safely Cleaning Porcelain and Ceramic Grates


“The key item to keep in your grill-cleaning kit is a good grill brush,” says chef Boodram. “A grill brush is essential. I like a wire brush,” he says. They’re easy to find, and top sellers include Grillart’s Grill Brush and Scraper combo. We love that it’s two tools in one with its long, sturdy handle that keeps hands far away from heat.

If your grates are made of porcelain or ceramic, a stainless steel wire brush could prove too rough. The Grillaholics Pro Brass Grill Brush offers the strength of wire but is gentler. And if you’ve got cast iron grates, any wire brush may damage the finish and lead to rust, a slow but sure death sentence for grates. Opt for a still-stiff-but-softer brush, like the Grillaholics Pro Palmyra Grill Brush


 Cuisinart CCB-500 Griddle Scraper, Six-inch wide stainless steel blade


Sometimes the brushes don't quite do the trick, especially if you've been grilling for weeks or are working with a communal grill that hasn't seen much love in the way of cleaning. This grill scraper will do the trick. 

 Great Scrape Wood Grill Scraper


A hardwood scraper is a durable option that will go easy on the surfaces inside the grill while still scraping the excess residue. The wooden paddle will also gradually sear to create grooves that fit your grill exactly, making cleanup even faster and easier.

Long handled-tongs

 OXO Good Grips 12-Inch Stainless-Steel Locking Tongs


You likely have tongs on hand already if you're a regular griller, but just in case: the stainless steel option is always best. Nylon-tipped versions won't hold up in high-heat situations, and that especially applies for cleaning. We love OXO's classic locking set.

Other Items You’ll Need

How to Clean a Gas Grill

After Each Use

Turn your grill up to high and let it heat for several minutes. This will loosen burnt-on gunk on the grates. Then, turn it off and let it cool a bit before scraping food debris off the warm grates with your grill brush.

Once it’s fully cool, dip folded paper towels or a rag in vegetable oil, and holding the towels or rag with long tongs, rub the oil over your now-smooth grates. This prevents food from sticking, making clean-up faster next time. And don’t forget the grease trap. Use a metal scraper to get rid of the sludge it collects after every use. This will make your deep clean a lot easier.

Deep Clean

Don a pair of kitchen (or disposable) gloves and start by giving your grates a scrape with your grill brush. Lift them up, and if there’s anything left, use a metal scraper or metal putty knife to remove it. If you notice flakes of the finish or metal coming off (not just burnt bits), stop cleaning. It’s time to replace your grates completely.

If your grill has two or three triangular metal bars on top of its burners (flavorizer bars), brush and scrape them too. Let all the debris you’re brushing and scraping away fall into your grill’s removable bottom pan (if it has one) and its grease trap below, which you’ll empty and clean later. 

Next, mix up a large bucket (large enough to hold your grates at least mostly submerged) of soapy water. Your favorite dishwashing soap will work. Remove the grates and bars and place them in the bucket and let them soak for a few hours. 

While these items soak, turn your attention to the grill’s interior. You can clean its inside safely. Use your grill brush and scraper (if needed) to remove grease and food residue from the sides and inside of the grill lid. Push it all into the bottom of the grill and/or grease pan. 

While you’re in there, brush the gas burner tubes, but be careful. Move the brush up and down, not side-to-side, which is more likely to force particles down into the tube’s holes.

If your grill has a removable bottom pan, take it out, shake recent scrapings into your trash, use a metal scraper to push any greasy sludge into the trash, and wash it with warm soapy water and a sponge. Do the same with your grease trap: Remove it, shake out loose debris, scrape out any accumulated grease and wash with warm soapy water.  

Finally, with your sponge, wipe your grill’s interior sides and inside the lid with soapy water, and use your hose on a low-pressure setting to rinse it all. Push any standing water out the bottom with your brush or sponge.

Once your grates and bars are done soaking, use your sponge to remove any residue you can see, and then rinse. Then, dry them with a soft cloth and use a sponge and degreasing solution to give them a good wipe-down. The final step (other than drying) isn’t imperative, but it removes stubborn traces of oil, food, and dirt. 

Last, clean the outside. A soapy water bath works for all exteriors, but stainless steel surfaces might require a final wipe-down with glass or stainless steel cleaner to prevent streaks. 

How to Properly Clean Your Grill, According to Experts

Jennifer Kornegay

How to Clean a Charcoal Grill

After Each Use

Empty the ashes in your grill’s ash catcher or the bottom of your grill. Accumulated ash could block your grill’s air vents and make it difficult to control its temperature. Keep a bucket nearby to help you remember.

After you’re done grilling, scrape out the grease trap. It’s not imperative you do this after every use, but at least do it after every three uses. Next, clean your still-warm grill grates with a grill brush. Finally, give the grates a good rub down with a rag or paper towels dipped in oil and long tongs. This keeps your grates cleaner during subsequent use and staves off rust.

Deep Clean

Put on gloves and use your grill brush to knock visible debris off your cooking grate. Remove the grate and use a metal scraper or putty knife to go after any bits that didn’t budge for the brush. Repeat with the charcoal grate (if your grill has one). Soak both the cooking and charcoal grates in warm soapy water for an hour or so. If the shape or size means they won’t fit in a bucket, try a large plastic storage bin.

While your grates soak, clean the bottom of your grill and the lid. Brush any loose debris and dirt into the ash catcher first. Then, with your brush and some elbow grease, knock off any particles clinging to the grill’s interior walls before using a sponge and some more warm soapy water to wipe down the inside and inside of the lid. Finally, give it all a quick rinse with your hose.

After the water has loosened any remaining particles on your gates, wipe them with a sponge and rinse with clean water. Remember to let all parts dry thoroughly before reassembling, and consider hand-drying (especially in nooks and crannies) with a soft cloth to ensure you remove any rust-causing moisture. 

Last, clean the outside. For stainless steel exteriors, use stainless steel cleaner and a microfiber cloth. For porcelain-coated surfaces, use glass cleaner and paper towels. Or, a soft cloth and warm soapy water will work fine on all materials. 

How to Clean a Flat-Top Grill

After Each Use

Just as its name says, a flat-top grill doesn’t have grates; it has a flat, griddle-like surface that heats up to cook your food. This set-up makes cleaning a little easier than a gas or charcoal grill.

As soon as you’re done grilling and you’ve removed your food, use a metal scraper or metal putty knife to push any food particles and leftover oil, grease, and other liquids into your grill’s grease trough. For particles cemented on, add some hot water to loosen and scrape again. Then, while it’s still warm, use a few folded-over paper towels or a clean rag held in tongs to wipe the remaining grease and liquid off the surface.

Finally, with a new rag or set of paper towels, spread a thin vegetable (or other) oil coating over the entire surface. Turn the grill back on to medium heat for just a few minutes. This helps the oil coating set, which helps prevent rust and keeps the surface non-stick.

And remember to scrape out the grease pan or trough.

Deep Clean

If you stick to cleaning your flat-top grill regularly, you might not need to do much of a deep clean, but if you’ve let it get really dirty, start by turning your grill on and letting it warm up.

Once it’s hot, turn it back off and proceed as you wood in the “after-each-use” instructions but stop short of oiling it. After you scrape the surface, let it cool down completely and use a sponge and warm soapy water to thoroughly scrub it. Dry it well, add a small amount of oil, and rub it in with a paper towel or rag. 

Now is also a good time to tackle a neglected grease trough. Scrape out oil if needed, and then wash it with soapy water and a sponge.

Maintenance Tips

For all grill types, two upkeep steps can lengthen the time your grill will turn out juicy burgers, succulent steaks, and crisp-tender veggies. They’ll also make routine and deep cleaning simpler. 

First, invest in a good grill cover to protect your grill from the elements when not in use, especially if your grill is stored out in the open. Look for covers made from durable, weather-resistant material that are in the right shape completely cover your grill. Those with some type of venting are best as they reduce the chances of condensation. Remember, moisture means rust.

Second, oiling your grates or flat-top surface often is key, according to chef Boodram. “After cleaning my grill, I apply oil to the grates when cool to prevent rusting and corrosion,” he says. “This will extend your grill’s life.”

How to Properly Clean Your Grill, According to Experts

Jennifer Kornegay


Do you clean grill hot or cold? 

Both. Part of your routine cleaning will include working with your grill while it is still hot. For charcoal and gas grills, deep cleaning is done cold. Deep cleaning a flat-top grill includes some steps while it’s warm.

How long will it take to clean your grill? 

Routine cleaning should take about five minutes. Including soak time, deep cleaning for charcoal and gas grills takes about two hours. Deep cleaning a flat-top grill should take less than an hour.

How do I remove buildup from my grill? 

Tackling stuck food, leftover grease, and marinades on your grates with a good grill brush after every use can prevent most build-up. An annual or twice-yearly deep clean (depending on how often you grill) that addresses all your grill’s surfaces and parts will take care of any gunk that does accumulate.

Our Expertise

Jennifer Kornegay is a freelance food writer who has written for Garden & Gun, Condé Nast TravelerThe Local PalateSouthern Living,, and more. To write this guide, she researched grill cleaning and consulted a chef for their expertise.

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