Whether grilling is a year-round pursuit or a summer tradition, having a clean grill goes a long way to ensure effortless cooking. A clean grill is also the key to keeping yourself and your guests safe.
No matter how much you grill or the type of grill you use, you should clean the grates before and after each cook, and late spring and early summer is the perfect time for a deep grill clean. Let's head outdoors, crack a beer, and get to it.
Clean the Grates
In the hierarchy of grill cleaning needs, the grates rest on top. The grates will never look as clean as the day you bought the grill—they will naturally develop a patina over time. However, they should not be holding on to the chicken thighs you grilled two weeks ago. Begin and end every cook with cleaning the grates.
Clean the grates with a wire grill brush, an abrasive pad, or even a wadded-up piece of aluminum foil. Scub the hot grates before placing the food down and again right after you turn the grill off, while the grates are still warm. Not only will the grates look good, but they will also give you a better sear without sticking.
Growing up, my dad would leave his gas grill on high to burn off any food stuck to the grates. This sounds good in principle, but it’s not—the extra heat will break down the grates sooner, reducing their lifespan. And worse, if you forget to turn the grill off after a few adult beverages, you will have to buy another propane tank. So shut off the grill, brush the grates, and then grab that beer.
How to Deep Clean a Gas Grill
A gas grill, the most convenient type of grill to cook with, needs the most upkeep if you want it to keep kicking out warm-weather dinners.
Start by removing the grates, flame tamers, and burners, which will give you access to the cookbox. Use a plastic putty knife to scrape away residual fat, grease, and debris stuck inside the cookbox. This is great time to pull out those asparagus spears that fell through the grates last year.
Pull out and clean the grease management system. Often this is just a foil pan under the cookbox that needs to be emptied or replaced.
Then, clean and inspect the burners. Brush them clean with a grill brush and check orifices for insects or cobwebs, which could hinder oxygen intake, creating inefficient burning.
To deep clean the cooking grates, soak them overnight in a household degreaser—any brand works. Then use a coarse cleaning pad to scrub off any remaining residue. Rinse them well under running water.
How to Check the Gas Connection for Leaks
One of the most critical parts to check on your gas grill is the gas. Whether your fuel source is propane or natural gas, you must do an annual inspection of their connections. A few years ago, I found a ruptured connection. Unchecked, I'm certain dinner would not have been the only thing ablaze.
Get an old broad paintbrush and fill a small cup with water and a few drops of dish soap. Turn the gas on and paint the soapy water on the joints where the hose meets the gas source. If there is a leak, the soapy water will "blow bubbles.” No bubbles mean no leak—it’s a safe grill. Have a leak? Check the owner's manual for guidance.
How to Deep Clean a Charcoal Grill
Charcoal grills are easier than gas grills to keep clean and functioning at their best. Once a year, I remove and deep clean the fuel grate where the charcoal sits and the grill grate where the food sits. Soak them overnight with a household degreaser, use a coarse cleaning pad to scrub off stuck-on residue, and rinse well with running water. Also, consider replacing both grates—or at least the fuel grate—once a year, especially if you are a frequent griller.
While the ash from charcoal should be cleaned out after almost every cook, the bowl will build up a lot of residue. A warm spring day is perfect for breaking out soapy water, a sponge, and some elbow grease to clean it out.
This is also an excellent time to give the lid a deep clean—a fine grade stainless-steel wool does wonders removing stains.
Grill Appeal: Keep It Looking Good!
Because I'm constantly photographing my grills for work, I'm fastidious about keeping them looking good. While not everyone needs a showroom-quality grill, consider giving the exterior of your grill some care so that it looks better and lasts longer.
A quick wipe with a household degreaser will eliminate those BBQ sauce drips from last week. A stainless-steel cleaner will make the gas grill lid shine, and fine grade stainless-steel wool will bring your porcelain kettle lid back to life. You can also use soapy water and a sponge.
The easiest way to ensure you have a great-looking grill? Keep it covered when not in use—a waterproof grill cover is worth the investment. Not only will the grill look good, but it will also add years to its life, safe from harsh elements.