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You're Cleaning Your Grill Wrong. Here's How to Get Those Grates Sparkling for Summer

Don't put that beautiful beef on a dirty grill. Here's the best way to clean it.

Chris Wedel Home Tech Editor
Chris Wedel is a fan of all things tech and gadgets. Living in rural Kansas with his wife and two young boys makes finding ways to stay online tricky — not to mention making my homestead smarter. However, by utilizing his years of experience in the tech and mobile communications industries, success is assured. When not conquering the outdoors and testing new gadgets, Chris enjoys cruising a gravel road in his UTV with some good tunes, camping, and hanging out with his family.
Expertise Smart home devices, outdoors gadgets, smartphones, wearables, kid's tech, and some dabbling in 3D printing Credentials
  • Covered the mobile and smart home tech space for the past five years for multiple large publications.
Chris Wedel
5 min read

In case you've missed it, we're officially into June. So, that means it's getting hot out and perfect for cooking outdoors. Whether you are a fan of cooking with a pellet grill, charcoal grill or gas grill, there's one thing that's unavoidable -- clean-up.

While some people believe it's a big no-no to clean their grill because the seasoning adds flavor, it could also be adding bacteria to your next meal. Whatever was left over from the last cook can grow bacteria or mold, as it wasn't refrigerated and potentially because it didn't get fully cooked. Also, who wants tonight's steak to taste like last night's fish? No, thanks.

If you don't keep a well-maintained grill, you risk grease fires as well as preventing your outdoor cooker from performing at its peak. To ensure that each meal you prepare on your favorite grill cooks properly, tastes as you intend and reduces the risk of illness, be sure to follow the steps below to get your grill shiny and clean for each cookout.

How often should you clean your grill?

There isn't a one-size-fits-all when it comes to frequency of grill cleaning. However, a good rule of thumb according to experts is to give your grill a good deep cleaning at least twice per year, with lighter maintenance cleaning after each use.

Although, if you tend to be someone who uses their grill as their primary cooking source, you may want to up the deep-cleaning cycle to three or four times a year. If you tend to use your outdoor cooker more sporadically or just seasonally, you'll want to give a thorough mid-season cleaning and then again before storing it.

How to properly clean a grill

1. Take it apart

Inside parts of the NEWAGE Platinum Kamado grill on the ground beside the grill

Removing the parts from your grill makes it easier to ensure you get as much of your grill cleaned as possible.

Chris Wedel/CNET

Yep, that's right. To get a good deep clean on your grill, you'll want to open it up and start taking it apart. But please be sure the grill is completely cold. Safety, first. While you won't be taking the grill entirely apart, you do want to take out the cooking grates, any heat deflectors and the grease or ash catchers and put these parts to the side. Also, if your grill happens to have a removable fire box, remove it too and set it aside with the other parts.

2. Start with the inside

Ash after 24 hours of cooking in an Traeger Ironwood XL pellet grill

It's important to clean out the ash from your charcoal and pellet grills to ensure the grill operates properly and your food stays cleaner.

Chris Wedel/CNET

Regardless of the grill type you are using, there is going to be some form of oil or grease that will be coating the main portions of the inside of your cooker. When using a pellet or charcoal grill, you'll also find ash and condensed smoke to remove. If your grill has a built-in temperature probe, be sure to find it and clean it off so it can continue to provide proper temp readings while you're cooking.

There are plenty of handy grilling tools that can make cleaning a bit easier. But things like a good putty knife will serve you well. I prefer a wooden scraper like this one from Amazon because it is less likely to scratch the grill, and gloves are some essential parts of a grill cleaning kit. Those gloves are also great for prepping your food to go onto your clean grill.

For your charcoal and pellet grills, you will want to clean out any ash from the grill. I use this small Shop-Vac that pulls double-duty to clean out my truck. Using a vacuum not only gets the job done much quicker, but it also picks up any of the stuff you scraped off the rest of the grill.

A steak with sear lines on an open-flame grill
Tyler Lizenby/CNET

As for the inside of your gas grill, you'll want to clean off the burner tubes. These are the metal tubes that have tiny pin holes and that, when clogged, don't allow the propane to pass through. This results in uneven cooking temps and a greater risk of a grease fire. If it's possible to easily remove the tubes from your grill model, do that. Then, using a wire brush, gently scrub the tubes. Be sure to brush from the center of the tube outward, moving sideways (not up and down). Otherwise you may push debris into the tube or holes themselves instead of clearing them. If removed, be sure to dump any debris that may have gotten into the little holes.

3. Make the grates great

Grill grates of the Nexgrill Oakford

Cleaning your grill's grates not only keeps your food tasting great, but also prevents grease fires and potential illnesses.

Chris Wedel/CNET

After putting the grill back together, it's time to clean off the grates. The easiest way to do this is by getting your grill warmed up and then opening up the lid and giving the grates a good scrubbing. Now depending on the type of grates your grill has -- cast iron, stainless steel or porcelain coated -- you'll attack this part a bit differently.

Stainless steel has little to worry about and can be cleaned with a good wire brush. However, there is some debate about this, as some feel a wire brush can leave some wire bristles behind. This is why you want to make sure you are using a high-quality brush designed for cleaning a grill. I like something like this GrillArt Grill Brush and Scraper because it has a wire brush and a scraper for harder bits.

Using a nylon brush can be safe for all types of grates, but it needs to be used on a cool grill and may not get some of the more baked-on pieces off as easily. Cast iron grates can take a bit more of a beating over porcelain, but you'll want to follow similar cleaning methods as you would for a cast iron skillet.

4. Keeping it clean

Brisk It grill with its cover on.

The first line of defense in keeping the dirt and debris from getting on and into your grill is with a good cover.

Chris Wedel/CNET

Cleaning a dirty, greasy grill isn't a fun process, but a necessary one for the best outdoor cooking experience. There are some things you can do to keep your grill cleaner longer to extend the time between those dreaded scrubbing sessions.

While keeping the inside of the grill clean is a somewhat unavoidable task, you can reduce how dirty the grates get. One option is to lightly grease the grates prior to cooking using spray oil. I tend to prefer avocado oil as it has a higher smoke temperature. Some say using a sliced raw onion on your grates before cooking can also help. You can also use a bristle-free brush to clean off anything that could ruin the cooking experience.

On top of performing regular maintenance of your grill by giving the grates a good cleaning after each cook, vacuuming out the ashes, and emptying the grease traps, using a good grill cover is also helpful. This is especially true if you use a pellet grill and don't like emptying out your hopper after each cook.