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How to Clean Your Grill the Right Way

Get your grill nice and clean for the end of summer in just a few easy steps.

Two burger patties on a grill over flames
Outdoor grills get dirty in no time. 
Chris Monroe/CNET

This story is part of Home Tips, CNET's collection of practical advice for getting the most out of your home, inside and out.

While it's nice to have a well-organized fridge and giving your dishwasher a regular cleaning will keep it running smoothly, deep cleaning your grill will have a major effect on its performance and can extend its life significantly. Even if the gunk and buildup don't render your Weber or Char-Broil totally useless, who wants to use a dirty, rusty grill? Leave the task for long enough and you'll reach a point of no return. As grilling season rolls along, now is as good a time as any to give your grill a serious cleaning so you're set and ready for the second half of summer.

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Beyond looking gnarly, a dirty gas or charcoal grill can also affect the flavor of food in ways you don't want. And all that built-up grease, gunk and grime buildup can cause fires and flare-ups of the hazardous variety. If you're wondering how to really clean your grill and maintain it properly so it lasts longer and doesn't cause any trouble, I've outlined some easy steps below. 

For this article, I used a propane-fueled model to illustrate the best grill-cleaning techniques, but all of them should work for charcoal grills, pellet smokers and kamado grills, too. (For more cleaning tips, check out how to clean a cast-iron skillet, and how to clean your kitchen in under 15 minutes.) 

Read also: Best Grill and BBQ Tools Under $25

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1. Open up the grill and pull it apart

First, you'll need to open the grill and remove its various parts. This way, you'll be able to access the main grill chamber. Typically sitting below the grates, this is where heavy food particles tend to fall and grease drippings land.

Start with a cold grill. Open the hood, remove the grill grates and set them aside. Some propane gas models also have one or multiple metal heat diffusers that rest over the burners. If your grill has them, take those out, too.

2. Clean the inside of the grill

A lot of grease and food particles tend to collect inside the grill's interior, also known as the "grill box." Use a cheap putty knife (metal or plastic) or an old spatula to scrape the sides of the grill chamber free of as much gunk as you can.

Any thin, flat tool will do. Just make sure it provides a good surface or handle to grip. You also might want to consider getting a pair of work gloves, too, since this is bound to be a dirty job.

On charcoal and wood pellet grills, ash will accumulate within their coal trays and fireboxes. That in turn limits airflow, and ultimately affects cooking performance. And in the case of pellet grills, ash can cause misfiring of the pellet system. Sometimes this situation leads to a precarious over-firing condition when too much fuel ignites at once.

Avoid that by regularly clearing your grill of ash deposits. Just be sure to do so when the ash has cooled completely.

3. Clear the burner tubes

If you have a gas grill, one part that often gets clogged are its burner tubes. One symptom of dirty burners is reduced flame size. They may also burn with an orange color instead of the usual blue. Both indicate abnormally low temperatures and an underpowered grill.

Typically a gas grill has multiple burner tubes, though some may have only one. Use a nylon or steel wire brush to gently clean the small holes on 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.

Use a metal scraper instead of a steel brush with bristles.

Chris Monroe/CNET

4. Clean the grill grates

Reassemble the grill, then turn it on to its highest temperature setting and close the hood. There may even be a cleaning level on your burner dials. After a few minutes, open the lid and scrape the grates vigorously with a non-bristle metal grill brush. The one I personally used was the Grill Bristleless Scraper from Taylor. This brush has multiple surfaces and edges to attack and remove grime from grill grates. It even has a handy bottle opener. 

You can also use a nylon brush, but make sure to do this only when the grill is cold. Other options are the $13 Sumpri Grill Brush and Scraper and the $20 Kona Safe Clean Grill Brush. It's made out of stainless steel and is bristle-free, too. While I haven't used it myself, it appears to be popular with Amazon shoppers.

A time may come, at the start of grilling season perhaps, when deep cleaning is required. To loosen stubborn, carbonized grime, soak your grates in soapy water overnight. Another option is to hit grates with an aerosol grill cleaner like Simple Green

A metal scraper removes debris without leaving dangerous bristles behind.

Chris Monroe/CNET

5. Prevent future buildup

Certain practices can help discourage deposits of dirt and grease from forming in the first place. One method is to grease the grates of your hot grill with a little cooking oil right before you start cooking. In the same vein, scrubbing your grill grates with a raw onion is another tactic you can try. If you do have a grill brush without bristles, it's a good idea to scrape your hot grates both before and after grilling.

Another tactic is to scrub hot grill grates with the open side of a sliced (in half) onion. The thinking here is that it seasons the grates while adding moisture. Organic compounds supposedly are released, too, which break down stubborn grease and dirt. I've found that it's not as effective as scrubbing, but it certainly creates a wonderful smell.

Of course, performing a full cleaning every few months is the best method to enjoy a grill that's spic and span. A little elbow grease goes a long way.