Dirty grills are dangerous fire hazards. Grease buildup causes nasty flare-ups, even full-blown fires. And besides being a threat to your life and home, a nasty grill won't do any favors to food flavor either.
There's no need to panic, though. Here in this guide are simple steps to deep clean, and maintain your grill properly. As a result, your food will taste better, perform at its best, plus last longer. I serviced a propane-fueled grill for this article, but much of the advice I offer covers charcoal grills, pellet smokers and Kamado grills, too.
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1. Open it up, 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
A lot of grease and food particles tend to collect inside the grill's interior, also known as the "grillbox." 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.
4. Clean the 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. One I particularly like is the $15 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.
According to Taylor, you'll be able to find this tool in stores, and it's also sold online by Amazon. If you can't wait that long, then use a nylon brush, but make sure to do this only when the grill is cold. Another option is the $15 Sumpri Grill Brush and Scraper. It's made out of stainless steel and is bristle-free, too. While I haven't used it personally, 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 Simply Green.
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 your 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.