How to Clean BBQ Grills

Knowing how to clean BBQs is a skill that everyone who grills out has to learn. If you’re going to own a grill, you absolutely need to know how to clean your grill.

Collateral Grill Damage

It’s always great to have a BBQ, to cook a delicious meal outside on the flames the way they did in prehistoric times. But after even just one use, the BBQ can get pretty grimy and gross.

Natural oils and fats coming off of meats, water vapor that gets released from vegetables, herbs, seasonings, and sauces that end up sticking to the grills—all of this can make your grill get dirty in a hurry. You don’t want to cook new food on top of that old mess because this will affect the flavor of everything you grill.

Ideally, you want to clean your grill after every use. Realistically, you will probably end up doing a heavy cleaning on your grill every so often.

Once all that grime and goo are baked right on there, the task of cleaning the grill just seems bigger and bigger (and easier and easier to put off). Eventually, the task just looks so overwhelming that you don’t even want to face it.

Even if your grill looks pretty far gone, there are ways to clean it so that you can get it almost like new again. There are lots of tricks that make it possible to get rid of all that grime and get your grill pretty much sparkling again.

Pre Wash

Before you start to clean the grill, get a hose or a large spray bottle filled with plain water. Completely wet down the grill inside and out, after making sure everything is turned off and any and all gas is totally disconnected of course.

You should also remove the gas tank, if present, before you wet down the grill. This will knock off large pieces of debris and get the grill prepped so that you can clean it more easily as you go through the process.

One good soaking will help you save on a lot of elbow grease and extra work later when you’re really working on scrubbing the grill.

hand cleaning grill with sponge

De-Griming the Grill

Before you actually clean the grill, you’re going to need to get some of that baked-on, caked-on goo, and grime off of it first. There are a few different ways to do this and get rid of that charred layer of crap that you don’t want to taste on your food.

Don’t make the task of removing all that charred, caked-on stuff even harder. Try one or all of these simple hacks that will make it much easier to get your grill nice and clean again.

Onion

As odd as it sounds, a regular onion can work wonders when it comes down to breaking up the gunk and grime on your grill. Cut the onion in half and rub it all over the grimy areas.

Yes, you will want to wear gloves for this and possibly eye protection as well. Onions release lachrymator, a compound that causes the lacrimal glands around your eyes to become irritated, which is why onions make your eyes water.

Let the onion juice sit for a few moments and then scrub the grimy stuff on the grill grates with a bristle brush. The natural onion enzymes will break down that junk and make it easier to brush off.

Give a warning to anyone who might come near you that onion juice is in the air. Otherwise, their eyes will also get seriously irritated by your cleaning process.

Steam

You don’t need a bunch of chemical degreasers to get the gunk off your grill, and some may prefer to use more food-friendly methods of removing this stuff. If you don’t mind a little elbow grease, try using steam to loosen all that stuff up.

Fill a metal bowl with water and fire up the grill to get it boiling. Let the water steam as you take a bristle brush to the grill and scrub all the gunk away.

Obviously, you must do this with extreme caution. Wear fire-resistant gloves and use fire-resistant tools and work with a lot of care to avoid knocking over the water or burning yourself on the steam.

Do not put your hand, your arm, or any body part (especially your face) near the steaming water. Steam alone is enough to cause a serious burn to your skin.

Make sure no one gets near while you’re doing this, particularly small children and pets.

Beer

Beer acts as a natural de-greaser. Pour it all over the grates of the grill and it will break down all that old, charred mess so that it becomes much easier to brush off.

Any kind of beer will work for this hack, so there’s no need to buy the most expensive beer or use your favorite weekend drink. The cheap stuff will do just fine for acting as a grill de-greaser.

Vinegar

Ordinary vinegar is an incredible cleaning agent and actually works for a whole lot of stuff around the house. Put it in a spray bottle and cover the grill with the liquid to get started.

Avoid getting the vinegar in your eyes, your mouth, and any cuts you may have on your hands. It’s best to wear gloves and eye protection while spraying vinegar so it doesn’t get to any of your soft tissues.

Vinegar won’t hurt you but it will sting your eyes, open wounds, and other sensitive areas of your body and face.

Let the vinegar sit for a few minutes so it can work on breaking up that grease. Using a balled-up piece of aluminum foil, you can scrub the grates of the grill and get rid of all that grime.

Foil works as an alternative to a grill brush and here’s the beauty of it: the foil doesn’t have to be cleaned when you’re done with it, unlike a brush. Simply throw the foil away when you’re done with it.

Cleaning the Rest

You will need to clean your grill grates somewhat regularly in order to maintain a nice surface on which to grill food. Less frequently, you will also need to clean the other parts of the grill.

If you have a charcoal grill and you’re doing a full cleaning, let it cool down for a full 48 hours from the last use before you do anything at all. Once that time has passed, dump all the old charcoal out of the grill into a fireproof container of some type.

This will leave you with an empty, open space to clean. Use a putty knife to clean caked-on charcoal off the grill.

If you have a gas grill, wait for the same 48-hour period for it to cool entirely. Detach the gas line.

Remove those clean grill grates so you can access the rest of the grill, which you can clean with a stainless steel wire brush. Gently remove the parts you can (such as the flame tamers) to clean these parts and all around these parts.

You’ll need to clean the burners with the same wire brush. If the gas ports are clogged, you can use a paperclip to unblock them and get them open and working again.

Use the brush all over the inside of the grill, cleaning the walls and the bottom of the grill thoroughly.

hand cleaning grill with brush

The Finishing Touches

Once everything has been scrubbed and de-greased and that caked-on grime has been scraped off, cleaning the rest of the grill is as simple as wiping everything down with a damp sponge.

You don’t need an abrasive sponge or anything harsh and in fact, you should use something soft. A soft sponge will do just fine to get everything clean.

Mix mild dish soap with water and clean the grill with this, going from top to bottom and working in small, circular motions. Next, use plain water to wipe down, spray down, or hose down the grill.

This will remove the soap and any remaining grease and grime.

Lastly, pull out the drip pan and empty it. Give your grill at least 24 hours to thoroughly dry and then, you’ll be ready to get it dirty again!

Do not dispose of grease by pouring it down your drains or flushing it in the toilet, as this can create clogs in drain and sewer lines and lead to huge plumbing problems in the future. Allow grease and oil to dry and harden completely and then throw it away in the trash.

Re-Season the Grill

Before you do any cooking on the grill, you should season the grates. To do this, soak paper towels in canola oil with a pair of tongs and use the paper towels to completely coat and wipe down the grates.

This will “season” the grates and prep them so that you can cook on them. This process will keep food from sticking to the grates so it will actually be easier to clean in the future.

hand applying oil to grill with paper towels

Safety Notes

Loose brush bristles, cleaning residue, and little pieces of foil can cause serious health problems and fire safety issues. Be sure to thoroughly rinse the grill and make sure no debris is left behind before you cook your next meal.

After you clean the grill, let it heat up for 15 minutes before you cook any food on it again. This will burn off any cleaning agents that might be left on the grill, so they don’t get on your food.

Don’t be alarmed if the grill smokes during this time. That’s just water and leftover cleaning residue being burned off, which is what you want.

BBQ Grill Cleaning FAQ

Can you use chemical degreasers to clean your BBQ?

There are lots of over-the-counter degreaser products you can purchase at the store that will soften and remove grease and caked-on grill junk. However, many people avoid using chemical products because they don’t want chemical residue on their food.

Burning off the chemicals can be an effective way to avoid this. But if you’d rather not take the chance, there are common household items that can be used to clean the grill without using unknown chemicals.

How long does it take to clean a BBQ grill?

Because you need to let the grill cool before you clean it and because you might need to let degreasing agents sit on the grill before you start cleaning, it can take several hours to clean a grill, depending on how dirty and grimy it is.

It doesn’t take any special skill or knowledge to clean a BBQ. This is a simple DIY anyone can do, though you shouldn’t wear your favorite shoes or clothing and you might want to wear heavy rubber gloves while you’re doing this because this can be a pretty grimy cleaning job.

How often should you clean a BBQ?

To get the best-tasting food and to keep your BBQ in great working order, you really should clean it after every use. Wait until the next day or two days after use and then brush it down and wipe it down with a soft cloth and soap and water.

If you clean your grill after every use, you won’t need to put out as much effort or take as much time to give the grill a deep, all-over cleaning as often.

How do you clean the outside of the grill?

While you’re already there, go ahead and clean the outside of the grill, too. A soft cloth and white vinegar, or stainless steel cleaner, will do the trick perfectly.

Further Reading

4 Barbeque Grill Problems to Avoid

7 Tips on Building a Brick Charcoal Grill

Great Grilling Recipes

Grow a Grill Garden

How to Adapt a BBQ Grill to Cook Baked Goods

How to Install a Built-In Barbecue Grill

How to Paint a BBQ Grill

Prep Your Grill for the Grilling Season

Propane Barbecue Tank Pressure Explained

Removing Rust from Outdoor Grills