Beyond purchasing the right grill and grilling accessories, an essential part of barbecuing is cleaning up after yourself and your grill.Many people think it’s okay to “let char and burnt bits linger on the grill top” for days, notes Bill West, the founder of Barbecue Tricks. And no, West emphasizes: Leaving your grill untended doesn’t season it despite popular misconceptions. “Funk is not flavor,” he said.
If you’re going to clean your grill, you may be looking for products to use like brushes, scrapers and polish. To help, we asked grilling experts about their favorite grilling tool, as well as how, when and why it’s important to clean all parts of your grill, from the cooking surface to the lid.
Highly rated products to clean your grill
There are a plethora of products designed to help you clean your grill. But you don’t necessarily need them to get the job done, said Derek Wolf, founder of Over the Fire Cooking. “There are two things you need to clean your grill: heat and elbow grease,” he said. “You’ll need something that can scrape food off the grate, too, but it doesn't need to be more complicated than that.”
However, some people like to have brushes, sprays and more on hand to get rid of leftover food, dirt and residue on grills. We talked to experts about some of the types of products that may be useful and recommended highly rated options.
Grill brushes and scrapers
West, author of “Big Book of BBQ Tricks,” said he likes stainless steel grill brushes because they can withstand high heat and he recommends bristle-free options so bristles don’t fall into your grill while you’re cleaning. The GRILLART’s head features bristle-free, flexible stainless steel scrubbers that clean between grates and the brush has a built-in scraper, too. Its black handle is positioned multiple inches above the head of the brush, showing you where to grip in order to keep your hands away from high heat. It has a 4.3-star average rating from over 7,500 reviews on Amazon.
The Grill Rescue Brush is another bristle-free option with a replaceable cleaning head that uses steam to clean your barbecue. To use the brush, make sure the grill’s temperature is at least 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, dip the brush head in water and use it to scrub the grill’s grate, producing steam that helps remove dirt and grime, according to the brand. Its brush head features a scraper and is dishwasher and washing machine safe. Replacement heads are sold separately. The Grill Rescue Brush has a 4.4-star average rating from over 2,700 reviews on Amazon.
If your grill’s grate is ceramic- or porcelain-coated, you should scrub it carefully with nylon bristles, West said. The Char-Broil Grill Brush has nylon bristles to do exactly that. Plus, once you wear out the head, you can replace it with a new one, purchased with the brush or sold separately. Extra features include a scraper, as well as a back hook on its handle for hanging. Char-Broil’s Nylon Bristle Grill Brush has a 4.5-star average rating from over 8,000 reviews on Amazon.
If you need to remove rust, grime or stubborn food from your grill grate, West recommended scrubbing it with steel wool. A scrubber like this can cut through grease and food that’s burnt on to the grate, and West said they’re long-lasting and durable, so you can use them all season long. Scotch-Brite Steel Wool comes with a pack of three scrubber and has a 4.7-star average rating from over 20,000 reviews on Amazon.
Wooden grill scrapers conform to the contours of each grate’s surface to clean it, West said. The Great Scrape Woody Nub goes even further — it’s customizable for your specific grill grate. When you first use it, the brand says to set the grill on high heat and use firm pressure to slowly glide the paddle front to back on the grate. This will create unique grooves on the scraper’s head that will help scrape off the grate’s debris by aligning with it. The Great Scrape Woody Numb has a 4.6-star average rating from over 400 reviews on Amazon.
Other grill cleaning supplies
To avoid burning your hands while cleaning your grill — and help you really get into the grate’s crevices — Wolf recommended wearing welding gloves. The RAPICCA Welding Gloves can be purchased in two sizes — 14- and 16-inches long — allowing you to choose how high you want them to go up your arm. The gloves are constructed from multiple layers of padding and fabric, which the brand says can protect your hands against temperatures up to 932 degrees Fahrenheit. They're also water-resistant and available in four colors: Grey-Black, Grey, Blue and Black. The gloves have a 4.6-star average rating from over 13,700 reviews on Amazon.
If you’re looking to make the outside of your grill shine, try a stainless steel cleaner — the same one you might use for indoor appliances — said Glenn Lyman, a personal chef and grilling expert. Spray Weiman’s Stainless Steel Cleaner and Polish directly on the exterior of your grill and wipe it away using a microfiber towel. The cleaner should eliminate fingerprints, grease and dirt build up. The spray has a 4.7-star average rating from over 3,700 reviews on Amazon.
Bar Keepers Friend is a safe and effective product to protect the outside of your stainless steel grill against rust build up, Lyman said. In addition to rust, the product’s bleach-free formula says it can remove tarnish, mineral deposits and stains from surfaces. Bar Keepers Friend has a 4.6-star average rating from over 1,400 reviews on Amazon.
Grill cleaning basics: How, when and how often to clean
You should thoroughly clean your grill twice a year, Lyman recommended: once at the beginning of grilling season and once at the end. If you grill year round, schedule your deep cleans around the warm season, or whenever you're likely to use your grill the most, he said. The grill grates, however, require cleaning after every use.
When it comes to which tools to use to clean your grill, West said stainless steel and silicone brushes are preferred because they can withstand high heat. As for cleaning solutions, West suggested avoiding anything chemical-based. “I don’t worry about cleansers,” West said. “Let the heat do the sanitizing.”
Lyman shared similar advice about cleaning solutions. While oven cleaners and commercial cleaners work well to clean grill grates, he said these products can damage the surface of your grill or pose health risks after you cook food on the grate if they’re overused.
Why it’s important to clean your grill
It’s common for people to add fat to foods while barbecuing, like butter on steak or oily marinades on chicken, said Wolf, who wrote “Food by Fire,” a recipe book that explains how to start cooking fires and the best fuel sources. Wolf said grilling these foods is perfectly fine, but if you don’t clean your grill after it gets covered in grease, you may face problems later on. Sugar — an ingredient common in barbecue marinades and sauces — also burns quickly and, if it sits on a grill’s grate, can actually cause food to have a bitter taste the next time you cook.
“The problem is that heat and fat are friends,” Wolf said. “Having a clean grill really helps to prevent flare ups while cooking. If you don’t clean your grill grate, residual fat will drip into the grill.” A dirty grill grate may also prevent your barbecue from cooking food evenly, while cleaning it ensures a consistent cooking temperature throughout, Wolf said. This means that all sides of your food — from hamburgers to hot dogs — will be uniformly prepared. Clean grill grates also help create crisp sear marks on food from meat to vegetables, which some people like the look of on grilled food.
Cleaning different parts of your grill
Grilling experts shared advice for cleaning different parts of your grill, from the outside to the cooking surface. Different areas may require different products to be used, and some parts need to be cleaned more thoroughly (and more often) than others.
Lid and inside of the grill
West said people often neglect to clean the inside of their grill’s lid, an area where soot can build up and flake off if it’s not upkept. He suggests using a grill brush (similar to our recommendations above) to clean the inside of the lid when you notice dirt beginning to accumulate. Lyman also suggested cleaning the inside of your grill by scraping the sides, lid and bottom with a plastic putty knife. He said to avoid using metal tools, which can scratch the grill and cause premature rusting.
Experts recommend cleaning your grill’s grate after every cooking session while it’s still hot. Lyman said a hot grill grate makes grease and grime easy to remove. “Some people like to turn off or shut down their grills immediately after grilling. This drives me crazy,” Lyman said. “People think they’re saving propane, but in reality, you’ll have to burn more when you start up your grill the next time to get the grates clean. If you clean it right away, you’ll be ready to grill at a moment's notice.”
To clean your grill grate like a professional, our experts said to bring the grill to its highest temperature with the lid down and allow the heat to burn off any dirt or grime for a few minutes. Then, use a grill brush to scrape off any excess char or food. You should also use a grill brush to clean the grill grate before you cook, but if you thoroughly clean the grill after cooking, cleaning it before cooking will require very little effort, West said.
Just like how people forget to clean the inside of their grill’s lid, the underside of grill grates are also often forgotten about. “People let this go all the time because they don’t see it,” Lyman said. To clean this part of the grill, he suggested turning your grates over and putting them into the grill upside down. Then, turn on the heat for about 15 to 20 minutes before scraping off soot and dirt with a brush before turning off the heat.
Outside of the grill
You can clean the outside of your grill with warm water and dish soap after it’s completely cool, West said. Lyman said to rinse the outside of the grill off with water afterwards, making sure you don’t leave any soap behind, and dry the outside of the grill with a cloth.
Cleaning gas versus charcoal grills
While Lyman said you can clean grill grates on gas and charcoal grills with the same tools, West argued that cleaning charcoal grills is a much grimier endeavor. People might prefer buying a gas grill for that reason, West said. “From lighting the charcoal to clearing away the dust, charcoal grills are just a lot more work,” West said.
That said, gas grills have more parts to clean than charcoal grills, like burners, ignitors and rotisserie attachments, Lyman said. He noted that these parts of gas grills “are a haven to spiders and other pests and can cause trouble with gas flow and air circulation, causing inconsistent heat.” He recommended using a blower to get rid of any bugs and spider webs that you find on your grill.
How to get rid of rust
A common issue people face when caring for grills is rust, which Lyman said comes from moisture on exposed metal surfaces. A rusty grill is generally avoidable if you take care of it with products like Bar Keepers Friend, but once you notice rust — especially on your grill grate —, you should get rid of it before it becomes a bigger problem.
West said you can soak rusty grill grates overnight in a salt and vinegar solution and then use steel wool to scrub it down. Afterwards, coat the previously rusted area with oil. Patches of rust on the exterior or bottom of grills generally aren’t a concern, he said.