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During the summer months, grills become some people’s most used appliances. Families and friends spend hours under the sun while cooking hamburgers, hot dogs, veggies and much more. Beyond purchasing the right gas grill or charcoal grill and seeking out the right grilling accessories, an essential part of barbecuing is cleaning up your grill. Bill West, founder of Barbecue Tricks, said many people “think they can go for days and let char and burnt bits linger on the grill top.” Some believe the misconception that doing so seasons the grill grate. But that’s not the case, according to West. “Funk is not flavor,” he said.
While there is a plethora of products designed to help you clean your grill — from sponges to sprays — Derek Wolf, founder of Over the Fire Cooking, said they’re largely unnecessary. “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.” And with Amazon Prime Day currently underway, you can find savings on many top-rated grilling accessories. We talked to grilling experts about how, when and why it’s important to clean all parts of your grill, from the cooking surface to the lid. Experts also recommended products to use while cleaning, like brushes, scrapers and more.
Why it’s important to clean your grill
Wolf, author of the recently released “Food by Fire,” said it’s common for people to add fat to foods while barbecuing, like butter on steak or oily marinades on chicken. 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 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. A clean grill grate ensures a consistent cooking temperature throughout, which Wolf said ensures all sides of your hamburger, hot dogs or ribs are as done as you want them to be, equally. Clean grill grates also help create crisp sear marks on food from meat to vegetables.
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.
Glenn Lyman, personal chef and grilling expert
Best products to clean your grill
Grill brushes and scrapers
West, who recently released the book “Big Book of BBQ Tricks,” said he likes using stainless steel grill brushes because they can withstand high heat. He recommended opting for bristle-free options so bristles don’t fall into your grill while you’re cleaning. This grill brush’s head features bristle-free stainless helixes that clean between grates, and the brush has a built-in scraper, too. The brush’s ergonomic handle also shows you where to grip in order to keep your hands away from high heat.
If your grill’s grate is ceramic- or porcelain-coated, West said you should use brushes with nylon bristles and scrub carefully. This grill brush from Char-Broil features nylon bristles, and once you wear out the head, you can replace it with a new one. Replaceable grill heads can be purchased with the brush or separately. The brush’s head is also built with a scraper and it has a hook on the back of the handle so you can hang the tool up when it’s not in use.
Another bristle-free option, the Grill Rescue Brush features 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 and dip the brush head in water. Then, use the brush to scrub the grill’s grate — steam will be created as the wet head touches the hot grill, helping to remove dirt and grime. Brush heads feature a scraper and are dishwasher and washing machine safe. Replacement heads are sold separately.
If you need to remove rust, grime or stubborn food from your grill grate, West recommended scrubbing it with steel wool. It can cut through grease and food that’s burnt on to the grate, and the steel scrubbers are long-lasting and durable, so you can use them all season long. Scotch-Brite Steel Wool comes with a pack of three scrubbers.
West said he likes using wooden grill scrapers to clean grill grates because they conform to the contours of the grate’s surface. The head of this wood grill scraper features notches that fit over grates to remove dirt and residue. Its handle provides you with two areas to grip, and the scraper has a loop on the end of it that you can use to hang the tool.
Other grill cleaning supplies
To keep your hands safe while cleaning your grill, Wolf recommended wearing welding gloves. He said the gloves help you avoid burning yourself when you’re scrubbing down a hot grate, and allow you to get into the grate’s crevices. These welding gloves can be purchased in two sizes — 14- and 16-inches long. The gloves are constructed from multiple layers of padding and fabric, and the brand said they’re effective at protecting your hands in temperatures up to 932 degrees Fahrenheit. They're also water-resistant and available in four colors: Grey-Black, Grey, Blue and Black.
If you’re looking to make the outside of your grill shine, Glenn Lyman, a personal chef and grilling expert, recommended using a stainless steel cleaner, such as one you would use for indoor appliances. 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 eliminates fingerprints, grease and dirt build up.
Lyman said Bar Keepers Friend is a safe and effective product to clean the outside of your stainless steel grill, especially if you’re combating rust build up. The product’s bleach-free formula can remove rust, tarnish, mineral deposits and stains from surfaces.
The experts we spoke to said grill covers are crucial to keeping your grill clean. And, according to Wolf, a clean grill makes the food cooked on it seem more enticing. “We eat with our eyes,” Wolf said. “The prettier the grill, the better you expect the food to be.”
West said humidity and, if you live by the ocean, salty air “can be brutal on grills” — rain can be similarly detrimental. A grill cover is the first line of defense for a barbecue — it keeps moisture and bugs out, which lessens the amount of dirt you’ll need to clean off your grill later on. Grill covers prolong the life of your grill, too.
Lyman added that the more snug a grill cover is, the better. For example, some covers come with adjustable straps and hooks that you can use to secure it to the grill. He noted that you should not cover your grill when it’s wet, as this can cause mold and rust to build up. If it rains on your grill while you’re using it, leave it uncovered until the weather clears and then dry the grill with a towel before using the cover. Wolf said you should only cover your grill when it’s completely cool, too.
This gas grill cover is made from water-resistant and UV-resistant polyester fabric. The cover has fastener straps on both sides to ensure a tight fit. It’s available in six sizes.
Designed specifically to protect kettle charcoal grills, this cover can be used on barbecues measuring up to 25-by-38 inches. It’s made of polyester fabric with a laminated undercoating to prevent moisture from getting through. The cover also features click-close straps to keep it attached to the grill even in windy conditions.
Grill cleaning basics: How, when and how often to clean
Lyman recommends giving your grill a thorough cleaning twice a year: once at the beginning of grilling season and once at the end. If you grill year round, he said to schedule your deep cleans around the warm season, or whenever you're likely to use your grill the most.
The grill grates 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 — these materials 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.
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 recommends using a grill brush 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.”
Experts recommend bringing the grill to its highest temperature with the lid down and allowing 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 vs charcoal grills
Overall, experts said there are not many differences between cleaning the surface of gas and charcoal grills. Lyman said you can clean grill grates on gas and charcoal grills with the same tools. However, West said cleaning charcoal grills is a “more grimy endeavor,” which is one reason why people prefer gas grills. “From lighting the charcoal to clearing away the dust, charcoal grills are just a lot more work,” West said.
Gas grills have extra parts to clean compared to 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, but if you notice rust on your grill grate especially, you should work to 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. He noted that patches of rust on the exterior or bottom of grills are generally not a concern.