How To Clean A Charcoal Grill (Easy But Effective!)

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It may not be the most fun, but cleaning your charcoal grill is one of those must-do chores. Not sure how to get it as clean as new? 

We’re here to help get your grill clean quickly, easily, and safely.

In this TheGrillingDad.com guide, you’ll learn:

  • How to clean a charcoal grill
  • What tools and supplies to use
  • And much more!
how to clean a charcoal grill

How To Clean A Charcoal Grill

Cleaning your grill sounds like way more of an annoyance than it really is. Even though it sounds like a time-sucking chore, it can be done in short order. The best part is the more often you do it, the less tedious it will be.

So let’s get to it. You know you need to clean your grill often and keep it maintained for peak performance. By following a simple routine that includes regular cleaning, you can get years’ worth of phenomenal meals out of any grill!

Related >> The Best Charcoal Grills

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Why You Should Clean Your Grill?

There are a lot of really good reasons to clean your grill. It’s more than a matter of cosmetics or convenience. Your grill is a cooking surface and as such, it can be filled with harmful bacteria that can find their way into your food.

You owe it to yourself, your family, and your guests to keep it clean. If that isn’t enough of a reason, here are a few more:

  • It will last longer. Food, grease and other debris will cause rust to build up on your grates and the grill itself. That can cause paint to chip off, grates to wear through and even worse, that rust can get into your food. Yuck!
  • A dirty grill is not healthy for anyone. The grill is the perfect place for bacteria to grow. Your food can become contaminated with germs that are then put into circulation when you cook. You’re not only at risk from stomach bugs but also cancer-causing substances like acetaldehyde produced when grease builds up on your dirty grates.
  • Dirty grills are fire hazards. Grease fires are real and dangerous, especially if your grill has a grease trap. Keeping your grill clean and grease-free will help you avoid a fire that could burn your food, your deck, or your house.
  • It works better. Better heating, more even cooking, and you have more control of your cook.
  • Most importantly, your food will taste better. Think of it this way: You want to taste tonight’s dinner, not last month’s burgers. Grease, grime, and bacteria can affect the flavor of your food. Uneven heating or grease fires will burn your food, turning a medium-rare steak into a well-done one in the blink of an eye. Keep it clean and you won’t wonder what that “extra flavor” is.
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12/07/2022 09:53 pm GMT

Different Strokes For Different…uh…Grills

It is important to note there are different types of grills and grates. They will require a different approach and different supplies. To cover most of the grilling world, we’re going to take a look at stainless steel and cast iron.

How To Clean a Stainless Steel Grill

These are some of the easiest grills to clean. You can use almost any cleaning solution or method that works for you.

Here are the basic steps:

  1. Gather Up Your Supplies: Your grill-cleaning kit should include a grill brush, a bristle brush, a putty knife (I like a 5-in-one for versatility) plastic bags, rubber gloves, and aluminum foil. You also want a cleaning solution, anything from soapy water to vinegar and water to your favorite general cleaning spray.
  2. Clean the grill grate and the charcoal grate: The best method is to remove both (if you can) and scrub them with a clean grill brush or other coarse cleaning brush. Do the same thing with the charcoal grate on a kettle charcoal grill.
  3. Scrub with aluminum foil: A ball of aluminum foil is a great “fine-tuning” after the grill brush. The foil will mold itself to the grates and will scrub off anything the brush left behind.
  4. Clean the inside of the grill — bottom and lid: Brush or wipe any debris out of the bottom of the grill. If your grill has an ash catcher, empty it. Then, go over all metal surfaces with a bristle brush. This is also where the putty knife or 5-in-one will come in handy for scraping the black, greasy gunk that builds up.
  5. Clean the outside of the grill: Soapy water or spray cleaners are your best bet here. Enameled surfaces (like kettle grills) and stainless steel grills will clean up easily. Do not use stainless steel cleaners on the outside as the heat from grilling may cause the stainless polishes to discolor the metal.
  6. Put the grill back together: put the grates back in, the top on and crack open a cold beverage to celebrate a job well done.

Related >> The Best Grill Brushes for Stainless Steel Grates

How To Clean a Cast Iron Grill

Cast iron can be tricky. You can’t use soap and water and you should season the metal when you’re done. I love my cast iron pans and have learned a few things that transfer to grill grates.

  1. Turn up the heat: When everything is off the grill, add more charcoal and get the grill as hot as you can. Close the top and let the heat clean the cast iron grates for 30 minutes or more.
  2. Brush the debris off: let the grates cool, then use a bristled brush to scrub the ash and debris off the grates. Consider using a grill brush specifically for cast iron grates.
  3. Clean with water only: Use a small amount of water to clean the cast iron. Wash with a rag and let it air dry
  4. Season the grates with oil: Once everything is clean, preheat the grill. When you warm up the cast iron, the metal expands so and allows the oil to fill any gaps. Lightly (and I mean very lightly) coat the cast iron grate with oil, using a clean rag held by tongs. Any vegetable oil will work. I like flaxseed oil since it has a super-high smoke point. That said, canola, avocado, or olive oil all do the job.

Related >> How To Remove Rust From Cast Iron Grates 

A Few Tips on Maintaining Your Charcoal Grill

  • Check your ash catcher: Empty it before you cook. It will make life so much easier and will keep the ash in a much more manageable quantity.
  • Brush the grill grates before grilling: Preheat the grill, and brush the grate. You don’t have to do a full cleaning every time you cook, but it is nice to get as much of the last grill session off your grate before you start grilling tonight’s dinner.
  • Oil the grate: When the grate is hot, put oil on a rag, hold the rag with your tongs, and oil the grates. That way, food won’t stick and you’ll have a much easier time removing it from the grate.
  • Brush the grates after grilling: Just like when you do before you start cooking. The grates are hot, the food is gone and you have a perfect opportunity to remove anything that may be left behind. Think of it as a gift to your future self when it’s grill cleaning time.

Related >> The Best Charcoal Grills Under $500

How Often To Clean a Grill

You should clean the grates every time you cook. Before and after each grilling session. You should also get into the practice of emptying the ashes before each cook. It’s a good habit and it will save you a trash can full of ashes when you do a full grill cleaning

A full grill cleaning should be done every two to three weeks during the grilling season. For many of us, the idea of a grilling season is silly, since we’re out there all year.

So there you have it, the good, bad, and ugly bits of cleaning a grill.

My grandfather always said, “if you take care of your tools, they will take care of you.”

Remember your grill is one of your best cooking tools. Take care of it and enjoy years of great grilled meals.

Jim Graziano

Jim Graziano

Hi, I’m Jim and I am blessed by being able to write a few articles for this incredible community of outdoor cooking enthusiasts. I have been cooking my whole life and about 10 years ago, the idea of BBQ caught my attention, thanks to a dear friend who introduced me to the craft. Since then I have competed in Memphis in May, spent a lot of weekends chasing KCBS honors and started a BBQ ministry with the men’s group at church. It is an honor to share some of what I’ve learned and continue to learn with all y’all, and I hope you find it helpful.

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