How to Clean a Grill

"I just told her I cleaned the grill with hydrochloric acid!"

So your future father-in-law is coming for a barbecue, and your new grill has become a haven for charred fat drippings, burnt cheese, and crusty old barbecue sauce. It looks like you turned the thing into a disposal device for tortured stray cats. I'm not saying the guy is judging your every action, or inaction, with an unscrupulously critical eye. I'm just saying that if he finds you unable to take proper care of your grill, which should be no higher than the second or third most important thing in a man's life, how in the hell can he expect you to take care of his little princess, you pansy-ass momma's boy?

Ah, screw that guy. You're gonna be humpin' his daughter whether he likes you or not, and he knows it. The thing is, you should know how to clean a grill for your own health and culinary happiness. First off, the food cooked from a clean outdoor grill tastes better and is better for you. If there isn't a bunch of charred crap in your grill, there's gonna be less smoke imparting an acrid taste to your carefully selected steaks. Also, if there are chunks on the grates, there's a good chance they'll transfer to whatever you're cooking. It doesn't look good and it doesn't taste good. Speaking of good-looking food, nice clean grates give your meat nice-looking grill marks. Who doesn't like grill marks? Keep in mind, too, that by keeping your grill clean, it will start more easily, cook hotter and more evenly, and last you one helluva lot longer. Besides the fact that cleaning a grill isn't difficult and usually takes an hour or less—even if you take a beer break—you usually only need to do it once or twice a year. Oh yeah: many gas BBQ grills these days have a "clean" setting, much like an oven. Forget about it. They may make it easier for you to clean your grill after the cycle, but they don't clean your grill. Everything is still in there; it's now just in the form of carbon, which is a suspected carcinogen.

How to Clean a Gas Grill

Disassemble and soak. Before you start to clean a gas grill, you should disconnect and remove the propane tank. After that, fill a large bucket or bin with hot water, squirt a little dish soap into it and take it out to the grill. It may be easier to fill the large bucket by taking several trips outside with a small bucket. Once the bucket is ready and in place, start removing pieces of the grill and placing them into the soapy water. Remove the cooking grates as well as the lava rocks, briquettes, flame shields, and/or flavor bars, and leave them to soak.

Scrape and clean the inside. If it's been awhile since your last grill cleaning session, you will be amazed by how much junk has built up in the bottom of your BBQ grill. You'll be equally amazed at how easily most of it comes out. Grab a small putty knife and start scraping and breaking the bits apart. Once you get a good pile of scrapings in the bottom, suck them out with a shop vac, uncover the spots that you missed, and repeat scraping and sucking as necessary. Once all the big chunks are out, fill a smaller bucket with hot, soapy water, grab a brass wire brush and a scouring pad, and set to work on the more difficult spots. Do the bottom, the sides, and the inside of the lid.

Clean gas flow apparatus. While this step is going to be a little different for almost every single gas grill ever made, it's pretty much always easy. If your grill has venturi tubes (steel tubes with little holes all over them), remove them if possible and brush out the insides with a tube brush. If they aren't removable, grab a toothpick and poke every single little hole to clear them of crud. This will keep your gas grill cooking evenly. If your grill, like mine, has little ledges that the gas flows along to the separate burners, clean those ledges with a scouring pad or your wire brush to remove any debris that might be disrupting the flow.

Scrub the removed pieces. The next step to cleaning outdoor grills, I'm sorry to say, sucks. This is the part where you take all of those pieces that have been soaking since the beginning of the process and scrape 'em clean. Grab that wire brush and scouring pad you were using earlier and set to work. Grab and scrub each piece individually, set the clean pieces aside, and move on to the next. Look carefully at the pieces as you clean them. Some of them, like the flavor bars and flame shields, may need to be replaced. Since they are often a pain in the butt to clean, you may also wish to simply replace any briquettes or lava rocks. Pay very close attention to the cooking grates; the cleaner they are, the less likely food is to stick to them.

Clean a BBQ grill's outsides, rinse all, and reassemble. Don't neglect the cosmetic aspects of your grill. Aside from the grease that gets dripped and splattered onto the outside of your grill from cooking, grills also collect dust in a hurry. Using a bucket of fresh soapy water and a rag, clean the outside of the grill down as well as you can. This is also the time you should remove and clean or replace the drip pan, tray, or can. Once you have the outside clean, grab a hose or a bucket with fresh, pure water and rinse everything down. This includes the outside, inside, and all the pieces you have yet to put back into the grill. After everything is rinsed off, reassemble.

Finishing touches for a clean grill. Now that you have a clean BBQ grill, it's time to dry it. Reattach the propane, fire up the grill, turn it to high, and let it burn for about fifteen minutes. If you have a self-igniting grill, there's a good chance that feature will not work due to all of the water. So, very carefully use the match method. Meanwhile, grab a can of cooking spray and something to drink. After the fifteen minutes is up, turn the grill off and spray the hell out of it with your cooking spray. Coat every possible surface to help fend off rust and to re-season your grates. If there are wood pieces on the outside of your grill, let them dry until tomorrow and then wipe them down with a little linseed oil.

How to Clean a Charcoal Grill

The differences between cleaning a gas grill and cleaning a charcoal grill are nominal. If you've read the six steps found directly above this section, you can pretty much figure out how to clean a grill of any variety. This biggest difference between the two is, of course, the ashes. Once you are 100% certain that everything in your grill is cool to the touch, remove the grates, start soaking them, and clean out the ashes from the bottom of the grill and the ash catcher. Next, follow the steps we talked about above that pertain to your BBQ grill-cleaning situation. When it comes to drying the thing when you're done cleaning your grill, just leave it open until it's dry. It's not as fast, but you probably don't want to waste a bunch of charcoal heating the grill up just to dry it.

Tips and Tools for a Clean Grill

The Grill Daddy. This is one of the best grill cleaning tools available. The Grill Daddy, aside from having a replaceable stainless steel brush, actually sprays your grill grates down with water as you clean them. This grill cleaning tool can be used on gas grills as well as charcoal grills.

Forkin' onion. A quick, natural, and effective way to clean grill grates is to very simply take a white onion, peel it, cut it in half, stab a fork into the small end of one half, and use the fork to rub the onion back and forth over the grates of a hot grill. The onion not only deglazes the grill grates, it also adds an extra layer of flavor to whatever you're grilling.

Baking soda paste. When you have the grill torn apart and are working on the thick grease that has built up, you may need a little extra help in removing it. A thick paste of baking soda and water, applied with a sponge, rag, or scouring pad, adds just enough extra abrasion to help you clean a grill a little more effectively.