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Sara Hansen

Pro Tips for Easy Cleanup When Grilling or Smoking

It's not uncommon to be overwhelmed by the thought of the mess that can come with barbecuing, especially when you are going to be cooking a large meal. Whether you're smoking ribs and brisket for a neighborhood party or grilling hamburgers and hotdogs for a family cookout, charred remains of food and greasy splatters from the grill can sometimes be difficult to clean up. 

Luckily, there are some simple tips you can keep in mind before and during grilling or smoking that will make the cleanup process much simpler afterward. Here are 6 easy things that you can do:


Brush the Hot Grates First

Before any meat or other food goes on your grill grates, take a little extra time to brush them off on high heat with a good-quality, long-handled wire grill brush first. This will remove any residual food particles that are stuck to the grates and is extremely helpful in keeping your grill or smoker clean and free of rust and other debris.

It will also prevent the food you are about to cook from sticking to the grates and burning, while also providing a better-tasting and more evenly-cooked meal. Make sure to wear heat-resistant gloves when brushing to protect your hands from burns and brush away from yourself to prevent getting any food debris and grease on your clothing. 

If you don’t have a grill brush, you can use long-handled tongs to rub a tightly crumpled ball of aluminum foil across the grates just like you would with a brush.


Wipe the Grates With Oil

Another thing to keep in mind before anything actually goes on the grill is to be sure that the grates are well-oiled. This is especially true if you’re going to be cooking lean meats or vegetables. The oil not only helps prevent food from sticking but also helps create a protective barrier on the grill grates, which keeps the food from burning. Cleanup is much easier when you don’t have a bunch of burnt food remnants stuck to the grates.

Once you’ve preheated the grill to medium-high heat and brushed the grates off, use long-handled tongs to hold a cloth or paper towel dipped in a neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable oil, to lightly coat the grates. Make sure to cover all the grates evenly. When grilling vegetables, you can also lightly coat the pieces in oil before they go on the grates. Just make sure to never spray cooking oil directly on the grates of a hot grill.


using oil for easy grill cleanup | tips for easy cleanup when grilling


Use Drip Pans Below Your Meat

It is an inevitable fact that meat will drip grease and fat while cooking, both of which can make for quite the cleanup. But, this is exactly what drip pans are for. Many newer model grills and smokers come with built-in metal drip pans located under the grill grates. If your grill does have these in place, take a little extra time before you start pre-heating it and line the drip pan with aluminum foil. This will make cleaning out the drip pan after your cooking session as easy as removing the aluminum foil and tossing it.

If your grill did not come with metal drip pans, disposable foil pans make great drip pans. Again, using these below your meat will make cleanup much faster and easier as well as help prevent flare-ups from occurring due to burning grease.


Keep Small Items Contained With a Grill Pan or Basket

Grilling smaller items can be a challenge, but using a metal grill pan or grill basket makes the task much easier, allows for a nice char on all sides, and keeps things from slipping through the grates. When you’ve got small pieces of vegetables falling down into your grill, your cleanup becomes even more involved.

The grill pans and baskets themselves are very easy to clean and can be used for a wide range of items, including veggies, fruits, and seafood. Grill pans, specifically, are great for grilling fish filets and other more delicate meats that tend to want to stick to grill grates.


Keep a Grill Brush Handy as You Cook 

As mentioned above, a good-quality, grill brush is an essential part of keeping your grill clean and in good shape. And using it along the way as you are cooking multiple items can help make cleanup even easier. When you remove items from the grill as they are done cooking, before you put the next thing on the grates, brush that area of the grill grates off.


Take Advantage of Handy Grill Accessories

There is a wide range of BBQ grill accessories on the market these days. But, there are several essentials to have that will help you keep your grill area clean and make cleanup after a cooking session a much more tolerable task. Besides a grill brush, as we’ve mentioned above, these handy tools include:

  • Grill mat: Putting a large, easy-to-clean rubber or PVC grill mat under your grill/cooking area will help prevent sauce, oil, etc from staining your patio or deck area.

keeping grill area clean with grill mat | tips for easy cleanup when grilling
Source: Traeger Grills

  • Side shelf mats: Most grills and smokers come with attached side shelves to provide extra prep and storage space. There are actually easy-clean, dishwasher-safe mats available that can offer surface protection from marinades, sauces, oils, etc. without scratching the stainless steel. For example, the silicone side shelf mat from Broil King. Make sure to look for mats that are compatible with the size of your grill’s side shelves.
  • Choose dishwasher-safe accessories: After long grilling or smoking sessions, the ideal scenario for cleanup is to be able to just stick as much as possible in the dishwasher. So, when getting the grill accessories we’ve mentioned throughout this article, opt for dishwasher-safe options. In most cases, these are going to be stainless steel and/or silicone.


Don’t Forget Easy Steps that Clean & Prep at the Same Time

When cleaning up after your outdoor cooking session, there are some easy steps you can take to help keep your cooker clean and protected while also prepping it for the next time you cook:

  • Use your grill brush one more time to clean off the grill grates when you are done cooking and the grill is still hot. This will help remove any remaining food particles, leaving you a cleaner surface to start with next time.
  • Make sure to empty and clean out the drip pan/grease tray. You don’t want to leave fat and grease to build up in your grill. (If you follow the tip above and line it with aluminum foil, this will be an easy task.)   
  • If you are using a charcoal grill, make sure to clean out the leftover ash. Leaving it in your grill can attract moisture, which will turn this ash into a hard-to-remove cement. Just keep a bucket nearby that you can empty the spent ash into and keep out of the elements until you dump it in the trash.
  • Wipe any splatters, grease, and dirt off the exterior of the grill to keep it clean. You can simply spray a degreaser onto the surface and then wipe it off with a damp cloth. Or a mix of white vinegar and water is also a great cleaning option for stainless steel (especially if you are wanting a natural cleaner). For stubborn spots, you may need to gently scrub them with a brush or steel wool.
  • When you're finished cleaning the grill, be sure to cover it up to protect it from the elements. This will help keep the grill clean and free from rust and other damage.


keeping grill clean with cover | tips for easy cleanup when grilling


Being Proactive Will Help Make Cleanup a Breeze When Grilling/Smoking

Most will agree that cleanup is the least fun part of outdoor cooking. But, by following the things we covered above when grilling or smoking, you can make the process much easier and faster. These tips will also help keep your cooker in good condition and extend its lifespan. So, next time you're getting ready to fire up the grill, keep these things in mind and you’ll set yourself up for a much more enjoyable cooking session.

Do you have any other tips for easy cleanup when grilling or smoking that you want to share? Did you try out our tips above? If so, leave a comment below! We want to hear all about it.


If you want to start elevating your outdoor cooking skills like never before, make sure to check out the BBQ Champs Academy Championship Backyard Cooking Classes! Taught by some of the top Pitmasters and Grillmasters, these online cooking classes will teach you step-by-step how to cook 20 delicious recipes on your grill or smoker.

And if you are ready to up your outdoor cooking game even further and try your hand at competition smoking and grilling techniques, grab your All-Access pass today! Join the Champion Pitmasters in these tell-all, first-of-their-kind online BBQ classes. You’ll master cooking ribs, brisket, pork butt, and chicken, learn competition-cooking secrets, and more!

Also, don’t forget to click “Subscribe” on the BBQ Champs Academy YouTube channel. You don’t want to miss any of the latest competition BBQ news and insider info straight from the pros!

Sara Hansen

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One comment on “Pro Tips for Easy Cleanup When Grilling or Smoking”

  1. Hey! I just wanna give you a thumbs up for asking us to get rid of any ashes from our charcoal grill so it won't get humid over time. I just had a quick barbecue session in my backyard last night. So, I'm gonna use this tip to get the cleaning job done properly.

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