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Sara Hansen

How To Clean A Grill Or Smoker Properly

As we have touched on in previous articles, preparation is key when it comes to successful outdoor cooking. A huge part of that is making sure your grill or smoker is clean and stays that way in between uses. To get the best flavors in your grilled foods, it is essential to start with a clean cooker and grates. But, you may be wondering, how to clean a grill or smoker properly and what you can do to keep it clean.

In this article, we’ll break down why you should be cleaning your grill consistently, the best ways to clean a grill, and some tips on how to keep your grill or smoker cleaner. 


The Importance Of Keeping Your Grill Clean

Old buildup on your grill is not the “ingredient” you want to help flavor your food. That should be left up to the seasonings, sauce, or wood you decide to use.

When you cook, two things can build up on your grill: grease and carbon. Left for too long and not cleaned off, the grease can get rancid, vaporize with heat, and leave a foul taste to your food. The grease can also become a food safety issue if left uncleaned for too long. The carbon forms a black crust on your grates and other components and can quickly leave a burnt taste on your food. It also makes it a lot easier for your meat to stick to the grates.

A buildup of grease and carbon also wreaks havoc on your grill itself. It will cause grill components to break down or rust very quickly, unnecessarily shortening your cooker’s life span.

Keeping your grill or smoker clean and free of excessive buildup will not only help you cook great-tasting food but also help extend the life of your cooker.


High Heat Will Help You Clean

Whether you are doing a deep clean or cleaning immediately after you cook, high heat is one of the best weapons against a grill that needs to be cleaned. It will carbonize grease and food remnants that may be leftover from your last cook and make it easier to scrub clean.

Get the grill as hot as possible (if it is a gas grill turn all of the burners on high) and close the lid. Leave the lid closed for about 15 minutes. If the grill hasn’t been cleaned in a while you may have some smoke but most of this will be grease smoke. This should burn off after about 15 minutes. 

After 15-20 minutes have passed, open the lid and let the grill cool to a moderate temperature of about 250-300 degrees Fahrenheit. Now you will be able to use your choice of tool or method (see below) to effectively scrub the grates clean.


how to clean a grill | best ways to clean a grill | what to use to clean a grillSource: Seriously Smoked


Best Ways To Clean A Grill

There are some tried and true ways to clean a grill that will help you get your grill clean now and clean it in between cooks. It is recommended that avid cookers deep clean their whole grill or smoker every 2-3 months. More casual cookers should do a deep clean at the end of each grilling season. Then, once you’ve deep cleaned, you can clean more easily in between cooking sessions.


How To Clean Grill Grates

When cleaning your grill or smoker, the grill grates is always the first place to start. After using high heat and getting the grates nice and hot, once they’ve cooled to a moderate temperature, the main goal is to scrape off any remaining residue and carbon char. This can be done in several ways, including:

  • A ball of aluminum foil: This simple scrubber method works surprisingly well. After heating up the grill, wad up a large sheet of aluminum foil into a ball, and, with a heat-proof glove, scrub the grates.


  • A block of hardwood: You can easily make your own effective grate scraper by using a hand-sized block of oak or other hardwood. Again, make sure you have a heat-proof glove for this one and then rub the wood block on the hot grill grates. After a few uses, grooves will be worn into the wood that will fit the grates perfectly.


  • Steam clean the hot grates: Using a bucket of water and a good-quality wire brush, you can create steam to help clean and scrub the grates. Dip the brush in water and scrub the hot grates with the wet brush. Then, use a paper towel to remove any remaining food bits and ensure there are no loose wire bristles on the grates. 


You should periodically deep clean your grill grates as well. Remove the grates and use hot water, mild dish detergent, and a brush or stainless steel scrubby to thoroughly clean both sides. Soaking the grates for a little while in a large tub of hot water with the detergent will make the scrubbing even easier. 

Make sure to rinse the grates off well and dry them when finished. If the grates are cast iron, make sure to oil them before your next cook. Deep cleaning cast-iron grates like this may cause them to lose a little of their non-stick properties. But, it’s essential to keep them clean. 

Important tip: You should not run your grill grates through the dishwasher. The grease leftover on the grates will quickly coat everything in your dishwasher, making a much bigger mess than you started with.


how to clean a grill | best ways to clean a grill | how to clean grill gratesSource: DIY Network


How To Deep Clean Your Grill

When you want to deep clean your grill or smoker, before starting, make sure the grates are cleaned and removed and the cooker is completely cooled. If it is a gas grill, also make sure the burners are off and the gas is disconnected.

The best way to deep clean your grill is to work from the top to the bottom. Focus on every part of the grill and just utilize a clean, heavy-duty stainless steel wire brush. This will scrub off the carbon buildup throughout the grill. Remove components individually that can be removed and scrub them with the brush outside of the cooker. This will help ensure each part is thoroughly cleaned.

Water, a mild dish detergent (like Dawn), and a clean sponge will help safely clean off any remaining residue and carbon from any components. Just make sure to thoroughly rinse and dry them before cooking again.

Remember, harsh chemical cleaners, caustic oven cleaners, chloride, or bleach should never be used to clean your grill. Mild enzymatic cleaners, like Dawn, or even baking soda are much safer bets.

Use the wire brush to scrub the exterior of any remaining fixed components as well as the sidewalls and firebox walls (if applicable). These must be cleaned and maintained also or else the carbon buildup can quickly corrode the metal. 

As you work your way towards the bottom of the grill, your drip pan would be the last component to clean. Make sure it is fully emptied and cleaned out with mild soap and water. 

Finally, just wipe down the exterior of the cooker with a clean, damp cloth. Never use an abrasive brush on the exterior of your cooker.

Then, you are ready to put all of the freshly cleaned grill components back in the reverse order that you took them out.


how to clean a grill | best ways to clean a grill | what to use to clean a grillSource: Traeger Grills


Keep Your Grill Clean Moving Forward

Once you have done a deep clean of your grill, being proactive about keeping your grill clean will make things much easier and your cooking more successful. One of the easiest ways to do this is to do a quick clean of your grill grates after each cook while the grates are still hot. This will keep grease and carbon from building up on those grates.

If you are using charcoal and/or wood as your fuel source, just let the coals burn out and carbonize the food residue. Then, use one of the methods we covered above to clean your grill grates. If you are using a pellet cooker or gas grill, leave the heat going for a little bit after you are done cooking and clean those grates off. Just make sure you don’t forget to turn the cooker all the way off when you are done.

Then your grill grates will be clean and ready to go for the next time you cook.


Be Careful With Metal Bristle Brushes

Metal bristle brushes are a very effective tool to use when it comes to cleaning a grill or smoker, but you have to be very careful. Especially with cheaper brass bristle brushes. Sometimes, the bristles can become loose, fall out, and stick to the grill grates. This is the last thing you or anyone you are cooking for want to end up ingesting. That can quickly turn into a bad situation.

If you are using a metal bristle brush, make sure to wipe the grates with a damp paper towel or cloth to pick up any loose bristles. Some people even rub half a lemon or onion over the grates after brushing to eliminate any bristles. Look the grates over one last time before cooking just to be extra careful.

You will have less chance of stray bristles with a good quality stainless steel grill brush versus cheaper copper. But, if you do notice any bristles coming loose from your brush, don’t chance more getting stuck on your grill and throw the brush away.


how to use a grill brush | best ways to clean a grill | cleaning a grillSource: TheDad.com


A Clean Cooker Helps Set You Up For Success

Now, you should have a good idea as to how to clean a grill properly and how to keep it that way. Preparation is key to successful outdoor cooking and maintaining a clean grill is part of that.

When you are working with a clean cooker for each and every cook, you give the other elements you are using, from the seasonings to the wood, an opportunity to live up to their full potential. You are also protecting your investment in your grill or smoker and helping to ensure it holds up for many more cooking sessions to come.

If you really want to elevate your cooking game on your freshly cleaned grill, get the inside scoop straight from the pros in the online outdoor cooking classes here at BBQ Champs Academy. Champion Grillmasters and Pitmasters will walk you through step-by-step how to cook like a pro like never before. To get the full inside look, check out the All-Access pass now!

Sara Hansen

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2 comments on “How To Clean A Grill Or Smoker Properly”

  1. I'm glad you talked about the importance of keeping a grill clean and how to do that. In a few weeks, my wife and I will host our first barbecue party! We're very excited about it, so we're looking for the equipment we'd need, and your article will help us keep it in good shape. Thanks for the advice on grills and how to make the most out of them.

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