A Quick and Dirty Guide to Cleaning Your Grill or Smoker
If you’re reading this, chances are good you’ve been grilling throughout the winter and early spring. In any case, now is a perfect time to give your grill or smoker some love. A clean grill not only performs better, it makes you look like a professional.
Steven and I have written numerous blogs on spring grill maintenance. (See links to them below.) This is a distillation of that information with more emphasis on non-toxic cleaning products and useful tools to make the job easier. We’ll also share our best tips for getting your grill or smoker in prime condition for the grilling season ahead.
How to Clean Your Grill or Smoker
1. Spread a tarp over the area where you intend to work.
Before you begin, spread a large heavy-duty waterproof tarp over the area where you intend to work. Grease and carbonized debris can make quite a mess of your patio, driveway, or even the grass.
2. Fill a large bucket or tub with hot soapy water.
Fill a large bucket or tub—we like the rectangular bus tubs like those used in restaurants—with hot soapy water. A dishwashing detergent that’s good on grease, such as Dawn, works best.
3. Disconnect the gas tank.
Disconnect the gas tank. If it is nearly empty, set it aside for refilling. (To determine the gas level, pour boiling water over the shoulders of the tank. The gas line will reveal itself.) Transport it in a plastic milk crate like this one.
4. Loosen any food stuck to the grill grates.
Using a sturdy wire grill brush, loosen any food stuck to the grill grates. Remove the grates, warming rack, Flavorizer bars, drip pans or plates, ash catcher, grease bucket (on pellet grills), etc., and soak them in the hot soapy water. If they are too large for the bucket, slip them into a sturdy garbage bag with soap and water and set aside to soak. Dump any unused charcoal or ash.
5. Remove the burner tubes, if it’s an option.
On some gas grill models, the burner tubes are attached to the unit with a small screw or cotter pin. Remove them if it’s an option. Use a bent paper clip to clear any that appear to be plugged. If the burner tubes are not removable, cover them with heavy-duty foil. (Be sure to remove the foil before firing up your grill.)
6. If cleaning a pellet grill, remove all the pellets from the pellet bin.
If cleaning a pellet grill, remove all the pellets from the pellet bin, including any that remain in the augur or firebox. Under no circumstances do you want them to come in contact with water or moisture, as they will disintegrate and cause you all kinds of headaches.
7. Scrape the underside of the grill lid to loosen and remove carbonized debris.
With a plastic putty knife, pot scrubber, or other dull-bladed tool, scrape the underside of the grill lid to loosen and remove carbonized debris. (It will look like flaking paint.) Clean the firebox with a shop vacuum, using the putty knife to dislodge any burned-on bits.
8. Clean the gas line.
Clean the gas line with pipe cleaners or a similar tool—a chopstick wrapped with a paper towel, for example. This is often a hiding spot for spiders or other insects.
9. Wash the interior of the grill.
Wash the interior of the grill with hot soapy water and a plastic sponge or scrubby. (Metal scrubbies can easily scratch stainless steel.)
10. Sweep out any leaves or other debris from the lower cabinet.
If your grill has a lower cabinet, use a whisk broom to sweep out any leaves or other debris.
11. Clean the outside of the grill.
Clean the outside of the grill with hot soapy water, white vinegar, or a non-toxic stainless steel cleaner like Simple Green Stainless Steel Polish. (Try to work on a cloudy day for less streaking.) Polish following the “grain” of the finish. Use a soft toothbrush to clean outside knobs.
12. If you own a pellet grill, clean the inside of the chimney.
If you own a pellet grill, remove the cap (it will likely need a good soaking) and use a paint stick, dowel, or bottle brush to clean the inside of the chimney. Carefully wipe down the temperature probe (located inside the firebox) to ensure it continues to give you accurate readings. Clean WiFi-connected mechanisms following the manufacturer’s instructions.
13. Dry the grill with soft microfiber towels.
14. Scrub the grill grates and any other parts you’ve been soaking.
Scrub the grill grates and any other parts you’ve been soaking. If the debris is stubborn, sprinkle it with white vinegar and coarse salt or baking soda. Let sit for 30 minutes, then scrub vigorously; rinse with clean water from a garden hose.
We’ve discovered a pumice brick, often sold in the grilling section of hardware stores, is an effective tool for cleaning grill grates. (Do not use on porcelain grates.) Be sure to rinse well to remove any dust from the brick. If your grates are cast iron, dry them thoroughly after cleaning and coat with peanut oil.
Grill grates hopelessly rusted? Bite the bullet and invest in a new set. Ditto for any Flavorizer bars that have oxidized or burned through, or lava stones.
15. Replace the battery in your grill’s igniter.
If needed, replace the battery in your grill’s igniter. (Many people don’t realize it’s powered by batteries.)
16. Lubricate any moving parts (such as grill vents), with WD-40.
17. Reassemble the grill.
Reassemble the grill. If apropos, reconnect the gas tank (preferably topped off). Fire up the grill to burn off any soapy residue. Fifteen minutes should be sufficient.
18. Spritz your grill grates with water after each grill session to keep them looking pristine.
To keep your grill grates looking pristine, spritz them with water while they’re still screaming hot after each grill session. Any burned on bits of food or sauce should release easily. The process is a bit like deglazing a pan. If the grates are cast iron, finish your grill session by coating them lightly with vegetable oil.
19. Prepare a grilled or smoked feast to reward your hard work!
For additional blogs devoted to cleaning and maintaining your grill, click here.