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How to Effortlessly Clean Your Outdoor Grill

Dirty Charcoal Grill

It’s unlikely anyone you’ve spoken to this week has expressed enthusiasm for spring cleaning. But…sprucing up your grill or smoker can actually be supremely gratifying, particularly if you and your family schedule a festive smoked or barbecued meal to reward your efforts. (Check out our April recipes, if you’d like, or browse the 1000-plus recipes we have on our website.)

Depending on your grill, the task is not that difficult.

How to Clean Your Outdoor Grill

CHARCOAL GRILLS:

A few years ago, I impulsively bought a Weber Ranch one fall day from my local hardware store for less than half price. Am sorry to say I never had many chances to use it, but the local fire department always borrowed it for their annual village steak fry. When they brought it back, it was always clean as a whistle, the beneficiary of the department’s power washers. I bought one (a power washer) for home use, and have never regretted the purchase.

How to Clean Your Outdoor Grill

To avoid creating a mess, lay down a large, inexpensive plastic tarp before starting the project. It will keep grease off your lawn or driveway.

Charcoal grills are fairly easy to clean, and respond well to a pressurized hose. Remove all the ash from the ash container and the kettle. (Start, of course, with a cold grill.) Loosen any sticky vents, wheels, or ash catchers by liberally applying a lubricant or a silicone spray such as WD-40.

Remove any burnt-on bits from the body of the grill with a putty knife or similar tool. The grill grate might need extra attention. On the set of Steven’s shows, we use a pumice stone/brick or a brass grill brush and eco-friendly cleaners like Safecid with restaurant-quality griddle cleaning pads. A mixture of vinegar, Dawn dish soap, and water work well, too. If the grate is extra dirty, soak it in water and your favorite cleaner for at least 30 minutes or even overnight. A sturdy plastic bag—such as the kind intended for yard waste—is the only container you’ll need. (Tip: Every year or two, I purchase a new grill grate for my 22-1/2 inch kettle grill; it retails for about $25 and makes the grill look almost new. It’s fun to start prime grilling season with a “clean slate.”).

Finally, inspect the body of your grill for rust. Sand out minor dings and rust spots, then touch up with a high-quality heatproof paint. (The rims of kettle grills are especially prone to chips, which then allow rust to get a toehold.) If your grill is powder-coated, look for heat-flaked paint. Oftentimes, the manufacturer stocks paint that will match your grill. Discard grills that have rusted through, as they can be a fire hazard.

Check inventories and stock up on smoking chips, charcoal, wood chunks, etc. Time for a new charcoal chimney or grilling gloves? Our online store is a great place to shop.

GAS GRILLS:

Check your owner’s manual—most are available online if you’ve lost track of your copy—for cleaning instructions specific to your grill. (Some surfaces can be damaged by the improper use of cleaning tools or products, particularly polished stainless steel. Oven cleaner is especially corrosive.)

Evict any spiders or other nesting critters and clear out the cobwebs or other debris from the manifolds, burner valves, connectors, etc. Compressed air (available canned if you don’t own an air compressor) is an efficient way to do this. Empty and clean the grease trap or drip pan; replace any disposables, such as foil drip pans (usually in a compartment beneath the burners), if needed.

Gas grill

Use a commercial grill cleaner (again, check your manual first) to clean the interior and any internal parts, such as baffles, flavorizer bars, etc. If your grill is polished stainless steel, use a commercial stainless steel cleaner on the exterior, or wipe it down with a soft cloth using a mixture of water, mild dish soap (Dawn), and white vinegar. Replace ceramic briquettes as needed.

For safety’s sake, ensure there are no leaks in your fuel delivery system. Inspect the hoses: They should not be crimped or brittle. The propane tank should not be bulging, rusted, or compromised in any way. (If it is, exchange it.) If you disconnected the tank for the winter, reconnect it. Make a leak detection solution by combining 2 tablespoons of liquid dish soap with 2 tablespoons of water. Leaving the burners in the “off” position, open the valve to the propane tank. If you smell gas, brush the leak detection solution on the hoses and couplings and look for bubbling. Replace any failed parts and repeat the test before lighting your grill. Note: This is rare, but it does happen.

Press the igniter button. If you do not hear a clicking noise or see a spark, change the battery by unscrewing the lock nut at the base of the button or behind the control panel. Most take an AA battery. I replace mine every season.

Clear the burner tubes: Remove the grill grate and baffles or flavorizer bars. Light your grill (be sure to raise the lid first), then observe the burners. If any holes seem plugged, clear them using a bent paper clip, sewing pin, or thin piece of wire. Severely clogged burners may need to be replaced.

Just a reminder: Don’t let a near-empty tank of propane ruin your first barbecue of the season. If you don’t have a gas level indicator, pour a cup of boiling water over the outside of the tank: The water will condense at the gas level. Or, remove the tank and weigh it: A full tank weighs about 38 pounds. There are now several apps for iPhones and Androids that gauge the amount of propane you have on hand by analyzing the sound the tank makes when you tap it.

Finally, plan a celebratory barbecued meal for family and/or friends.

P.S. For instructions on how to clean your smoker/pellet grill, click here.

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