Just like your car and/or bicycle, your grill needs some tender loving care once in a while. Neglecting this will prematurely wear out the grill, leaving you no other choice but to get yourself a new one – and grills aren’t cheap.
Whether you consider it a chore or a fun outdoor activity, cleaning the grates of a charcoal grill not only makes it look nice and shiny but also prevents rusting, corrosion, and contamination.
Here, I’ll explain:
- How to clean a charcoal grill grate
- The best way to do it
- How often should you do it
- The benefits of doing so
Before We Get Started
I recall doing a fairly decent cleaning on the grill in the fall before putting it away, but I’ll be starting right from fresh this year. A thorough scrub down and cleaning is the healthiest and cleanest way to go.
Pick a day that will give you enough time to really get into the nooks and crannies especially on your grill grate. Next, locate a spot on the property slightly away from the house. You will be spraying greasy water and soap onto the grill so keep away from any walking paths in your yard.
The next step is to make sure that you have all of the necessary cleaning materials with you. It’s good to have everything in one place for easy access. I use a bucket that holds my brushes, cleaner, and brushes all together so I can have everything I need in one place.
List of Cleaning Materials Required for This Job
- Crumbled up aluminum foil can act as a great scraper
Steel Wool or Wire Brush
- Something abrasive that will give an aggressive scrub to those tough spots
- Make sure to have a container to scoop up leftover ashes and dirt into
- For soaking the grates
- Small putty knife or a similar hand tool that can help you get into those cracks and corners and to remove stubborn stains
Soap & Hot Water
- There is no need to use any sort of harsh cleaning chemicals to clean the grilling surface. Mild dishwashing soap and hot water is all you need
- To season the grates afterward
- Optional. You’ll be dealing with grease, ash, debris, and cleaning agents. It’s best to protect your hands. Another bonus is that you don’t have to clean them afterward
How Do You Clean Charcoal Grill Grates?
The process of a good cleaning is really a simple and quick task.
The first thing you want to do once you drag your grill out of the shed to the cleaning area is just to give it a quick dust down. Fire it up with a small amount of charcoal and let them burn for 15 – 20 minutes.
After your grill has been thoroughly heated, turn off the coals and let it cool down for a few minutes. You don’t want the grill to be too hot to touch but still warm enough that any food particles on the grill have been softened enough for cleaning.
Note: if you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, you can skip this step.
What Is the Easiest Way to Clean Grill Grates?
Method #1: Soaking (The Best Way to Clean a Charcoal Grill Grate)
This is by far, the fastest, simplest, and hassle-free way.
The process is pretty straightforward:
- Place the grates in a plastic bag, bucket, or similar container
- Pour your favorite cleaning solution (see the list below)
- Let them soak for a couple of hours, depending on how dirty they are in the first place. For the best results, leave them overnight
- Take the grates out of the container and give them a quick scrub with a sponge
- Rinse with a hose, pressure washer, under the sink,…
- Let them dry
Hint: If the grates are really dirty, dry scrub the debris before soaking. You don’t need to go full OCD here as soaking will do the rest.
What Can I Soak My Grill Grates in to Clean Them?
- Simple green
- Vinegar and baking soda
- Soapy water
- Coffee (the stronger, the better)
- Commercial grill cleaning spray
Method #2: Brushing
Take the grill grate off and start brushing it with steel wool, aluminum foil, or a wire brush. You want to give it a moderately heavy scrub, but not too hard. Too much vigorous scrubbing can actually cause pieces of your metal brush to fall out and possibly get stuck to the grill.
Spray down the scrubbed grates and repeat using a softer brush along with your hot water and soap. This should clean away any residual oils or food bits. Repeat this process until you are happy with the result.
Method #3: Vinegar
- Pour vinegar into a spray bottle
- Spray the grates with the solution
- Leave the vinegar to do its magic for a couple of minutes
- Start scrubbing with a crumpled ball of aluminum foil
Hint: You can add baking soda or lemon juice to the vinegar. If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, dilute it with water (50:50 ratio).
Method #4: Onion
Fire up the grill to soften the debris. While waiting for it to preheat, cut an onion in half. Once the grill is hot, rub the onion against the grates.
Watch your fingers! Use tongues or a fork so you don’t burn yourself while rubbing the onion.
Once done, you can throw the onion into the charcoal for added flavor.
Why onion? First of all, it’s all-natural. Second, it has antibacterial properties. Third, the smell is nice.
Let the Grates Dry
After cleaning the grate put it aside to dry.
Once dry then you can quickly assemble the parts back together and fire the grill up. Don’t forget to season the grates.
Clean the Rest of the Grill
While you’re here you can clean out the rest of the grill.
Sweep out and clean any ashy residue or old charcoal bits. Wipe down the base and lid. The lid should be washed in soap and hot water as well to eliminate any oily splatter.
A Few Tips on How to Keep the Grates in Tip Top Shape
Here are s few easy things to remember while enjoying your summer barbeques that will keep your grill in great shape:
- Wipe your grill grate down with light olive oil before cooking
- Make more use out of BBQ accessories like pans, or grill baskets
- Cook vegetables wrapped in tinfoil
- Keep your ashtray clean
- Use a fish basket when cooking seafood
- Clean your grill after each use and use the burn off feature if available
Is It Important to Clean Your Grill?
There are 3 main reasons why cleaning your grill is just as important as cooking on it:
- Health concerns
- Safety concerns
- Increased longevity
Germs and debris pile up on your grill. The grates are very crucial as they actually contact the food you’re going to eat.
That’s why you should regularly clean your grill, or at the very least the grates.
Baked on grease can present a fire hazard. With enough leftover grease, you can turn your next cookout into a 4th of July celebration – with your grill being the firecracker.
A clean grill is a happy grill.
Dirt, debris, and moisture are ideal conditions for rust. Rust is one of the most common reasons for grill replacement.
If you want to use your charcoal grill for years and years, spend some time cleaning it every once in a while.
Keeping your barbeque clean during the season is a great way to save time each time that you want to cook. Making sure that all possible food particles have been cleaned off the grill grate after each use will help you feel safer and healthier when firing up the barbeque.
No one wants to take the chance of any bacteria or left-over germs getting on their food from a dirty grill. Be diligent and the spring cleaning process each year will get easier and easier. Your family’s well-being is the most important thing.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Often Should Charcoal Grills Be Cleaned?
The grates should be cleaned after every BBQ. The whole grill should be cleaned at least twice or thrice a season.
But this can be quite a time-consuming task if you fire up the grill a lot. In this case, you can clean the grates after every second or third grilling party.
Is It OK to Grill on Rusted Grates?
There’s nothing wrong if your grates have a rust spot here and there. Even if you ingest a rusty flake, nothing won’t happen to you.
Realize that once rust begins to form, it will spread. So clean them with vinegar as soon as possible unless you’re planning on getting new ones.
How Do You Restore Rusted Grill Grates?
You need to remove the rust, either mechanically (i.e. scrubbing) or chemically (i.e. with a cleaning solution).
The best and simplest way is to use an acidic cleaning agent: vinegar, baking soda, lemon juice, or a combination. You can also use a commercial rust remover that’s specially made for grills but these tend to expensive, have toxic chemicals, and, speaking from experience, isn’t that more effective.
- Soak the grates in your chosen cleaning solution
- Let them soak overnight
- Scrub the remaining debris
- Repeat if necessary
Should You Oil Grill Grates?
If your grates are porcelain-enameled, no. In other cases, it’s a very good idea for several reasons: oil prevents food from sticking and the grates from rusting.
What Kind of Oil Do You Use on Grill Grates?
The most elegant way to season your grates is with a cooking spray, like PAM.
If you don’t have it, soak a paper towel with some cooking oil and wipe the grates.
Can I Pressure Wash My Grill Grates?
Yes, you can.
You can leave the grates on the grill but I recommend removing them (especially if you have a gas or electric grill).
Be aware that gunk is going to fly in each direction, so clean the grates away from anything you don’t want to clean later, like the house, your car, the deck, etc.
Cleaning Charcoal Grill Grates Is a Quick and Fun Outdoor Activity
There is nothing better than being able to sit outside with friends and family while having a cookout. Keep things easy and clean by following these tips on how to clean a charcoal grill grate to have a healthy and fun barbeque season.