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posted August 02, 2023

How to Clean a Charcoal Grill

Cleaning your charcoal grill is an important part of your grill maintenance routine. Keeping both the outside and inside of your grill clean can increase the lifespan of your grill, make temperature management easier by improving airflow, and offer better flavor of your smoked and grilled foods.

Cleaning utensils on a charcoal grill.

How to Clean a Charcoal Grill

My charcoal cleaning guide will help you get your grill spic and span so you can enjoy the amazing flavor and experience you can only get from charcoal cooking. If you’re a beginner to charcoal grilling, I’ll cover everything you need to know! Let’s get to it.

Step 1: Gather the Necessary Supplies

Here’s a list of my favorite tools for getting your grill clean. Most of them you likely already have around the house!

  • Putty knife. Typically used for home improvement projects, I have found a simple straight-edged putty knife to be my favorite tool for cleaning the inside of my charcoal grill. Its thin edge scrapes away cooked-on food bits, creosote build-up, and excess ash.
  • Ash bucket. You’ll want to remove all old ash from your grill, I like to use a metal bucket with a lid to ensure all ashes are always fully extinguished before transferring to the trash.
  • Degreaser. Heavy-duty cleaners aren’t often recommended for grills, but you’ll need something to break down the grease on your grates and inside your cooking chamber. You can use regular dish soap diluted in hot water or a degreaser spray that is specifically approved for use on cooking surfaces.
  • Rags. This is not the time to use your fancy guest bathroom towels. Grab some affordable rags that can get ruined.
  • Steel wool. A ball of steel wool is my favorite way to do the fine detail work of cleaning off any cooked-on bits on my grates or the exterior of my grill. Use in conjunction with your cleaner or hot water. Avoid using this on any exterior surfaces that can scratch (like stainless steel). If you’re not sure if your grill will scratch, test a small area first.
  • Rubber or nitrile gloves. Gloves are optional, but grill cleaning can be a dirty job. Wearing gloves can help keep your fingers a little cleaner.

Four image process of clearing out ash from a charcoal grill.

Step 2: Cleaning Inside the Charcoal Grill

This area is the most important to clean because it has the greatest impact on how your grill functions and ultimately, how your food tastes. Here’s how to clean the inside of a charcoal grill.

  1. Ensure the grill is completely cool and there are no pieces of hot ash remaining.
  2. Remove all loose parts (grates, lid, etc) and set aside.
  3. Transfer all excess ash and remaining pieces of charcoal to your ash bucket. You can use a scoop or a shop vac. Be sure to check any ash collection trays, bins, or pans that are built into your grill.
  4. Using your putty knife, scrape the entire interior of your grill, including your lid, to remove burnt-on food and creosote build-up.
  5. Spray your degreaser or hot dish soap mixture onto the grill grates and let it set for 2-3 minutes before scraping with your putty knife and scrubbing with the steel wool. Rinse the grates thoroughly with water and set aside.
  6. Working in small, 1-2 foot sections at a time, spray the interior of the grill (including the lid), with the degreaser or dish soap mixture. Wipe down with the rag and use the steel wool, as needed, to pick up any remaining stuck-on pieces. Use a clean, wet rag, to give the interior a final wipe-down.

Four-step collage of cleaning the inside and outside of a charcoal grill.

 

Step 3: Cleaning the Outside of the Grill

Once the interior is clean, it’s time to move onto the outside of the grill.

  1. Starting with the lid of the grill, and working your way down, spray each section with your degreaser or hot soapy water and wipe with a clean rag (don’t use the same rag you used inside of the grill). If needed, scour any crusty or burnt-on pieces with the steel wool, being mindful of your grill material. Most coated grills are fine with steel wool, but I would advise against its use with stainless steel. Use a coarse sponge on stainless and don’t press too hard.
  2. Check the air vents on the top, sides, and bottom of your grill. Ensure they are clean and free of debris. Having clear airflow is a big part of managing heat in a charcoal grill and you want to scrub away any build-up.
  3. Wipe down the legs, wheels, and any other structural parts of the grill. You can also use a hose to spray out the wheels of any debris. Built-up sand and dirt can cause your wheels to lock up, making your grill harder to move.

Reassembling and Final Touches

Once all of the components of the grill are cleaned, it’s time to reassemble. Be sure to reattach any charcoal trays or pans, set the grates back in the correct place, and close the lid.

It’s now time for the final touches! Polish the exterior grill with a new rag (microfiber is great here if you’ve got one). I don’t recommend using any polishing sprays, even if they are specific for stainless steel. Most of the polishing agents leave behind residue that can burn onto the exterior of your grill in a high-heat cooking environment.

If you’ve got a cover, use it! Covers can protect your grill from sun, wind, and dust or debris, all of which can shorten the lifespan of your grill. If you don’t have a cover, try to keep the grill out of direct daily sunlight when not in use.

Regular grill cleaning is an important project to regularly tackle as a grill owner. If you take care of your grill, it will take care of you by performing beautifully and lasting a long time. Better fire management, better-tasting food, and the peace of mind of knowing that you’re feeding your loved ones on clean equipment. You’d never let your guests eat off of dirty dishes, don’t feed them food off of a dirty grill, they’ll thank you for it!

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