Have you ever been to a friends house for dinner and had your meal served on a dirty plate? It doesn’t matter how amazing the smell or appearance, the quality of the ingredients, or the skill the meal took to make – anyone eating off a dirty plate is going to question just how clean the food actually is.
Guess what? When your grill is coated in drippings from chicken, beef, pork, and everything else you cook, those little bits of leftover gunk get into the next thing you put on the grill. Even a rigorous scrubbing with a steel bristle brush isn’t going to get that grill clean. When you want to make truly fantastic meals, don’t skip the basics – clean your grill correctly and make better tasting, healthier, and clean meals for your family and friends.
The Basics – When to Clean Your Grill
Every time you grill, the final step of the day should be to run a wire brush over the grating to knock loose the charred remains of whatever you made that day. It’s easiest to get the grossest bits off the grill when it’s hot, and it takes only a few seconds to clean. If you leave the grill dirty, bugs, flies, and every other hungry critter is going to come hunting. Animal hair, dust and dirt, and even dead bugs get stuck in the goop on your grill. Periodic deep cleaning of your grill will ensure good quality, clean food each time you cook. When cleaning the grill grate, following some important tips will ensure excellent results without damaging anything.
Cleaning the Grill Grate
The most obvious part of any grill to clean is the grate. Most barbecues, grills, and smokers have removable grates to facilitate cleaning. It’s important to know what material the grate is made from before tackling cleaning. Stainless steel grates can be damaged by using the wrong techniques, while cast iron can simply be ruined by neglect.
A good rule of thumb: if the grill grate is shiny when clean, it’s probably stainless. If the grate is heavy and solid, it’s probably cast iron. Numerous other types of steel are also used, and these can be identified by two features: no shiny surface and welds attaching the supports to the grill grate. Less common these days are grill grates made from porcelain-coated steel. Regardless, type has a specific process for cleaning that must be done correctly.
Cleaning Cast Iron
Cast iron is one of the most durable materials in the world for making top-quality grill grates. The metal can take an absolutely unbelievable amount of heat without warping, but hard impacts can shatter the grate.
One of the best advantages of cast iron grates is that you can really get abusive when cleaning without hurting anything. Sometimes, a wire wheel is the fastest option to strip the layers of filth from cast iron. Brass and bronze wire wheels will not damage the cast iron because it’s harder than the wire wheel. Don't ever use oven cleaner or other harsh chemicals on cast iron. The metal is porous and will absorb any chemicals you used to clean it, only to pass that stuff right on along to your food the next time you grill. Gross! Instead, use hot water and a little dish soap. Dawn is an excellent choice for gentle, effective cleaning.
A good-quality stainless steel wire brush is very helpful for removing stuck on remains. Once the grill is completely clean, heat it up then wipe it down with a thin layer of high-temperature oil. You can use something like grapeseed or peanut oil. The oil will adhere and absorb into the metal and helps prevent sticking, just like treating a cast iron skillet.
Many serious grillers prefer a properly cleaned heavy-duty cast iron grill grate to any other cooking surface. The downside to cast iron is that it does require more effort to keep it clean and well-oiled. Cast iron rusts very quickly and you never want to cook food on rusty equipment. While the actual health risk is low, the idea of chewing down on a rust burger doesn’t appeal to anyone.
Cleaning Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is a popular material for both high-end and budget-friendly barbecues. Stainless is easy to clean, provides a consistent non-stick surface, and is durable even when exposed to extreme heat. You can quickly ruin stainless steel grill grates by cleaning them improperly. Properly cleaning a stainless steel grill grate will ensure years of consistent use.
There are a few neat tricks to getting stainless grill grates clean. The best tip we have for you is to avoid using harsh scrubbers and coarse steel brushes. These cause micro-scratches that allow moisture to penetrate the surface of the metal. Instead, put a layer of aluminum foil over the really stuck-on gunk and get the grill very hot. The aluminum foil will produce a convection effect, loosening the bits and making it easy to brush clean.
Regular cleaning is easy. After the last item comes off the grill and it’s still hot, gently scrub the grate with a stainless steel bristle brush. You want to avoid scraping with the brush because that can cause scratches that eventually destroy the grill. All you want to do is knock loose the chunks. Once the grill has cooled, use a damp towel and wipe the grill down top and bottom. Discoloration is normal and indicates the grill is becoming seasoned. It’s a good idea to wipe the grill down with a high-temperature oil after every few uses to promote the non-stick properties of stainless steel.
When it’s time for a deep cleaning, use warm water and mild soap, like Dawn. Never use oven cleaner or products containing bleach on stainless steel. These chemicals corrode the surface, cause pitting, and will destroy the grill.
Cleaning Steel and Coated-Steel Grills
Steel grills are very common, and there is absolutely nothing inferior about them. In fact, a well-seasoned steel grill is one of the best ways to get the perfect sear marks on burgers, steaks, and chicken. Low-quality steel grills suffer from warping issues, cracks at the welds, and corrosion, so it’s best to avoid using them altogether.
You can use a steel bristle brush on a steel grill. In fact, you can be quite aggressive with it and no harm will come. Giving a steel grill a good scrub after each use will keep goop from building up. Oven cleaners are a poor choice for cleaning really dirty steel grills. The harsh chemicals are simply not good and unnecessary. Instead, soak the grill in a bucket of hot, soapy water, then scrub with a steel brush.
Ceramic and porcelain are sometimes coated over steel or cast iron grill grates. The coating provides superior heat retention and excellent non-stick properties. The downside to ceramic or porcelain-coated grills is the tendency to chip. Once a chip occurs, the material underneath begins to rust, accelerating the chipping around the area. It doesn’t take long before the grill grate is toast.
Cleaning a ceramic grate should be done carefully with soft materials. Never use abrasives or metal utensils on a ceramic grate; that’s how the majority of chips happen. A nylon grill brush is the best bet for keeping the grill grate clean.
Cleaning Below the Grill
All that stuff you just cleaned off the grill grate was only the tip of the iceberg; the rest of it is on your burners. Most barbecue grills have a shield or plate over the burners that catches most of the drippings. If you regularly clean this mess up, your grill will work better and last longer.
This is super important because the drippings continue to burn, meal after meal, and produce some nasty chemicals you don’t want in your food. It’s like smoking your meal with rancid fat.
Fortunately, most of the shields on the market are steel and are very easy to clean. You can usually scrub them down with a steel brush, and that’s all it needs. A big safety point: it’s essential to replace burner shields that have rust holes. Rust is burning off into your food, and the grease dripping from your delicious chicken might just start a fire.
Cleaning the Lid
Something many people seem to forget about when cleaning a grill is all the burnt on stuff stuck to the lid. When you grill, that stuff gets hot, then drips onto your meal. The lid can be difficult and awkward to clean, but a regular wipe down with hot, soapy water prevents build-up. A paste of baking soda and water works well for safely cleaning barbecue lids.
Make Time to Regularly Clean Your Grill
Keeping your grill clean is an essential element to cooking good tasting, healthy food. We all know it isn’t the most enjoyable activity, but regularly cleaning the grill will make the job less of a challenge. After a while, it'll just become a habit. It’s important to make sure you are cleaning the type of grill grate you have in the correct way. Follow the tips above to get the most out of your grill.