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Here’s how to safely clean your grill this summer, according to an expert

You’ll want to swap your wire grill cleaning tools with one of these safer options.
Kara Birnbaum / TODAY / Kara Birnbaum / TODAY

Blissful summer days spent in the pool are best followed by a meal fresh off the flames like spicy grilled chicken thighs with sweet chili sauce or a delicious burger. Any grill master knows that the act is more than just making a meal, it's a summertime necessity. However, after the food is served and plates have been wiped clean, the real danger can occur when it is time to clean the grill. 

Using a sharp wire grill cleaning brush increases the possibility of those wire bristles breaking off the brush and accumulating in your grilling space. Cross-contamination can even occur when the unknown wire brush residue contaminates other food.

But this shouldn't deter you from grilling or cleaning your grill afterward. “Grill cleaning tools are your best friend. They remove bits of burnt food and greasy debris from the grates that can affect food taste and quality,” says Justin Elkins, associate merchant of grill accessories at Home Depot.

Elkins shares a few insightful tips to guide you through safely cleaning all types of grills while enjoying the best of outdoor grilling season.

How to clean charcoal grills | Gas grills | Flat-top grills | Pellet grills | More tips | Cleaning tools | Cleaning solutions | Meet the expert

How to clean your grill, according to an expert

Just as cleaning the top and inside of your stove is important, the same theory is applied to keeping a clean grill. A clean grill is not only safer for food preparation, but for cooking, as well. “A grill can quickly build up grease and smoke residue. This can cause it to not keep a consistent temperature or can affect the flavor of food,” shares Elkins.

Before getting into the nitty gritty, you can start prepping your grill for summer by restocking your grill caddy (or whatever you use that holds your cooking tools). A few things you'll want to keep on hand include tin foil, a fire extinguisher, a soft rag with a cleaning bucket, mild dish soap, paper towels and nonstick cooking spray. Once you've got all your supplies loaded up, it's time to get cleaning.

Charcoal grills

As its name implies, a charcoal grill uses charcoal as the fuel source. This type of grill heats higher than gas grills and can infuse more flavors into your foods. While they are often more cost-effective than gas grills, they can also be harder to clean.

Elkins recommends using the following process:

  1. Allow your grill to completely cool before starting the cleaning process.
  2. Once the charcoal has cooled, remove the bricks and brush out the ash. Elkins says cleaning grill gates is "best done with a long-handled, stiff-wire brush," but if you don't have one, a ball of aluminum foil will do.
  3. After cleaning your grill gates, use a rag or folded paper towels to apply vegetable oil to them in order to prevent rust and potential food buildup.
  4. The inside of the grilling bowl and lid can be cleaned using mild dish soap and a brush.

Gas grills

A gas grill uses either liquid propane or a connection to your home’s natural gas line as its fuel to grill. 

“Natural gas or propane-powered gas grills don’t require the level of cleaning required of charcoal grills," Elkins says.

The cleaning tips for gas grills are pretty much identical to that of charcoal grills, with the added note that cleaning them properly also extends their lifespan.

Flat-top grills

A flat-top grill looks like a large griddle with circular heating elements beneath its surface. Its flat plane gives you a nice, even cooking effect. 

For flat-top grills, the cleaning process differs. “It’s important to start cleaning the surface while the burner is still hot. Spray a cleaning solution along the top and let it sit for about one minute,” says Elkins. 

The cleaning agent can be dish soap, a degreaser or a simple homemade baking soda mixture (1/2 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of water combined until it has a paste-like consistency), he tells us.

Once the time is up, use a grill brush to scrub away any stuck-on food and debris, wipe it down with a dry cloth and repeat the process as needed.

Pellet grills

Pellet grills are fueled by small pieces of hardwood which infuse more of a smoky essence into food as opposed to the char flavor you'd expect from a gas or charcoal grill.

Unlike flat-top grills, you’ll want to clean pellet grills once they have cooled, according to Elkins.

After it's cooled, you'll want to "remove the grill grates and place them in a bucket of warm, soapy water," suggests Elkins. Then use a wet-dry vacuum to clear out the ash and debris from the grill's interior.

He suggests using a scrub brush or abrasive sponge to clean the drip pan and don't forget to remove the chimney cap and give it a scrub, too!

More grill cleaning tips

Outside of cleaning tips for specific types of grills, Elkins shares a few more tips you'll want to keep in mind.

  • Invest in a good brush. “By adding a good grill brush to your setup, you can make delicious food every time you fire up your grill," he notes.  
  • Wipe down your grill surface after cleaning. No matter what type of brush you use, it's always smart grilling practice to wipe down your grill surface afterward. “This will remove any bristles that may have come off during the cleaning process and get stuck to the grill,” Elkins says. 
  • Read the manual to determine the best cleaning products. While Elkins says soap and water are generally fine for most ceramic, porcelain and painted steel surfaces, you'll want to consult your specific grill's manual to find out which cleaning products are most compatible.

Grill cleaning tools

CitruSafe BBQ Grill Scrubber and Replacement Pads

Instead of bristles, this durable and recyclable grill cleaning pad is infused with a nontoxic degreaser known as CitruSafe. For less than $10, you get a plastic scrubber holder with three replaceable pads.

Nexgrill Large Head Cool Surface Cleaning Brush

Elkins recommends this grill cleaning brush, noting that the large head “allows you to scrape large areas of your grilling surface using fewer motions.” With nylon bristles, it’s designed to be used on cool surfaces only, perfect for cleaning a pellet grill.

Nexgrill All-Natural Wood Grill Tool Scraper

This wood grill scraper is bristle- and steel-free. Elkins describes it as the “ideal bristle-free grill cleaning tool that scours your grill grates to provide a deeper clean.” 

Scrub Daddy BBQ Daddy

The new BBQ Daddy from Scrub Daddy just might become your grill cleaning go-to as there are no bristles on this brush. Instead, it’s a water-activated stainless steel fiber-woven scrubbing pad that is designed to erase the grease and grime on grills without contaminating your food, according to the brand. 

Grill cleaning solutions

Ecolab Heavy-Duty Citrus Degreaser and Cleaner

Elkins says this is a great (and safe) grill cleaning solution that also prevents rust. “Ecolab works quickly to remove stains and can be used for indoor and outdoor purposes,” he notes. “This formula will give you peace of mind, save you time from scrubbing stains that won’t go away and prevent rust from occurring in the future!” 

Citrusafe BBQ Grill Cleaner

Elkins suggests this cleaning and degreasing solution for stainless steel grills. Use this spray when the grill is cool and wipe down with a microfiber rag.

Traeger All-Natural Grill Cleaner

Elkins likes this solution to not only breathe new life into your grill but also assist with any rust buildup and pesky stains. All you have to do is spray it on, let it sit for five minutes and wipe clean.

Meet the expert

  • Justin Elkins is an associate merchant whose area of expertise is grill accessories at Home Depot.