How to Clean Barbecue Grills, Grates and Racks

If your barbecue grill is getting greasy and starting to get a build-up of soot inside, or dark bits are starting to flaking off and falling onto your food, its time for a clean-up as grime creates smoke and odors that will taint your food.

However, this may only be required occasionally (once a month or seasonally) because a seasoned grill imparts a much better flavor to the food you cook, like a seasonal skillet or wok. Barbecue grates are the exception to this general once a season rule.

Many of them are left in a disgusting condition so that the food gets greasy, tainted and discolored.

Grates should to be cleaned thoroughly if possible, after every use, while they still warm or hot. This helps stop food from sticking on your grill when its being cooked and makes the grate much easier and cleaner to cook on.

Marinades that are left on the food when cooked are a special problem because they often burn and accumulate on the grates.

Learn how to clean your barbecue with the tips and guide in this comprehensive article
Learn how to clean your barbecue with the tips and guide in this comprehensive article. Source: Public Domain

Cleaning Grills

To clean a grill remove it and scrub it with a wet, soapy sponge, followed by rinsing and wiping. If its not very dirty you can do it by simply wiping the inside without dismantling it.

For very dirty grills use a mild general purpose spray that you use to clean your stove or bench top. It will be easier to clean the grill if its warm. Don't use the heavy duty stove cleaners as they may damage the surface if the grill.

Cleaning Grates

You should regularly clean the grate of your barbecue on which you cook the food. Greasy pieces of burnt food and burnt marinade that accumulate on the grate can give your food a bad flavor and can detach and end up on the food as its being cooked. Ideally you should do this soon after you’ve finished cooking the meal.

If you clean the grate every time you use it, especially if its still warm it shouldn’t ever get very messy with a build-up of grease and grime. This will also mean to can avoid having to use the heavy-duty type of cleaners. It you cannot clean immediately then it is a good idea to reheat the grate with the lid down for a few minutes before cleaning it.

There are a wide range of products you can buy for cleaning your grate, but generally any good stiff, long-handled, brass-bristled brush and some soapy water generally suffice. With a warm grill, use the brush to clean off any food particle residues left on the grate.

For burnt-on residues you may have to use one of the special spray-on products or hot soapy water and steel wool or a similar scraper. Once the grate is clean, wipe over several times with a wet sponge and dry with a paper towel.

Once clean, brush or spray on a tiny amount of oil to keep your grate in conditioned and to prevent rusting. Conventional cast iron needs to be checked regularly for rust and corrosion. You can remove the rust with a stiff wire brush and re-condition the surface by spraying with oil and reheating briefly.

Always remember to thoroughly rinse off any soap or other cleaning product residues from the grate otherwise it may create a bad odor and taint the food next time you use it. Do it two or three times as this can really put off your guests if your barbecue smells bad or smokes profusely.

Charcoal Grills

The terrific things about charcoal grills is that they are cleaned out it out after every use. But many people simply dump the ashes and forget to clean the grate. Use a good quality long-handled wire brush to brush off the food residues and clean the grate and remove any ash and charcoal residues.

This cleaning will cut down on excess smoke, bad odors and bad flavors caused by residues. At least once a year or monthly, prepare a bucket of soapy water and really give the grill a thorough clean.

There are various specialist products you can buy to remove grime and food residues that have burnt onto the grate. Dry the grill and spay with a little oil to prevent rust and to ensure it is ready for your next barbecue.

Gas Grills

The worst thing about many gas grills is that they feature a 'clean' setting on the knobs and many people believe that this setting will clean the grate - It won't, so be warmed. Like a charcoal grill and any other barbecue grate, it needs to be cleaned every time you use it.

Use the 'clean' setting to heat your grill a little and then use a stiff wire brush off any food residues. The best way to do it is to warm the grate and remove it and thoroughly wash and brush it in a bucket or tub of warm soapy water.

This will ensure that the stuff you brush off does not end up falling into the grill where it is likely to accumulate on the protective plate above the burners. You should remove this plate and thoroughly brush and clean it as well. There may be lava rock, briquettes, or various types of metal plates above the burners, depending on the type of barbecue. Read the cleaning instructions for your barbecue type and follow these for regular cleaning.

After cleaning and brushing off the residues always wipe with a damp cloth to remove the soap and cleaning product residues. It is also a good idea to run the barbecue of the 'clean' setting to burn off any residues and make sure it won't smoke next time you use it.

Once a year, or monthly if you do a lot of barbecuing, you should do a regular 'spring-clean' of your barbecue. This will require that you partially dismantle your unit (following the instructions provided when you bought your unit).

The first step is to disconnect the gas and then remove the various parts layer by layer. You need to be able to inspect the burners if you can get down to that level (don't remove the lava rocks, ceramic briquettes, and other similar elements).

Many barbecues have a metal plate covering the burners that can be easily removed (if on doubt, don't remove bits you may find hard to reassemble). Inspect them thoroughly and clean off anything that is blocking the flow of gas or burning process. A partially blocked burner will mean uneven heat and poor grilling.

If the lava rocks or ceramic briquettes have major food residue deposits, or are overloaded with charcoal it may be worth replacing them. Check if replacement materials are available from the store where you bought the barbecue. This will avoid the bad smelling smoke that dirty rocks can produce, which can be very off-putting when you are cooking for guests on your barbecue.

With everything taken apart, clean the various components with warm soapy water and a wire brush or one of the specialist tools you can buy. If the paint is chipped it may be time to do some spot painting with a suitable paint for barbecues. Dry all the components with a dry cloth or paper towels and reassemble. Spray a little oil on the grate to re-condition it and run the barbecue for 10-15 minutes to make sure its ready for your next barbecue.

Cleaning Stainless Steel Grill

Unfortunately stainless steel grills may not live up to your expectation and there is a wide variety of qualities that affects whether the unit will stain and even rust. There are various cleaning products you can use to prevent this happening if you have one of the cheaper models. Even the most expensive ones can stain under the extreme conditions imposed by barbecuing that involves wide temperature variations and acid marinades.

One of the best things you can do is to get a properly designed cover for you barbecue. This stops your unit being exposed to the elements and keeps it looking shiny and clean.

Now you have dealt with the exterior its time to think about how to keep the cooking surfaces and hood clean. The build-up of food particles and grease will corrode even the best quality stainless steel in time.

Barbecuing involve many acidic marinades and dressings and when heated these materials can be very corrosive and damage even the most expensive unit. So the message is that you need to clean a stainless steel grill to get the best possible period of use and for aesthetic purposes.

Oddly, despite its reputation, stainless steel can scratch easily and you can't exactly repaint it! So, don't use metal brushes or steel wool to clean your grill., also don't use abrasive cleaning agents. The best bet is to buy specialists stainless steel cleaners for the job. 

Cleaning the grate is similar to that described above.

There are a range of steam based portable cleaners that work very well for cleaning your barbecue
There are a range of steam based portable cleaners that work very well for cleaning your barbecue. Source: Public Domain
You can use half an onion to clean your barbecue, especially if you do it every time you use your barbecue
You can use half an onion to clean your barbecue, especially if you do it every time you use your barbecue. Source: Public Domain
There are many very complex brush devices that do an excellent job in cleaning barbecues
There are many very complex brush devices that do an excellent job in cleaning barbecues. Source: Public Domain
Another very effective brush design for cleaning barebecues
Another very effective brush design for cleaning barebecues. Source: Public Domain