How to Clean a Charcoal Grill: Step by Step


The beautiful thing about charcoal grills is their low maintenance requirements. Unless you grill a lot, cleaning your charcoal grill once or twice a year is all you really need. If you grill often, you can clean it 2 to 4 times a year and still be okay.

But, there are things you need to do with your charcoal grill to keep it in tip-top shape for years to come. We’ll go over the easy things you should do every grill session. Plus, we’ll tell you how to clean a charcoal grill: step by step. We’ve listed the steps below, and provided in-depth instructions further into the article. 

  • Step 1: Brush the Grates
  • Step 2: Clean the Inside of the Lid
  • Step 3: Clean the Inside of the Grill
  • Step 4: Empty and Clean the Ash Catcher
  • Step 5: Reassemble and Wipe Down the Charcoal Grill

The Importance of Cleaning Your Charcoal Grill

You might be wondering how important it really is to clean your grill. Can’t you get away with regular maintenance? The answer is that, like anything else, charcoal grills operate best when they’re cleaned regularly. Carbon buildup is prevalent all around the inside of any charcoal grill. In addition to carbon, food particles and sauces can stick around for a long time and are a good place for bacteria to hide. 

Buildups in your grill can cause it to heat unevenly. Plus, the longer those buildups are left alone, the harder they’ll be to clean off. Luckily, cleaning your charcoal grill doesn’t take long and requires only a few supplies you probably already have around the house. 

Regular Grill Maintenance

There are a few things you should be doing every time you grill, to make things easier on you and your charcoal grill. These things only take a few minutes and do a lot to keep your grill in great shape, and your food tasting great.

Oil the Cooking Grates

Before you start grilling, it’s a good idea to oil the cooking grates with cooking oil of your choice. You can do this while the grill is hot or cool. If you’re oiling the grates while it’s hot, use a folded paper towel doused in oil and grilling tongs to safely apply the oil. However, you’ll only want to apply the cooking oil to grates that have been cleaned, which leads us to the next maintenance tip. 

Brush the Cooking Grates

If you’ve ever tried bushing food off of your cooking grate after the grill has cooled, you know how hard it can be. For best results, use a wire brush on your grill grates after you’re done cooking, but while the grill is still warm.

When done after you’ve grilled, this maintenance activity keeps your cooking grates clean while you’re not using the grill. This reduces the chances of bacteria buildup and makes your grill ready to go next time you want to use it. All you have to do is oil the grates before the next time you grill, and you’ll be good to go!

Empty the Ash Catcher

After your grill session is over, it’s always a good idea to empty the ash catcher. But don’t do this while the grill is still hot. You’ll generally want to wait 24 to 48 hours before disposing of the ash and any half-burned charcoal. So, if you grill often, you can create the habit of emptying the ash catcher before you start the grill. 

You’ll also want to make sure that there’s no ash buildup around the bottom vents in your grill. If there is, you can simply sweep the ashes down into the ash catcher. Once again, make sure the grill has had ample time to cool before doing this. 

Related Article: How to Properly Dispose of Charcoal After Grilling

How to Clean Your Charcoal Grill

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Before we jump into how to clean your charcoal grill, here is a list of supplies you’ll want to have on hand.

Step 1: Brush the Grates

If you brush the grates after every grill session, you’ll find this step pretty easy. The cooking grates should be cleaned first with your grill brush, and then again with a cleaning brush. If you don’t have a cleaning brush, you can use some crumpled aluminum foil to scrape both sides of the cooking grates. 

If your grates are particularly dirty, you may want to soak them in soapy water for 30 minutes to an hour. Once they’ve been soaked, clean them off and set them aside.

The same can be done with your charcoal grates after removing any excess charcoal and ash leftover from your previous cooking session. Leave both grates to the side, as you’ll need them out of the way for the next steps.  

Tip for cleaning your grates: Make sure you clean the grates by scrubbing with the grates, not against them. Not only does this make cleaning more manageable, but it allows the brush to get in between the grates to clean them throughout.

Step 2: Clean the Inside of the Lid

Using soap and water, clean the inside of your lid with a cleaning brush or sponge. You may see things that look like chipping paint, but they’re usually just chips of carbon buildup. Once you have the inside of the lid cleaned off, you can wipe down the outside with a sponge or a wet paper towel to make it shine again. Wipe or rinse away any soapy residue left over. 

Step 3: Clean the Inside of the Grill

Using soap and water, clean the inside of your grill or your firebox (if you have one) with your cleaning brush. You’ll want to be generous with the soap and water here, as most of the carbon and dried grease falls into the lower part of the grill. You can use a dish sponge or a cleaning brush for this, but a brush usually works best. 

Make sure you clean all the way to the bottom of your grill, where the vents are located. This will be a dirty job, so wearing gloves can help keep your hands clean. You’ll be surprised at how clean and shiny your whole grill will look once you’re done. 

Once you’re finished cleaning the inside, wipe or rinse away any loosened debris and soapy residue.

Tip for cleaning the inside of your grill: If you have a garden hose, you can spray down the inside to get rid of some of the ash and debris. Then you can go to work with the soap and cleaning brush. This usually makes the job a little less messy but it works great if you’ve got a place to spray out your grill.  

Step 4: Empty and Clean the Ash Catcher

If you regularly empty your ash catcher, there shouldn’t be too much in it at this point. But, dirty water and loosened debris will probably drop into the catcher as a result of cleaning the inside of the grill. Discard this debris as appropriate and proceed to wash the ash catcher with soap, water, and your cleaning brush or sponge. Rinse and set aside to dry. 

Step 5: Reassemble and Wipe Down the Charcoal Grill

Once all of your grill’s components are clean and dry, you can reassemble the grill. Once you have the grill back together, you can do one final wipe down of the outside. Use soap and water to wipe any dirt you may have caused during the cleaning process. If you have a grill cover, put it on until you’re ready to grill again.

In Conclusion

Cleaning your charcoal grill shouldn’t take much longer than an hour or two, depending on how dirty it is. Unlike a gas grill, charcoal grills have just a few parts to clean. There are grill cleaners out there that are safe to use inside your grill. But, to limit the number of chemicals around our food, we opt to clean with regular dish soap. If you have a grill cleaner that you like, use it as directed.

To make things easier, some people like to warm their grills up with a small fire. While this does loosen any tough food residue on the inside of your grill, it can also cause burns if you’re not careful. We’ve found that a little elbow grease goes a long way in cleaning a grill safely. However, if you have lots of carbon buildup, you may want to warm your grill before cleaning it. Just be very careful and wait until it has cooled enough to touch!

Thanks for reading and happy grilling!

Justin

Justin Childress is the creator of Sunshineandplay.com. He is also a devoted husband and father of his 1 year old son Gabriel. Justin enjoys spending time with family, reading, and, of course, contributing to Sunshineandplay.com.

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