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How to Clean a BBQ – Cleaning Guide and Tips

It’s BBQ season baby! And while you might be on the hunt for ideas for your next BBQ party, there’s one thing we all need to know how to do.

We all need to know how to clean a BBQ. Whether you’ve got a top of the range gas BBQ or a little portable one, they all require maintenance.

So without further ado, we’ve brought you an ultimate BBQ cleaning guide packed with tips. Keep reading for a step-by-step guide full of barbecue cleaning hacks.

Key takeaways:

  • An unclean BBQ can cause health and sanitary problems
  • Clean your BBQ grill while it’s hot
  • When possible, keep your BBQ covered and out of the elements
  • Clean your BBQ after every use and then deep clean at least twice a year!
  • You can clean your BBQ with newspaper, foil, vinegar, and even beer and onions!

Want to know how to clean with beer as well as drink it? Stay tuned. For now, let’s get to grips with what we’ll be cleaning.

BillyOh portable gas tabletop BBQ split between black and red models on wooden table with gingham cloth

Anatomy of a BBQ Grill

Just so we’re all on the same page when we talk about cleaning individual BBQ parts, let’s have a look at what (and where) they are.

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What are the parts of a charcoal bbq grill?

A typical charcoal grill will be a kettle on three legs with (or without) wheels. At the bottom, your charcoal grill will have an ash catcher below a firebox with a vent for setting a charcoal fire. The cooking section of a charcoal grill is a chamber inside the kettle with a grill rack and a removable lid (usually with a vent).

Charcoals grills also come as drums, barrels, portable BBQs, and charcoal smokers.

charcoal kettle bbq with parts labelled

 Key parts for cleaning:

  • Ash catcher
  • Grill rack
  • Vents
  • Kettle lid

What are the parts of a gas bbq grill?

Unlike a charcoal grill, gas BBQs have a lot more options depending on size, the number of burners, and accessories like hot plates and sink areas. 

A gas BBQ grill’s cooking area consists of a cooking grate on a lower shelf with a warming rack above it. Unlike a charcoal grill, this will be enclosed by an attached lid that folds over the grill. The grill is then lit by burners underneath and you may also have a side burner or hot plate.

stainless steel gas bbq with lid open and sections labelled

 Key parts for cleaning:

  • Ignition and temperature knobs
  • Sider burner or hot plate
  • Grill rack and warming rack
  • Gas tube and connector
  • Lid and handle

Now let’s move on to how often you should be cleaning your BBQ. And before we do that, let’s nip something in the bud.

Should I Clean My BBQ?

There are certain reasons to clean a BBQ no matter what model you have. These include getting rid of:

  • Dust and charcoal buildup
  • Grease and grime
  • Old food and fat

Granted, some people argue that a crusty barbecue grill is like a well-used iron pan: seasoned with oils. But we don’t think so. 

Whether you use gas or charcoal for your barbeque, you can end up with carbon deposits. Not only are these an eyesore on your BBQ grill, but they can also cause:

  • Uneven heating
  • Inefficient fuel usage
  • Early burner failure

And that’s before we even mention the sanitary risks of not cleaning your barbecue. Burnt into those bits of carbon and food deposits could be dead pests and bugs. Things like fat and grease are also more likely to catch dust and waste. 

Plus, grease and fat deposits can catch quickly and without warning – causing grease fires.

bbq burner close up caked with carbon deposits
BBQ burners can be real health risks.

So should you clean your BBQ? Yes, we recommend giving your grill a quick clean after every use. Then deep clean it twice a year, once before and once after BBQ season. 

Now we should all be on the same page as to what we’re cleaning and why. So let’s get into our five-step guide to cleaning your BBQ grill (tips and tricks inbound!).

Step 1 – Get a Cleaning Kit

If you’re going to be dealing with fat, dirt, and grease, the first thing you want to do is come prepared.

Start by chucking some old clothes and shoes on that you don’t mind getting splashed and dirty. 

Then, round up everything on this list:

  • Gloves: Grease and oil is hard to wash off and dirt will get under your fingernails. Grab some disposable nitrile gloves or marigolds.
  • Grill brush: Grab a steel or wire brush for getting carbon and food off your grill.
  • Grill scraper: Also grab a (plastic) grill scraper. This will help you get grease off without scratching your BBQ grill.
  • Bucket and sponge: Opt for a sponge with a scourer head. Bring a bucket to fill with soapy water.
  • Sprays: If you have a premium stainless steel BBQ grill, then use a specialist spray. Otherwise, antibacterial spray, non-stick, or enamel spray will do.
  • Microfibre cloths: Microfibre cloths are great at removing dirt without scratching your BBQ grill.
  • (Optional) Pots and pans: If you have a gas BBQ, you might already have a grease trap or drip tray. If not, you can use old pots and pans to catch grease while you work.
EQUIPMENTCLEANING PRODUCTSOPTIONAL
Steel brushWhite vinegarCat litter or coffee
BBQ scraper (metal or plastic)Soap and waterVegetable oil
Stainless steel or wire brushBicarbonate of sodaVacuum
Rubber gloves, sponge, microfibre cloth, a bucketStainless steel cleaning sprayNewspaper, aluminium foil, beer, an onion

With all that in tow and access to a bin and hot water, we’re ready to start cleaning.

As it’s going to be the messiest part of this guide, let’s start with cleaning your BBQ’s interior first.

Step 2 – How to Clean a BBQ: Inside

Many guides on how to clean a BBQ will tell you different things about whether to do it while your BBQ’s hot or cold. 

We’re going to buck the trend and say – do both! But cut it down into sections.

Keep reading to find out why.

Brush the inside while it’s still hot 

We’ll go into more detail in our section dedicated to cleaning your BBQ grill below. But for now, use that wire brush that you brought with you to clean grill racks and warming racks.

Work up and down the grill in the direction of the bars to get rid of excess food and burn marks. Once you’ve done this, you can turn your gas grill off.

If you’re using a charcoal grill, grab a bin or one of those pots we told you to get. Once charcoals have been allowed to completely cool, remove the charcoal grate. Discard these coals and also scrape out the bottom of the ash catcher.

small grill with pans and foods over a campfire with blurry people sat in the distance
Unless your ash catcher is your fire.

Charcoal can still get caught in the bottom of your cook box and block your vent. This can make it hard to regulate the temperature at your next BBQ.

Top tip: At this point, check your gas line and gas canister. If there are any holes or perforations, make sure to leave it off. Disconnect the line and replace it. Also, replace any out of date gas canisters. 

Clean the inside whilst it’s cold

Once your grill has completely cooled down (or you’ve removed the cool charcoals), you’re ready to deep clean the inside. Test the grill rack lightly with your hand to see if it’s ready to handle.

There are a couple of different ways to do this step. It’ll depend on how big your BBQ and its various parts. (And on how much elbow grease you’ve got stored up!)

1. Start by removing any fixtures like grill racks and side burner plate or empty ash catcher.

Top tip: Are there still carbon deposits and bits of food that you loosened with the wire brush? If so, use your vacuum cleaner’s nozzle attachment to work around the inside of your BBQ.

a hand vacuuming a charcoal kettle barbecue
Credit: Go Shindig

2. Using your plastic scraper, work along your grill, scraping any excess into a grease trap or pan.

Top tip: If there’s a lot of grease build-up, use an absorbent product like cat litter or ground coffee. This will help absorb grease, which you can then throw away! Make sure never to pour grease and oil down the drain.

3. Grab the rubber gloves, scourer, and bucket (filled with diluted hot soapy water).


4. Scrub down the inside of your BBQ grill with the scourer side first. Continue to dip the sponge into the hot soapy water and flip it to repeat.


5. Whilst doing this, soak grill racks in hot soapy water to loosen dirt.

6. Alternatively, you could put hot plates and grill racks into the dishwasher. Remember, if you have a cast-iron grill, only ever clean it by hand!

Dirty Weber charcoal grill with carbon deposits
Credit: Flickr

 At this point, you’ll either need to wait for your dishwasher cycle to finish or rinse everything off and dry it. And if you want to keep it simple, just use a spray. To find which is the best spray for BBQ’s, check out Good Housekeeping’s best BBQ grill sprays

Whether you’ve used hot soapy water or special BBQ cleaning sprays, you should be left with clean insides and components.

But at this point, we’d like to give you another outside-the-box solution to cleaning your BBQ. All we want to know is – do you have a pressure washer?

If so, and if you want to save some time, you could always pressure wash your BBQ.

Now, heads up – you need to be careful not to force grease and dirt into gas burners. This could clog them up and affect your BBQ’s functionality. You’ll also need to make sure you properly dry your BBQ grill after.

But if you have a small charcoal kettle grill, you can take it away from your lawn and pressure wash it on a light setting.

You could even use a steam cleaner if you have one for kitchen appliances. Just check out what a steam cleaner does to the inside of a BBQ.

Either way, once you’ve got the inside of your BBQ and your grill racks clean and dry, it’s time for the next step.

Heat it up to finish cleaning 

If you’ve used any chemical sprays or cleaning agents (even soap and water) on your BBQ, it’s best to heat it up again.

This will help to burn off any residue from cleaning sprays. After all, you don’t want a Dettol burger at your next cookout, do you?

At this point, for extra cleaning and sanitisation you could steam the inside of your BBQ. (The cheap way, that is). Simply grab a sheet of newspaper, pop it on the BBQ, and spray it with water

The residual heat will cause steam to form and give your BBQ cleaning regimen that finishing touch. Just make sure to remove it and turn your BBQ off before it burns.

Next, we’re going to go into more detailed instructions on how to clean your BBQ grill

Let’s quickly recap, though. 

  • Use a wire brush while your BBQ is still hot to remove carbon and food
  • Let everything cool or turn off and disconnect
  • (Optional) Vacuum up excess food debris
  • Scrape out cold ash or grease depending on your BBQ
  • (Optional) Use coffee grounds or cat litter to absorb grease
  • Remove trays and grills and clean by hand with soapy water or in a dishwasher
  • (Optional) Steam clean

Advice to avoid!: Don’t use lighter fluid and a wire brush to burn your BBQ clean. You’ll only solidify carbon deposits, run the risk of a grease fire, and give your food a bad taste!

Step 3 – How to Clean a BBQ: The Grill

We touched upon it in step 2 – cleaning your BBQ’s inside, but let’s have a close look at how to clean a grill. The grill is one of the most important parts of a BBQ. 

It often has raw meat and fish touching it and stands up to high temperatures. So it needs to be looked after.

So far, we’ve discovered that you need to:

  • Use a wire brush to scrape your grill while it’s hot (Be careful of bristles breaking off and into food!)
  • Let it cool and wash it with cleaning spray or hot soapy water
  • Thoroughly dry it and place it back in your BBQ

Properly drying your grills and drying racks will help to make sure they don’t go rusty. But we’ve got a few more tricks up our sleeve.

For starters, if you don’t have a wire brush, you can always scrunch up some aluminium foil and use that to scrub your BBQ grill.

And if you’re wondering how to clean a rusty grill: TV’s Queen of Clean Lyndsey Crombie says that ketchup works wonders. That’s right; you can use BBQ sauces and condiments to clean as well as eat!

For more BBQ cleaning hacks, you could try:

Pouring beer on your grillThe combination of beer and scrubbing with a wire brush will leave your grill sparkling.
Rubbing salted lemons on your grillCut some lemons in half and dip them in salt. Clean your grill by attaching them to your BBQ fork or simply by hand.
Use an onionYep, just like the lemon trick. Attach an onion to your BBQ fork and run it over the grill while it’s still hot. An onion’s high water content will steam it and they have antibacterial properties!
Use vinegar and bicarbUse either baking soda and a sponge or vinegar in a spray bottle (or both!). They can act as an abrasive and dislodge dirt and grime.

We’ve even heard that pumice stone is antibacterial and removes stuck-on food.

And last but not least – show your grill some love for next time. Use a bit of vegetable oil and some kitchen towel to rub your grill. This will help to prevent food from sticking the next time you use it.

  • Scrape with a wire brush while still hot
  • Use an onion or half a salted lemon and run along the grill rack
  • Spitz with vinegar, bicarbonate of soda and water, or even beer and clean
  • Remove grill and wash and rinse
  • Dry and replace
  • Remember to oil your grill ready for next time

Nice work. You’ve done all the heavy lifting now and your grill is clean, sanitary, and ready for your next BBQ. 

So now let’s move on to cleaning your BBQ’s exterior and those final aesthetic touches.

Step 4 – How to Clean a BBQ: Outside

In this step, we’ll talk about cleaning the outside of your grill and everything on the outside.

In general, use the gloves, sponge, warm soapy water (a fresh batch), and bucket you grabbed in step one. Work around the BBQ, being sure to steer clear of your gas connector for now.

Make sure to show areas like your ignition, temperature control knobs and handle some extra love. These are the places on your BBQ that you touch the most (often with bacteria or raw food still on your hands!).

If you have a stainless steel gas BBQ – wipe with the grain to avoid scratches. You could also use a stainless steel spray or polish.

For an enamel or painted grill – use soapy water and a soft-bristled brush. For rust spots, you can lightly sand then paint them.

Any ‘rust’ you see on a stainless steel grill will be something else (as it doesn’t rust). So you can use a mild abrasive to work it off gently.

hand holding a cloth cleaning a bbq grill
Credit: Popular Mechanics

For your gas nozzle, use a small instrument like a paperclip or a toothpick to dislodge grime, then wipe clean. At this point, you can check your gas lines for rust or perforations. 

To do so, grab some soapy water and apply a thin layer to your gas line. Any air bubbles will indicate a puncture – just like when checking a bike tyre tube!


And last but not least – use that microfibre cloth from earlier to gently dry the outside of your BBQ.

Top tip: Some people even suggest you lightly coat your BBQ’s exterior with baby oil! We’re not sure about that but do make sure to keep it covered when not in use. This will minimise damage and potential rust.

  • Turn off your BBQ and disconnect gas (or empty coals)
  • Clear out gas nozzle and check lines for holes
  • Using hot soapy water and a soft sponge, gently work with the grain of the stainless steel
  • (Optional) Use a specialist spray or polish for stainless steel
  • Dry gently with a microfibre cloth

BBQ Cleaning Tips and Hacks

There you have it. Some of the best hacks and tips for cleaning your BBQ grill as well as a step-by-step guide.

And before we recap everything we’ve covered, we’d like to throw in a couple more lesser-known grill cleaning tips. Just for good measure.

With all of those cleaning tips and hacks, you’re sure to find a combination that works for your BBQ grill.

hand holding a BBQ utensil moving burger patties on a BBQ grill with fire coming off it
Credit: Unsplash

So whether you’re cleaning a charcoal grill or a stainless steel gas BBQ, we suggest the following.

Recap of Our Top BBQ Cleaning Tips

  1. Get a cleaning kit with gloves, a BBQ brush and scraper, and soapy water
  2. Keep the heat on and use a wire brush to clean the grill
  3. Clean the grill with an onion, salt and lemons, beer, or vinegar spray
  4. Let your BBQ cool. Vacuum up debris. Scrape grease and throw away with absorbent newspaper or cat litter
  5. Remove parts and wash by hand or in the dishwasher
  6. Use a sponge and soapy water 
  7. Dry parts thoroughly and replace
  8. Dry your BBQ’s exterior with a microfibre cloth
  9. Treat with oil – Vegetable for the grill, baby for the outside
  10. Heat it again to burn off chemicals and debris
  11. Cool and cover

 

If you follow those 11 steps at least twice a year and give your BBQ a quick clean after every use, you’ll have it made!

 

We just hope you liked out guide to cleaning your BBQ. And be sure to check out our ultimate explainer if you want some in-depth info about the different types of BBQ that are available.

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FAQs

For a rusty enamel or paint BBQ, gently sand down rust spots. Treat with primer and repaint. Vinegar spray with bicarbonate of soda also works well for removing rust. To prevent rust, think about oiling your grill and keeping it covered when not in use.

To clean a dirty BBQ:

 

  1. Get a cleaning kit with gloves, a BBQ brush and scraper, and soapy water
  2. Keep the heat on and use a wire brush to clean the grill
  3. Clean the grill with an onion, salt and lemons, beer, or vinegar spray
  4. Let your BBQ cool. Vacuum up debris. Scrape grease and throw away with absorbent newspaper or cat litter.
  5. Remove parts and wash by hand or in the dishwasher
  6. Use a sponge and soapy water 
  7. Dry parts thoroughly and replace
  8. Dry your BBQ’s exterior with a microfibre cloth
  9. Treat with oil - Vegetable for the grill, baby for the outside
  10. Heat it again to burn off chemicals and debris
  11. Cool and cover

 

Repeat these steps twice a year (or BBQ season) and clean your grill after every use.

Clean grill racks with a wire-bristled brush then soak in soapy water. For the exterior of a stainless steel BBQ, use a specialist spray and a microfiber cloth, working with the steel grain.

To make an oil drum BBQ, start by checking there is nothing inside. If possible (and safe to do so), give it a good burn before use. Once cool, disinfect it with bleach or using a vinegar spray with bicarbonate of soda and a wire brush. Bear in mind; you might want to clean it more if consuming food cooked over it.

Depending on whether you have a steel or enamel BBQ grill, use a wire-bristled or soft-bristled brush. Work along the grooves and bars of your grill to remove any carbon deposits and excess food while the grill is still hot. Remove all grill parts and wash with warm soapy water.

 

Make sure to dry grill before placing back in your BBQ to avoid rust.

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