Grilling season is upon us, which means summer cookouts, burgers and barbecue, and long, warm nights in the yard. It also means it’s time to clean your grill. That same cooking process that makes those Instagram-perfect, flavorful char marks on your food produces carbon deposits on virtually every interior surface of your grill: the grates, flavorizing bars and burner tubes (on gas grills), and the firebox itself. Those carbon deposits aren’t just ugly; grease can stick to them and harbor bacteria, and carbon buildup can cause your grill to heat unevenly or prevent it from reaching full operating temperature.
You should brush your grill grates after every use (remember to inspect for wire brush bristles before cooking), and thoroughly clean them every couple of months, depending on grill usage. But twice a year, you should give your grill a thorough cleaning, which helps it cook better and last longer. The basic process is the same for gas or charcoal grills; charcoal grills just have fewer parts.
Grill Cleaning Equipment
There are a ton of different grill cleaning gizmos to choose from, but nothing can beat a long handled wire brush, a wire bottle-style brush, a five-gallon bucket, and some elbow grease. Avoid toxic cleaning formulas. They can impart an off taste to foods, and aren’t necessary: warm water and dish soap and a paste of vinegar and baking soda are all the cleaning power you need. If your grill has stainless steel exterior surfaces, a good stainless steel cleaner (or vinegar) imparts an extra shine. You’ll also need some durable gloves and a few disposable sponges and rags. Pick an overcast day; hot sun can make it hard to remove streaks from cleaners (plus, it’s cooler working weather).
For gas grills, start by turning the grill on and letting it come to full temperature. Dip the wire brush in a bucket of soapy water and scrub all the carbon you can from the grates, then turn it off, disconnect the propane tank and set it aside and let the grill cool completely. For charcoal grills, simply dump the old burned coals.
When the grill is cool, remove the grates and flavorizer bars and put them into a full bucket of soapy water. Let them soak for at least 15 minutes. Remove anything else from the grill that you can take off without tools, like burner control knobs and the grease tray. This will make it easier to clean. Most gas grill burner tubes are removable as well (look for simple cotter pins on one end, although some models use screws).
Use a Vacuum
While the grill grates and flavorizer bars are removed and soaking, tackle the caked-on gunk in the firebox. Put another bucket underneath the firebox where the grease tray sits to collect debris. The easiest way to start is with a shop vacuum, whether full-size or a portable, like Milwaukee’s M18 hand vacuum. Since they’re mostly workshop items, you won’t feel bad about using it to suck up the gunk that’s collected in your grill. You can use the grill brush to help loosen stubborn stuck-on grit. If the deposits are really caked on, dip the wire brush in the bucket of soapy water and get to work. Use a hose to rinse it out when it’s clean.
After the grates and panels have soaked, take them out and scrub them thoroughly. A long handled grill brush offers added leverage. For really stubborn gunk, a paste of vinegar and baking soda helps the brush scrub off the worst bits. Rinse them clean. Take care to thoroughly dry cast-iron grates. Now’s a great time to inspect porcelain grates for chips that may lead to rust later on.
Inspect your burners for signs of corrosion or anything blocking the row of flame holes. Burner tubes are inviting spots for spiders to lay eggs if your grill goes unused for a while. Use a wire brush and clean them by brushing back and forth over the holes, not down the length of the tube. The wire bottle brush can clean out the inside of each tube.
Wash and Wipe
Replace the soapy water in the bucket and scrub down the entire outside of the grill with a household sponge. Steel wool, metal sponges, and even some coarse sponge pads can leave scratch marks, so avoid them. Microfiber towels are great for wiping down and drying the outside.
Stainless steel cleaner works great as a final touch, but it shouldn't be used for any heavy cleaning. Spray it on, and let it sit for a couple minutes before wiping away with a clean dry cloth. Vinegar can also be used to effectively clean and wipe down stainless steel.
Re-assemble all the parts you removed, taking care to fix the burner tubes back in place in proper position with the cotter pins or screws. Rub cast-iron grill grates with a light coating of vegetable oil. Finally, re-connect your propane tank and fire up the grill; let it heat for at least 15 minutes, then turn it off again. This will help burn off any residues from cleaning, season cast-iron grill grates, and serve as a check that you re-assembled everything properly.
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