Cleaning a Charcoal Grill in 5 Different Ways

Updated: Jun. 11, 2024

The secret to a successful cookout is a clean charcoal grill. Here's how to get your grill into tip top shape and keep it that way.

Warmer days mean that barbecue season is almost upon us. Before you use your charcoal grill for the first time, it’s a good idea to clean it.

Why You Should Clean Your Grill?

  • It will last longer. Letting food and other debris sit will cause rust to build, ruining your grill. Plus, that rust will get into your food, which you do not want.
  • It works better. Clean charcoal grills heat up faster and cook more evenly.
  • A dirty grill can be a fire hazard. This is especially true if your grill has a grease trap. Built up grease can cause a fire, which will burn your meat or worse!
  • Your food will taste better. You should savor the food you’re cooking, not the food you cooked last July, so be sure to scrape off all the old bits that build up before your next meal.
  • Finally, it’s not healthy to cook with a dirty grill. Germs can thrive on the build up bits of food left on your grill, putting you at risk for a stomach bug. That’s not even the most serious health risk. The stuff that builds up on your grates can be carcinogenic, which gets transferred to the food your cooking from the filthy grates

Each of the following techniques can be used to clean a charcoal grill. For those of you who cook with propane, here’s how to clean a gas grill. Time to retire your old gas grill? Learn how to get rid of the grill.

For grilling safety, always make sure your grill is completely cooled before you start cleaning.

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The Hack

Good news: You don’t need a grill brush or other special grilling tools to clean your charcoal grill. In fact, knowing how to clean a charcoal grill can be as simply as grabbing a kitchen staple. With this handy grilling tip, simply use a balled up sheet of sturdy aluminum foil to scrub your grill grates clean. Once the grates are clean, sweep out any debris in the bottom of the grill. Empty the ash catcher if you have one. (Always check your ash catcher before you grill to make sure it’s not at capacity.) You can use a putty knife to dislodge any stubborn gunk.

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Magic Erasers

The Traditional Way (With a Twist)

Gather hot water, dish detergent and a heavy-duty Magic Eraser sponge. Mix the hot water and dish detergent. Then dip the eraser sponge into the solution and use it to scrub the charcoal grill grates. Many people never think to use an eraser sponge, which has an abrasive surface that makes grates clean and shiny. As a final step, you can dip a towel into the soapy water solution and use it to clean off the rest of the grill.

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Grillbot grill cleaning robot
Family Handyman

The High-Tech Way

If you’re a fan of robot vacuums, then you’ll love the Grillbot Automatic Grill-Cleaning Robot. The battery-operated grill cleaner does all the work for you with a simple push of a button. This high-tech BBQ tool features three rotating brushes that scrape off the gunk on your grates. You can set the robot’s cleaning time from a 10-minute speed clean to a 30-minute deep clean. It beeps when it’s done, but you’ll know because it’s pretty loud while it’s working.

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charcoal grill
fusaromike/Getty Images

The Deep Clean

To deep clean a grill, first remove the grill grates and any ashes from the bottom of the grill and ash catcher. Next, spray oven cleaner on the grates and on the inside of the grill. While the cleaner penetrates, mix up some warm water and dish detergent. Use a rag or paper towel to clean the exterior of the grill. Use the same solution to clean off the grill grates and the inside of the grill. When finished, use clean water to rinse off the entire grill before wiping everything dry. Safety first, always. With a few tools and tricks, it’s easy to put out a charcoal grill at home.

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Midsection Of Man Cleaning Barbecue Grill With Wire Brush
Sabine Kriesch / EyeEm/Getty Images

The Preventative Way

Cleaning your charcoal grill grates before each grilling session can help cut back on the number of deep cleans you’ll have to do each season. An easy way to do this is to run a high-quality grill brush along the grates each time before cooking. Next, make sure to preheat your grill—doing so will help prevent food from sticking to the grates. Another step that helps keep food from sticking to the grates is to oil the grates. Simply dip a wadded-up paper towel into cooking oil, then use tongs to slide it along the hot grates.