Prevent flare-ups and keep grill debris off your food for safe and tasty BBQs all summer long.

May 29, 2020
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Cooking out is one of the great pleasures of summer—that is, as long as your grill doesn't burst into flames when all the gunk you forgot to clean out of it catches on fire. Yes, this can actually happen. "Most of us just grill, turn it off and walk away, but over time food residue builds up and can cause unexpected, dangerous flare-ups," says EatingWell magazine's food editor Jim Romanoff.

On a less dramatic note, it's not very healthy to eat the charred bits that can be stuck to food that's been cooked on a dirty grill. "For safety and grill longevity, regular maintenance is a must," says Romanoff. In other words, you're gonna want to clean your grill. You should be cleaning your grill every time you cook on it, as well as giving it a deeper clean every few months and a super-deep clean twice a year. Read on for our general guide for most grills, and also check your owner's manual for manufacturer-specific tips.

Best Tools for Cleaning Your Grill

Grill brush or scraper

Look for a grill brush with a long handle and braided wires, which are less likely to break off than other brush wires. This best-selling Weber 21-Inch Three-Sided Grill Brush is a good pick ($13 from Home Depot). Be sure to replace your grill brush when it becomes worn down, as there is some danger of wires breaking off and winding up in your food. If you prefer not to use a metal brush, a scraper like this wooden Grill Oar by Simply Better ($27 from Amazon) is a good option.

Metal spatula or putty knife

You'll also need a metal spatula or putty knife to scrape residue off the grill box. No need to buy a fancy grill-specific tool for this—you can simply pick up a putty knife at your local hardware store or get something like this stainless-steel scraper ($6 from Amazon).

Nonabrasive sponge and dish soap

When it's time to deep clean your grill, you'll want a nonabrasive sponge and regular dish soap. These Scotch-Brite sponges ($6.60 for 9 from Amazon) or these plant-based Scotch-Brite Greener Clean sponges ($2.74 for 3 from Amazon) are good choices for sponges. For the dish liquid, I recommend an unscented dish soap like Seventh Generation's Free & Clear ($3.25 from Thrive with membership).

How to Clean Your Grill

After each use

"Manufacturers recommend letting the grill cool completely before cleaning, but because it takes less elbow grease, I carefully clean the grates while they are still warm," says Romanoff. Use a long-handled wire grill brush to clean your grill grates immediately after use.

Once the grill is cool, remove and empty the small grease tray under the grill. "Built-up drippings can be a recipe for an unruly grease fire," Romanoff warns. For good measure, you should also brush your grill off again after preheating it for your next BBQ. Then oil it using folded paper towels saturated in oil before cooking. (See more grilling tips.)

Every few months

Your grill needs a deeper cleaning every couple of months. Here are Romanoff's instructions: "Remove the grates and triangular metal protectors that sit directly over the burners. Scrape any residue with a metal spatula or putty knife. Then use a grill brush (or even a paper clip) to clean the tiny holes in each burner tube. Scrape the sides and bottom of the grill box with the spatula or putty knife and push the debris through the hole leading to the drip pan. (Cool grill scrapings can be composted or thrown away.)"

Twice a year

Every six months, you should give your grill the above treatment, followed by a good scrubbing. "Brush the underside of the grill lid to remove any black flakes of smoky grease so they won’t fall into your food," says Romanoff. "Give the whole exterior a good scrubbing with warm soapy water and a nonabrasive sponge. Rinse well with clean water." And you're done! With routine maintenance you should be safe from dirty-grill related mishaps and ready to grill year-round. We have hundreds of grilling and BBQ recipes to inspire you to fire up the grill. 

Got cooking questions? Email them to us at testkitchen@eatingwell.com