How to Clean a Charcoal Grill: The Best Techniques

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Summertime is my favorite time of the year to gather with friends for a BBQ. Our humble charcoal grill has provided our friends and neighbors with many delicious grilled meats and vegetables over the last few Summer months. If you haven’t had a chance to grill this Summer, don’t worry! There are still plenty of time this Autumn to fire up your charcoal grill for a tailgate or two! If you plan on using your charcoal grill, don’t forget there are few pretty easy steps to follow when learning how to clean a charcoal grill. With just a little bit of work at the beginning and end of grilling season, and after each BBQ your charcoal grill will be giving you a perfect grill every time.    

Gather Your Tools

Learning how to clean a charcoal grill does not require fancy or expensive tools. In fact, you probably already own many of the tools required to maintenance your charcoal grill. If you see a tool on the list that you do not own, you can find them at any hardware store, online or even at a local superstore like Walmart.  

Wire Bristle Brush

Probably the most important tool used to clean your charcoal grill is a wire bristle brush. Investing in a good grill brush with a long handle and firm bristles is a wise decision. The best time to clean the grill is when the grill is hot, so the long handle lets you scrub without getting to close. Choosing a grill brush with stainless steel bristles or scouring pad, lets you scrub away all the burned bits of food without scratching up your grill. You can find good quality wire bristle grill brushes for around $20.

Metal Tongs

A lot of cleaning your charcoal grill will be done when the grill is hot. Using metal tongs is a safe way to move around the parts of your charcoal grill after they have been heated. You will also want to use the metal tongs to remove any charcoal briquettes after you are finished. Don’t ever touch a briquette with your bare hands unless you are entirely sure it is done burning.

Steel Wool Pad

A good steel wool pad can be used to scrub down the inside and outside of your grill. With just the help of a little warm, soapy water the steel wool pad will do all the hard work. Any burned on debris will be easily lifted away and your grill will be looking brand new again.

Rag and Cleaner

If the inside and outside of your grill doesn’t have food built up or burnt on, a simple rag and all-purpose cleaner is a great way to spot clean. Just make sure you rinse your grill thoroughly when you are through so any residual cleaner is gone before you heat up your grill again.


Keeping a non-combustible bucket near your charcoal grill is a simple step that will make cleaning much easier! After each BBQ, remove the charcoal that has burned down to ash and dump it into the bucket. It is important to make sure the bucket is non-combustible so that any charcoal left still burning does not catch flame. Let the charcoal completely cool in the bucket before properly disposing of the charcoal and ash in a large trash can. Keeping ash in your grill can be a risky move. Any leftover ash that is exposed to moisture can quickly turn into a rock hard cement-like substance. The best way to avoid that sticky and troublesome mess, is by proactively removing the ash after each use. Keeping a large metal bucket near your grill will help remind you to clear the old charcoal away quickly.

How to Clean a Charcoal Grill at the Beginning of the Season

The first time you pull your grill out, take a few minutes to quickly go over this checklist of how to clean your charcoal grill to insure everything works properly all season long.

First, you’ll want to deep clean the grate of your charcoal grill. This is easier to do when the grate is hot. You can light a fire and let it burn for about 30 minutes to let the grill get nice and hot. This will burn away any leftover food from the previous season. Then all that is left to do is scrub the grate with a wire brush. In a pinch you can use a ball of tin foil and your metal tongs. Next, clean the inside and outside of your grill using a steel wool pad and warm soapy water. For tough burned on stains, use ammonia to soak first before scrubbing. Last, don’t forget to rinse your grill with clean water when you are finished to remove any cleaning chemicals.

How to Clean a Charcoal Grill After Each Use

Once your grill is up and ready to run, it takes very little to keep it working smoothly the rest of the season. Simply fire up the grill and let it get hot. Once you have burned your charcoals for about 30 minutes, use your wire brush to remove any bits of food that may be left over from previous BBQs. Many experts recommend oiling the grate before putting on your meat. This is important because it prevents meat from sticking, and leaving behind chunks of food that will get burned on. You can do this by dipping a paper towel in some vegetable oil and using your metal tongs to carefully rub the paper towel around the grate. You want to be careful to avoid letting the oil drip on the hot coals, as this could cause a flare up of flames.

When NOT to Clean a Charcoal Grill

While it may seem counterproductive, it is actually in your best interest not to clean your grill after each use. When you are finished grilling, remove the ash from the fire pit and any large bits of meat from the grate. Then leave the rest behind! While it may drive you nuts to put away a dirty grill, leaving the grease on the grill will actually protect the grate from rusting. It also increases the seasoning of the grill, similar to a cast iron pan. You can wipe down the outside of the grill if anything dripped out, but save the deep cleaning for the beginning of the season.

How to Clean a Charcoal Grill at the End of the Season

At the end of the season you will want to make sure all ash has been removed from the grill. Remember, any ash that comes in contact with moisture can turn into a hard to remove pain in your grill. You can do a quick wipe-down of the inside and outside of the grill, but remember leaving a bit of food and grease behind will stop your grill from rusting while not in use. Don’t forget to always cover your grill when storing it for long periods of time. This protects the grill from moisture and the subsequent rusting.

In Conclusion

Knowing how to clean a charcoal grill is valuable information for any grill owner to have. The maintenance is not difficult as long as you stay on top of it. A little extra cleaning at the beginning of the grilling season and after each use will keep your grill working at peak performance. This will allow you to enjoy hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and grilled veggies all season long!

Related Article: Best Charcoal Grill: (Our Top 10 Picks and Overall Favorite)

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