How to clean a charcoal grill – simple steps to ensure sizzling summer feasts

It is as simple as six quick steps, with the right method even improving the taste of your food, experts say

Traeger grill on a deck
(Image credit: Traeger)

Nothing says summer more than a cookout with friends and family, especially when using charcoal for that added smokey flavor and traditional barbeque smell. But how do you clean a charcoal grill afterward?

These may be the most authentic and best grills on the market, but cleaning a grill can be tough when burned-up charcoal briquettes are a nightmare to pick out. Luckily, cleaning and grill experts have perfected the technique to make cleaning up as easy as the cooking itself. 

Here, they share their best tips for cleaning up a charcoal grill – including how to clean a grill without a brush – so you can have your grill cookout-ready again in no time.

How to clean a charcoal grill 

Not cleaning your charcoal grill out correctly can cause all sorts of issues, from your charcoal grill not lighting to bad-tasting food and foul smells. These six steps are super simple to do – and quick, too, once you have the routine down. 

1. Remove the grates and clear out the charcoal briquettes

Once the grill has completely cooled down, it is best to start with removing the grill grates and taking out the charcoal, says Mike Futia, grill expert and founder of Grill Frenzy. You can remove the charcoal using a plastic scoop, available at Amazon. The plastic will help prevent scratching the grill and causing any weaknesses in the metal.

Allise Pierce, professional chef and owner of Chef Cowgirl suggests using a shop vac to help remove any remaining debris and dust left behind by the charcoal. Just make sure it is a heavy-duty wet and dry vacuum rather than a household vacuum cleaner, which wouldn't be suitable for this kind of task.

Remove the ash catcher and toss any ashes, making sure they're not hot. You can then wash the ash catcher with soapy water,’ Mike adds. ‘You can look at your manufacturer's instructions to help locate this if you are unsure.’

2. Use a scraper to peel away any burnt-on remnants inside

Once all of the charcoal and its debris has been removed, you can use a plastic scraper to help unstick any splashes of food grease that have burnt onto the sides, continues Mike Futia, grill expert, not forgetting about the lid of the grill too.

While it may not seem like much, these small burnt deposits can make any new food you cook on your grill taste burnt, even when cooked to perfection, so it is worth taking the time to remove them before they become stuck for good.

After scraping, rinse the inside and outside of the grill with warm soapy water, suggests Itamar Dor, green cleaning expert at Green Lif. Don't forget about the handles and any surfaces where you place tongs or spatulas, he adds. ‘Use a sponge or cloth to remove any grease or stains then rinse with water and wipe dry with a clean cloth.’

3. Soak the grates to make scrubbing easier

Cleaning grill grates will often be the toughest part of cleaning a charcoal grill given their direct contact with the food, so Mufettta Krueger, professional cleaner and founder of Muffetta’s domestic assistants suggests soaking them in warm soapy water for 15 to 30 minutes to help loosen any grime and make the scrubbing a little easier on your arms.

‘Then, scrub the grates with a grill brush, such as the Weber 12-Inch 3-Sided Grill Brush, available at Walmart to make this an easy task,’ she suggests. ’Rinse the grates thoroughly with clean water and allow them to air dry.’

If you do not have a grill brush, then you can also clean a grill with aluminum foil, adds Allise Pierce, professional chef. ‘This method works best when the grill grate is warmed up,’ she adds, so I use tongs to slide the aluminum foil ball up and down the grates, picking up any food deposits and even rust, just as I would when cleaning an oven rack.’

Weber 12-in-3-sided grill brush | $14.66 at Amazon

Weber 12-in-3-sided grill brush | $14.66 at Amazon
If you are an avid outside cook, a grill brush is a great tool to have to hand to make scrubbing easier without tiring out your arm or causing damage to your grill. 

Muffetta Krueger

Muffetta Krueger is a driving force in the domestic service business, with over 15 years of operational management experience in the industry.

4. Don’t forget the grill vent

If your grill has a vent, then it is important to make sure that it is clear of any debris or grease build-up to ensure it functions correctly, reminds grill expert Mike Futia. 

‘This is usually found on the lid and can help to regulate the temperature as you cook to prevent food burning or drying out,’ he explains. ‘Make sure it is clean and that it moves freely.’

5. Reassemble your grill and season

Once all of the components of the grill are clean and dry, place the grates back in place and season your grill, preparing them for your next cookout, Allise Pierce, the professional chef recommends. 

‘To do this, I like to use an onion to clean a grill and season, splitting it in half and rubbing it along the grates with a fork,’ she explains.

6. Cover the grill to protect it from the elements

Once you have finished cleaning, it is a good idea to cover the grill again with a well-fitting cover to help protect it from the elements and keep it from getting dirty or rusty before you use it. Try to find a cover designed for your grill to ensure it fits snuggly – this can also help prevent small animals from making a home inside or causing damage to important components.


Should I clean my charcoal grill after every use?

You should try to clean out your charcoal grill every time you have used it to make sure it stays hygienic. Leaving any traces of food behind on the grill, even if they are burnt, could lead to the growth of mold, making your grill unsafe to cook on. What’s more, leaving used-up charcoal briquettes behind can reduce the efficacy of the next burn, preventing your grill from getting up to the temperature to cook food safely.

How long should you burn off a grill after cleaning?

If you have cleaned with natural cleaners and seasoned the grill, you may not have to burn it off before using it. If you have used harsh chemicals, however, then it can be a good idea to heat it up to temperature for 15 minutes before adding fresh food to remove any lingering cleaning residue that could affect the taste of your meal.

Using a charcoal grill can be a rewarding way to cook outdoors in summer, but keeping it clean is paramount. While it is normal for the grill to catch scorch marks and blacken over time, ensuring that sicky food spills and old fuel is cleaned out every time will help to prolong your outdoor cooker's life and keep it serving you and your family for years to come.

Chiana Dickson
Content Editor

Chiana has been at Homes & Gardens for two years, having started her journey in interior journalism as part of the graduate program. She spends most of her time producing content for the Solved section of the website, helping readers get the most out of their homes through clever decluttering, cleaning, and tidying tips – many of which she tests and reviews herself in her home in Lancaster to ensure they will consistently deliver for her readers and dabbles in the latest design trends. She also has a first-class degree in Literature from Lancaster University.