How to Clean a Charcoal Grill? (4 Steps That You Must Know)

Devon Ferguson
Published by Devon Ferguson
Last Updated On: June 21, 2024

When I decided to perfect my grilling skills, I was initially put off by charcoal grills thinking they needed a ton of cleanup and maintenance, so I decided to do some research.

I checked what the major charcoal grill brands say about the necessary maintenance, and I spent months trying different cleaning techniques on my charcoal grill.

I’ve finally compiled the easiest and most straightforward step-by-step guide on how to clean your charcoal grill, and I’ll share my tips in this article.

Quick Summary

  • Cleaning a charcoal grill involves four main steps: cleaning the inside, the grill grates, the outside, and emptying the ash catcher.
  • Regular cleaning after every use and a deep clean at least once a year is recommended to maintain the grill's performance.
  • The process includes using a brush or putty knife to remove debris, soaking extremely dirty grates, and wiping down the exterior with mild dish soap and water.

4 Steps to Clean a Charcoal Grill

preparing to clean a charcoal grill

Before I get into the steps of cleaning a charcoal grill, start by finding a safe place to clean the grill.

Ideally, it should be to the side of the yard.

You’re removing ash and char off the grill, so ensure you’re away from your home, other people, and pets.

Also, you should let the coals burn after finishing a grilling session.

Never start cleaning if the coals are still lit.

1. Clean the Inside

A man figures out how to clean a charcoal grill

The inside is the dirtiest part of the charcoal grill.

It’s exposed to heat and smoke, and food leftovers build up over time.

Note: If you notice what appears to be cracks or peeling paint, it’s a sign you have a very dirty grill, and you should clean it. These are usually deposits of food and grease.

Here’s how to clean the inside of your charcoal grill:

  1. Flip the grill lid open.
  2. Remove the grill grates.
  3. Close the vents so the water stays inside while you scrub.
  4. Sweep the ash and debris into the ash catcher. Use a brush or a putty knife to scrape off the grease and food. You can also vacuum dry ash. Clean any residue with mild soap and water.
  5. Use a brush to remove encrusted food bits on the bottom of the grill. If there’s peeling paint, remove it with a stiff bristle brush or a putty knife.
  6. Use soapy water to scrub the lid with a steel brush. Repeat if necessary, and rinse. Let the lid air dry and scrub with a brush.
  7. Dry the grill with a microfiber cloth to avoid rust.

Note: Some charcoal grills have special functions that aid the cleaning. For example, Weber has a One-Touch system that cleans excess debris and ashes out of the bowl [1].

Pro tip: You can also do the deep cleaning with a degreaser. Make sure it’s food safe. Spray the degreaser and leave for 20 minutes. Then scrub everything with a pad, and rinse with water.

Also Read: How to Clean Pellet Grill

2. Clean the Grill Grates

Cleaning the Grill Grates

You need to pay special attention to grill grates because this is where most food buildup happens. Luckily, charcoal grates are easily accessible.

Here’s how to clean charcoal grill grates:

  1. Fire up the charcoal grill and leave it on high temperature for ten minutes.
  2. Use a stainless steel brush to dislodge debris from the grill grates. Dip the brush into soapy water and scrub. This is the most important part because residue on the grates can cause food to stick during the next grilling session.

In case you didn’t do routine cleaning and your grill grates are extremely dirty, you can soak them overnight in a mix of baking soda and white vinegar to loosen up the debris and make the scrubbing easier.

Cleaning your cooking grates can be done very easily before you begin grilling. Before cooking, preheat the grill by opening all the vents and keeping the grill at a high temperature for 10­–15 minutes. Then use a stainless steel bristle brush to remove any excess debris left on the grates.
- Weber, Premiere Manufacturer of Charcoal, Gas and Electric Grills

Note: Don’t apply too much force when cleaning charcoal or gas grill grates. You don’t want to chop the coating, as this can void the grill warranty.

Pro tip: If you don’t have a grill brush, use aluminum foil. Scrunch it up, hold it with tongs, and move it across the grill grate.

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3. Clean the Outside

image of an unclean outside of a charcoal grill

The next step of the grill cleaning process is to clean the outside:

  1. Wipe down the outside using mild dish soap, water, and a cloth.
  2. Rinse to remove any remaining dish soap.
  3. Dry the grill with a microfiber towel to avoid rust.

If you’re using a grill cover, rinse it with water. A dirty grill cover can also dirty up the grill.

Also Read: How to Clean Grill Burners

4. Empty the Ash Catcher

You should dump the ash after each grilling session.

Let the charcoal grill cool completely because hot embers can hide in the firebox and ash box, then throw away ashes from the ash catcher.

The ash catcher is a receptacle located on the bottom of the charcoal grill where ashes collect.

Brush the ashes into a bag or a metal container and throw them in the garbage.

Note: Some ash catchers can detach from the grill, so it’s easy to dispose of ashes. Just slide the ash catcher out of the grill and dump the ashes in the garbage.

Finally, once you’re done with grill cleaning, it’s time to reassemble and season it.

Pour some cooking oil on paper towels, and rub the grill grates.

How Often Should You Clean a Charcoal Grill?

charcoal grill

You should clean your grill after every use. Use a grill brush to remove food particles once you’re done cooking.

You should also do a deep cleaning at the start and end of every grilling season and at least once a year.

However, this depends on how often you use your barbeque grill.

For example, if your charcoal grill struggles to reach 500 degrees, it’s time for a deep clean.

Here are some general guidelines on how often to clean a charcoal grill:

  • Clean grill grates after every use.
  • Clean the grease collection tray once a month or a few times a month if you grill several times a week.
  • Clean a public grill after every use because you never know when it was used last and what was cooked.

What Tools Do You Need To Clean Your BBQ Grill?

Before looking at how to clean a barbeque grill, it is important to ensure you have all the necessary equipment to do so efficiently and effectively.

1. Wire Brush

A sturdy wire brush is a vital tool when cleaning barbeque grills, as the carbon deposits can prove very sticky and sturdy.

It is advisable to get a wire brush with a long handle, as this allows the user to get into hard-to-reach areas of the grill while also acting as a safety precaution against getting your hands too close to dangerous heat.

Cleaning a grill with a wire brush should also include using a pit glove for added protection.

In the absence of a wire brush, a ball of aluminum foil and tongs can be used for scraping.

If you’re on the lookout for the brush that will do the job, make sure to check our list of the best grill brushes that will remove even the most stubborn buildups and crust without damaging the grill’s surface.

2. Nylon Grill Brush

A nylon brush is a gentler alternative to a wire brush that won’t leave any metal bristles behind after cleaning.

While a nylon brush may not be as sturdy or efficient as a wire brush, it is needed if your grill has ceramic, porcelain, or cast-iron grates.

This is because it won’t risk cracking or scraping surfaces in the same way that a wire brush would.

Just make sure that the area being cleaned has cooled down sufficiently to avoid damaging the brush.

3. Specialized Grill Scrapers

While brushes are effective, investing in specialized grill scrapers may be necessary.

Grill scrapers are used when a grill has particularly bad carbon deposits or a commercial grill that sees extensive use.

Their design aims to get the residue out of hard-to-reach areas of a grill and eliminate stubborn residue.


Do I Need to Wash a Charcoal Grill?

Whether you need to wash a charcoal grill depends on how often you use it. Generally, you should do a deep clean, which includes washing a grill, at least once a year. If you use your charcoal grill every week, wash it a few times a year (two to three times should be enough).

Should I Pour Water on the Charcoal?

No, you shouldn’t pour water on charcoal. This can create hot steam, cause the grill to rust, and even damage it.

Can You Leave Ash in a Grill?

No, you can’t leave ash in a grill. If you leave ash at the bottom of a grill, it can end up on your food and ruin its flavor.



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About the author

Devon Ferguson
Senior Editor
Devon Ferguson is the senior editor at Carnivore Style who loves dining and traveling. This well-traveled meat hunter has scaled cities high and low to scout sources for the finest meats. He's tested and reviewed nearly every grill, smoker and meat delivery box on the market.
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