You are currently viewing When Should You Clean Your Grill? & How Often?

When Should You Clean Your Grill? & How Often?

Seems like a chore doesn’t it – cleaning your BBQ grill? It’s one of those things you know you should do, but just never get round to. But is leaving this a good idea?

You should really clean your grill every time you use it. If you leave it longer then unhygienic carbon and food deposits can build up which could give you food poisoning. Carbon deposits can also prevent your grill from lighting, heating evenly – or can even cause flare ups as the fat catches fire.

In this article we’re going to consider exactly how often your grill should be cleaned and why, what can happen if you don’t clean your grill (e.g – getting sick) – and look at the steps needed to clean both your propane and charcoal grill.

How Often Should a Grill Be Cleaned? (Every Time I Use it?)

You know the answer already, don’t you? Yes, none of us exactly enjoys this job, but we should really clean our grills after every use.

If this sounds too much like a chore, think for a minute. Which is easier: giving your grill a wipe round each time you use it, or having to take a scrubbing brush to it every so often, to scrape away at weeks of caked-on mess? Exactly. Keeping on top of your grill cleaning prevents it from becoming too big a task.

It’s simply a case of waiting for the grill to cool a bit after cooking, then giving it a quick brush or wipe to remove any bits of remaining food. This prevents a build-up of blackened old food and grease. 

Then, every few months, give it a really thorough clean, involving taking the main pieces apart and checking for rust. We reckon that twice in one grilling season should be enough for this major cleanup. And of course, if you’ve been brushing away those deposits after each use, these thorough cleans shouldn’t be too onerous.

Finally, if you put it away for the winter, give it another deep clean before covering or storing it, to make sure there are no food deposits left on it (imagine what those would be like after a few months, let alone the fact they might attract rats). 

Give the grill a good spring clean and inspection before you fire it up again for the next grilling season: nobody wants to chow down on spiders and dust.

What Happens if You Don’t Clean Your Grill?

We’ve already touched on two of the problems of a dirty grill: the danger of barbecuing unwanted bugs, and the fact that the job just gets that much harder the longer you leave it.

If you don’t clean your grill, two things happen to the food that’s left stuck to it. One, as it gets re-cooked every single time, it becomes increasingly carbonated. Those black specks on your food aren’t necessarily char marks from the grate: they could be bits of last month’s ribs…

The second thing is that old food harbors bacteria. Yes, bacteria can be killed by high temperatures as we’ve talked about previously. However, this isn’t 100% effective and so isn’t worth the risk. Plus, who knows what garden pests have been nibbling at these handy leftovers during the night, and leaving their own particular germs behind? Best not to risk it.

A neglected grill is also an ineffective grill. Carbon deposits prevent it from heating evenly, and if there’s gunky stuff around the burners of a gas BBQ, it may simply refuse to light. Or, unexpected grease deposits could suddenly go up in flames. Not sounding good so far, is it?

There is an argument that a certain amount of build-up on your BBQ is beneficial. Certainly, a “seasoned” grill produces fantastic results. We’ll look at how you can re-season a cleaned grill later.

Can You Get Sick From Not Cleaning Your Grill?

Yes, you can get sick from an unclean BBQ or grill, and as we said a moment ago, it’s never worth assuming that the high heat will blast away every germ that’s developed on the grate. Also, not every part of the grill gets hot enough, so there could still be contamination from the handles, controls, and storage areas if they’re not wiped down.

The Department of Agriculture states that cases of food poisoning go up in warmer weather. The causes? Food spoils faster in the heat; and unhygienic outdoor cooking practices. We wouldn’t cook indoors in a pan that we hadn’t washed up, so why do we treat our outdoor grills differently? 

So, don’t risk it. If you forgot to clean your BBQ after your last meal and encounter a mess when you lift the lid, don’t panic. Scrub the worst of the food off the grates, then heat up the grill. This should help destroy most bacteria, and you can carefully; carefully, brush away the rest of the debris when it’s loosened.

There’s been some debate over the last few years as to whether BBQ meat is carcinogenic, with claims that eating charred and well-done meat can increase the risks of cancer.

As with many foods, recent studies seem to suggest that we should simply eat heavily grilled food in moderation. Burnt-on food is seriously carbonized; so although we’re talking small quantities, it’s probably best not to add to our charred intake with old BBQ morsels.

14 Quick Steps To Clean Your Gas Grill

We’re assuming that you brush or wipe your grill down after every use, so it never becomes too caked in old food and grease. Here’s how to give a gas BBQ its regular deep clean (at least twice during the grilling season).

Before we go through the steps, here’s what you need (for both gas and charcoal grills):

  • A wire brush, with a long handle
  • Scouring pads
  • Old but clean soft cloths
  • A bucket of soapy water
  • A larger container of soapy water
  • A bucket filled with water, white vinegar, and baking soda mixture 
  • Gloves, ideally heat-proof gauntlets

There’s no need to buy special chemical cleaners: as ever, good old vinegar is a fantastic cleaning agent.

  1. Fire up the gas grill, and close the hood
  2. When it reaches temperature, let it run for about 30 minutes. This should loosen stubborn food
  3. Turn the gas off but don’t wait for it to cool
  4. Using the long-handled wire brush and soapy water, scrub the charred bits off the grate
  5. Disconnect the gas and leave the BBQ to cool and dry
  6. Take the grates and food racks out and soak them in the large container of soapy water
  7. Remove any other parts that come off easily, such as knobs and handles. You may also be able to take off the gas burner tubes. Don’t submerge these parts: clean them with a damp cloth
  8. You can now easily reach the inside of the BBQ for a good brush out. Scrub, scrape, wipe or even vacuum inside to remove any debris. (Don’t use your best indoor Hoover. This is a job for a heavy-duty, wet & dry vacuum cleaner)
  9. Clean any stubborn bits (including any still stuck to the soaking grates) with the vinegar mix
  10. For the outside, a softer cloth and a mix of vinegar and water should give you a lovely shine
  11. Hose everything down, and leave it to dry
  12. When it’s dry, reassemble the BBQ and reconnect the gas
  13. Re-season the grates by rubbing on a coating of vegetable oil
  14. Fire it up for 20 minutes or so to let any soap or vinegar smells burn off
Cleaning BBQ grill

13 Easy Steps To Clean Your Charcoal Grill

The process for the charcoal grill is pretty much the same (but so you can skip the gas bit, we’ve written it up again for charcoal BBQs).

The big debate here seems to be whether you heat the charcoal BBQ or not prior to cleaning. We think it’s easier if you do.

  1. Light the BBQ, and let it burn, vents open, for half an hour or so. 
  2. When it’s still warm, carefully (and wearing gauntlets) empty the cooling briquettes into a safe metal container
  3. Using the long-handled wire brush and soapy water, scrub the charred bits off the grate
  4. Leave the BBQ to cool and dry
  5. Take out the grates and racks, and put them to soak in the large container of soapy water
  6. Remove any other parts that come off easily, and clean them with a damp cloth
  7. You can now easily reach the inside of the BBQ for a good brush out. Scrub, scrape, wipe or even vacuum inside (with a special wet & dry cleaner) to remove any debris. 
  8. Clean any stubborn bits (including any still stuck to the soaking grates) with the vinegar mix
  9. Now it’s time to look at the outside. If you have something shiny like a Weber, use a soft cloth and a mix of vinegar and water for a nice shine. If it’s a seasoned old-timer, just give it a wash with soapy water to make sure it’s clean
  10. Hose everything down, and leave it to dry
  11. When everything’s dry, reassemble the BBQ 
  12. Re-season the grates with a coating of vegetable oil
  13. Fire it up again, and leave it to burn for about 20 minutes to make sure any soap or vinegar smells burn off


So that’s the answer I’m afraid – you just have to give the BBQ grill a clean after you’ve used it – every single time.

If not you risk getting food poisoning and making your BBQ inefficient; as carbon and food gunk build-up stops the grill from lighting properly and heating evenly. All those fatty food deposits may also catch fire when you’re grilling and flare up in your face.

It’s one of those chores none of us want to do, but if you want your lack of BBQ grill cleaning to blow up in your face (literally), then it pays to follow the simple cleaning steps we’ve outlined above. Your food will be tastier too 🙂

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >