Getting the best-tasting barbecue starts with knowing how to clean a dirty BBQ grill. Solid, even grill marks and a quality sear depend on having a clean grill. Your health may, too.
Should You Clean Your Barbecue Grill?
The short answer is yes.
For years, my husband and I argued over this. In his view, a crusty barbecue grill was much like a well-used cast iron pan: seasoned with layers of oils that create a polymerized coating after repeated exposure to heat. I maintained that cooking on a dirty grill was dangerous and gross, period.
As with many of our arguments (the majority, if you ask me), it turns out I’m right.
Dirty Grills Pose Health Concerns
It’s true that preheating a grill probably kills any bacteria, but that’s not the only health concern.
When the grill’s heat hits greasy buildup on dirty grill grates, it can produce a chemical tied to colorectal cancer. That process also leads to grill flare-ups which can overcook if not ruin your food.
There’s a Fire Risk, Too
Firefighters see an increase in residential calls during the summer due to “home grill fires” caused by grease or fat buildup. These often occur when people place their grill on a deck or too close to their home.
Poor propane grill maintenance also poses a serious fire risk. Clogged gas nozzles cause a dangerous pressure back up in the tank. Rusty attachments or damaged lines can leak propane into the air around the grill.
Fortunately, cleaning a dirty BBQ grill reduces hazards while also improving the flavor and look of your grilled food.
How To Clean A Dirty BBQ Grill
Clean the Grill Grates
You should always clean your grill’s grates immediately after use by rubbing them with a metal scraper before the grate cools off. The grease is still loose at that point and should slip right off.
If you have years of buildup, however, you’ll probably need a more labor-intensive approach.
- Wait until the grate cools completely.
- Spray it with oven cleaner and put it in a garbage bag to sit overnight.
- The next day, use the scraper and a garden hose to give the grate a good scrub. The gunk should come right off.
- Dry the grate thoroughly to prevent rust.
Clean the Grill’s Interior
- Empty your grill completely and remove any fixtures, including the grates. Schedule this during good weather, so the sun can help dry your grill when you’re done.
- Using hot, soapy water and a good scouring pad, clean the burnt-on gunk on the inside of the grill. Be sure to scour grill grates and the “flavorizer bars” in propane grills which guard the gas vents.
- Rinse all surfaces well then rub them dry with old newspapers or towels.
- For propane grills, use the end of a paperclip to dislodge grime from the nozzles. Inspect the gas lines for signs of rust. Cover the lines with a thin layer of soapy water and look for air bubbles indicating holes in the lines. Also, check the expiration date on your propane tank. Replace anything that’s damaged or out of date.
Clean the Grill’s Exterior
Grills that are left uncovered year-round will develop rust spots.
Stainless steel grills: Use a mild abrasive to clean stainless steel grills. This homemade soft scrub cleaner works and so does Bar Keeper’s Friend. Stainless steel does not rust, so any such spots you see are probably particles of some other substance and will disappear with gentle scrubbing.
Enameled or painted grills: Use plain, soapy water and a soft-bristled brush to wash your grill’s exterior, then rinse it well. Lightly sand and prime rust spots, then paint them using a matching paint designed to withstand high heat.
How Often Should You Clean Your Grill?
Give dirty grill grates a good scraping every time you’re done using the grill, and again after preheating it but before adding your food. Be sure you don’t use a wire brush to do this — the bristles can break off and get embedded in food.
Deep clean your grill at the start of barbeque season and again once the season is over. Animals and insects like to hang out in grills over the winter, so you need to make sure their droppings are gone before you start cooking. At the season’s end, you don’t want to give them any reason to make a home in your grill, either.
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