How To Clean a Charcoal Grill & How Often You Should Do It

Hands down, the best part of a cookout is the food. But when the plates are empty and the crowd goes home with full bellies, you’re left to face the dreaded clean up—and that includes cleaning your grill.

Charcoal grills aren’t meant to be spotless, but like gas grills, they do require some cleaning to keep them working properly all season long—sometimes a quick clean after use will suffice, but a deep clean is also recommended at least once a year.

Read on to learn how to clean a charcoal grill, including:

  • Why you should clean your charcoal grill
  • How often to clean your charcoal grill
  • How to clean charcoal grill grates
  • How to deep clean a charcoal grill
  • How to keep your charcoal grill clean

Let’s get started.

Why Clean Your Charcoal Grill?

Cleaning a charcoal grill after each use and deep cleaning at least once a year helps it function at its best all year round. Cleaning after use and doing an annual deep clean will help you:

  • Prevent carbon deposits from growing bacteria and affecting the flavor of your favorite foods
  • Stop the build-up of grease and food particles
  • Keep your grill from rusting and deteriorating
  • Stop premature part failure so your grill lasts longer
  • Heat up your grill faster and cook more evenly

How Often Should You Clean Your Charcoal Grill?

How often to clean your charcoal grill depends on how often you use it.

What’s the best way to clean a charcoal grill after use? Generally, you should give your charcoal grill a quick clean using a wire brush to remove food particles after every cookout.

When it comes to deep cleaning, you should clean your charcoal grill at the beginning and end of every season, or at least once a year if you grill all year round. You’ll know it’s time for a deep cleaning if your grill is struggling to heat up to its full temperature— about 500°.

To prevent premature parts failure or dangerous flare-ups, follow these charcoal grill cleaning guidelines:

  • Grill grates should be cleaned after every use to avoid rust buildup. The best way to clean a charcoal grill after use is with hot soapy water and a scrub brush (or a ball of aluminum foil).
  • The grease trap/collection tray should be cleaned at least once a month—or more often if you’re grilling several times a week. Also remember to clean the grease tray after cooking fattier cuts of meat like rib steaks, burgers, lamb, and bone-in, skin-on chicken.
  • Clean public grills before every use since you don’t know when it was last used or what was cooked.

How To Deep Clean a Charcoal Grill

If it’s time for your charcoal grill’s annual bath or your barbecue needs a heavy-duty clean after a big cookout, we recommend following your manufacturer’s cleaning instructions (if you still have them). If you can’t find your instruction booklet, read our step-by-step guide for detailed instructions on how to clean a charcoal grill.

Start by gathering your supplies:

  • Rubber gloves (grill cleaning can get messy!)
  • At least one bucket of clean water
  • At least one bucket of grease-fighting soap and water
  • Grill brush or other non-metal coarse cleaning brush. Alternatively, you can use balled up tin foil and tongs.
  • Putty knife
  • Rags, paper towels, and/or scouring sponges
  • White vinegar
  • Baking soda
  • Stainless steel cleaner (if you have a stainless steel barbecue)

Then follow these steps:

  1. Next time you’ve finished grilling, let the coals burn for another 15-20 minutes to char off any stuck-on food from the grill grates.
  2. Clean the grill grates. While the grill is still hot, dip the wire brush into warm, soapy water and scrub the grates. To clean a particularly filthy grill grate, you’ll need grease-fighting dish soap, a heavy duty wire brush, a putty knife, and several clean buckets of water. For stubborn grease and grime, soak your grates for at least 30 minutes or overnight in a mix of baking soda and white vinegar to loosen it up and make scrubbing easier.
  3. Clean the inside of the bowl. A charcoal bowl cleaning kit makes it easy to sweep leftover ash and debris into your ash catcher, or you can do this by hand using a bristle brush or putty knife to scrape off all the residual carbon flakes, food particles, and grease. Clean any leftover residue with mild dish soap and steel wool.
  4. Empty the ashes (or ash catcher) and debris from the bottom of the grill.
  5. Rinse and wipe the inside and outside of the lid and base of the grill. Using a fresh bucket of water and dish soap, scrub down the entire grill with a scouring sponge. Remember to dry everything with a microfiber towel to remove rust-causing moisture.
  6. Rub the clean grill grates with a light coating of vegetable oil, add some fresh charcoal, and fire up the grill with a closed hood to burn off any cleaning residue.

How To Keep Your Charcoal Grill Clean

There are a few simple things you can do to keep your grill clean between uses and make your next deep cleaning even easier:

  • Preheat your grill and remove burnt bits of food with either a BBQ brush, some balled up tin foil, or an onion.
  • Oil your grill grates before cooking so food doesn’t stick.
  • Brush excess food particles from your grill grates after each use.
  • Make sure the ash catcher doesn’t get too full.

Cleaning Your Charcoal Grill

In addition to routine cleaning, giving your charcoal grill a deep clean once or twice a year will not only improve the quality of your food, but it will also prolong the life of your barbeque.

Deep cleaning your grill also gives you a chance to inspect all the inner workings to be sure they’re free from rust and deterioration.

Clean your charcoal grill with these tools & accessories: