So you’re looking for the best way to clean your bbq grill, hunh? Well, you’ve come to the right place. I recently had my BBQness tested and found myself lacking: I had let my grill sit over the winter without cleaning the grill. If, like me, you’re looking to clean a charcoal grill, then keep on reading. If you’re looking to clean a gas barbecue grill (something I’ll be doing later – this weekend’s barbecue party is all about the classic charcoal, baby), then head on over here. If you want the backstory to this post (there’s always a backstory) then you might want to check this out. Regardless, let’s get to it.
If you find yourself in a similarly unfortunate situation where you haven’t cleaned your grill for a while, or even if you just want to give your beloved grill a good scrubbing, you have to realize – there is no one best way to clean a barbecue grill. There is no magic trick, no really great solution. It seems like every third bbq griller I meet has their own special way to clean a grill that they swear is the absolute top way to clean up all the mess from cooking. But when they show me how or explain it to me, I always nod my head while thinking “That doesn’t sound much easier than the last guy.”
You see, here’s the secret to cleaning up a dirty, crusty bbq grill – there is no secret. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take elbow grease. You’re going to get dirty. You’re going to hate it. But truth be told, it’s all part of the process of eating great food. So accept it for what it is and move on. Call it the Zen of grilling. Or the Zen of cleaning off your dirty dirty barbecue grill. Whatever you like. Just get used to the idea.
Here are the steps you’re going to likely need to take:
So. What tools do you need? First up you’ll need a place to soak the grill. Doesn’t need to be deep but it does need to be wide enough. I’ve seen all kinds of setups. One guy I knew had an old half of a whiskey barrel lined with black plastic. Another guy used an old kiddy swimming pool. One friend had a deep/tall Rubbermaid plastic rectangular bin and he put the grill in vertically. It all depends on what you have on hand, what you are willing to repurpose and what you are willing to spend. I use an old broken wheelbarrow my father-in-law was throwing away. I tossed the broken undercarriage; put some silicon caulking in the leftover holes and viola – instant bbq grill cleaning tub. Bin. Whatever.
Now, as far as what to use when you soak, it’s up to you. Some people use a vinegar mix to spray on or soak in. I tried it once. It worked well, but I dumped the mix onto the lawn. Killed the lawn in that one, large spot. Since we don’t have a large concrete place to dump the water I don’t use that method. I just use good old dish soap. It doesn’t seem to kill the lawn as much. At least I don’t clean the grill in a place that will be noticeable if it does any damage anyway. Other people I’ve talked to use various mixes; Simple Green, old wine, baking soda, unicorn tears, whatever. Pretty much all fall into the “if you like it go for it” camp. Except flammable liquids. Don’t. Just don’t, no matter how much your buddy swears it works. Don’t believe him.
Last up comes the scrubbing. I’ve had good luck with any old wire brush. SOS pads work well too, but man those little metal fibers can work their way into your skin so use gloves. Random steel wool – same thing. Works, but be careful. I try to limit the amount of scraping I do because it can harm the rack, but if you’re happy scraping away or you don’t have time for a long soak, then go ahead. Make sure you’ve got some old clothes you don’t mind throwing away and I’d recommend some safety glasses just in case. One guy I knew almost lost an eye because a wire bristle flew off and landed in his eye. Up to you, really. If you like the pirate look (or the Governor look) then go ahead sans safety glasses. Something tied around your face covering your mouth would be a good idea as well. Bandana, old t-shirt, kitchen towel or something.
To recap, you’re going to need the following things:
Once you’ve got all that together then have at it. Remember – 16-24 hour soak is good. Set it up at night and then have at it first thing when you get back from work the next day.
Another option – toss the old grill and buy a new one. If you’re dealing with a Weber charcoal grill like ours, a new grill is going to run you 20-30 bucks. Not cheap, but if it’s time for a new one, well, then its time.
A couple of odds and ends before we finish –
One friend of mine puts his bin in the back of his truck, sets up the soak, then drives it down to the local self-car wash. Uses their high pressure water washer to clean it off lickety split. Has to go rotate car washes occasionally because they don’t care much for it, but it sure does work fast. Myself, I don’t have a truck so I can’t do that. If you’ve got a high powered steam cleaner or access to one then go ahead and try it.
Speaking of steam cleaning, some people say that once the cooking is all done, soak a newspaper in water, put it on the rack, cover up everything and let it steam away inside. I haven’t personally tried this and I probably won’t. Seems like it might be an okay idea if you’ve got an easily and cheaply replaceable rack, but something does seem off about the idea.
Oven cleaner – like the newspaper idea it seems, on the surface, to be okay, but it also seems a bit… hinky. If you don’t mind the heavy chemicals, then be my guest. But I’m going to pass on this idea.
Basically, cleaning a grill is simple. Soak it, scrub it and rinse it. It isn’t easy. It’s definitely messy. You’ll probably hate it. But if you love barbecue like we do, you’ll do it all in the name of fantastic food. Good luck.