January 5, 2018

Maintaining and Cleaning Your Grill or Smoker (Updated May 2018)

You may have heard that a greasy build up on your help improves the flavour of the food that you are cooking. However, want to know the real truth?

Really its the quickest way to ruin your meal or start an inferno. Some people like to call it “seasoning” but really it is just the by-product of the cooking process.

Nasty build ups like soot, tar, creosote, and so on will build up on your equipment and end up flaking off onto your food. A clean smoker or grill will produce the best quality & tasting food.

So how do we ensure that we always have our barbecue, grill or smoker in optimum condition and minimise the risk of these nasty build ups? Lets look into some everyday good practices you can use to ensure that your equipment will always be in the best shape possible. 

how to clean a grill

General & On-Going Maintenance Tips

Each and every time you cook on the grill do some light cleaning.

This will help your smoker or grill perform at its optimal level. It will help to increase the longevity of your cooker and help prevent rancid flavours.

If you only use the cooker once a week, it is recommended that you give it a thorough clean at least once a year.

If you do happen to use the cooker the more than twice a week (which we all should be), I recommend you clean it thoroughly two or three times a year. Most importantly be sure to clean it well before you store it for winter.

Find specific information on cleaning different types of smokers and grills below.

What You'll Need To Clean Your BBQ, Grill or Smoker

  • Plastic tarp to protect your lawn or concrete
  • Heavy-duty rubber gloves
  • Large plastic tub
  • A good cleaner/degreaser. Special cleaners may be required for smokers constructed of stainless steel
  • High-pressure washer
  • Scrubbing sponges and scouring clothes
  • Plastic putty knife or a paint scraper
  • Grill brush

Charlies Hot Tip:

Always check the manual for instructions. You will always be able to find it online on the producer's website for download

Cleaning Your Electric Smoker

Cleaning an electric smoker is not complicated or hard work you just need to be consistent. This consistency will be the most critical element for your maintenance.

You will find that on electric smokers, most of the grease dribbles down the grates.

This surplus of grease and oil dripping over the grades and the interior often hardens and gets hard to clean. So, if you skip cleaning it after every use, it will become a danger to the heating unit within the smoker.

Ensure you clean your electric smoker after every use. Thats how you’ll prevent the grease from piling upon the grades and the interior.

The best way is to clean a greasy grate is to put it into your kitchen oven, your kitchen oven can reach over 900 degrees Fahrenheit, therefore it will be able to melt the grease and the deposits from the grate.

You need to check if your ventilation systems are working correctly or not. Ensuring you have a clean ventilation system is vital. It can prevent possible issues like clogging and more. Furthermore, always clean the ashes and remains after smoking the meat, as they tend to absorb and collect water thus risking the internal integrity of your electric smoker.

Clean your thermostats and other hardware with detergent and water. It’s also vital to clean the external area as well. Ensure you don’t wash the electronic hardware with water, use only dry cloth. Much sure you always pull the plug out of the socket when you’re finished with the cooking.

Make sure you also pay attention to the seasoning of your electric smoker. Most of the manufacturers will come with an instruction manual with the unit, and you can
find the manufacturer’s guide there. If you don’t have a manual, all you need to do it just apply oil to the insides of your electric smoker. It doesn’t matter which oil you apply, but it suggests that you get some nice-smelling oil because it as it may affect your meat.

After spreading on the oil on the insides of your electric smoker, you should switch on the heating unit. You should heat it to 250 degrees Fahrenheit and diffuse the oil around the surface. You will find that the oil will act as a barrier to water, air and can prevent oxygen getting in contact with the metal which prevents rusting.

You find that some newer smokers don’t need seasoning. If you own one of these just starts by heating it to around 250 degrees Fahrenheit then build a layer of smoke to act as a substitute for seasoning.

Cleaning Your Pellet Grill or Smoker

The number one foe of pellet smokers and grills is water.

Make sure you don’t use a pressure washer or hose. Nearly all pellet burners are controlled digitally which means they have a fan, motorised auger, a firepot and digital controller inside of them.

Water can seep inside the electronic system and destroy it. Water in the motor can lead to it short-circuiting or rusting. Pellets are also made of sawdust and will turn into a sloppy mess if they get wet, leaving them useless.

A handheld vacuum is all you need to clean a pellet smoker or grill, this is because they burn so efficiently that they leave very little ash.

You will find a lot of built-up grease and carbon on the deflector plate, which sits beneath the grates. This can insulate the metal and will reduce the efficiently of output. The best way to clean it is by removing it and hitting it with a steamer or power washer.

Grab a long-handled wooden scrubber or stiff brush, clean out the grease trap, also give the inside of the chimney a good scrub. Grab a cloth and attach it your scrubber or brush and use it to thoroughly wipe the inside of the chimney. Make sure you give the interior a good scrape to get rid of any smoke or soot.

Grab yourself a wet/dry vacuum and clean the interior of the smoker, including the fire pot. Wipe the interior of the smoker with a damp cloth cleanser and carefully wipe the temperature probe. This is usually located on the left-hand side of the chamber.

Give the exterior a wipe with a fresh damp cloth. Clean any stainless steel parts with stainless steel polish.

Finish up by reassembling your smoker and covering the drip pan with fresh heavy-duty aluminium.

You can help maintain your pellet smoker by doing the following after each and every use;

  • Run the smoker run on high for 10 - 15 minutes, then give the grill grate a brush. Cool down and turn off the smoker as per the instructions.
  • With a damp cloth, ensure you clean any drips off the outside of the smoker.
  • Leave the grill completely clean and dry, then replace the foil on the drip pan, this will also help with flare-ups.
  • If you notice any rust or paint peeling you should sand and paint it immediately.

Cleaning Your Offset Smoker

Ensure you line the inner chamber with alfoil before cooking. This can help prevent a messy clean. You will see that grease can pool in an offset smoker smoke chamber very quickly.

First things first, cover your work area, put on rubber gloves and remove any used fuel from the cooking chamber.

Scrub the grates with a strong grill brush and place in the tub to soak. Next, you want to brush and scrape the heat diffuser plate if your smoker has one. Next, unscrew and the dome that is on the chimney an add to the bucket to soak.

Using a long-handled scrubbing brush give the interior of the chimney a good scrub.

Use your paint scraper or putty knife to scrape the interior of the firebox and cooking chamber. You will need to loosen any carbonized food or grease that has formed in the bottom and wipe it with some paper towels. Grab your long-handled scrubbing brush and clean the grease gutters. You will need to use your wet/dry vacuum to pick up all the debris and loose ash.

Take out your grease catcher and scrub the drippings and add to the soaking tub. Grab your high-pressure hose and spray the cooking chamber, firebox and outside surfaces. Any debris left with will need to be scrubbed with some degreaser.

Dry off the pellet smoker and open up the lids and vents to let it properly dry. If you notice any signs of rust, remove it with steel wool or sandpaper and cover with high-temperature paint.

Give the parts you soaked a good clean and allow to air dry.

Reassemble the smoker and oil it inside and out with vegetable oil.

​​​​Cleaning Your Charcoal Smoker

The first thing you want to do when cleaning your charcoal smoker is checking the coal grate.

You may find that it has corroded or warp shape. This grate is under some intense heat, if you find it has warped don’t attempt to straighten it, it will most likely crack. If it is not preventing airflow you will be able to keep using it.

You will be able to pick a replacement easily. Make sure you check other moving parts like chimneys and vents.

Then its time for the fun part. Cleaning out the all the ash. You might find that ash can hold a lot of moisture and the chemicals in this attack the steel. The best way to remove ash is by grabbing a gallon or half gallon milk carton and cut it into a shovel. This will be a good scoop for removing ashes. Always ensure the ashes are cold when removing them and should always be put into a metal container.

Once all of the ash has been removed, scrub and clean any leftover debris or residue with a soap or cleanser and steel wool.

It is possible to clean your cooking grates before you grill. Prior to cooking preheat and open all the vents in the smoker, leave the smoker to sit at a high temperature for 10 - 15 minutes.

Grab yourself a stainless steel bristle brush to remove any excess debris left on the grates. This is an important step as any leftover residue on the grates may cause food to stick.

Scrub then wipe down the exterior your charcoal grill when it is cool to the touch. This will eliminate any excess debris and will help bring back your smoker to original spotless state.

Finally, empty the ash catcher.

Cleaning Your Gas Grill

Before cleaning your gas grill ensure the gas supply is disconnected and the valve is closed before your maintenance.

Make sure you keep in mind that gas cylinders work differently from the normal left loosely and rightly tightly rules. When you want to tighten your gas lines turn them to the left.

When you want to clean with water either remove or cover electrical parts like igniters. You can use plastic or tape. You will find that some new grills will have infrared burners that are glass or ceramic make sure you read the instructions as these parts need to be handled carefully.

Make sure you clean the part where the exhaust escapes. This is where the draft that pulls oxygen into the combustion system comes from. Ensuring this is clean will allow for an optimum flame.

Dissembling Your Grill

When cleaning the bottom part of the gas grill take out the heat diffusers and any other parts that will easy detach so you are able to clean between and below the burners with a knife.

If the burners are easy to detach you should take them off and check the gas jets and tubes to ensure they are no blockages. If they are any cracks, replace or mend them. Another good way to check is to push water though them. When you have done this also check the gas/air mix. You will find that gas grills are tuned for the proper mix only at the factory and will sometimes need an adjustment. See the step below to do this.

The Interior of the Cooking Chamber

The best way to clean the interior of a grill or smokers cooking chamber, is to grab a putty knife, rubber gloves, wire brush, scrubbing brush, sponges, hose, bucket, dish soap, cleaner fluid and steel wool. Make sure you put down a drop sheet or do it near a drain.

Be careful of any internal thermometers when your hosing down the cooker. You don’t want to get water into the dial areas.

Cleaning the Grill Pan

You will find that all manufacturers have varying strategies for cleaning grease and drip pans. Make sure you check your grease pan or collector everytime you cook. It can be a fire hazard if your pan overflows or light. If you have a grease chute on your smoker or grill ensure that it is also cleaned.

Checking The Gas/Air Mix

Step 1: Loosen the screw on the venturis.

Step 2: Rotate the venturis and until you see that the flame is blue and has a very small orange tip.

Step 3: Once you have checked and cleaned everything, grab a paper clip and poke them into the gas jet holes. To ensure that they are not blocked.

Charlies Hot Tip:

Do this at night, so you can see the colour of the flame best.

Cleaning The Rust on a Grill 

If you have neglected your BBQ for a long time, you will more than likely need to know how to clean a rusty grill. Your method will depend on what material your grill is made of.

Below are numerous approaches to cleaning rust from grill grates. You may want to use the mildest method first, and work your way through the list until you have managed to remove the rust.

Vinegar and Salt
Salt and vinegar are not only a tasty combo but can also help remove rust. Mix one cup salt to two cups vinegar, place your grates into a large garbage bag and tip the mixture into the bag. Tie it up and lay the bag flat, let it soak overnight. The following day wipe the rust off with a cloth.

Vegetable Oil
The grates require seasoning like a skillet. The more you cook the less meat will stick due to the fat in the meat oiling the grate. The fat can also help prevent rust from starting. After every use of your grill coat it in vegetable oil.

Baking Soda
Using a soft brush, brush your grill as often as possible. Sprinkle with baking soda, turn on your grill and watch as the rust begins to bubble, turn off your grill and let it cool. After it has cooled brush the racks with a soft brush.

Rust Remover Chemical
You can buy plenty of rust removing chemicals at the supermarket. These will work well but do have toxic chemicals that you might not want around your food. Make sure you purchase a rust cleaner specifically made for cleaning rusty grill grates.

Wire Brush Method
One of the quickest ways of removing rust on your grill grates is by using a wire brush. Take the grate off your BBQ and put it on a flat surface. Brush the grate with a very stiff wire brush. Make sure you flip it over and brush both sides. Ensure you wipe the residue with a cloth.

Sandpaper
You can also use sandpaper, however, be careful as it can scratch the surface if you grate.

Prevention
One of the best methods is prevention. You can ensure you don’t get rust on your BBQ by covering your BBQ with a cover that fits, this will help keep out the moisture out of your grill.

Any food left on the BBQ will also create rust. Ensure you always coat with vegetable oil as this repels the water.

Remove any small amounts of rust as this can prevent any more from forming.

Maintaining Your Smoker

Remember, it is all well and good to give your smoker or grill a thorough clean. It is advised that you do a few quick steps after each grill or smoke to ensure your units longevity.

Perform the Following After Each Cook

  • Immediately after use, brush the rack with a grill brush.
  • When the smoker is barely warm to the touch, scrape out any grease that’s accumulated in the bottom of the smoke chamber. Empty the drip pan or grease bucket. Wipe off the gasket that surrounds the lid with a damp rag.
  • When the grill is completely cold, clean out the spent ash, preferably into a metal ash can.
  • Periodically scrape off any scale that’s developed on the inside of the lid so it doesn’t end up on your food.
  • To prevent rust, occasionally re-oil the smoker.

Charlies Hot Tips:

When cleaning the exterior of your grill or smoker never use metal brushes or steel wool, use warm water, dish soap and a soft scrubbing sponge. If you have more persistence stains try using ammonia or vinegar. If you want to remove any water spots use soda water.


When cleaning a stainless grill ensure that it is cool and always follow the grain. If you find that the stainless steel is lacking lustre grab some stainless steel cleaner from a hardware store.

Final Thoughts 

When you spend a considerable amount on a smoker or grill you want to ensure it lasts.

Keeping on top of your this maintenance is key. Having carbonised food and debris falling into your next batch is delicious meat is no go. Ensure you friends and families health by keeping yours maintained and clean.

How often do you clean your smoker or grill?

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How To Clean and Maintain Your BBQ
How To Clean and Maintain Your BBQ

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