How to clean a BBQ: tips and tricks recommended by grill and cleaning experts

Discover how to clean a BBQ grill using an onion, vinegar, and more, as tested and recommended by grill and cleaning experts

How to clean a BBQ grill with an onion and t-brush
(Image credit: Getty Images | Future)

Knowing how to clean a BBQ is essential for good food hygiene and to prolong the life of your backyard grill. The better the condition you keep it in, the longer it will last to provide you with many home-cooked grilled feasts for years to come.

Cleaning the barbecue after winter, along with cleaning patio slabs and cutting the grass for the first time, is an essential spring maintenance chore to get the garden summer ready to bbq like a professional

The object of cleaning a BBQ Grill is to remove the burnt-on grease, grime, food deposits, and carbon so some elbow grease will be required, and also to remove any bacteria to prevent cross-contamination with food.

In our guide to the best ways to clean a barbecue, we've included expert-recommended solutions and tried and tested natural options. We asked industry and cleaning experts to share their top tips and to bust the BBQ cleaning myths, to reveal how to clean stainless steel grills as effectively as possible.

How to clean a BBQ grill in 4 easy steps

"Charcoal, pellet, electric and gas barbecues all require slightly different methods of cleaning depending on the individual components, so it’s always best to check the manufacturers recommendations before you start" advises Dan Cooper, Head Grill Master at Weber. But his general rules for cleaning a BBQ are as follows.

"First off, you need the right tools" he says. "My personal cleaning arsenal always includes a T-brush, barbecue cook box scraper, microfibre cloth, rubber or latex gloves, enamel, and stainless-steel cleaner sprays, and, onion". (We'll come to the onion in a bit).

Here is Dan's complete 4-step plan for how to clean a BBQ like a pro: 

Step 1: Burn off residue

Start the process by burning off leftover food scraps and grease. ''The burn-off. This first step is key," Dan says purposely. "Heat your barbecue up to the max for about 30 minutes – be wary that the dirtier the cooking grates are, the more it will smoke. Once the grill stops smoking it will generally have burned off most old residual grease and fat."

It’s much easier to scrub off any residual grease or food from the grill surface while it’s still hot. Be sure to wear protective clothing for the 'burn off', or at least old clothes, because it is likely that anything you are wearing will smell of smoke and have traces of old BBQ food remnants by the end of this step. 

Step 2: Scrap the grate

how to clean a bbq with a t-brush to scrape the grill

(Image credit: Getty Images | Wakila)

"While your barbecue is still hot, brush the cooking grates with a T-brush as this will remove any leftover residue or detritus left behind from the burn off," explains Dan. 

Just like when you clean the oven, always ensure that the grill is no more than moderately hot. Never clean the grill while it is scorching hot and always allow it to cool to a safe temperature first. 

Step 3: Disassemble

"Once your barbecue has cooled down, remove all the grates and internal components, and use a T-brush and scraper to clean everything," advises Dan. "The initial burn-off should have loosened hard to remove carbon deposits from the cook box, and this will make sure all grease channels are clear."

He adds at this point: "We would definitely recommend using rubber gloves for this part! Once complete, place all clean parts back into the barbecue. Make sure you don’t jet wash or put components in the dishwasher (a big dishwasher mistake) as this can cause some parts to rust." 

Step 4: Clean the outside

Clean the outside of the BBQ with a cloth and specialist enamel and stainless steel cleaners that will leave your barbecue gleaming, because you want the outside to reflect how clean the inside now is – like when you take pride in cleaning your windows

Dan adds: "For the best shine I use a clean microfiber cloth for buffing. Once all this is done, you are ready and raring to go for your next garden party!"

How to clean a BBQ using natural ingredients

How to clean a bbq with an onion

After scrapping the grill with a brush (step 2), Weber's grill expert Dan recommends grabbing an onion: "Using half a raw onion on the end of a BBQ fork, scrub the grates back and forth" he says.

And before you think he's an onion short of a BBQ burger stack, fear not. He has good reason behind his suggestion: "Onions are acidic and will pick up the grease that’s left behind, as well as any small specks of dirt and carbon. I use this method regularly and it really helps keep my cooking grates in good shape." 

Lynsey Crombie, TV’s Queen of Clean, is also a fan of the onion method, saying: "If you have any onion left over, rub it over the racks whilst it’s still warm. Onions have antiseptic properties so they make good cleaners and will cut through dirt and grease." 

how to clean a BBQ grill with an onion on the end of a BBQ fork

Onions can both be cooked on the BBQ and used to help clean the grill naturally. 

(Image credit: Getty Images/ eldadcarin)

How to clean a BBQ with a lemon before cooking

Lemons aren't just for serving in refreshments, they are an ideal natural solution for cleaning bbq grills, to avoid using chemical oven cleaning products. "I always have leftover lemons lying around, especially if I’ve had a big BBQ," says Laura Hartnett, founder of Seep natural cleaning products . "Instead of letting them rot in my fruit bowl I repurpose them for cleaning stuck grease and grime on the grill. The citric acid in lemons is perfect for cutting through residual fat from meat on a BBQ."

"Push some coarse rock salt onto your lemon to tackle any extra tough spots. Lemon juice also has antibacterial properties so perfect for stopping any nasties growing on your grill."

"Lemons are also ideal for giving your BBQ a quick clean before you start cooking – slice in half and rub over the grill just before you want to begin using it." Because lemons are natural this is the safest way to clean your grill before cooking, because you can be sure there is no chemical residue left that could transfer onto food.

How to clean a bbq with vinegar

White vinegar is a classic cupboard staple that can be used for a multitude of household cleaning chores, including as a natural solution for how to clean hardwood floors. Cleaning with vinegar is one of the best methods for cleaning stainless steel grills. Due to its acidic nature, it will dissolve grease, carbon, dirt, and mineral deposits. Your grill will be looking good as new in no time! Many cleaning experts agree, saying it's ideal to mix up a homemade BBQ cleaning remedy. 

"White vinegar and bicarbonate of soda are staples in your sustainable cleaning cupboard – both are hugely versatile whether you’re cleaning inside or out," explains Laura Hartnett, of Seep natural cleaning products. "Mix them together to form a thick paste and leave on tough carbon grit on your BBQ for at least ten minutes, ideally longer, and then simply wipe away with a damp, plastic-free cloth or sponge. If any spots are still stuck on you can use our copper scourer."

Making sure you use a good cleaning spray is essential when cleaning the BBQ properly. If you are struggling to find a brand you like or don't want to spend too much money, a 50/50 water and white vinegar mix will do the trick, leave it on for 10 minutes and it will have your grill gleaming. 

how to clean a BBQ with a specialist grill sponge and soapy water

(Image credit: Lakeland)

How to clean a BBQ with baking soda

For those stuck-on grease and stubborn grime stains that you just can't seem to shift with your normal BBQ cleaning routine, try a handy naturally derived solution that is also used to clean burnt pans. Simply mix baking soda with a little water and put it on stubborn marks. The acid-based reaction causes the solution to bubble up and break down even tough grease or carbon. Then get scrubbing with a good cleaning brush.

This a cost-effective, chemical free cleaning solution is championed by the experts: "The easiest hack to clean your BBQ is to spray the surface with warm water and then sprinkle baking soda all over the grill and base," says Susan Fermor of Dr Beckmann

"Leave this to soak in for around 10 to 15 minutes and then use a scourer or scrubbing brush to work away the grime. Use hot water to rinse any excess debris and leave to dry. If any grease is remaining on the grill, then soak in hot water with washing up liquid, which will help remove any additional residue."

How to clean rust off a BBQ grill

A common problem all too many of us have after opening up the BBQ after the winter is the discovery of rust on the grill. But all is not lost, it's easy enough to clean off and get the grill looking as good as new.

"I recommend ketchup and beer for getting off rust, just pour some onto the grill and scrub with your scourer," says Lynsey Crombie, Queen of Clean. But she is keen to point out: 'It is only good for removing rust, it won’t actually clean and disinfect," she explains.

Another effective way to remove rust from a grill is by using aluminum foil. Simply scrunch up a small ball of foil and rub the rust directly to remove the rust patch from the grill. While this method is highly effective we must warn you to beware that to some the sound is unforgivable, the equivalent of nails being dragged across a blackboard.

How to clean a charcoal BBQ

Contrary to cleaning the rest of the grill you should wait until the charcoal is completely cool before trying to throw it away - but you should still move quickly emptying the ash as soon as it is chilled. 

"Remember to give your BBQ a quick clean after each use,’ says Sarah Dempsey, cleaning expert at MyJobQuote. "Wait for it to cool and wipe it over to prevent heavy build-ups of grease and food."

"Always use the right tools for the job. Metal brushes are best for tackling tough grime on grill plates and racks, while a plastic scraper and sponge is better for cleaning enamelled or painted surfaces without scratching them."

"If you don’t have a removable ash pan or outlet, place foil on the bottom of the firebox to make it easy to empty after use. Simply wait for it to cool and lift out. Use your vacuum cleaner to remove the remaining debris."

Do you have to clean your BBQ after every use?

Cleaning your BBQ (even just quickly) after every use is recommended for food hygiene reasons and to prolong the life of your BBQ grill. "I'd recommend cleaning the cooking grates after every use so that no leftover food bits are transferred to the next thing you cook," advises Wes Wright, the founder of outdoor cooking news site CookOutNews

"I find it to be more convenient to clean the grates before I cook than after. After the grill is done warming up, I use a non-metal grill brush to scrub the grates. Avoid metal grill brushes because there have been instances of the bristles falling off, ending up in food."

"Getting into the habit of cleaning your barbecue after every use will prevent bacteria, cross-contamination, and also rust building up," says Heather Nixon, Sustainability Manager at cleaning brand Bio D

"Start by spraying the sides with a sanitizer to gather all the dirt. Next, scrape any remaining residue or food off the grills. Once the residue has been removed, soak the grills in hot water with washing-up liquid, or washing powder also works. Allow to soak for 20-30 mins then give it a scrub, then leave to dry. (Once dry) Place the racks back and you are ready to go."

However, you should also add a big BBQ deep clean to your spring cleaning checklist at least once a year according to the experts: "Whatever type of barbecue you have I would always recommend a deep clean at least once a year," is the advice of Weber's Dan Cooper.

The professional advice is similar to that on how often you should clean your oven – lightly after every use, more thoroughly at least once a year.

Do you clean BBQ hot or cold?

You can clean a BBQ hot and cold, it all depends on what area you are cleaning. "One of the easiest ways to clean your BBQ after cooking is to close the lid and let most of the food particles and grease that is stuck on the grates burn away," explains Joonas Jokiniemi, a barbecue expert with experience working as a chef on food stalls and in pop-up restaurants and the founder of Grill Smoke Love

"Then you can brush the grates clean while the grill is still hot if you are using a brush that is entirely made of metal. Never use a brush with plastic parts on a hot BBQ as it might melt."

"When performing a deep cleaning, you should always let the BBQ cool down first because you don't want to risk touching any hot parts of the grill and burning your skin," warns Joonas. 

How do you deep clean the inside of a BBQ?

"To deep clean the inside of a BBQ you should first remove the grill grates and brush them clean from both sides," advises Joonas. "If you have a gas grill, you can also brush the burner tubes clean."

"Then you should clean the cook box first with a scraper and then with a brush. This is very important because if the burnt food particles and grease inside the cook box pile up, the whole grill might catch fire in the middle of cooking. This will not only ruin your food but it will also cause a fire hazard."

"Finally, you should empty the grease tray under the cook box," advises Joonas. "When cleaning the grill grates and interior you can utilize a product such as Weber Grate Grill Cleaner that is excellent for removing grease and burnt food more efficiently."

"It's going to be different dependent on the type of grill," adds Wes. "For a pellet grill, you'll need a shop vac to remove the ash, then a plastic scraper, grill brush, and some grill cleaner to clean any grease on the inside of the grill."

"For a gas grill, use a brush on the burners, a scraper and brush on the heat deflectors and lid, and a scraper on the cook box. Finish it off with some grill cleaner for a complete clean. It's the same general idea on a charcoal grill. Empty the ash out, then clean the inside with a brush and some cleaner."

Remember to check any manufacturer recommendations, as all BBQs are different.

Alison Davidson
Interiors and lifestyle journalist

Alison Davidson has been working as an interiors and lifestyle journalist for over 30 years. She has been Homes and Gardens Editor of Woman & Home magazine and Interiors Editor of House Beautiful magazine, she has also freelanced and worked for most of the interiors magazines at one time or another. She is currently embracing the move to digital using the same knowledge and expertise to produce high quality features for an online audience.

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