Cleaning a BBQ
I love BBQs; the tastes, the smells, the anticipation of a perfectly grilled steak (my steak style is called ‘Chicago’; rare on the inside and charred on the outside). But BBQ fans be forewarned; you can be the best chef with the best ingredients and recipes, but if your grill is dirty, you food will taste awful. Case in point, I was recently at one of my favourite restaurants and had a steak. I’ve eaten at the restaurant many times and have never had an issue with the food. However, the grill hadn’t been cleaned in a long time. I didn’t see the grill, but the food had a bitter, sour taste to it and I knew it couldn’t be anything other than the grill. A dirty grill literally ruins a meal.
As with anything, the better you care for it the longer it will last you, and in this case, the better your food will taste. So, if you want your gorgeous cuts of meat to taste delicious instead or treacherous, listen up.
Non-scratch scour pad (this is very important). You don’t want to scratch your plastic or stainless steel parts, despite how tempting it may be to scrub off that soot.
BBQ brush – wire brush (gold) for cast iron and stainless steel (silver) brush for stainless steel for ceramic coated or enameled. Using the wrong type of brush can scratch your grill and that will cause rusting and leeching.
Canola oil and paper towel – use this to prep the grill before cooking, it prevents sticking.
Rubber gloves just in case you want to protect your hands from the grease, grime and dirt you are about to encounter. It’s a good idea.
Dish liquid is best to be used any time a cleaning recipe calls for ‘soapy water’, it’s a pH neutral cleaner that cuts grease like a dream.
GrILLr is an awesome BBQ cleaning tool, it’s safe for grills (including porcelain) meaning it won’t scratch them yet it effectively removes carbonized grease and old food bits.
Baking Soda is perfect to use for soaking greasy BBQ accessories post-cookout in the kitchen sink
Bucket is nice to have for a more thorough cleaning job
Non-toxic degreaser for the grill and interior is a good choice to remvoe stubborn, greasy build-up and of course is safe to use on the grill (read: close to your food) and outdoors
Stainless steel cleaner that is fine to use on the exterior, I prefer non-aerosol cans.
Rags as opposed to good cloths to handle the dirty stuff, but good cloths are fine to handle for polishing up
Remember, unless otherwise stated, always clean your BBQ when it is cool! Start with the exterior and then move to the interior. Work in a top-to-bottom pattern so that all the soot falls to the bottom and so that you don’t have to re-clean an area!
Your BBQ is akin to any kitchen appliance, it’s made out of the same materials: plastics, metals and stainless steel. You would clean the BBQ using similar techniques and products. The exterior can be cleaned between uses as required with soapy water and a soft sponge. So, fill your bucket half way with warm water, don your rubber gloves and add a teaspoon of dish liquid to the bucket. Using the soft side of the sponge, apply the soapy water to the exterior. Rinse off and buff dry with a soft cloth. If you notice there is greasy build up on the exterior, choose a non-toxic degreaser and apply it to the dirty areas. Let it sit for 5 minutes and then sponge off with the soft side of your wet soft sponge. Rinse well and buff dry with a soft cloth. To clean the stainless steel, spray on a gentle stainless steel cleaner and wipe in the direction of the grain again, using a soft cloth (we’re avoiding scratches here).
Knobs and Handles
Also known as points of contact, think about how dirty these little things get. Raw meat and sauce central – our greasy meat hooks are all over these things and they need to be cleaned, well, to prevent greasy build up and potential cross-contamination. Use a degreaser to clean these, let it sit for 5-10 minutes and then wipe off; the degreaser will break down the bacteria-laden build up.
These tend to get greasy quickly. These don’t necessarily affect flavour as much as the don’t look great. Treat these areas with a degreaser spray and let it sit for a few moments to really break down dirt of grease. When done, dip a non-scratch sponge in water to clean it off and wipe dry with a non-scratching cloth.
Now that the exterior is looking top-notch, let’s get the inside looking great too!
Tanks and Hoses
The area where your propane tank is kept doesn’t need to be sparkling, but you can wipe it out every now and again, don’t focus too much on this area. However the hoses leading to the gas or propane line and burners do need to be checked. This is a general statement to cover off propane and gas BBQs, but you get the idea. Firstly for leaks and secondly for clogs. Both can lead to fires!
Refer to your specific make and model’s User Manuals. Here are some links for a few popular BBQ brands’ manual download page.
Inside the Cookbox
Inside the Lid
This is where all the angry, saucy grilling action happens! You’ve likely noticed that the inside of the lid receives a build up that looks like heavy grease or even black peeling paint. This is not dangerous, poisonous or anything indicating a malfunction of your BBQ. In fact, it’s simply carbonized grease that has built up from spatters, moisture and flare ups. While this is non-toxic, it is a good idea to remove the build-up regularly with a non-scratching brush (stainless steel), non-scratching scraper or non-scratching sponge. Once you’ve scraped everything off (and let it fall to the bottom of the cookbox), wash the interior lid with a soft sponge, warm soapy water, then rinse and buff dry with a soft cloth.
So this is the core of the BBQ, the place where the sizzle happens. If this is dirty, your food is garbage. Your guests may not say anything but you’ll be known in the neighbourhood for your dirty grills. And contrary to rap culture, dirty grills are not cool for BBQs. There are a few kinds of grill types: cast iron, stainless steel and porcelain enameled or coated grills (similar to your broiler pans on the oven). They all offer different things, from better heat conductivity to less sticky cooking. Whatever grill type you have, make sure your clean it properly.
If the grill is cast iron, you can use a wire BBQ brush (usually gold coloured bristles) and quickly clean the grates off using an up and down motion along the grill working your way from one side to the other. If it is stainless steel or porcelain enameled or coated, use a stainless steel wire brush instead (usually silver coloured bristles). This is akin to using fine steel wool, it is very gentle and won’t scratch the grill. Scratching that grill leads to corrosion and rust – not good. Let the old food bits drop down to the bottom of the cookbox. Some people also like cleaning the grill with an onion, when it’s hot, rub the grates down with an onion placed on a BBQ tool and that tends to get the food bits to fall off.
To get the grill really clean, remove it before heating and wipe with a non-scratch sponge in warm, soapy water.
To keep your BBQ grills in top notch shape, the best thing to do is to clean them before and after each use. Think about it, it’s like using a pot and not cleaning it afterward. Some people choose to do it only before cooking a meal which isn’t optimal. Reason being, you have better success at removing grease and burnt food when you clean it soon after cooking since the grill will be a little warm and the food comes off easier.
To prep it for use, brush the grill with the appropriate grill brush. Next, apply some canola oil onto a paper towel and rub it along the cool grates (regardless of the kind of grill you have). This preps the grill for easier cooking and clean up (it helps to prevent sticking). Then, heat the BBQ up and you’re ready to grill. Many people talk about spraying cooking spray onto the grills, however this corrode the grills because of its salt and other chemical contents, so unsalted vegetable oil is best.
One final grill note, if you have a cast iron grill, remember to season it and repeat this process every couple of months. Different manufacturers recommend different seasoning techniques, so be sure to find your user manual and learn the best way to season your grill.
Flavour Bars & Burners
These may not seem so exciting, but they serve a very key function and need to be treated accordingly. Start by carefully removing the grills, they can be set aside for later. You can then proceed to gently lift out these flavour bars. The flavour bars are essentially the same as lava rocks and are designed to protect any drippings from falling onto the burners thus causing flare ups and perhaps ruining the flavour of your food. The fat vaporizes and is said to add flavour. They are angled in such a way that they protect your burners, so they also need to be cleaned to be kept working in tip-top shape. These can be removed and cleaned with a degreaser and wiped with a soft sponge. They are stainless steel, so be careful and ensure you don’t scratch them which will lead to rusting.
Now that the flavour bars are cleaned up, time to tackle the burners. Your burners need to be cleaned for a similar reason to your hoses being cleaned. They are the direct line to your fuel and flame; if they are clogged it’s a bad story. Bugs, bees, spiders, caterpillars, you name it, they love nestling in the warmth of a BBQ. They find burners particularly safe and enjoy the smell. Their new home can be your living hell; if they clog your burner, you may expect a flash back fire (ouch). In fact, I spoke to the folks at Weber and they said this was the biggest complaint call they received; it is so important to clean your burners. Refer to your specific make and model’s manual to learn exactly how to clean and care for your burners. You’ll likely need a special burner brush which are readily available at big box and home supply stores.
The Bottom of the Cookbox
Think about it, every time you get out that grill brush, you’re brushing all food remnants right here into the base of the cookbox. When that rogue mushroom falls down, it falls right here, into the base of the cookbox. Anything and everything falls into this pit and it most definitely needs some TLC. To clean it out, remove as many components as you can, safely. Use a non-scratching scraper to remove any carbonized grease, build up or fallen food. Let it collect at the very bottom and then remove the debris (This will depend on your BBQ design, many have pull-out trays that can be easily emptied into a garbage). This can be wiped clean occasionally as well, following the same protocol as above; clean with warm soapy water and a non-scratch sponge to remove grease, and boot up to a degreaser if needed. Make sure to rinse it out very well and dry before using again. Replace all burners (if removed) flavour bars.
If your BBQ has one of these, it needs to be emptied every so often. Check it to ensure it is not filling up too high, and when it is be sure to dispose of it, give the tray pan a good wipe and then replace the pan with a fresh tray. Do not use tin foil, it can lead to a fire!
Tools & Accessories
To clean BBQ tools and Accessories, treat them the same way you would any other kitchen tools or accessories. I find it easy to place them in the dishwasher (if they are dishwasher safe, why not)! If that’s not a possibility, fill your sink with warm water. Add a teaspoon of dish soap and a half cup of baking soda. Soak the tools or accessories and then scrub clean with a non-scratching sponge. Rinse and lay flat to dry. This is safe and has enough abrasion and grease-fighting power to get the job done. Also, a BBQ cover is really important to protect the BBQ from the outdoor elements. Yes, they are a bit of an investment but crucial as far as I am concerned, especially if you have a costly Q. They are pretty inexpensive compared to the cost of a new BBQ.
You should be thoroughly cleaning your BBQ when you open and close your BBQ each year, and that’s beyond the scope of this blog post, however your user manual will outline the necessary steps to take in order to do so. You may find that parts need replacing as well and this is the time to do it. There are professional BBQ cleaning companies that will open your BBQ and prep it for the grilling season.
This post was designed to be fairly comprehensive, however I’ve left certain parts out of this article because they are very manufacturer specific and should be referred to in your user manual, for example cleaning the charcoal grill, removing and replenishing charcoal, cleaning out the base with charcoal, etc.
Remember, continual maintenance is key to good tasting food and a properly functioning BBQ.
Happy grilling, and if you happen to have a butter brushed t bone steak cooked ‘Chicago’ style, invite me over!