How Often Should You Clean Charcoal Grills?

Charcoal grills are one of the most well-loved kinds of barbecues, known for the smokier flavours they give food as well as how versatile they are. Unlike gas grills, a small charcoal grill can be used with different barbecuing techniques to make many uniquely delicious dishes for your entire family. 

However, with how often many families use charcoal grills, knowing how to clean it can be difficult. Over time, grease and food bits can cake up and interfere with how you can grill some dishes. This residue can ruin any grill marks you might be trying to achieve and – if left long enough – might even damage the grate. Leaving your grill unclean for too long can even lead to the bowl and lid of your barbecue rusting and breaking apart. 

To help you and other aspiring pitmasters know just when and how often you should clean your charcoal grill, we’ve put together this article as a guide. If you’re ready to try it out with a brand new grill or if you need a new one to replace an old one, you can browse a great selection of charcoal grills at

When to clean your grates?

When it comes to cleaning their charcoal grill grates, many people find themselves leaving the grates until the charred food bits cover the entire grate. While it’s fine to leave it uncleaned after you just finished barbecuing, never let the char and caked-on grease sit for that long. 

The recommended time you should clean off your charcoal grill grates is right after each cooking session, especially during the summer. This is mostly because most people don’t use their barbecues every day and the grease and food bits still on the grate can damage the metal. 

With the heat of the summer air, the grease can eat away at your grate’s protective layers and leave it open to rust. During the winter and the occasionally humid summer day, the grates are even more prone to rusting and damage since water is the only missing component to form rust. So, at the very least, give your grill’s grates a quick brush to get rid of all those bits of charcoal, grease and food before serving the food.

When should I clean the outside of my grill?

In a way similar to your grill’s grates, you should clean it as soon as it gets dirty. There isn’t a set time in which you have to clean it since the kind of grease it sees isn’t the same kind as your grate’s. Dust, sand and other allergens can build up on the lid’s surface but if you keep your grill in a spot where the wind blows through often, that debris can easily be cleaned off without you needing to do much. 

What you do need to keep an eye out for is how often it rains during the summer or how humid it is. If you use your charcoal grill more often during the summer months but there’s a lot of moisture in the air, all that dust and sand will form a layer. Much like the grate will wear down from all the food remains, the outside of your grill will wear down from the dust. Aim to clean off the grill’s lid maybe once every week or two weeks to ensure it stays intact and rust-free.

The best time to deep clean your grill

While cleaning the grate after each cooking session is effective, brushing off any grease and food bits still leaves behind a thin layer of residue. It won’t cause much damage in a shorter amount of time but if you leave that residue uncleaned for a long time, your grate can end up getting damaged in the same way as not cleaning it at all. 

Deep cleaning the charcoal grill’s grate is the best solution at this point. Though it may take more effort to do, the process can be easier if you have a large enough tub or sink to soak your grates in. Simply remove any food bits and fill the tub with hot soapy water. Completely submerge the grate in the water and let it sit for 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on how greasy it is. Then, take the grate out, give it a quick scrub with a soft soapy sponge and dry it off. 

To keep your grates lasting as long as possible, deep clean them at least once every two weeks for the entire summer barbecue season. if you use the grill far less frequently, you can increase the gap to once a month. Then, just before you put it away for the rest of the year, give the grate one last deep clean for extra protection!

What to do to prevent rusting

As with many metal surfaces, the best way to prevent it from rusting is to prevent moisture from getting to it. The simplest way to do just that is to cover it with a tarp or a specially-made grill cover whenever you aren’t using it. While the standard grill cover is a good idea, the best option to prevent rusting is to get one that can be tied off underneath. These grill covers not only prevent moisture and debris from getting into the grill but it can also prevent bugs or other critters from sneaking in

Additionally, make sure that the charcoal grill is thoroughly dried, whether you’ve just finished deep cleaning the entire grill or in day-to-day use. A tied-off grill cover will do most of the job for you but it’s still a good idea to check once a month.


Like many other appliances inside your home, your charcoal grill has a life expectancy. Though it often isn’t as complex as a gas grill, too much damage can lead to breaking down. Regular cleaning is the best way to prevent that from happening and make sure that your grill stays in tiptop, maximum efficiency for as long as possible. Clean the grate at least once after every other use if you’re too busy to do it after every cooking session and deep clean the grates once every other week. Also, keep an eye on the outside of the grill and clean off any lingering dust and sand to prevent damage there, too.