Charcoal Grill Maintenance Tips

How to Keep Your Charcoal Grill in Tip-Top Shape All Year Long

Maintain your charcoal grill
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The best way to keep your charcoal grill in tip-top shape throughout the grilling season is with regular maintenance. Here's a breakdown of basic charcoal grill maintenance tasks, and when to do each one.

At the Start of Grilling Season

If you put the grill away dirty at the end of the previous grilling season, don't feel bad. You might've thought you'd be grilling again that year, then the weather took a turn, one thing led to another, and now it's next year.

Don't worry! If this happens, the best way to start the grilling season is to build a fire in your grill to bake off any gunk. This is also a good way to deal with any spiders or insects that may have taken up residence in there.

  • After about half an hour of cleansing fire, use the scraper side of your grill brush to remove heavy debris, then use the brush side to thoroughly clean the surface and between the grates of the grill.
  • Don't have a grill brush? Get one! They're a must for keeping your grill clean. In a pinch you can use a ball of foil held with a pair of long grill tongs. 
  • Don't have grill tongs? Get some! And make sure they're long. Ordinary kitchen tongs are too short and can cause you to burn yourself reaching across a hot grill.
  • By the way, replace your grill brush every season and inspect it regularly for loose wire bristles so they don't end up in your food.

When the Grill Is Cool

If your grill wasn't in horrible shape when you took the cover off this season, you could skip the previous steps and start here.

  • Remove the cooking grate. If your grill has a charcoal grate in addition to a cooking grate, remove it as well. Brush any big chunks of charcoal, ash, or other debris from the grates. If necessary, soak the grates in soapy water for a couple of hours. 
  • Wash the inside of the lid and bowl (or firebox, depending on your type of grill) with soapy water and a scrubber brush or steel wool soap pad. Rinse thoroughly.
  • Clean the cooking grate with a scraper, and then a grill brush (or crumpled up foil). Apply vegetable or olive oil to the cooking grate with a rag or folded-up paper towel. You can also use beef or bacon fat. Oiling the grate helps keep food from sticking and it also prevents rust.
  • Cooking spray will also work. Note: Never spray cooking spray on the grate while the fire or coals are burning.

Every Couple of Weeks During the Season

  • Empty the bowl, cook box, or ash receptacle regularly. Excessive ash accumulation can block the air vents, making it harder to control the temperature of your grill.
  • Don't forget to clean the inside of the lid. It gets smoky in there, and then smoke, grease, and other debris can build up on the lid of the grill. If it gets especially heavy, it can flake off onto your food. To prevent this, wipe down the inside of the lid with a paper towel after you use the grill. But make sure it's not still hot.
  • Remove the charcoal grate and scrape the inside and bottom of the bowl.
  • You can clean the inside of the cooking cavity using a brush and regular soapy water using ordinary dish soap.

After Each Time You Grill

  • Clean the cooking grate after each use. Cleaning it while it's still warm is easier because food and grease don't have a chance to harden and stick. And after all, when else are you going to do it? You could clean it before grilling, but that's when you should be focused on prepping ingredients, not mucking about with burnt grease and spiderwebs.
  • After you've cleaned the grate, apply oil using a rag or paper towel. You might need to reoil before you use it next, but oiling it afterward helps prevent rust.
  • Remember to check your supply of charcoal so that you have enough for next time.

At the End of the Grilling Season

To make things easy on yourself for next year, do all of this stuff at the end of the grilling season:

  • Remove the ashes
  • Wash out the bowl and lid
  • Clean the cooking grate and the charcoal grate
  • Oil the cooking grate
  • And then cover the grill with a weatherproof cover.

When you pull the cover off next spring, you'll definitely be glad you did.