The Absolute Easiest Trick to Cleaning Your Grill

With supplies you already have on hand, too.

July 15, 2021
Photo by Julia Gartland

Why is it important to clean a grill? And how come leaving charred bits and leftover cooking oil doesn’t season the grates similar to a cast iron skillet? Well, first and foremost, it’s better for your health. Grilling meats at high temperatures can actually produce carcinogens, then left behind on the grill, so it’s important to keep the grates maintained. Beyond the health factor, regularly cleaning your grill will lengthen its life, prevent dangerous flare-ups, and simply make your food taste better.

We know that summer is officially in full swing, but here's a tip that will carry you well beyond the Fourth of July: how to clean your grill, using things you already have lying around. All you'll need for this quick hack is a piece of aluminum foil and a pair of tongs. Oh, plus your dirty grill grate and a little bit of elbow grease. 

1. First, cut a length of aluminum foil about the size pictured here -- or, the width of your grill is a good rule of thumb.

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2. Once you have your aluminum foil, crumple it into a ball. This will be your main tool, and the bearer of all grill-cleaning magic.

3. Position your magical aluminum foil ball snugly in your tongs, and then, with determination and your Olympic strength, use it to scrub the surface of the grill rack. (Hint: this method works even better when the grill is still warm.) The foil will remove all of your stickiest grilling bits in a matter of seconds.

And there you have it! Now your grill is good as new, with enough time leftover for kicking back at your barbeque.

Other Hacks We’ve Seen (But Can’t Confirm) 

• First, brush the grill gates with a neutral oil, like canola. Sprinkle kosher salt all across the grates. Then, scrub them down with a halved potato. 

* Get the grill piping hot, then scrub it down with half an onion. While this sounds like a lovely method for cleaning the grill pre-steaks, this will likely impart flavor, so best not to do this before grilling peaches. 


A Deeper Clean: 

If you’re looking to give your grill some TLC beyond just the grates, here’s how you can give it a full, knock down, drag out scrubbing. 

1. Start by turning the grill onto the highest heat, close the lid, and wait at least 30 minutes. This will operate like a self-cleaning oven, singing everything that exists in there and readying itself to be scraped down.

2. Let the grill fully cool down, then scrub the grates with a brush (avoid metal brushes that can shed dangerous splinters into your food) or sponge, dish soap, and hot water.

3. For some extra cleaning power—and if you have the space to do it—soak all the grates in a soap and hot water solution for 30 minutes. Once they’ve soaked, you can scrub them again—using a baking soda and vinegar paste on most stubborn parts

4. Use a putty knife or any kind of flat scraper to remove bits from the fire box 

5. Finally, clean the exterior of the grill with white vinegar and a cloth or a specialized stainless steel cleaner. 


This post was updated in July 2021 to provide even more grill cleaning tips. 


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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Negative Nellie
    Negative Nellie
  • Smaug
  • Kathleen
  • lifeandlarder
  • AntoniaJames
Kenzi Wilbur

Written by: Kenzi Wilbur

I have a thing for most foods topped with a fried egg, a strange disdain for overly soupy tomato sauce, and I can never make it home without ripping off the end of a newly-bought baguette. I like spoons very much.


Negative N. July 15, 2021
How are there comments dating back to 2012 on an article dated 2021?
Caroline M. July 15, 2021
Nice username! We regularly update older articles with fresh information to provide the best content to our community, and it says so at the bottom of each updated article.
Smaug July 23, 2015
OK, so I tried it- not totally useless, but if you can possibly save up the $5, a grill brush works a lot better. Or $50, if you must have the walnut handle.
Kathleen September 8, 2014
The technique you recommend is time consuming. All you need to do is place a sheet of aluminum foil over a hot grill. Because of the heat, the foil wants to blow away but as soon as you put the lid down, I promise you it is in place. Then time it for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and your grill is spotless without using any elbow grease at all! And if you like, fold up the foil neatly & it can be used several times for this easy, no fuss technique.
Janet June 30, 2017
Thank you! I had a heavily gunked grill, unused for three years. Preheated grill 10 minutes, turned off, topped with sheet of heavy foil and closed the lid . Worked like magic! Even helped the heat spreader parts underneath.
lifeandlarder January 4, 2014
I learnt this trick from someone years ago, but my partner always thinks I am crazy and spends $$$ on lots of silly BBQ cleaning brushes all the time. Now in print, it's a legit method. And good point about the used foil. I like the onion idea too. My father always used to cook tomatoes last in the fry pan when he made breakfast, or we were camping. The tomato did the same thing and cleaned the pan, making washing up easy. Al the old school methods that were discounted 30 years ago (by the chemical loving generations), are back in. It's great for our wallet, healthier for us, and much better for the environment.
AntoniaJames June 19, 2013
I see that photo of the ball of (apparently clean) aluminum foil and it makes me wish that the instructions did not start by cutting a clean piece of foil. Instead, it really should recommend using the outside of the foil you used to tent your grilled meat, or that you've saved from some other use. I ran the numbers on the environmental impact here. Assuming a ball with the equivalent volume of a 2" cube (an underestimate, I'm sure), and assuming that every member of FOOD52 registered as of June 14 (approximately 137,300) used a new foil ball four times during the summer, the (unnecessary) non-biodegradable solid waste going to landfills = 2,500 cubic feet. At least until recycling services accept used, dirty foil, which most don't . . . . ;o)
AntoniaJames July 10, 2012
I used this method over the weekend, but crumpled up a piece of foil that had been used to tent a steak, so the foil I used was considerably smaller than the piece shown in the photo above. It works really well.Also, I see no reason not to re-use that ball of foil next time. (Everything that had adhered to the grill was burned beyond recognition.) ;o)
J D. July 10, 2012
This sounds great! I am no longer a fan of the wire grill brush, as I had a friend manage to get one of the wires in a burger, ate it and it poked a hole in his intestine. I have been afraid to use one ever since!
ChrisVeros July 7, 2012
I'm noticing lately that a lot of people try to clean their grill when it's cold or when the residue is still gooey and fresh. It's so much easier to preheat the grill for 15 minutes and let it all turn to dust. Then a quick scrub with the wire brush gets it back to spotless. Cleaning the grill when it's cold is a fool's errand.
Negative N. July 15, 2021
Ouch! That sounds awful. I've heard these stories before, but I still use a wire brush, telling myself that it only happens with "cheap" wire brushes. I hope I'm right.
sexyLAMBCHOPx July 6, 2012
Great idea, hcomb. FWIW - Sandra Lee on FN demoed this method of cleaning the grill. Only difference was, I believe the sheet of foil was heated and then crumpled to clean.
AntoniaJames July 6, 2012
Can you re-use the ball of foil? Or perhaps can you use whatever foil you used for tenting your steak? I cringe when I think of the widespread one-time use of non-renewable, non-recyclable resources such as aluminum foil (and am still searching for a good tenting material that's sustainable . . . . and I generally don't use zipper lock plastic bags either, even for the freezer, unless it's absolutely unavoidable.) ;o)
hbomb July 4, 2012
Or you can do what Chileans and Argentians do (where grilling is a way of life) - cut an an onion in half and rub on the grill till it dissapears. Usually a half to a whole onion will do. Better to use this method right before you start grilling instead right after. Its not a big deal of onion parts fall on your charcoal or wood.
Smaug July 24, 2015
Does the onion or the grill disappear?
Gillian July 28, 2015