How to Clean a Smoker, Pellet Grill or Griddle: The Ultimate Guide
Your smoker is not unlike any other cooking appliance. It bears the brunt of a whole lot of messy stuff, from stubborn grease to saucy spills. And just like the stove and oven, your patio cookers need the occasional spruce-up and deep clean to keep them working at their best. In this guide, we’ll cover all the nitty-gritties of cleaning a smoker, pellet grill or gas grill. Get ready to spiff up those grates, griddles, drip pans and more so they’re quite literally clean enough to eat off.
Why Cleaning Your Grill Matters
We can’t underestimate the importance of keeping your smoker or grill clean. At its best, a gross grill can compromise flavor and ruin whatever’s on the menu. At its worst, it can put the operator at risk and shorten the life of the equipment. With regular use, your grill will accumulate residue in the form of ash, burnt food and old food particles, which can linger and wind up leaving your food with an unpleasant flavor. Plus, grease buildup and improper disposal can be dangerous and could even lead to grease fires.
How Often Do You Need to Clean Your Grill?
How often you clean your grill depends on how often you use it. Regular maintenance is key. After each use, always brush down grill grates with a high-quality grill brush while they’re still warm. Most users should aim to deep clean every four to five cooking sessions. If you’re working with a pellet grill, be sure to clean out the pellet hopper after burning through four or five bags of pellets.
It’s All About Minor Upkeep
One thing to know up-front is that deep-cleaning your grill is not usually necessary and soap and water are totally optional. In fact, all of our grills will perform perfectly well for years with a little bit of minor upkeep. Many grill owners cook delicious meals for years on a grill that has never seen soap or water. Most grills can be maintained with the occasional scraping and wipe-downs. In fact, grills that are spotless actually have to work a bit harder to maintain steady temperatures than ones with a light layer of soot covering the reflective stainless steel.
Rules to Follow When Cleaning Grills
While there are different considerations for cleaning different types of grills, there are some general rules to follow for cleaning all cooking equipment.
- Reference the grill’s user manual. Learning how to clean anything comes down to understanding the best solutions for the material at hand. Since different manufacturers use different materials, you should always reference the user manual for instructions on what cleaners and tools to use.
- Avoid harsh cleaners and abrasive tools. In general, most stainless-steel and metal components don’t respond well to harsh cleaners, such as bleach or ammonia. Additionally, abrasive tools such as steel wool and wire brushes can damage the finish or, worse, fall off and wind up in your food.
- Clean grates warm but wait for everything else to cool down. When your grill grates are still warm (not hot), remove the stuck-on food or grease with a grill brush. The heat will encourage the food and residue to come off easier. When cleaning any other component of the grill, allow it to cool fully beforehand.
- Don’t get cast iron wet. Grilla Grills’ grates are made from heavy-duty, rust-resistant stainless-steel, but some grill grates are made from cast iron. If this is the case, avoid using wet cleaners or soaking them in water, as this can cause rust.
How to Clean a Pellet Grill
A pellet smoker grill is amazing at infusing food with that rich, smoky flavor that can only be accomplished with real wood. But the wood pellets that feed the flame come with some special considerations, including ash residue in the hopper that could lead to damage. Here’s our guide to cleaning a pellet grill or smoker in the safest and smartest way possible.
The Gist: Minor Upkeep
The most important thing to know about cleaning your pellet grill is that a little bit of routine maintenance goes a long way. There’s usually no need to break out the buckets of soapy water or sponges. Every five to 10 cooks, depending on grease levels, simply scrape the drip pan, vacuum out the burn pot and barrel and brush out the grates. Finally, every 4-5 bags of pellets, let the hopper run empty and vacuum out the pellet dust as well.
- Grill Grates — Grilla Grills’ grill grates are made of quarter-inch thick stainless steel, so they can handle the heat (quite literally). In fact, you can subject them to a variety of different cleaning methods without damage. In general, though, we recommend regularly rubbing your grill down with a dry grill brush after each use and then deep cleaning every five to ten cooks.
- Regularly Clean and Scrape — Use a wire brush with medium stiffness after each use to ensure quick cleaning without scratching. You may occasionally want to use half a lemon or an onion on a warm grill to remove some of that buildup (and infuse some added flavor).
- Wash with Soap and Water — Cleaning with soap is not required and most grills will perform well for years without it. However, for the occasional deep clean you can use soap and water. After the grill has completely cooled, remove the grates and wash them in warm, soapy water. Smaller, removable grates made of stainless-steel can also be cleaned in the dishwasher on occasion.
- Drip Pan — The drip pan of your pellet grill can get gross, especially if you regularly cook fatty foods. Plus, high temperatures and built-up grease on the drip pan can cause serious safety issues, so you want to make sure it stays nice and clean. The best way to get your drip pan clean is to use a metal scraper blade, like a putty knife. Set up a trash can beneath the drip pan for easy cleanup in just a few scrapes.
- Burn Pot and Body — Don’t forget to clean the burn pot, the small cup that your pellets drop into, and the body of your grill. It’s where you’ll find a lot of the ashes and burnt food residue that falls off the grill while cleaning. To eliminate dust and ensure purity of flavor, you’ll need to occasionally vacuum the pot. Any Shop-Vac or household vacuum with a hose (that you don’t mind getting dirty) will do the trick. Remember to wait for the grill to fully cool, as the coals will stay hot for a long time and could even set your vacuum on fire.
- Pellet Hopper — Your pellet hopper is a key part of your pellet grill, so make sure you don’t neglect it. Small pellet pieces and sawdust can build up in the hopper and choke the auger. This can cause the grill to malfunction. A clogged auger will restrict fuel, impacting performance and make it much harder for the grill to hold steady temperatures. In extreme cases, the auger will become completely “frozen” and will stop feeding fuel to your burnpot, meaning the grill won’t fire up. Every four to five bags, let the pellets run empty and then vacuum out the bottom around the auger.
- Grill Exterior — Keep your grill looking shiny and brand-new with regular wipe-downs of the exterior. You can use LA’s Totally Awesome or make your own natural grill cleaner. Wipe down the stainless-steel lid, thermometer and grease chute and don’t forget to clean all temperature sensors to ensure that they read correctly. You can use hot soap and water on the painted surface to remove dirt and grime.
How to Clean a Kamado Grill
There’s no denying the versatility of a kamado grill. These do-it-all beasts can conquer baking, smoking, roasting and grilling, all using an ancient cooking method that produces a delicious result. Kamado grills are crafted from heavy-duty ceramic, which brings some unique considerations and advantages in terms of cleaning.
The Gist: Minor Upkeep
Kamado grills don’t require being scrubbed up with soap and water, but this is optional every so often. The gist of kamado grill maintenance is to brush the grates and vacuum out the ash on occasion. How often you need to do this depends on the amount of charcoal usage. Generally if you can see ash building up, you should remove it.
- Kamado Grill Interior — Unlike other types of outdoor cookers, ceramic grills are considered self-cleaning ovens. Because of this, cleaning the interior is relatively simple. To clean the inside of the grill, including ceramic grates and any ceramic components such as cooking stones, follow the method below. Be sure to remove stainless-steel grates beforehand. We recommend doing this every four or five cooking sessions.
- Light a fire using charcoal and heat the grill to 260 degrees F. Keep the temperature there for about 30 minutes and then turn the grill off and allow it to cool. Once it has fully cooled, open the lid. You’ll see that the heat has burned off any baked-on residue and turned it to ash on the charcoal grate, lid and bottom of the burn pot.
- Once cool, remove the ash residue. Start by removing and discarding the ashes at the bottom of the burn pot. Using the included ash tool, dry brush the ash residue from the interior of the burn pot as well as the charcoal grate and any other ceramic components so all the ashes fall to the bottom. Clean out the interior using a Shop-Vac or a vacuum you don’t mind getting dirty.
- Clean the Stainless-Steel Grates — Do not use the high-heat method to clean your stainless-steel grates, as this can cause structural damage. Grilla Grills’ kamado grill grates are made from heavy-duty stainless steel, so you can clean them with water without worrying about rust or damage. Start by dry brushing them to remove any ash or dry residue that has accumulated and then use soap and warm water for deeper cleans. If they fit, you can also toss them in the dishwasher on occasion.
- Kamado Grill Exterior — Using a heavy-duty grill cover will help ensure that the exterior of your grill stays in pristine condition when stored outside. If you want to do a deep clean, occasionally wipe it down with a damp cloth to maintain the gorgeous, shiny finish. We recommend using a mild detergent, such as dish soap in warm water, to remove exterior grime. A few times a year, make sure to tighten the bands and apply oil to the hinges.
Tip: Use a grease bucket with your smoker to help contain grease for hours of smoking. You won’t have to switch out your oil can as often, and you’ll avoid grease overspill onto your patio.
How to Clean a Gas Grill and Griddle
The convenience of a gas grill and griddle makes this appliance a true backyard staple, but we all know that grease buildup can be a drag. That’s less of a problem with the Grilla Grills Primate Gas Grill, which comes with two different grease management systems. It features one that drains to the side when using the griddle and one that drains into a pull-out tray directly beneath the grill for easy use when grilling. Still, you need to keep your grill and griddle components clean to preserve the flavor of foods and keep things safe.
The Gist: Minor Upkeep
Gas grills are known for their ease of use, and maintaining them isn’t hard either. You rarely have to break out the soap and water when cleaning this type of grill. In fact, we believe the well-seasoned grills produce the best food. All you have to do is brush the grates and wipe out the grease when buildup becomes noticeable. For the griddle, simply scrape it with a spatula and apply a light layer of oil after every cook.
- Gas Grill Grates — Just like with our pellet grills, we always recommend regularly warm-brushing your gas grill grates after each use and then deep cleaning them every four to five cooking sessions. The durable stainless-steel design makes the cleaning process simple. This is one of the most important steps to preserving that crisp, clean flavoring.
- Regularly Clean and Scrape — Use a medium-stiffness wire brush after each use to clean and scrape the grill.
- Wash with Soap and Water — This step is not necessary, but may be useful if you want to deep-clean your grill every few years or before selling it. When deep cleaning, be sure to remove the grates and allow them to cool fully. Scrub them using your grill brush dipped in warm, soapy water. If your dishwasher is large enough, you can clean your grates in the dishwasher as well.
- Gas Griddle — Cleaning your stainless-steel griddle is surprisingly easy because it features a smooth, flat surface that won’t trap food residue. Still, the fat, sugars, seasonings and all that good stuff can stick to the griddle and cause grease buildup and residue. After regular and deep cleans, add a bit of canola or vegetable oil to the surface of the griddle to bring back some shine. Our griddles are made of cold-rolled steel, which are meant to have a layer of oil and residue on them to maintain their nonstick surface. Deep cleaning is not necessary unless something particularly nasty has stuck to it.
- Gas Grill Grease Tray — The beauty of a good gas grill is that it will catch all the grease and food residue into a convenient tray that you can easily empty. Before each use, remove the tray using the handle at the front of the unit. Empty it out and wipe out the grease. This allows you to take care of all that gross grease without having to take apart your grill.
- Gas Grill Exterior — If your gas grill is made of stainless steel, you can easily spiff it up using your preferred stainless-steel cleaner and a microfiber cloth. For particularly tough stains and grease buildup, attack the exterior with some warm, soapy water before hitting it with the stainless-steel cleaner of your choice. As always, don’t forget to protect your grill and keep it clean with a quality cover.
Tip: Occasionally brush your stainless-steel grill grates with canola, vegetable or sesame oil to keep them clean and prevent food from getting stuck.
Start with a Good Grill
No matter what grill you have, the cleaning and maintenance is necessary to ensure a mouthwatering result. However, choosing the right kind of grill is a great way to ensure lower maintenance. Grilla Grills’ high-quality pellet grills, kamado grills and gas grills are uniquely designed to be user-friendly and easy to clean. And that’s a huge benefit, because nobody wants to hold up dinner on account of a gross grill!