How to Clean Your Gas or Charcoal Grill After a Long Winter

Updated: Apr. 20, 2024

A clean grill is a reliable grill, so before you jump back into barbecuing, learn how to clean your grill after winter so it's prepped and ready for all your summer cookouts.

As the last bit of snow melts away, it’s time to look forward to the upcoming season: grilling season! Whether you cook with gas or prefer to use a charcoal grill, there are a few things you need to do before you fire up your grill for the first time this year.

Below, we’ve got tips on how to clean and prepare your grill for another summer of outdoor cooking. You’ll need to roll up your sleeves and get a little dirty, but the results will be so worth it.

Look for Signs of Rust

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If your grill hasn’t been used for months, it’s important to give it a good once-over to look for any major problems. For starters, you’ll want to look for any signs of rust, especially if your grill has been outdoors all winter. (Metal that’s exposed to the elements is more prone to corrosion, so it’s always a good idea to keep it covered when not in use.)

If you find any rusted spots, you can generally scrub it away with the help of a few pantry staples. Here’s what you should do:

  • Create a 2:1 mixture of baking soda and vinegar.
  • Apply the paste to the rusted areas on your grill.
  • Use a stiff-bristled brush to scrub the rust—the acid in the vinegar will help to dissolve the orangey-brown residue, and the fizzing will help get into hard-to-reach cracks.
  • Use water to rinse away the paste, and repeat as needed until the rust is gone.

If your grill is seriously rusted—we’re talking holes in the bottom—it might be time to buy a new grill for your backyard.

Check The Fuel Line

If you have a gas grill, it’s also important to check the fuel line. After giving it a visual check for any cracks, try the soapy water test: Brush soapy water along the line and connections, then fire up the grill. If you see bubbles while the gas is running, it’s a sign you need to tighten your connections or replace the line entirely.

This is also the perfect time to fill up your propane tank to get ready for the season to come.

Fire It Up!

We’re all about working smarter, not harder, and one of the easiest ways to get winter gunk and grime out of your grill is simply by turning it on. (This also lets you see if it’s functioning properly and gives you the opportunity to troubleshoot any issues.) Crank it up to high heat, and let it run for around 30 minutes. This will burn off any food residue, dirt and even pests that may be hiding inside your grill.

Once the grill has cooled down, you can go in with a handheld vacuum to suck up any dust, ash or other residue from inside the grill body.

Clean from the Inside Out

If you’ve been neglecting everyday maintenance (it happens to the best of us), your grill might need a deeper clean. Start by removing debris from the flame tamers (located directly over the burners) with soapy water and a stiff brush. You may also want to check the burners for clogs and brush the ports (small holes in the burners) with a stainless steel wire brush in an up-and-down motion. Weber has a video tutorial to show exactly how to clean the burners and ports.

Insects sometimes take up residence inside burner tubes during the off-season. If your tubes are removable, use a garden hose to spray water through the tube or use a long, flexible brush to clean the interior. Make sure the tubes are dry before reattaching.

Next, check that the grease pan is clean to prevent dangerous grease fires. Give this a look before the season starts and after every few cookouts to make sure it doesn’t overflow.

For a charcoal grill, be sure to empty all ashes and unburnt charcoal from the bowl and ash catcher. Your new charcoal will burn much easier—perfect for our best grilling recipes.

Scrub Down the Grates

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Whether you have rusty grates from sitting unused for an extended period of time or they have leftover residue from last year, it’s important to start the season with clean grates. (Pro grilling tip: the cleaner the grates, the better the grill marks on your food!)

For normal build-up on a gas grill, turn all your burners to high for 15 minutes. When your grill reaches these high temperatures, leftover debris will turn to ash and will easily come off with a stiff-bristle grill brush. You can also try dipping your brush in water between passes—this will create steam that helps loosen up tough grease spots.

While stainless steel brushes work great, they may leave behind tiny metal bristles that get in your food. If you’re going to use one, be sure to rinse off the grates thoroughly. There are plenty of ways to clean a grill without a wire brush, though. As an alternative, try a hardwood grill scraper or an onion.

For deeper cleaning, soak the grates overnight in a mix of two cups vinegar and one cup baking soda. Any leftover debris should rinse off with water and a little elbow grease. Then, just give the metal a light coating of oil or cooking spray, and they’ll be ready to use for the upcoming grilling season.

Wipe Down the Exterior

Once the inside of your grill is good to go, the last thing you need to do is clean the exterior. Grill surfaces are made of different materials and require different cleaning methods, but in general, soapy water is the safest cleaning solution. In most cases, you can use a garden hose to spray down your grill and a soft cloth or sponge to wash stains off the exterior.

For a deeper clean, a window cleaner will work well on porcelain-coated steel lids, and stainless steel cleaner for stainless steel lids.

Upgrade Your Grill Tools

If your grilling utensils got left outside with your grill all winter, it might be time to invest in new ones. You’ll also want to replace your grill brush if there are any lose bristles—a bristle-free brush is a safer option for cooking anyway! Other must-have grilling tools include a sturdy pair of tongs and a wide spatula for flipping burgers.

Ready to expand your grilling repertoire? Add some fun new tools to your grilling setup! A smoker box or cedar planks would be perfect for this grilled salmon with blackberry sauce, and a burger press is key for making delicious smash burgers.

Now that you’re ready for the official start of grilling season, brush up on these grilling safety mistakes to avoid.