We all love our pellet grills and enjoy cooking with them. When the fun is over, it is time to clean. I know we just want to keep grilling and cooking good food, but if you don’t take care of your grill, it doesn’t matter how good or expensive it is, it will go bad. Cleaning your grill is an important part of ownership and a crucial step to its longevity.
So, in this article, I’ll show you how to clean your pellet grill in just a few steps. I will deep dive into two different types of cleaning. One method I call “routine cleaning,” and the other I refer to as “deep cleaning.” Let’s get started.
What do you need to clean a pellet grill?
You don’t need to overcomplicate things by using complicated gadgets or even chemicals to clean your pellet grill. I actually hate using any type of chemicals on my grills and prefer to keep the area where I cook my food chemical-free. It is OK to use grill cleaners that are 100 percent natural, though.
A reliable shop vacuum or shop vac
The way pellet grills operate, and similar charcoal grills, create ash buildup because of the combustion of wood pellets. Due to the burning of pellets, a lot of wood ash will accumulate at the bottom of the grill. If the ashes are not cleaned, they will end up on your food.
When the ashes obstruct the air flow holes in the burning pod, this becomes a problem. As more ash builds up inside and around the burning pod, the more your grill’s performance will degrade and even burn more pellets to stay at temperature.
Cleaning clothes and rags, paper towels (lots)
Gather your old t-shirts, cloth or paper towels, and cleaning clothes because you’ll need a lot of them to clean and wipe down your grill. The clothes and paper towels help absorb grease and also apply oil around the surfaces of the grill during the cleaning process.
Any clean rag will do, but to clean an antique stainless steel surface, you want to use a good microfiber rag to avoid scratching the finish.
A good spatula, putty knife, or scraper
A good scraping tool, putty knife, or spatula will be your friend here. You will need to clean the grease tray on your pellet grill. Yes, one thing that I do not like about pellet grills is that they have a grease tray that sits on top of the burning pot, collects all grease, and directs it to the grease bucket.
The grease drip tray is a fundamental component in pellet grills. These keep grease away from the heat baffle and burn pot. The drip tray also directs grease and food particles to the grease bucket.
Tip: Once the grills cool down, the grease adheres to the tray. If you don’t like scraping, use aluminum foil on your grease drip pan.
Some soapy water
Grab a bowl of warm soapy water. This water will be used to clean areas like the grill’s lid and other areas where grease and oil run off. Soap water will help clean off grease splatters around the grill as well.
A good grill brush to clean the grates
A good grill cleaning brush is your friend here. The key here is “good.” You will need it to scrape the grates and clean all the grease, sauce, and food residue off the grates. I personally do not like to use brushes with metal bristles, but do like brushes with scrapers. I have an article on cleaning brushes if you want to learn a bit more about the different options you can get.
You can also use plastic brushes and other cleaning brushes without wire bristles. I have a nylon scrubber, but keep in mind that to use plastic brushes, the grill has to be cold.
Routine cleaning of your grill
First, I’m going to teach you how to perform routine cleaning and maintenance on your pellet grill. This is where it all starts and, depending on how well you keep up your grill’s maintenance, will dictate how long your grill lasts and how well it performs. I always tell people, it doesn’t matter how good or expensive your grill is, if you don’t maintain it, it will not outlast a cheap one.
Routine cleaning will reduce the amount of work when it is time to do a deep clean. So a little bit of work after each cook can save you from having to spend hours later doing a deep clean.
Also, many people experience grease fires simply because they do not clean their grills. I have read hundreds of stories where people complain about their grills catching on fire, but it all boils down to poor maintenance.
What’s involved in a routine cleaning (using my ECF process)?
Keeping your grill clean by doing routine maintenance is just as important as maintaining your car. It will help not only prolong the life of your grill, but also ensure that your grill will always be ready for the next cook.
For routine cleaning, I like to use a process we teach here at BBQ Grill Academy we call the E.C.F. process, which stands for Exterior, Chamber, and Firepot. This simple process will pay off by reducing lots of hours of deep cleaning.
This process is very simple and involves addressing three main areas of your grill. The exterior finishing and surfaces of the grill. Second, address the cooking chamber, which pretty much involves cleaning the grill grates and grease tray.
And lastly, you want to clean the ash buildup from the pellet burn box.
These simple three steps will keep your pellet grill in top shape and help it perform in top shape. So let’s go over the ECF method in more detail.
E ( Exterior ) – After cooking your meal, grab a clean rag and wipe clean the exterior of the grill. Clean up any grease, food, or sauce spills. If you want to protect the grill’s exterior, apply a bit of vegetable oil or cooking oil spray to the grill. This will help keep corrosion at bay and dirt and grime from adhering to the exterior of the grill.
C ( Cooking Chamber ) – The cooking chamber is where you cook your food, so be sure you do your best to keep it as clean as possible. After each cook and while the grill is hot, carefully grab a grill brush and clean the grates. This is the best time to clean the grates because while the grates are hot, it is much easier to remove food particles and residues, plus grease and sauces haven’t settled yet.
I know you want to rush off and enjoy your meal, but spending an extra 10 minutes cleaning the grates while they are hot will pay off when it is time to use the grill again.
Also, as part of taking care of the cooking chamber, you want to carefully grab some heat resistant gloves and remove the grill grate. Again, while the grill is still hot, scrape off all the grease and food residue from the grease tray. Believe me when I tell you that it is much easier to grab a spatula and scrape clean the grease tray when it is warm.
Once the grease tray cools off, you will need to use more muscle power to scrape it clean. If you do not want to deal with the grease tray and think it gets messy, simply put down some aluminum foil over it.
As part of cleaning your grease tray, you also want to empty the grease bucket while it is hot.
F (Firepot ): The fire pot is the most important component of your pellet grill. The fire pot is where the wood pellet combustion happens, the engine of the pellet grill if you will. The fire pot houses the igniter and also has holes to soak the wood pellets with fresh oxygen for igniting. So if the burn pot is clogged or dirty, you might still have a fire but not an efficient one.
Some grills have an ash cup, making it easier to clean the ashes, but with others you will need to use a shop vac to get the ashes out.
How to Deep Clean a Pellet Grill
Deep cleaning your grill is also necessary to keep it in good shape and remove more grease and food residue from tough areas of the grill.
Deep cleaning your grill is a good way to inspect crucial components in your grill and take your time and get into those areas that routine cleaning does not allow for. If you spend more time on your routine cleaning and keep up with your regular maintenance, your deep cleaning will be much easier and you will spend a lot less time scraping and cleaning.
So this is how you deep clean your pellet grill. We apply the same concepts explained in the ECF method above, but we are going to spend more time in a few areas of the grill and also be more detailed.
Start with the exterior of the grill. For routine cleaning, just wiping the exterior of the grill is enough. For deep cleaning, you want to take it a step further and use some sort of natural detergent, or at the very least, soapy water.
Grab a rag and clean up any grease splatter, old sauce grime, and residue. Clean the grill and then apply a nice coat of vegetable oil or natural grill protector. If you don’t have any, you can use cooking oil spray.
Second, following the ECF method we teach in BBQ Grill Academy, move to the cooking chamber next. Just like we suggest you do with the exterior, you will want to up your game when deep cleaning your grill.
During routine cleaning, you should primarily clean the grates, grease pan, and ashes. However, when deep cleaning your grill, you should take things a step further. There are a few things that need attention inside your cooking chamber that should be addressed during the deep clean.
First you want to inspect the grill’s lid and, if necessary, use a scraper to scrape off any excess grease built up on the lid. This will help you avoid old grease dripping on your food, foul odors, and even reduce the possibility of old grease catching fire.
Second, you want to inspect and clean the cooking chamber’s side walls. Scrape and wipe old grease, but it doesn’t have to be perfect.
This is a good opportunity to also check your pellet grill’s internal temperature sensor. This little probe looks like an old car’s antenna and is usually stuck up on one side of the grill. Wipe clean to prevent the probe from failing or failing to send accurate temperature signals to the temp controller.
Lastly, during the deep cleaning, you want to spend some time cleaning the fire box as best as you can. Start by vacuuming up all the ashes. Carefully scrape any hardened ashes inside the fire pot and inspect the “air holes” in the firepot.
Airflow is important for a good fire, and your pellet grill’s firebox is fed fresh, oxygen-rich air by a small fan through small holes in the burning pot.
This is a good opportunity to inspect other components of your grill, including the auger screw, the igniter, and the convection fan.
- When doing a deep clean, use plastic gloves to avoid getting your hands dirty. Deep cleaning a grill can be as messy as changing the oil in your car.
- Keep a trash can near by. If you are using paper towels, you will want to throw them away right away.
- If you are working with a hot grill, be sure to have the proper safety gear.
- Never use a metal grill brush on porcelain grill racks. Most pellet grills and smokers are fitted with porcelain-coated grates to prevent rusting. However, using any metal grill brush may deteriorate your porcelain surface and introduce rust.
Cleaning your grill is part of the ownership experience. But more importantly, it helps protect your investment. Take some time to clean your grill after each cook. That extra time will help a lot.
I hope you found this guide useful. Enjoy grilling!