Owning a flat-top grill can take your outdoor cooking adventures to the next level. Not only will you be able to introduce items like scrambled eggs and pancakes to your repertoire, you won’t have to worry as much about the flare-ups that can occur when hot fat drips onto the live coals.
The only drawback? Flat tops have a lot more surface area than regular cooking grates, which means there’s more for you to clean. Don’t let that dissuade you, however. We’re here to show you how to clean a flat top grill so it will be sparkling clean the next time you’re ready to fire it up.
Why It’s Important
Regardless of what type of cooking you’re doing, sanitation should always come first. Grilling is no exception. Just because this method takes place outdoors doesn’t mean you can neglect your cleaning duties. It doesn’t matter if your ingredients are delicious–if the meal wasn’t prepared on a clean station, you shouldn’t eat it.
When you prepare food on a flat top grill, you typically use a great deal of oil. If this grease is allowed to build up, it will mix with any other ingredients that were left behind as a result of the high-heat cooking application. Since it’s estimated that around 10 percent of the food prepared on a flat top are left behind as debris, the oil will become more viscous, leading to a greasy buildup.
Even if you think the flat top grill looks clean enough, this residue from old meals can linger, imparting an off flavor to whatever you cook next. The buildup can also cause ingredients to stick to the surface, which means they won’t cook as evenly. Additionally, if you don’t clean the grill right away, it will be that much more difficult to clean. That’s why it’s so important to get the job done as soon as possible.
Finding the right time to clean a flat top grill is akin to walking a tightrope. The surface has to be cool enough to touch, but not so cool that the residue has had time to adhere.
As a rule of thumb, you should start the process as soon as the grill has cooled down enough that it doesn’t burn when you lay a hand across the surface. If you’ve prepared foods that contain saturated fats (such as butter and bacon grease), these will begin to turn solid when they cool to room temperature. This is another sign that it’s safe to begin cleaning the grill. If you don’t, the fat might harden to the point where conventional cleaning methods won’t be enough to remove it.
Finally, know that if you’re dealing with a flat top grill that’s already suffered damage from rust, you might still be able to save it. Take a look at this video tutorial to learn more.
How To Clean a Flat Top Grill: 10 Easy Methods
Before you begin, grab a few high-quality paper towels and use them to wipe the surface of the grill. This will absorb excess grease and wipe away any small bits of food that were left behind.
1. Vinegar and Water
In a plastic spray bottle, combine equal parts white vinegar and warm water. Turn the grill to high and spray the surface all over with the solution, paying close attention to any particularly grimy areas. Spread the solution evenly across the surface with a grill brush, scraping as you go.
If necessary, repeat this procedure until the surface is coated with black residue that resembles loose tar. Turn the grill off, then add a large measure of the vinegar and water solution to rinse away the residue, scraping it off with the grill brush. Repeat the process until all of the residue has been washed away. When the surface has cooled again, wipe it dry with a clean cloth.
2. Dishwashing Liquid
Liquid dish soap and water provide another, easier way to clean the flat top. Squirt a generous amount of regular liquid dish soap into a wet sponge and wipe the surface until all of the drippings have been eliminated. Run a second sponge under hot water and use it to wipe down the surface to remove any lingering traces of soap.
3. Lemon Juice
Repeat the process described for Vinegar and Water, above, instead using a mixture of one part lemon juice to two parts warm water. This method is preferred by some individuals who find the scent and flavor of vinegar to be too overpowering.
If you have water, you have everything you need for this method. Simply turn the grill to high and use a grill brush to scrape away any residue. Drain the liquid, then add more water and repeat the procedure until the surface is clean.
5. Hot Oil
Pour a small amount of neutral oil, like canola or peanut, on the flat top grill. Turn the heat to medium. Using a pumice stone, scrub the oil into the surface so that it mixes with the other fats. Make sure to scrub the oil using a circular motion to avoid creating visible lines on the grill. Once the hot oil has blended with the existing residue, switch the grill off and wait for it to cool before blotting the surface clean with paper towels.
If you want to use this method on a regular basis, we would recommend investing in a grill brick. These devices are designed specifically for cleaning flat top grills. Although they remove the oil from the surface, they don’t absorb it, making them easy to clean. They don’t absorb odors either, so you can use them repeatedly without worrying about flavor contamination.
6. Soda Water
This is another method that can be performed using simple pantry staples. Pour a generous measure of soda water onto the grill, then use a pumice stone to scrub the surface in small, tight circles. When you’ve cleaned the entire grill, scrape any remaining liquid into the side trough to drain.
7. Lemon and Soda
This might sound more like a summer beverage than a cleaning technique, but it combines two reliable individual methods so you get the best of both worlds. First, combine one part lemon juice with four parts soda water in a plastic spray bottle. Then heat the flat top to medium and use a grill scraper to remove any burnt-on bits. Spray the mixture onto the grill and wait 5-10 minutes to allow the solution to penetrate the residue. Use a green scouring pad to scrub the flat top clean.
Now we start to enter less-traveled territory by using one of the most naturally astringent ingredients in your kitchen: the onion. Slice a regular white or sweet onion in half and use it to scrub the flat top before it’s had a chance to fully cool down. The onion will absorb the drippings and clear away any debris. When you’ve finished, discard the onion. This technique has the added benefit of seasoning your grill with savory flavor before the next use.
Another method that might seem peculiar at first glance, but if you have any leftover brewed coffee to use up, it’s as effective a technique as any. Pour the coffee all over the surface of the grill and allow it to soak for 20-30 minutes. Then use a grill scraper to remove the residue and drain the liquid into the trough.
Similar to the coffee method, but with a welcome kick of carbonation. Cover the surface of the flat top with beer and scrub it all over using a wire brush. A few handfuls of wadded-up newspaper will also work. When you’ve finished, drain the liquid and use a few paper towels to remove any excess beer from the surface.
Other Tips On Cleaning a Flat Top Grill
Clean Every Component
When you’ve finished cleaning the surface, don’t forget to give the royal treatment to the drip tray and grease drain. If you don’t clean these components regularly, grease and residue will build up over time. In addition to being unsanitary, this buildup can increase the risk of grease fires.
Choose Your Method Carefully
Before you clean the flat top grill for the first time, take note of the construction. If it’s a chrome top, you shouldn’t introduce any harsh or abrasive compounds to the material. Instead, use warm water and paper towels to remove any debris. The steam method might also work, as long as you swap out the grill brush for a soft clean cloth.
Composite grill tops would benefit from the dish soap and water technique, but again, don’t use anything more abrasive than a regular sponge or you might damage the surface.
Stainless steel flat top grills, meanwhile, can take whatever punishment you can dish out, which is part of their enduring appeal. Feel free to use any of the above methods when you’re dealing with stainless steel.
Seasoning the Grill
Now that you know how to clean a flat top grill, let’s talk about seasoning it for the next use.
To begin, wipe the surface thoroughly dry with paper towels. You’ll be using oil to season the grill, and since oil and water don’t mix, you want to remove all the excess moisture before you begin. Also, if any trace of the cleaning agent is left behind, you run the risk of ruining your next recipe.
To season the flat top, pour a small amount of neutral oil over the surface and turn the heat to high. Use a grill brush to scrub the oil over every square inch of the surface, then blot away any excess using a wad of paper towels. Take care not to touch the surface directly, as it needs to get extremely hot in order for the oil to be absorbed. Remember to switch the heat off when you’re finished.
One final note: Never cover your flat top grill until the surface has had a chance to cool down completely.
When your equipment is well cared for, it’s sure to last longer, which will help to protect your investment. No matter which technique you use, knowing how to clean a flat top grill will save you endless hassle in the long run.
Hi there! I’m Darren Wayland, your BBQHost. My love of great barbecue inspired me to curate this site as a resource for all my like-minded fellow pitmasters out there. When I’m not researching and learning all I can about the latest tips and techniques, you can find me at the grill—that is, if you can spot me at all through the clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. And since you asked, yes, that probably is barbecue sauce on my face. Welcome to the party!