How to Clean a Pellet Grill


Pellet grills offer many benefits and versatility: They have a long lifespan, consistent performance, and a taste you can't get from a propane grill.

Yet, to keep your grill delivering these benefits to its best ability—and to keep your food safe—you'll want to be diligent about cleaning and maintaining it. We won't dally with the introduction—let's get into the how, why, and how often of cleaning your pellet grill:

Preparing Your Pellet Grill for Cleaning

First things first: Ensure the grill is A) completely cooled down and B) unplugged. Hopefully, you'd remember to do that anyway, but just to be sure, we want to mention it for very obvious safety reasons.

Other than the safety prep to ensure you don't get burns or electrocuted, get all your cleaning supplies out and ready. Just as attention to mise en place—"everything in its place"—makes cooking so much smoother and more enjoyable, the same can be said about how having your supplies nearby and ready makes the cleaning process easier.

If you want to be comprehensive, these tools should include:

  • Grill brush
  • Putty knife or scraper
  • Shop or handheld vacuum
  • Grill cleaner
  • Mild detergent
  • Gloves
  • Non-abrasive sponge or similar scrubbing pad
  • Rags or disposable towels

Cleaning the Grill Interior

Both for practicality, the grill's longevity, and health and safety, its interior is the most important part to keep clean.

In fact, foodborne illnesses spike in the summer every year as people bring out their grills for the season but fail to keep them hygienic- this is compounded by the fact that hot weather increases bacterial growth. You don't have to give your grill's interior a deep clean each time you use it, but you should put more effort into keeping it free from pathogens after each use than most people probably do. And you still should give it a thorough, deep cleaning more often than you (most likely) are. You'll find recommendations on cleaning intervals in our closing tips.

When it comes to the interior, there are four main parts to focus on:

  • Grill grates
  • Grease drip tray
  • Interior walls
  • Fire pot

First, the Grates

As this is the part that directly contacts your food, it requires extra attention and elbow grease. You'll want to thoroughly clean this, starting first with preheating the grill to 450°F to 500°F (232°C to 260°C)—10 or 15 minutes at this temperature will turn most residue into a carbonized crisp. This, in turn, will loosen things up and make it easier to scrape off.

The right tool for scrubbing depends on the material the grate is made of; a stainless steel grate should be cleaned with a grill-specific stainless steel brush. Cast iron grates can use either a stainless steel brush or a brush with strong brass bristles.

When scrubbing, use a back-and-forth motion down the grate bars—similar to the motion of waxing skis, if you're familiar with that. If you encounter any especially tough residues that are determined to stay put, you may need to employ a grill brick.

Finally, after scrubbing off the hardened debris, wipe your grate down with a damp cloth to help remove any loose particles left over.

The Grease Drip Tray

This component is crucial when cleaning your grill. While the grease drip tray isn’t likely to contaminate food, keeping it regularly cleaned is necessary to prevent fires while you’re cooking. Which, we’d say, “not catching on fire” is generally a pretty helpful state for your food to be in, grilling or otherwise—unless, of course, you’re trying to flambé some queso.

To clean the grease drip tray, begin by removing deposits with a putty knife or scraper. Continue scraping until you encounter stubborn deposits. Once that’s done, it’s time to apply your grill cleaner. Allow it to soak in, then finish cleaning with a scraper and rags.

Fire Pot

After removing the grates, grease drip tray, and heat deflector, a shop vac or even a good handheld vacuum can effectively remove ash, unburned pellets, and other accumulated debris. While cleaning your fire pot, inspect it for signs of wear and for any damage or holes that could impact performance. A clean fire pot ensures a thin blue smoke profile that produces that coveted hint of smoke and reduces excess ash that can become airborne and end up on your food.

Interior Walls

At this point, all your grill’s components have been removed. Time to break out the scraper; start by scraping the grate rails, and then work the walls and the bottom of the grill. The goal is to remove any materials that the scraper will pick up. DO NOT scrape to bare metal or work to remove the seasoning from the grill’s interior; this seasoning protects the metal. To finish this task, use your shop vac to remove any remaining particles.

Cleaning and Maintaining the Exterior of the Grill

There are three main components to focus on:

  • Outer shell
  • Control panel
  • Storage and covers

The Outer Shell

The cooking process will render fats and proteins that form the smoke column, these solids fall out of the exhaust and onto your grill, this lay layer of grease becomes a magnet for airborne dust and pollen.

The best practice is to wipe down the grill's exterior with a towel and hot water after each cook, this simple step will keep your grill looking sharp. If you have more buildup than hot water alone will handle, use a good citrus based cleaner to cut through the grease and then take a finish pass with a clean towel and hot water.

As a protective measure for grills with painted surfaces, we recommend applying a coat of anti-corrosive spray to protect your grills exterior. This will help keep rust and corrosion at bay.

If you find rust buildup on your grill's exterior, sand them to a smooth condition, and apply fresh paint to restore your grill to new condition.

Control Panel

Wipe down the face of the control panel with a damp cloth and a citrus based cleaner, if needed, each time to wipe down the grill's exterior.

Storage and Covers

As mentioned earlier, the best approach to maintaining the health and hygiene of your pellet grill is proactive and preventative measures. Ensuring you have a suitable storage space for it, as well as a high-quality cover to protect it from the elements, will help keep your grill in good condition for years to come.

We recommend against using grill covers of poor quality, even if they appear to offer immediate cost savings. A quality cover protects your pellet grill not just from rain, snow, and UV damage but also from dust, debris, and pests that can contaminate it.

A cover made from durable, waterproof, and breathable material is ideal as it helps prevent moisture buildup, which in turn prevents rust.

Furthermore, if you know you won’t be using your grill for an extended period (or if you suspect it has been exposed to moisture), it's wise to empty your pellet hopper.

Signs of moisture include swollen, soft, or crumbling pellets, mold, a musty smell, or difficulty in turning the auger. If you notice these signs, you can usually release the pellets through the pellet release or a trap door mechanism beneath the hopper. In models without this feature, you’ll need to scoop or vacuum the pellets out manually. Store unused pellets in a dry and airtight container to keep them in optimal condition.

A Few Last Pellet Grill Maintenance Tips

Lastly, here are some thoughts on seasonal maintenance and the frequency of cleaning: While proactive light cleaning and other maintenance steps are beneficial, how often you should undertake a thorough deep clean largely depends on your usage frequency.

For those who grill frequently, a comprehensive deep clean every month is recommended. If you use your grill less frequently or only seasonally, it's advisable to perform a deep clean once before the grilling season (i.e., summer) begins and once afterwards, to ensure it's in good condition for winter storage. Start the season by inspecting your grill thoroughly and conclude by emptying the hopper and ensuring the grill is dry.

Generally, the most effective way to maintain your pellet grill is to prevent it from getting dirty and wet in the first place. Good storage solutions and proactive maintenance can significantly contribute to this, as can maintaining a regular cleaning schedule that doesn't allow residue to accumulate.

Of course, sharing tips can be very helpful, so feel free to share any experiences or ask questions about pellet grill maintenance below. Additionally, if you're interested, our monthly newsletter offers more grilling guides, including recipes, techniques, maintenance advice, model comparisons, and more.