As temperatures begin to rise, it’s time to prepare your outdoor space for seasonal relaxation. This, of course, includes showing off your culinary skills on the front porch, patio, or backyard for guests. Over the winter, your grill has probably been hibernating, so you’ll need to tune it up before it’s ready for heavy use from spring through fall. Even if you’ve been keeping your grill running cold, now is a great time to give it a thorough cleaning before the official outdoor cooking season begins. Here are some tips and tricks that will hopefully make things easier.

Disassemble, scrub, reassemble

Weber's first pellet grill has the potential to be a backyard powerhouse, but the smart features need some work.

Billy Steele/Engadget

A good rule of thumb when it comes to cleaning anything you haven’t used in a while is to take it apart as much as you’re comfortable with and wipe it down thoroughly. For grills, this means removing the grates and any grates or burner covers – basically anything you can remove that isn’t the heating element. This gives you a chance to check the burners on your gas grill or pellet model fire pit for unsightly wear. If these components are worn or excessively rusted, most companies offer replacements that you can easily replace with a few basic tools.

Once all the parts are out, start by scraping off the excess debris from all sides of the interior – using some cleaner if necessary. For a gas grill, this probably means pushing everything through the grease trap. On a pellet grill, you’ll want to scrape the grease chute and out into the trap, but you’ll also need to vacuum out the inside with shop vacuum cleaner – just as you would after every few hours of use. And while you’re at it, empty the hopper of any old pellets that have been sitting around since Labor Day. Fuel that’s been sitting in the grill for months won’t give you the best results when it’s time to cook, so you might as well start fresh.

Fortunately, pellet grill companies have made easy cleaning a key part of their design. Weber’s SmokeFire has a set of metal rods on the inside that can be quickly removed to open the bottom of the chamber. This is also a design feature of the company’s gas grills. Simply vacuum or push the residue out of the grease chute. The catch pan where all the trash ends up is also easily accessible from the front of the grill and you can remove the aluminum liner and replace it with a new one in seconds.

Traeger’s latest pellet grills were also redesigned to improve cleaning. Most importantly, grease and ash end up in the same “barrel” that easily detaches from the front of the grill. The company also allows you to quickly remove all of the internal components, even though they are larger than what you find on the SmokeFire. Finally, Traeger moved the pellet chute to the front of the new Timberline and Ironwood, making it much more convenient for changing wood grades or emptying old stock.

You’ll want to get as much of the leftover food off your grill as possible for several reasons. First, this stuff is old, and a lot of build-up over time can interfere with cooking efficiency and affect flavor. The last thing you want is old food or grease burning right under your expensive fish. Second, in the case of pellet grills, improper cleaning of grease and dust can be dangerous. It’s easy for grease fires to start at high temperatures, and if there’s enough pellet dust on the bottom of your grill, they can really catch fire or explode. That’s why companies tell you to vacuum it after every few hours of use.

Weber's first pellet grill has the potential to be a backyard powerhouse, but the smart features need some work.Weber's first pellet grill has the potential to be a backyard powerhouse, but the smart features need some work.

All of this dust, grease, and debris must be removed before you fire up the grill again. (Billy Steele/Engadget)

To actually clean the surfaces, you’ll want to get an all-natural grill cleaner. There are a lot of options here, and it may take a while to find one you like. I usually use Traeger formula as it is readily available from where I buy pellets and I have found it works well in cutting through stuck mud. You want an all-natural grill cleaner over a regular household product because it’s safe to use on surfaces that will touch your food. They are also safe to use on the outside of your grill without damaging chrome, stainless steel or other materials.

Spray the inside and give things a few minutes to work. Wipe everything clean and go back over any super dirty spots as needed. The same goes for the grilles, grilles, and any other parts you removed. I like to put them on top of a yard trash bag (they’re bigger than kitchen bags) so that all the stuff I’m scraping or cleaning up doesn’t end up all over my deck. You can use towels from the store if you want to recycle, or paper towels if you don’t, but just know whatever you choose will be covered in nasty black grime, so you won’t want to just throw them in the clothes washer when you’re ready A pre-wash in a bucket or sink is required to ensure you don’t transfer residue from your grill onto your business clothes.

As far as tools go, you don’t need much. I have tried this grill robot that claims to do the work for you, but I’ve found that sticking to the basics is more effective. And honestly, once you get the hang of it, it doesn’t take long. It’s a good idea to have wire brush especially for the grates you don’t use to clean anything else. After all, it will be touching the same surfaces you put food on. I recommend another, smaller wire brush – the ones that look like big toothbrushes – for cleaning the burners of a gas grill. If you notice that the flame is not shooting through any of the holes, you can use this to clear the path. Finally, plastic is the way to go for scraper, anything else and you risk scratching the surfaces of your grill. Of course, any damage done will be on the inside, but it’s still not a great feeling to save your previous investment.

Check for updates before your first cookout

Traeger WiFire appTraeger WiFire app


If you have a smart grill from the likes of Traeger, Weber, or another company, you’ll want to turn it on and check for software updates well in advance of your first grilling session. You probably haven’t cooked much since last fall, which means companies have had months to release updates to their devices. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than spending an hour trimming and seasoning a brisket, only to walk outside to fire up the grill and it immediately begins the update process. This can significantly increase the overall cooking time depending on the degree of firmware additions and the strength of your WiFi.

Fortunately, checking for updates is quick and easy. All you have to do is turn on your grill and open the company’s app on your phone. If there’s a download ready for your model, the mobile software will let you know, and it’s usually pretty clear. If there isn’t a pop-up warning showing right away, you can check the settings menu to make sure. Sometimes for smaller updates, a company might not beat you over the head to refresh. However, running a new firmware version is always a safe bet and will ensure your grill is performing at its best when it’s time to cook.

For a good time every time, clean after each use

Traeger Ironwood 650Traeger Ironwood 650

Billy Steele/Engadget

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not sticking to my own advice here, but it’s good to have goals. I’ll also be the first to tell you every time I smoke a Boston Butt or some other super fatty cut of meat that I wish I had at least done a quick clean up immediately after eating. Grease build-up is not only highly flammable, but is much more difficult to clean once it cools and hardens. The same goes for the sticky sauce or cheese left on the grills after chicken or burgers. It’s best to attack these things while the grill is still warm but cooled from cooking.

You don’t have to open the store vacuum for your pellet grill or empty the grease container every time. But you’ll want to make sure things are away from the main cooking area for safety, so any burning won’t affect the taste of your food. A few cups of hot water can clean up the dripping grease, while that wire brush I mentioned is best for grills. It also doesn’t hurt to give it a light wipe down with an all-natural cleaner so it’s all ready to go when you want to cook again.

New grills coming soon

A number of grill companies have already announced their product lines for 2024. If you’re looking for new gear for the summer, some are already available, while others will arrive in the next few weeks. Recteq announced a robust lineup of grills in October, all of which are Wi-Fi connected pellet models. The company also revamped its family of “regular” pellet grills, dropping the SmokeStone 600 grill and the dual-chamber DualFire 1000.

Weber also gave a glimpse into 2024. At CES, the company unveiled a redesigned pellet grill, the Searwood, which will replace the SmokeFire in North America. Part of the Searwood’s feature set is a special mode that lets you use the grill while the lid is open for things like searing and flat-top grilling. Weber also debuted a new gas grill, the Slate, which has a specially designed cooking surface that the company promises won’t rust and a digital temperature gauge. What’s more, there’s a new Summit premium smart gas grill with a massive color touchscreen display and a top-mounted infrared broiler. Smart features here help with everything from gas flow to individual burners to monitoring fuel delivery and dialing in the cooking process. All new Weber grills are scheduled to arrive this spring.

We haven’t heard much from Traeger this year, and there’s a good chance the company won’t have any new bars in 2024. It redesigned the Timberline in 2022 and brought some of the latest features, including the touchscreen, to the Ironwood in 2023. Never say never never, but if you’re looking for another all-new Traeger grill, you might be waiting a few months.