Cleaning a grill is never truly fun but it’s just gotta be done. It only gets worse if you don’t clean it thoroughly enough after your last use and now you’re staring down some crud that’s threatening to ruin the food waiting to be cooked.
Just the worst.
But that doesn’t have to be the loop you’re stuck in forever. While cleaning a flat top grill isn’t quite the same as grabbing a grill brush and perhaps slightly abusing the grates on your standard grill, knowing how to clean a flat top grill easily is honestly a piece of cake.
All you really need is the right technique, maybe the right grill cleaner (but usually you don’t even need that), and a little patience.
In this post, we will walk you step by step on how to clean your flat top grill.
How To Clean A Flat Top Grill Before First Use (Or For A Deep Clean)
A flat-top grill is a little different than a regular grill with cooking grates. Primarily by the fact that there are no grates, obviously, but also in that cleaning is a little different.
With a brand new “regular” grill, while it’s still recommended to clean it, you can pretty effectively “disinfect” it or clean it before first use by letting the heat from the grill do the work.
Fire it up, let it get hot to burn off any manufacturing oils, and use a gentle, non-toxic cleaner (or just water and vinegar) to give the grate a quick scrub. Any of the “gunk” will just run downwards to the fire and be burned off.
Not so much with a flat-top grill, since there is really no way for things to “burn off” or run off anywhere. These grills require a slightly more hands-on method of getting cleaned before your first use only.
(Although you might repeat this process if you left your grill out all winter and it doesn’t have a lid and the griddle surface got repeatedly covered with leaves and brush that got wet, rotted, left gross debris on your cooktop, etc.)
1. Give it a hot wash
Mix some dish soap into ample hot water. Using a towel or comparable cloth (but NOT a stiff brush) give the entire cooking surface a thorough wash.
Hot water is important because the heat helps to “melt” any manufacturing oils and loosen any potential dirt from packing and shipping.
You could also just use warm water on a grill that has been pre-heated, but this is the safer method to avoid the risk of burns. If you’re cleaning by this method, do NOT use cold water since it can react with the hot metal and cause warps or cracks in your griddle surface (depending on the material of your flat top grill).
2. Rinse thoroughly
You’re going to want some fresh water to rinse the cooktop. Rather than just pouring a bucket of water over your grill, use a smaller cup or container to pour some at a time so it’s a controlled flow. You’re welcome. 😉
3. Dry thoroughly
Trying to just let the water evaporate on its own is just asking for rust to start happening, so make sure you don’t skip this step!
A good way to make sure you get all the rinse water off is to dry the flat top grill with paper towels. Regular cloth towels may leave fuzz or lint behind (even if you can’t see it).
4. Season your flat top grill
This step is perhaps the MOST important.
Sure, cleaning the dirt off is up there, but eating a tiny speck of dirt from a poorly done first wash won’t kill you. Forgetting to season your grill surely won’t kill you either, but it MIGHT kill your will to live as you have to try to clean off stuck-on food later. And it would definitely kill your enthusiasm for this beautiful new griddle you just bought. Womp womp.
What does it mean to season a griddle?
This basically means adding something to create a slight buffer or barrier between the cooktop surface and the food you cook. Doing so essentially creates a non-toxic, non-stick surface so that your cooking experience feels like a dream.
How do I season a griddle?
It’s super simple.
- Grab some oil (vegetable oil, canola oil, olive oil, shortening, etc)
- Pour a few tablespoons of it onto the griddle surface
- With a lint-free cloth, rub it into and across the entire griddle surface (including the verticals)
- Turn on high heat to get the oil smoking, then turn off for about 10-15 minutes
- Repeat steps 2-4 a couple more times until you’ve got a solidly coated surface
- Let the grill cool
How To Clean A Flat Top Grill After Each Use
The above steps are a little more time-intensive, but then ensure that you’ve got a great surface for your future cooking. With proper care and storage, you should never have to do such an intense “deep clean” and seasoning ever again. Cooking on a well-seasoned griddle always improves on the seasoning, so you’ll have it much easier to maintain going forward!
You’ll follow each of the steps below after every time you’re done cooking, to keep your flat top grill in the best shape.
1. Let it cool
A lot of us are used to standard grated grills or smokers, so we’re used to the idea that scrubbing the stuck food off while the grill is still hot is the best method.
Not so with a flat top grill.
Instead, let it cool off some because this baby is a breeze to clean when done properly. The one exception is that if you can tell that the food is REALLY stuck on, pouring a small amount of hot water on the problem spot while the griddle is still warm will help to get that stubborn food loosened before you scrape.
2. Scrape off the leftovers
Using a metal spatula or scraper, give the surface a good scrape clean. You’ll want to do this to get any stuck-on food lifted off, and don’t worry — the surface can handle the metal-on-metal scraping.
When you’re done scraping, get it all wiped off with some paper towels. Using a regular cloth towel isn’t recommended since it will be hard to wash the grease out of it thoroughly.
3. Give it a rinse
You may not need to do this if you “rinsed” off the stuck food earlier, but it’s a good idea for a regular cleaning.
Either wipe the entire surface with a damp cloth or use a spray bottle to mist the entire surface. Rub it completely dry with paper towels or a cloth drying rag (be sure you’re thorough to avoid any rust development).
4. Re-season your flat top grill (optional)
For regular, routine cleaning, it’s up to you if you want to re-season the surface after each use. Some people swear by it, others think it’s a waste of time since you’re adding to and improving the seasoning every time you cook.
If you do choose to lightly re-season after each use, simply rub on a thin layer of oil before storing your flat top grill. So long as your original, first seasoning layer is still intact, there is no reason to do the heated method of seasoning (see the seasoning steps in the section above about cleaning prior to first use).
How To Clean Rust Off A Flat-Top Grill
If you find yourself in a situation where your griddle surface is getting rusty, you’ll definitely want to give it a deep clean and re-seasoning.
First, ask yourself “how did this happen?!” The answer to that is simple: too much moisture + air exposure = rust. If your flat top grill surface is made of steel, you’ve got iron in that metal.
Rust is simply “iron oxide” which basically means iron that has gotten too much oxygen in it. When water is left on a steel surface for too long, they react and the oxygen leaves the water molecules (H2O) and changes the surface of the steel to become rust.
But enough chemistry, can we fix it?!
Yes, we can!
1. Heat up the grill
Make sure to wear gloves that will protect your hands from heat, because things are gonna get hot around here.
Turn on the high heat and keep it there. This helps loosen the iron “flakes” on the griddle surface.
2. Scrape your heart out
With those gloves on and a metal scraper in hand, scrape the heck outta the grill surface. Your goal is to loosen up all of those flakes of rust until they’re completely detached from the griddle surface.
You might be familiar with this process if you use cast iron pans often, which can quickly get rusty in spots during regular dishwashing if you’re not careful.
3. Use an oil scrub if necessary
While cast iron can withstand the additional scouring from a steel wool pad, you’ll want to use caution on your flat top grill. Stainless steel and cast iron, while both are obviously “iron” materials, do not hold up to scouring from steel wool quite the same.
Stainless steel is the weaker metal and will show nasty scuffs, gouges, and a truly uneven and potentially dangerous surface if mistreated. For this reason, using steel wool on a stainless steel griddle surface is not recommended.
What you can do, instead, is use a few tablespoons of oil on that hot surface to help further loosen the rust. Keep using your scraper or a non-scratching scour pad to scuff and buff that rust off the surface.
If you insist on using steel wool on a truly, truly stubborn rust spot, oiled or not, start with as little pressure as possible and use very small motions to keep any scuffing to a minimum.
Let the grill cool down and use a dry rag or a paper towel to remove the debris from your grill surface.
(Repeat steps 1-3 as needed to get all of the rust off.)
4. Re-season your flat top grill
Use the steps above in the “before first use” instructions to re-season your grill and create that new, lovely non-stick cooking surface. Basically just wiping on oil, “burning” it into a smooth layer, and repeating a few times.
5. Store your grill properly
You can’t beat a high-quality grill cover for helping keep moisture (and who knows what else) off the cooking surface of your flat top grill.
FAQ About How To Clean A Flat Top Grill
How often should I clean my grill?
Other than the first use deep clean and whenever your grill needs another deep clean for whatever reason, you shouldn’t really need to clean your grill any more often than just after you cook with it, just like with any grill.
If you’re not using it regularly, take a peek under the cover every couple of weeks to just make sure no rust is forming. Get that rust gone as soon as you see it, should any be found, since rust begets more rust very quickly!
Are flat top grills hygienic?
Yes, with considerations.
If you leave your grill in the middle of your uncovered patio, no cover, no lid, and you just brush it off with your hand prior to firing up the heat, well….let’s just say we’ll politely decline any of your cookout invitations in advance.
With a lid or a grill cover that you make use of, your grill is as sanitary as any other grill with a built-in lid. You can also give it a quick wipe with a damp (and not wet) paper towel prior to use to get off any unseen dust or dirt. Once the grill gets to temp, you can let it run a couple of minutes to heat it well and kill off any invisible bacteria (same as any other grill).
How can I tell when a flat top grill is in need of a deep cleaning?
Well, if you haven’t used it in a few years, properly stored or not, consider this to likely be in need of deep cleaning.
If you see rust, you may need a deep cleaning. If it’s one tiny little spot, you can just spot clean that area and slightly around it. If you’re seeing an orangey colored haze over the entire surface that’s looking suspiciously like a shadow of rust forming, you’ll probably want to just give the whole surface the old one-two.
Another indicator that a deep clean is due is how the food cooks. If it sticks like crazy, doesn’t flip easily, or starts to taste funny (like flavors are mixing), you’ll be wise to give the grill a deep clean and re-season it well. While that could just be due to insufficient routine (i.e. post-cooking) cleaning, it could also mean your seasoning layer is breaking down or otherwise compromised.
If you’re noticing hot spots, while this could just mean the burners are having an issue, it could also indicate a difference in thickness across the seasoning layer. Check the burners (carefully), if possible, and if all seems in order there, try cleaning it. (If that doesn’t fix the hot spots, try calling the customer service for your flat top grill).
Last, if grease build-up is getting unreasonable, you’re not melting the grease off during cooking well enough and you’re not cleaning it well enough after cooking. Now you’ve most likely compromised the non-stick seasoning layer, so it’s time to start fresh.
How do you get rust off a flat top grill?
Follow the steps above in the article. Here’s a video that might help you get a feel for it as well:
Is cooking on a rusty grill harmful?
If you didn’t notice a tiny speck of rust until after you finished cooking, don’t sweat it. You’ll be ok.
If your grill is in need of an intervention, however, you’re asking for trouble if you cook on that rust.
Sure, we need iron in our diets, but rust is NOT the way to get it! Ingesting rust can be harmful and require some medical intervention in high enough amounts, so skip the grilling and just don’t chance it!
Even if it LOOKS really stuck on, you may not notice if a thin layer sticks to your food as the food browns. Again, a little bit eaten by accident won’t hurt you, but being lazy and not properly cleaning it off of your grill can cause health problems when rust is regularly ingested.
How do you clean a flat top grill with lemon juice?
You may be thinking about the great degreasing action of lemon juice and think it’s a great way to clean your grill.
It is and it isn’t.
If you dilute it with water, it CAN make a great way to cut through deep grease during routine post-cooking cleaning. Used too concentrated or too much, however, and you’ll also risk eating through your seasoning layers. Do that too often and you’re making it so you’ll have to do a deep clean and re-season on your flat top grill much more often than you’d otherwise need to.
How do you clean a flat top grill with vinegar?
This is about the same process as the lemon juice, so be sure to dilute the vinegar and use it sparingly during your routine cleaning. And the same as the lemon juice, vinegar also makes a great degreaser. You could use either one full strength (undiluted) to more quickly eat through grease and grime when you’re doing a deep clean, if necessary.
Who wouldn’t want a durable appliance, especially when it comes to grilling? We know who doesn’t. It’s dirt and grease. Find them, get rid of them, and you’re fine.
Regularly cleaning your flat top grill is a great way to keep it in top condition to last as long as possible. The better your seasoning layer, the more versatile your grill will be as well. Pancakes, fried eggs, hibachi, steaks, or burgers are all equally possible on a well-maintain flat-top grill!
By following the steps outlined above, you’ll go from enjoying to obsessing over your flat top grill. Don’t say we didn’t warn you!