I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t enjoy good barbecue, but I’ve also never met anyone who enjoys cleaning the grill afterward. Whether you’re a vegan or a carnivore, scraping and scrubbing away the charred and greasy remnants of whatever food you just cooked, with the brush flicking the charred bits at your clothes on the backstroke, is about as enjoyable as cleaning the toilet. The only thing worse is not cleaning the grates until the next time you’re ready to grill. Just as robots have relieved us of the drudgery of vacuuming and scrubbing floors, the Grillbot frees us from cleaning the ‘cue.
The Grillbot is a battery-powered robot with three removable rotating wire brushes that automatically cleans your barbecue grill. You simply place it on the cool or warm grill, push a button, and put the lid on the barbecue. The surface temperature needs to be less than 250 degrees Fahrenheit, but a heat sensor will warn you if it’s too hot. If the grill is cool enough, the Grillbot’s brushes will spin, stop, and restart in a random fashion that makes the robot crawl across the surface of the grill. Things get a little noisy as the plastic chassis repeatedly bangs against the barbecue's lid, but enduring the clatter is vastly better than scrubbing and scraping by hand.
The robot comes from the factory with brass brushes, but you can upgrade these to stainless steel brushes for heavy-duty grates or nylon brushes for coated grates that you don’t want scratched. A set of three replacement brushes of any type costs $14.95, plus shipping. The brushes can be removed and placed in the dishwasher for cleaning. The manufacturer recommends replacing the brushes after each season or after 100 uses. I used the brass brushes on my 36-inch built-in gas grill and was very impressed with the results.
I’m not the most fastidious housekeeper, especially when it comes to outdoor equipment, and my barbecue hadn’t been deep cleaned for months before I set the Grillbot loose on it. Following the instructions in the user manual, I pushed the On button three times to schedule the 30-minute maximum scrub (press it once for 10 minutes and twice for 20 minutes). An LCD display shows a countdown, and a 5-second delay gives you time to replace the lid. The robot will beep when it’s finished, or you can manually turn it off by holding down the power button.
Not quite perfect
I did encounter two minor issues on my particular barbecue: It’s a Vermont Castings model and it came from the factory with three enamel-coated cast-iron grates and an equal-sized griddle of the same material. Since the griddle doesn’t have any crossbars, the Grillbot couldn’t find purchase on its surface and was sometimes unable to make its way back off. I couldn’t remove the griddle, or the robot would fall to the barbecue’s sear plates, so I wedged a couple of thin plates between the griddle and the adjacent grate as a barrier.
The other issue had to do with the thickness of the barbecue’s grates and the length of the bristles on the Grillbot’s brushes: They don’t reach all the way to the bottom, so some charred food residue remained deep between the grates after cleaning. My workaround for this problem was easier: After the first 30-minute cleaning, I flipped he grates so they were upside down and had the robot clean them for another 30 minutes.
As with any wire brush, you should examine the Grillbot’s for loose bristles, and you should inspect your barbecue grate to make sure none get into your food. If that’s the type of problem you’re extremely worried about, switch to the nylon bristles; they’ll just melt in the heat if don’t notice them on the grill before you cook.
Is it worthy?
The Grillbot isn’t nearly as sophisticated as a robot vacuum or floor scrubber, but it doesn’t need to be. The upside of its simpler design is a lower price tag: $119.95 or $139.95 for the Grillbot and a carrying case that costs $29.95 if purchased separately. Given how greasy the device got after just a few cleanings, the case is a good investment that will keep the grime isolated to the robot. Well, mostly. Removing the brushes for periodic cleanings is bound to leave your hands dirty, and you’ll occasionally want to scrub down the rest of the Grillbot—and the rest of your barbecue—too. But you’ll never need to scrape the grates, and that’s awesome.