How to Clean Grill Grates for Better Tasting and Safer Food

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Learn how to clean grill grates the right way! Follow these tips and your grilled food will taste better and be safer—just in time for burger and brat season!

It’s grilling season! Whether you’re a grill master or a newbie to outdoor cooking, all grillers need to know how to clean grill grates the right way. Dirty grills aren’t just a health hazard, they also change the flavor of your food and can slow down your cooking time! To avoid carcinogens (and bad-tasting burgers and dogs) we provided four easy ways to remove even the toughest of grime. And while you’re at it, be sure to follow these tips on how to get your grill ready for grilling season, too.

Before You Start Cleaning Grill Grates

Determine whether your grill grates are made of porcelain, cast iron or stainless steel. How you clean your grill grates and what products you use depends on what material the grates are made of. Keep these tips in mind before you start scrubbing.

  • Porcelain grates: Porcelain grates are rust-resistant as long as the finish is intact. To clean, use a soft-bristled or nylon brush in lieu of rougher metal or wire brushes.

  • Cast-iron grates: Cast-iron is tough so they can handle those stiff, wire brushes. However, they do rust easily, so we recommend rubbing the grates down with either vegetable or canola oil after cleaning.

  • Stainless Steel grates: These grates are durable and don’t require as much special care as porcelain or cast-iron grates. But, that doesn’t mean they aren’t subject to rusting. To prevent rust, be sure to dry the grates completely before cleaning.

Choose the Right Tools to Clean Grill Grates

While some grillers opt for a traditional grill brush, many do not know wire grill brushes can be slightly dangerous. Wire bristles are notorious for breaking off and falling into your food. Without even realizing it, many people have accidentally ingested these bristles, too. If you feel like swapping in a safer tool, we’ve got plenty of other grill cleaning ideas you can start using today.

  • Aluminum Foil: Grab a handful of aluminum foil, ball it up and use grill tongs to hold it while you scrub away. You can even re-use the same aluminum foil from cooking your favorite foil packet recipes.

  • Nylon Scouring Pad: Grab a scouring pad from your kitchen and take it to the grill for fast and easy cleanup.

  • Grill Stone: Gently rub this pumice-like grill stone back and forth across your grill grates. Then, finish it off by wiping the area clean with a soft cloth or water. It’s that easy.

  • Onion: It might seem a little strange, but you can use half an onion to clean your grill. Just spear the onion on a barbecue fork, and use the cut side to scrub grates clean. The acidic enzymes will break down grease without being overly abrasive. And if you’re cooking with charcoal, the onion can simply be thrown into the coals to discard.

4 Easy Ways to Clean Grill Grates

Cleaning your grill grates may sound daunting, but it doesn’t take much to get them sparkling. Here’s how to clean grill grates four ways.

1. Burnoff

This is the quickest and easiest method for cleaning grill grates. Grill grime, begone!

  1. After you’re done grilling, blast your burners on high with the lid off (or shuffle the coals around if you’re using a charcoal grill) to remove any leftover food or grease.
  2. After 15 minutes, use your grill brush (or alternative tool) to brush the grates clean.

2. Clean with Hot, Soapy Water

In addition to using the burnoff method, we recommend scrubbing your grill grates down with hot, soapy water every month. This way, you can ensure that there isn’t any lingering buildup on your grates. Plus, this method kills two birds with one stone: cleaned grates that are also sanitized by the heat.

  1. Lightly scrub your grates.

  2. Soak in soapy water for an hour and rinse.

  3. Return the grates to your grill, close the lid and warm it up.

  4. After it’s warmed, use your grill brush to scrub any additional residue off the grates.

3. Use Vinegar or a Grill Spray

While cleaning your grill grates with soapy water is our preferred method, some prefer using vinegar or a grill spray.* This trick gets the job done, too.

  1. Mix two cups of water with two cups of vinegar in a spray bottle.

  2. Spray your grill grates with the mixture. Let sit for 10 minutes.

  3. After the 10 minutes is up, brush your grates clean with a grill brush—no rinsing required.

*If you’re using a grill spray, follow the manufacturer’s instructions listed on the bottle.

4. Steam-Clean

Steam-cleaning your grill is always an option. All you need is water and a sponge for this method.

  1. Heat your grill to 600°F, then turn off the heat.

  2. Place a tin, like a large vegetable can or a small coffee can, of water onto the grates.

  3. Close the lid and let it steam for 30 minutes.

  4. Scrub with a silicone sponge to loosen the build-up.

While you’ll definitely still need to give your grill a thorough cleaning before and after each barbecue, you can make the clean-up work easier by oiling your grill grates in advance. Just use a paper towel to rub oil on the grill gates.

How to Clean and Protect the Rest of Your Grill

Your work is not finished just yet. Don’t forget to consistently clean the rest of your grill and your grill tools and accessories. They are just as important to keep sparkling clean. Check out our grill cleaning guide to ensure you haven’t missed a spot while cleaning your grill from top to bottom. Oh, and protect your grill from rain and debris with a good quality grill cover between barbecues.

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Mackenzie Schieck
Mackenzie Schieck is a Seattle-based writer and photographer focused on food and lifestyle editorial, as well as digital marketing. Her work has appeared on sites like Allrecipes.com, Apartment Therapy, FeedFeed and more. She is always in search of the perfect macaron or working on a new marshmallow recipe.