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The Best Methods for Cleaning Your Grill Grates Plus Tips for Preventive Maintenance

Grilling is one of America’s greatest pastimes and is a staple in any community.

It is the center of socializing, great food, and memory making for family and friends.

With all of these good times spent cooking out on your grill, it’s easy to overlook cleaning your grill grates… You know, the part that we all dread.

It’s no fun, but it’s gotta be done.

These countless delicious meals add up to plenty of leftover gunk and grease that’s a pain to remove unless you stay on top of it.

Did you know that keeping your grill grates clean is vital to proper cooking and food safety when using your grill?

Not only does raw food touch this surface, but the grill grates also help to transfer heat evenly from the fuel source to the food.

A dirty grill grate can cause poor grilling performance and can even leave a foul taste on your foods.

But worst of all, dirty grill grates can actually be bad for your health.

But the good news is, today, you have plenty of options when it comes to cleaning your grill grates.

Options including stainless steel or brass bristle brushes, nylon brushes, scrapers, and even the “clean burn” and soaking methods.

So, what’s the ultimate solution for cleaning your grill grates for proper grilling and safety?

I’ll cover everything you’ll need to know in the article below.

Are Dirty Grill Grates Really Bad For You?

Are your grill grates clean enough to cook on?

You might not know this, but leaving leftover food on grill grates creates a major breeding ground for harmful bacteria that very well could contaminate your food the next time you cook.

This bacteria is the kind that will make you and your family sick folks.  If you have ever had a case of food poisoning, you’ll know what I am talking about.

If the leftover food particles and bacteria don’t get you sick or just plain gross you out, then consider the added fact that burned food, ash, soot, animal fat, and grease have been linked to cancer-causing carcinogens.

In all fairness, you would probably have to consume a lot of these carcinogens over many years before it can cause serious problems, but do you really want to gamble with the health of your loved ones?

Cooking on rusted grill grates is just as bad.

Rust from the grates can easily attach to food when cooking and potentially cause digestive problems or worse.

I mean seriously, would you really want to eat rust willingly?

Take the time to clean your grates, remove all cancer-causing carcinogens, carbon, grease, leftover food residue and bacteria.

Sanitize your cooking surface, and ultimately get more from your outdoor investment.

Cleaning Grill Grates Using Grill Brushes

The most common method that most people use for cleaning their grill grates are stainless steel or brass bristled grill brushes.

These brushes are found just about everywhere these days including your local hardware store and often times at your grocery store even.

They provide an easy way to maintain your grates after every cook by removing leftover food and gunk while the grill is still warm.  And YES, it is recommended you clean your grates before or after every grilling session.

As mentioned above, using a grill brush regularly will not only prolong the life of your grill grates and ensure they perform better, but they will help make grilling safer.

Using a grill brush or nylon scrubber is not rocket science, but there are a few tricks that will make it easier and safer for your grates.

Here’s how it’s done:

1. First, plan to clean your grill grates while your grill has sufficiently preheated before you cook, or while your grill is still warm after cooking.  The heat will help soften any leftover grease and food so it will come off easier.

2. Using the wire or nylon side of your grill brush, clean your grates in an up-and-down motion in the same direction as the bars of the grates while applying downward pressure.  Start at the bottom section that is closest to you and move upward.

Pro Tip: Moving in a single direction will minimize the risk of damage to grates that have a protective coating.

3. You can rotate the brush head to the side so it really gets down in between and cleans the sides of your grates.

4. Continue to brush using both methods until you have cleaned the entire grates.

5. Flip the grates over and brush them down in the same manner after they have cooled.

6. Again, once the grates have cooled down, use a damp paper towel or cloth to wipe away any excess debris or brush bristles.

7. To top it off, lightly apply cooking or vegetable oil to your grill’s grates with a paper towel.

Pro Tip: Occasionally dip the brush head in soapy water, (dish soap works best), while scrubbing.  This helps with dissolving grease and will also help keep your grill brush clean.

Or better yet, use a grill cleaner like this: Grill Cleaning Spray

You can find several quality grill brush options that won’t break the bank, including a buyer’s guide and answers to frequently asked questions in the following articles if you are interested:

The 10 Best BBQ Grill Brushes for 2019

The 10 Best Bristle Free Grill Brushes For 2019

What Grill Brushes Work Best For Each Type Of Grates

Different types of grates require different care or they can be damaged.

Using brass bristles on porcelain grates, for example, can scratch off the coating if you’re not careful and cause them to rust.

The following brush types work best for each grate material:

Porcelain Grill Grates – It’s not recommended to use metal or wire brushes.  A grill brush with soft bristles or Nylon bristles works best on porcelain grates.  Porcelain coating is fragile and can easily be damaged from excessive scraping and scrubbing when using a wired brush.

Pro Tip: If you do end up using a wired brush, clean the grates by running your brush at a horizontal angle across the grates, not between the groves like you normally would.  Use very little downward pressure to keep from damaging the brush and porcelain coating.

Take a look at the below video to see how it is done:

Cast Iron Grill Grates – Stainless steel or brass brushes work best for cast iron grates.  The bristles are stiff enough to provide a good cleaning, yet soft enough so they won’t damage your grates.
Stainless Steel Grill Grates – Just like cast iron, stainless steel is durable which lets you use a more durable grill brush.  Stainless steel or brass brushes would again be your pick here.
What Is a Scraper And How Do They Work?

Just as the name suggests, grill grate scrappers are for scrapping instead of scrubbing the leftover debris off your grates.

Many bristles made brushes include some sort of scraper attached to the top or bottom of the brush that lets you use a scraper in conjunction with scrubbing.

Some grillers have concerns about broken bristles being left behind on the grates and prefer to use a scraper exclusively.

If that is the case, a scraper like the FEROS Safe Scraper is an excellent choice.

Scrapers don’t use wire bristles and are generally safe for all types of grill grates.

Here is a rundown of how to use one:

1. Make sure your grates are hot.

2. Hold the scraper at a 45-degree angle.

3. Using a slow, firm pressure, pass them over your grill gates front to back.

4. Rotate the handle and use the edge of the scraper head to get between the grates if necessary.

5. Repeat on each section until all your grates have been cleaned.

Here is a video that demonstrates the technique.

Deep Cleaning Grill Grates

At the end of the day, a grill brush can only do so much.

Even if you remember to clean your grates after every cook, brushing them alone will not get all the leftover gunk off completely.

For more stubborn, baked on foods and grease, a deep cleaning may be in order for your grate.

It is recommended that you deep clean your grates at least once a year or more depending on how often you grill.

Deep cleaning will not only remove any stubborn leftover food, but it will de-grease the grates and make them shine like new.

The two best options for deep cleaning your grates are the burning method and the soaking method, which I cover below.

Cleaning Grill Grates Using The Burning Method

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to deep clean any grill grate is to heat it to a temperature high enough to cook off any remaining grease or food residue.

In the barbecue world, this is what is called a “Clean Burn”.

There are a couple of ways to do this; the first includes using aluminum foil.

1. To clean your grill grates using heat and aluminum foil, allow your grill grates to cool enough to work around.

2. Completely cover the top side of the grill grates with the aluminum foil.  Tuck the edges of the foil under the grates so it stays in place.

3. Set your burners to high, close the lid and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes

4. After the 15 minutes, open the lid and remove the foil.

5. Use an appropriate grill brush or scraper to clean off the white ash that remains.

The second “Clean Burn” method requires an oven with a self-cleaning feature.  It works like this:

1. Simple remove your grill grates from your grill once they have cooled to the touch and place them in your oven.

2. Line the bottom of your oven under the burner with foil to catch the burned off ash.

4. Once the grates have cooled, wipe them down with a wet paper towel to remove the ash.

5. Replace them in your grill once you have finished.

*Note that this second method can discolor your grates but will not affect their performance.

Cleaning Grill Grates Using The Soaking Method

To deep clean your grill grates using the soaking method, you are going to want to do a little prep work beforehand.

You are going to need some vinegar, baking soda, and a trash bag.  You are also going to want to do this on a day where you have not used your grill, as you don’t want your grates to be hot.

Follow the steps below:

1. To begin, you will want to mix one cup of vinegar with 2 cups of baking soda.

2. Next, grab your trash bag and pour the solution into the bag.

3. Set the grates into the bag to where they will be sitting in the solution and secure the end of the bag to prevent any leaks.  A rubber band works nicely.

4. Let the bag sit overnight for the solution to adequately soak into the grease and food residue.

5. The next day, remove the grates from the bag and set them in a place where they can be hosed off.

6. Using a garden hose with a sprayer nozzle, rinse off the grates to try to get most of the grease and food debris off.  Most of the residue will be removed in this step, but for those stubborn spots, we will take a more aggressive approach.

7. Using the correct type of brush, scrub the remaining residue off.  Ensure that you are moving in the correct direction and do not damage the grates.

8. Once finished, rinse the grates down one more time and pat them dry with a lint-free towel before replacing onto your grill.

*A Large bucket can be used in place of a trash bag if desired.

**This method can also be done using mild dish soap as well.

***One cup of ammonia can be used instead of the vinegar and baking soda solution.  Just be sure to rinse your grates off thoroughly as the ammonia can affect the taste of food.  (Ammonia is toxic to animals and difficult to dispose of so use caution with this method.)

The soaking method will ensure that your grill grates have been cleaned to the best of your ability and will be ready for your next cookout.
How To Clean Porcelain Grill Grates

If your grill has porcelain grill grates, it’s very important that you read the owner’s manual regarding the manufacturer’s recommendations on how to clean them.

The coating on porcelain grill grates can become damaged by the scraping and scrubbing techniques used on other types of grates.

By not following the manufacturer’s directions, you could possibly void your warranty on your grill.

Grill grate brushes come in all types of shapes and sizes and the material used for the bristles will vary depending on the type of material that your grill grates are made from.

For porcelain grill grates, you are going to want to find a grill grate brush that has nylon bristles.  Nylon will ensure that the porcelain coating is not damaged hen scrubbing your grates clean.

This is where metal and brass brushes could harm your grates by scratching the porcelain coating.

Follow the steps below:

1. While the grill grates are still hot, scrub the grill grates with the nylon brush in a diagonal motion across your grates.

2. Start with the section of the grate that is nearest to you and move upward.

3. Ensure that you brush in one direction as multiple directions could run the risk of damaging the porcelain coating.

4. For times where you have sauce buildup on the grates, wet the nylon brush before scrubbing to allow for better cleaning.

While some may stop here, you must remember that when cooking on grates, grease and sauces accumulate on the underside of the grates as well.

Once the grates have cooled, you can flip them over and use the same method on the underside of the grate until it is completely clean.

How To Clean Stainless Steel/Cast Iron Grill Grates

Stainless steel and cast iron grill grates are some of the most common grates found on modern barbeque grills.

Their high-quality construction and ability to evenly distribute heat make them prime material for grilling.

Cleaning stainless steel and cast iron grill grates is a little easier as the materials can take a more aggressive approach without being damaged.

For these types of grates, you are going to want to find you a nice, high-quality stainless steel or brass bristled brush.

They both use bristles that are soft enough to keep the grates from being damaged but stiff enough to get the job done on stubborn debris.

They can be found in a roll brush or straight brush configuration, both of which will do a great job cleaning your grates effectively.

I would suggest going with a roll brush as they allow for an easier way to clean the sides of your grates.

To clean these types of grates, you are going to want to keep the grill hot to ensure that the grease and baked on food stays soft for easy removal.

Here is the process:

1. Set your grill to “high” or allow your charcoal to heat up for about 10-20 minutes.

2. You will want a target temperature of about 500-600 Fahrenheit.  After the 10-15 minutes, turn off the burners or close the dampers on your charcoal grill to avoid being burned while cleaning.

3. With the grates still hot, use a back and forth motion with downward pressure along each bar with the stainless steel brush to remove any built-up grease and food.

4. Continue this across the grill until your grates are completely clean.

5. Once the grates have been scrubbed clean, you will want to season them to prevent them from oxidizing or rusting.  You can do this by applying a bit of vegetable oil to the grates.

6. Using tongs, dip a towel into some vegetable oil and wipe down the grates.  It is important to not use too much as this can cause a fire flare up if oil falls onto any smoldering fuel.

Little Known Methods For Cleaning Your Grill Grates

You may not always have a grill brush handy, especially while tailgating or camping.  It’s not always convenient to drag one along with you.

Never fear. The Grilling Life has got you covered.  The following methods will do in a pinch.

Clean up with Aluminum Foil – Tear out enough aluminum foil to make a fist-sized ball.

Once it has been balled up, grip it with tongs and scrub your grates in an up and down motion.

Use an Onion Or Potato – Believe it or not, using an onion or potato is a great way to clean your grill grates.

Cut the onion in half, spear it with a fork, or hold tight with tongs, and rub it over your grates to scrub everything clean while the grill is still hot.

The acidic enzymes from the onion or potato will help break down the grease and gunk and add a little flavor while it’s at it.

Where I’m from, that’s called a Win, Win!

A Nylon Scouring Pad – A nylon-scouring pad will do a fine job of scrubbing your grates clean.

The good news is, most people won’t have to look far to find one as most people keep them in their kitchen.

It helps to wet the pad slightly before using it to make cleaning easier.  Just watch out for your hands with this method.

I suggest keeping a quality pair of heat resistant grilling gloves on hand for this method.

You can see my top grilling glove picks here: Best Heat Resistant Gloves For Grilling

Grill Grates FAQ And Tips:

Reading the frequently asked questions below will get you up to speed any remaining questions you may have.

I have also thrown in a few safety tips.

Should You Clean Your Grill Grates After Every Use?

The simple answer here is yes.

But, I get it.  No matter how determined most of us are, it won’t always happen.

After a late night of entertaining friends and a cocktail or three, it’s easy to overlook.

Most of us have been there.

Forgetting to clean your grates occasionally is not always a bad thing though.  The leftover-burned food and grease can actually protect your grates from moisture and rust until the next time you grill.

Just remember to give them an extra good scrub down before the next cookout.

Should You Clean The Underside Of Your Grates?

Cleaning the underside of your grates is a good habit to get into.

Plenty of grease and drippings will accumulate on the underside so it I suggest to mix this in from time to time.

Depending on how hot your last cooking session was, the underside may take somewhat longer to clean due to the build-up that has accumulated.

Oil The Food, Not The Grates

What?

Wait a minute Patrick.

Didn’t you already say that it is a good idea to apply oil to your grates?

Let me explain.

Applying a thin coating of cooking oil to your grates between cooks is a good way to protect and prolong them, but applying oil right before you start cooking is not so good.

When you oil the grates before cooking, the oil mostly just runs down the sides and doesn’t stay on the hot surface.

Any oil that managed to stay on the grilling surface is going to be burned off during the heating process anyway.

Applying a thin coating of oil to your food, on the other hand, will help prevent it from sticking to the surface of the grates.

This will ultimately make cleaning and maintaining the grates much easier.

How To Clean Rusty Grill Grates

So your grill grates have rust on them.

Is it too late to save them?

Not at all.  Below are several methods for safely removing rust from grill gates that will help bring them back to life.

Vinegar and Baking Soda – When you mix baking soda and vinegar together, it forms a rust busting paste that works wonders.

Both products are environmentally friendly, non-toxic and safe to eat.

Here’s how it is done:

1. Mix 2 cups of vinegar with ½ cup of baking soda.

2. Place your grates in a bucket or trash bag.

3. Pour the mixture into the container so the grates are submerged.

4. Let them soak overnight.

5. After soaking, rinse the grates off and rub them down with a cloth

6. For stubborn rust, run your grill brush over them.

7. Rinse them off again, dry and replace on your grill.

A mixture of vinegar and salt will also do the trick.  Use 2 cups of vinegar and 1 cup of salt.

Here is a video that shows this method in action:

Powder Detergent and Lemon Juice – A mixture of lemon juice and powdered detergent works similarly to vinegar and baking soda, although this method needs to soak a little longer to work.

Follow the instructions above but substitute the lemon juice for vinegar and the powdered detergent for baking soda.

Let the grates soak as long as is needed.

Dish Soap and Water – If you notice rust has just started to appear and you only have a few small spots, the easiest way to get rid of it is with warm water and dish soap.

You can mix dish soap with warm water in a bucket and soak your grates.

Wash the grates well with a soft cloth, the give them a good scrubbing with a nylon brush.

Add a ¼ cup of baking soda to the mixture for more stubborn rust on your grates.

A video example is below:

Non-Toxic Commercial Rust Remover – if you have tried all the above methods and still have rust, or if you want to go with the big guns right off the bat, then a commercial rust remover is in order.

Just make sure you choose a non-toxic product designed for grill grates.  Remember, you will be cooking your food on these things later.

Here is a rundown on how it is done:

1. Fill a bucket filled with warm water and dish soap.

2. Use a scrub brush to scrub all the grease off.

3. Wipe dry and remove any grease left behind.

4. Place the grates back in an empty bucket and cover them completely with the rust remover.

5. Soak the grates for 12 hours.

6. Thoroughly rinse and dry the grates.

Check out the below video to see this method in action:

How To Prevent Rust Build Up
You can easily prevent rust from forming on your grill grates by following the below tips.

Use A Grill Cover – Always use a proper fitting cover for when your grill is not in use.

This will help keep moisture off the grates and reduce the potential for rust.

You can check out some fun Team Logo Grill Covers by clicking on the link.

Use The Proper Cleaning Tools – Always read the manufacturer’s owner manual for the recommended way to clean your grates.

Using the wrong tools can damage or scratch the grates or protective coating causing them to rust.

Season Properly for Preventive Maintenance – Just like a cast iron skillet, grill grates need to be seasoned properly too.

When you clean your grates after a grilling session, coat the grates with a thin layer of vegetable oil.

This will help them repel moisture and keep them from rusting.

Store Your Grill Grate Cleaning Tools Properly – Most bristle grill grate brushes are prone to rusting if left out in the elements.

Always store them properly in a cool dry place after using them.

Keep Your Grill Grate Cleaning Tools Clean – Just like your grates, your grill brushes need a good cleaning from time to time too.

After using your BBQ grill brush, it’s just as important that you keep it nice and clean before storage. Leftover food and grease will accumulate on your cleaning tools.

What’s the point of cleaning your grates with a gunked up brush?

Soak them in warm water and dish soap and give them a good rinse down with a hose when you notice any buildup.

Always Read The Owner’s Manual – Always make sure to read your grills owner manual for specific instructions on recommended tools and techniques to use when cleaning your grates.

If you don’t follow the manufactures recommendations and your grill or grates become damaged as a result, it may void your warranty.

Most manufacturers keep a copy of their manuals online in case you misplaced yours.

Clean Out The Ash – Leftover ash in your grill will attract moisture which increases the potential for rust.

It is a good idea to clean out any leftover ash if your grill will be sitting idle for any length of time.

Don’t Procrastinate – At the first signs of rust, use the methods listed above to remove it right away.
Grill Grate Safety Tips
  • In order to avoid being burned while cleaning your grill grates, use a sturdy grill brush with a long handle that keeps your hands well away from the hot surface.
  • If you find your grill brush starting to lose bristles, or the bristles start to bend, warp or rust, it’s time to replace it.  A worn or rusty grill brush can damage the grates.
  • Apply only biodegradable options when cleaning your grates.  Things like bleach or other harmful chemicals can make you sick or damage your grill.
Conclusion

If you’re like me, your grill is one of your prized possessions. Why not treat it like one?

A clean grill grate last longer cooks better and prevents harmful deposits from transferring to your food.

One thing to always remember is that the more you clean, the easier each clean will be.

Multiple cooks without cleaning will result in tougher spots to clean and more baked-on food that will hinder your grill’s performance.

So make sure you get into the habit of always cleaning and seasoning for easy cleanup!

Now It’s Your Turn

I want to hear from you:

Which methods to clean your grill grates have you used before?

Do you have any grill or grate cleaning tips to share?

Are you going to be purchasing a smoker in the future?  Or do you plan on looking at a pellet grill, built-in or standalone gas grill, or charcoal model?

Let me know by leaving a quick comment below.

If you still have questions, please feel free to send me a message.

Cheers,

Patrick

Disclosure

At The Grilling Life, I am committed to researching and writing thoughtful, informative and editorially independent reviews of the best products for your outdoor cooking needs.  If you like what I do, you can support me through my chosen links, which earn me a commission.  This allows me to continue sharing with you my love for all things barbecue.  Your support is truly appreciated.