For a casual home griller to make the giant leap to a full-fledged BBQ pitmaster, it takes years of practice and learning from mistakes along the way. But other than improving one’s culinary repertoire; one ought to know how to clean grill grates properly and keep the grill as a whole in tip-top condition.
It’s Important Knowing How to Clean Grill Grates
After an exhausting day of cooking for everyone while missing out on all the fun, the griller— more often than not, that means you— understandably wants nothing more than a cold beer and well-deserved rest.
While it’s tempting to put the greasy mess behind and reward yourself with a good night’s sleep— after all, things wouldn’t make much of a difference in another couple of hours— little do you know it’s actually quite the opposite.
By neglecting cleaning duty, you aren’t doing yourself any favor. If anything, you’re actually making things harder for yourself the next morning, against all reasons and logic.
Once the party’s over, you’ll find the grill covered in grease, juice, charred bits and whatnot. If left unresolved long enough, these residues either harden or dry up to the point comparable to fossilization, making the cleanup a nightmare.
And we haven’t even discussed the risks and hazards of a poorly cleaned grill grate— it’s a gathering spot for germs, bacteria, mold, rust, and who knows what else. Not only the grill’s overall performance drops to a concerning level, but the taste of your food is also nowhere near superior, if not straight-up nauseating.
Consider yourself lucky if you don’t encounter any flare-up or receive any food-borne disease because poor hygiene and food poisoning often go hand in hand. After all, cooking with caked-on grates is nothing short of a wild ride with a low reward-high risk ratio, and it would spoil the fun for everyone on a supposedly festive occasion.
The Best Way to Clean Grill Grates
Over the years, you may have received hit-or-miss instructions on how to clean grill grates from various sources: your dad or uncles, YouTube videos, or probably your own instincts. But somehow those tips turn out to be old wives’ tales that never seem to work as you’d expected.
Cleaning a greasy grill takes time and patience, but the best way to clean the grill grate is the one that takes the least effort. Here’s how to get the most doing the least:
Step 1: Burn Off Remnants before Starting Any Actual Cleaning
The ideal time to start is after serving the last diners, so you can get to work right off the bat.
By burning off, we don’t mean setting the grate on fire, but simply cranking up the grill’s temperature. This preliminary step incinerates any unwanted residues on the grate— some of which simply refuse to come off no matter how forcefully you scrub— and lessens your cleaning effort and time.
After 15 to 30 minutes, you will spot white foam forming on the grates, which you can wipe off effortlessly with a damp piece of cloth. Be advised that high heat can cause the grates to discolor if the intensity is too much, so be mindful.
Step 2: Scrub the Grate
As the grates cool off, you can safely approach them and start the real work. But don’t let the grates get too cold: you want them to retain enough warmth for this step. Make sure to put on mitts or gloves to handle the grates for good measure.
At this point, scrub as much gunk as you can. You can remove roughly half, if not more, the carbonized grime off the grates. For better effect, wet the tools.
Speaking of cleaning tools, regular grill brushes are a popular choice for many, and there are automatic handheld grill brushes as well. But our advice is to check for loose bristles that may fall off the brushes and lodge themselves between bar grates.
Manufacturers use all sorts of material for the bristles, the most popular of which are stainless steel, brass, and nylon. You don’t want them to catch fire or stick to the food going inside your mouth. Steel wools and scouring pads pose similar hazards, so keep that in mind as well.
If you’re unsure about grill brushes, there are other bristle-free alternatives to consider:
- Scrapers: have handles, works well with delicate surfaces like porcelain-enamel and ceramic
- Chainmail scrubbers: small, surprisingly effective, works with all materials delicate and tough alike
- Sponges: common among household, works with all materials
As for the remaining stains and debris that water can’t wash off, it’s time to bring out the big gun: dish soap.
- Mix regular dish soap and warm water to a 1:1 ratio;
- Dip the cleaning tool into the solution while applying said solution on the grates— preferably with a spray bottle— for better effect;
- Scrub the grates. Remember to go between the bars both lengthwise and perpendicularly, leaving no spot unchecked.
Step 3: Rinse Everything, Flip the Grates, and Start Over
Rinse the grates well with clean water multiple times— preferably with a high-pressure water hose for gardening or car washing. The majority of these grates are far too oversized to fit in a sink or a household dishwasher, anyway.
Make sure the grates are free of gunk and bristles before drying— either let them air-dry by themselves or wipe with a dish towel or paper towels.
Dish soap removes the majority of stains and residues, save for the stubborn ones overstaying their welcome on the grate bars. Sometimes things may not go your way, in which cases you might turn to specialized cleaners like:
Those heavy chemicals should be the last resort and used with a minimum amount or as instructed by manufacturers. They can leave unpleasant odors and tastes on the grates if you don’t rinse everything properly.
Many grillers tend to forget that there are two sides to a grate. Once you’re done with one side, flip the grates over and start all over. It’s all lather, rinse, and repeat— and we mean it literally.
How to Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates
Other than stainless steel, cast iron is another popular choice for manufacturers when it comes to grates.
Not many companies use bare cast iron without a layer of coating or two. And more often than not, these grates are further reinforced with rust-resistance protection, the most popular of which are either porcelain-enamel or ceramic.
Here’s how you clean a cast iron grate:
Step 1: Scrub with Warm Water, Minimal Dish Soap & Appropriate Tools
A chainmail scrubber or scraper designed for cast iron is preferable to regular grill brushes, whose abrasive nature can scratch the protective coating. You don’t want the grates to chip or crack this rust-resistance layer, because it would defeat the whole purpose and compromise the grates’ pristine condition.
Remember to rinse the grates with warm water— dish soap isn’t a strict no-no, but it should be kept in a minimal amount.
Step 2: Towel Dry
One distinct property of cast iron is that it isn’t meant to be exposed to high moisture, which oxidizes the metal and leads to rust buildup. Rather than let the grates air-dry, use dish towels or paper towels to quicken the process.
Step 3: Burn Off Remaining Moisture
One crucial thing that we cannot stress enough is you have to keep cast iron completely dry. You’d think a thorough wipe with a towel should suffice until you learn that isn’t the case at all.
Place the grates back inside the grill and crank up the heat. This step vaporizes any remaining smaller droplets of water that somehow escape your inspection.
Step 4: Season the Grates
When the grates are cool enough to the touch, remember to apply a coating of vegetable oil on the surface to improve their resistance toward rust and oxidation, as well as preserve their overall integrity.
Cast iron is high-maintenance, we admit, but if well taken care of, it can last for decades and even a lifetime.
How to Clean Rusty Grill Grates
Tackling a gunk-infested, crusty grate is a challenge feared by many. After a prolonged period of disuse— say, storage for the winter— the grill’s interior grows nasty with mold and rust of sorts in due time.
It must be disheartening upon seeing a crusty, grimy grate, which severely dampens your cooking mood. By the time you realize regular dish soaps hardly make any difference do you realize you need something stronger.
Just follow our instructions, and things will turn for the better. Here’s how you clean rusty grill grates:
Vinegar & Baking Soda
Put the caked-on grates in a ziplock bag— if you happen to have one big enough— or a plastic trash bag should be fine.
Mix the solution: water and white vinegar in 1:1 ratio, with a spoonful of baking soda added. Remember to put on latex or silicone gloves to protect your hand, skin, and fingernails.
Seal the bag tightly and securely— preferably with duct tapes or rubber bands— and let soak overnight. This process helps the gunk loosen its grip in the grates, making the cleanup next morning all the easier.
Remove the grates from the bag and rinse with water, preferably with a high-pressure hose.
By this point, things should be easier to wash off, now that stubborn residues have loosened their grip on the grate. But somehow if that isn’t the case, scrub with a grill brush for good measure. Dry thoroughly.
Many people tend to rely on specialized cleaners, which feel reasonable in instances like these. While true, their use should strictly adhere to the manufacturers’ instruction.
For those who don’t want to break out their elbow grease, then why not let the machine do the dirty work for you?
Introducing the GrillBot— a robot that cleans the grates right inside the grill. The name is pretty self-explanatory.
Using the robot is rather straightforward: activate the unit, close the grill lid, and let the unit work its magic on the grates from 10 to 20 minutes.
There’s a roller brush continuously spinning that goes between the bars. The robot finds its way inside the grill by bumping into corners of the grill, at which points it makes a change in direction.
GrillBots are a subject of heavy debate: while many buyers vouch for the robots’ legitimacy, others raise concerns and express doubts whether all the hype is hot air or marketing gimmicks. And it doesn’t make things any easier when these units are far more expensive than conventional grill cleaning tools.
Whether the GrillBot’s effectiveness is on a par with its price tag remains to be seen, but there’s no denying its popularity among grilling communities in recent years.
How to Clean Stainless Steel Grill Grates
Stainless steel is the ultimate material preferable by grill manufacturers and buyers alike. It’s durable, rust-resistant, and pleasing to look at, which explains why this material is often found in various important components of a grill— including the burners and grates.
Thanks to its incredible resistance to rust and sturdiness, stainless steel grates are arguably the easiest to clean compared to those of other materials. They can withstand abrasive grill brushes— as well as bristle-free tools like scrubbers and scrapers— without cracking, chipping, or deforming in any way whatsoever. You also don’t have to preheat these grates before cleaning either.
Furthermore, there’s no need for specialized cleaners. Regular dish soap and water are plenty enough to get rid of unpleasant gunk and grime.
As long-lasting as stainless steel is, keeping the grates outdoors for an extended period without any sort of protection is never a wise idea. It also spells troubles for the whole grill if you leave it exposed to the elements: moisture from rain, dew, snow can do a number on the grill.
At least place the grates inside the grill, close the lid, and cover it with a sheet or tarp. Make sure there’s adequate ventilation for moisture from within the grill to escape.
Extra Tips on How to Clean Grill Grates
- Onions prevent food from sticking and intensify the flavors.
The acidic enzymes in raw onions help break down fat and grease from meat without being too abrasive or rough on the grates. Besides, they also make the food smell and taste better— at least to those who like onions, but the idea stands.
Slice the onions in half and spear them on a barbecue fork. Run the fork on the grates for a few minutes on high temperature when preheating the grill.
- Crumpled aluminum/tin foils make great impromptu cleaning tools.
Take out a sheet of aluminum or tin foil, and roll it into a ball that fits inside the palm of your hand— you can make more than one ball. Clench the ball(s) with a pair of tongs and scrub the grates as you would with a brush. Remember to wear mitts or gloves to prevent burns.
- A rinse is never enough.
Before you can wrap everything up nice and clean, leave no spot unchecked. An extra rinse with water for good measure is always a good idea— if not recommendable— to clear any remaining debris and bristle on the grates.
The grate is merely a component of a grill, and other parts also need a nice bubble bath after drenching in all sorts of grease and juice. Time permitting, take a look at our instructions on how to clean a gas grill— the most common type of grill often found in many BBQ parties across the country.
As you learn how to clean grill grates properly, you won’t think of it so much as a bother or downside of barbecuing. Instead, think of it as a way to ensure safety and fun for everyone involved. But more importantly, consider it a great way to extend the lifetime of the grills for years to come. It also serves to teach that great food is a hard-earned achievement that doesn’t come easy.
We hope our instructions were informative and practical in one way or another. Until we meet next time, happy grilling, folks!