Cleaning grill grates is a nasty job, but not if you want your food to taste nasty too!
I’ve heard people say they don’t mind a little leftover grime on their grates, with the claim that “it adds flavor”. No, this is not a thing. Only lazy people say that. Grease, oil, and marinade get caked up during grilling. After they sit there for a while, they turn rancid and will make your food taste bad. Just clean the grates, it’s not that hard.
You never think of using a frying pan and want to cook something that has left-over gunk and dried sauce everywhere. Well, your grill is pretty much the same principle and should have proper hygiene you need for a fine BBQ.
Let’s talk about heavy metal for a second. Not the kind that you listen to that makes the neighbor’s wonder if you’ll ever grow-up. The kind that gets hot enough to put an excellent sear and crust on your steak. Below well cover everything you need to know about grates, DIY cleaning hacks, maintenance tips, and our top picks for the best grates and cleaning tools (click the links to skip down to our product list).
Common Cleaning Methods
To prove to you just how easy it can be let’s review the three most common methods of cleaning.
1. The Obvious Approach: Brushing
This method works best if it is done immediately after grilling while the grate is still hot. Before the grates cool off, scrape each grate with a brush, both top and bottom sides. You can also dip the brush in water which will create a steam that loosens the grease. Not only will this make cleaning time shorter, but it will discourage insects from hanging around your grill. Depending on your grate you may need to wipe them down with a cloth after scrapping.
2. The Lazy Approach: Burning
The idea behind this method is simple, get the grate super hot (550° F) until all the caked on grease burns up. You can throw the grates in a self-cleaning oven or simply place some aluminum foil down on top of the grate, close the lid and light up the grill. After about 10-15 minutes all of the grease should be a white powder, simply brush it off and you’re done.
3. The Neat Freak Approach: Soaking
Although, brushing and burning are the standard methods for cleaning, all grates should be soaked at least a couple times a year.
Just fill up the sink or a large bucket with water and a bunch of dish soap. Add a little baking soda and let the grates soak for an hour. Afterward, scrub and rinse.
4. The DIY Approach
You can easily make your own scrubber with a block of hardwood. Use the block to scrub the grates after grilling, eventually, you will carve grooves into the block that fit perfectly onto your grate.
Aluminum foil is another easy DIY scrubber and also a lifesaver if you have to use a lazy person’s grill. Simply heat up the grates, then wad up some foil and scrub away. Let’s jump into some do-it-yourself methods to cleaning up those nasty grates.
After any cooking on your grill, you’ll need to give a general clean up. This is when the grill is still warm but never when it’s hot. Mix in a spray bottle some white vinegar and water. Use about 60 percent vinegar to 40 percent water for the ratio to work best. Spray this generously onto the surfaces you want to be cleaned and wait a couple of minutes. Some people like using tin foil to scrub but there is a better cost-effective solution.
Use dried-up corn on the cob husks. You can split them down the middle or into quarters when they are still fresh. This is so they fit easier between the grates and in tight spots. You can also dip them into the vinegar so they will act as a natural toothbrush that scrubs off the dry stuff easier. Get under the grilling grate too so you don’t have left-over build-up. Then use a wire brush dipped in the same vinegar and water solution to wash down the rest.
Deep Cleaning Method 1
Use an onion on a BBQ fork. The onion has acids that break down fat and the water inside the onion works like a steam cleaner. Rub-down the grates after cooking and scraping as usual and when the grates are still pretty warm. You can add some salt on the onion’s scrubbing side to get better traction and scrubbing power. The onion can also be sliced thinner to reach between the grills.
Use the fork to angle under the grill edges to remove anything stuck underneath. You won’t need to peel the onion, just slice it with the skin still on. After that, give a generous spray down with vinegar and water mix to wash away the onion build-up. This will further break down oils and fat that has dried onto the metal grill surfaces.
Deep Cleaning Method 2
Caked on grills will need a strong cup of coffee. Brew up a batch of your favorite mud and put your grill into a washing tub. Pour the coffee over the grill until it’s submerged. Let it sit until the natural acids in the coffee break down the fats and dried-on food. This can take 3 hours of soaking, so sit back and have a cup as well. Afterward, you can scrub off the grill with any scrubby sponge or pot cleaner.
This method is great for cleaning both sides of the grill and should be done at least once per season. It doesn’t matter what kind of coffee you use, but the stronger you make it- the better. Arabica coffee is good to use, and it should be made from coffee grounds on a drip machine.
Deep Cleaning Method 3
You can’t beat the power of white vinegar and water at getting any grill sparkling clean. Put your grills in a plastic tub and fill it up with a 60/40 mix of vinegar and water. Let it sit for 5 minutes and then use a lemon to scrub-off the remaining caked-on grill grate. You could use nearly anything handy such an onion, lemon, or dried corn cobs. This method is especially strong to remove very gunked-up grates in a hurry.
Especially if you didn’t have the time to clean your grill in a while! Not only is this method safe and chemical-free, but your metal also isn’t getting scratched by using scraping tools. The left-over vinegar and water mix can simply be flushed without harm to the environment.
1. Best Scraper: CharGon Ultimate
Here’s a good tool to use for grill grate surfaces that are rounded. This nifty tool fits in your hand with a solid wood grip handle. All you do is put over the grate rail and scrape away fast and easy. It’s angled at the tip so scraping can be faster for you. By twisting your hand you can scrape under the rail and not miss a spot.
It’s the perfect alternative to using a wire brush. It’s also handy to hang up with your other BBQ cooking tools. This design comes with a leather strap for hanging on your grill when you need to use it. It has an angled blade design that wraps around of the grate for better coverage on your grates.
2. Best Cleaning Device: Wagner Spraytech
Just when you thought that steam cleaners weren’t a good idea for cleaning grill grates, think again! Wagner is a top-quality name when it comes to steaming, and your grill deserves that kind of power. It works by using distilled water and the rest is high-powered steam cleaning. Using the handheld attachment you’ll be able to steam clean your BBQ grates without much effort being used.
The caked-on residue that seems would never come off is no match for this Wagner steamer model. The plus side is you can use this steamer for all sorts of cleaning on your grill aside from the grates. The upper lids or the inside parts that are hard to reach won’t be a hassle anymore to clean. This portable steam cleaner makes cleaning your grill a lot more fun!
3. Best Grill Brush: Grillart
Tired of thinking that wire brushes are going to ruin your BBQ?
Here’s a wonderful brush that will do the trick real quick. The secret to this brush is from the looped wires that present no danger to your guests or your grill. It does have a secret of its’ own and you need to stick to that rule. It works with water to help steam off the grill gunk. Have any bucket handy to clean your grill while it’s nice and hot.
Add some lemon juice to break down acids faster while you give a scrub down between grilled dishes. It can even reach into narrow slots that other tools may find hard getting into. It’s a safer alternative to wire brushes but still uses looped wire to clean-off cooked food particles.
4. Recommended w/ Reservations: Grill bricks/pumice stones
This cool 4-pack by Kelfuoya includes 2 grill bricks and 2 pumice stones. It’s a cool idea that makes cleaning the surface of your grates nice and easy. These are decent to use when you’re cleaning up your cooking surfaces. This way you can scrub-off both sides of the grill safely. It naturally wears down the caked-on grease and oil and then can be wiped with a clean towel or sponge. This is a great starter kit for cleaning but not the only solution.
It’s good for times when your grill is super-messy and needs quick cleaning in a hurry. Two kinds of coarseness wear away the greasy build-up. Use a little cooking oil on the grates before you start to scrub away. It doesn’t take too much effort to have clean grills in minutes.
5. Recommended w/ Reservations: Citrusafe Grill Cleaning Spray
We already know how effective the power of citrus happens to be. Lemons do a great job of degreasing almost any surface. This cold-grill cleaner spray contains d-limonene that is 100% food safe for cleaning. Spray this on your grill grates and let the spray work its charms. Use any kind of scrubbing tool you like, the result will be fast and not smelly like other chemical cleaners. You just get the fresh scent of super-charged lemon.
It can also be used on any kind of oily surface that needs cleaning on your BBQ and grill. Grab a paper towel, give a couple of sprays, and wipe away the excess in seconds. It’s non-toxic and bio-friendly. You’ll love using this crazy citrus grill cleaner spray.
6. Not recommended: Grillbot Automatic Grill Cleaner
Here is what you want to avoid on your grill, but it’s nice to know there’s a choice for everyone. The laziest inventions are the ones that invade the job of grilling. This wannabe grate cleaner claims to do the work for you but at what cost? I would be ashamed to see this on my grill but just for laughs, it’s funny to see what passes for laziness these days. If you need one gadget that every Pitmaster should have, check this out:
Recommended Bonus Tool: Bchoice Scraper
It’s so small it fits in your pocket and can clean your grill too! It’s handy enough to pop the top of your beer if you’re careful enough. Works in any kind of grill no matter which model and has several scraper slots to clean. There are 5 rounded notches and 5 V-shaped notches. If you need something useful to clean your grill, this is certainly the right choice for you.
Why We Don’t Like Brushes for Cleaning Grates
Everybody thinks that wire brushes work best, but in reality, they can be dangerous if not used properly. You need to use a scraper to knock down the dried-up stuff that a wire brush can’t do easily. Like brushing your teeth huh? Not really, since little wire hairs can snap off and stick to the greasy spots you can’t get to. You won’t see it there until it gets in your food. Sending your BBQ guests to the hospital is never part of the plan.
Only use a wire brush after you’ve scraped off all the grease and given the grill a good inspection. Dip your wire brush into water before doing any scrubbing after the grill is free from oil and junk. If the grill is still hot, the water will vaporize and causes steam to remove anything left-over. This will also prevent little wires from sticking to the grill surface too as they’ll drop down into the grill bed.
CLEAN OR REPLACE GRILL GRATE?
When is the time to buy new grates?
No matter how it can happen, grates will eventually wear out if you don’t take care of them. The issues of rust, wear-n-tear, and rough cleaning can end them sooner for all the wrong reasons. When you see that the grates are getting too pitted from scraping too hard will be a sign. Rusted to the point they are nearly falling off is another! Perhaps you forgot that the weather damaged them through water and rusting.
When you see these signs, it’s time to get a new grill surface that fits onto your grill. Since this is your cooking table, you better buy a quality metal. If you take good care of that grill, it will last longer without needing a replacement for many decades.
Are rusty grates ok? If so, how much rust?
A little rust is ok since all metal surfaces can oxidize with the right conditions. Even foggy weather will make this happen and you can get a light rusty coating that is easy to clean off. But if you go full Titanic mode and see rust taking on a life of its’ own, your metal might be too damaged. Seeing big rust chunks is not a good sign and that means there’s also a water or moisture problem.
Metal grills naturally react with water and start to break down like everything else. Keep your grill covered and away from moisture.
How to keep rust from coming back?
After any good cleaning coat your grill surface with vegetable oil on both sides. The oil can keep moisture from attacking the metal. If you want to store your grill for long-term over the winter, put your grill grate inside a plastic bag. When you’re ready to use the BBQ again, take them out of the bag and give them a good wipe down with paper towels. You’re then ready to fire-up the barbecue again and start cooking.
Since you don’t have to put them in a bag all the time, always wipe the grill down before cooking on them. Vegetable oil also attracts little bugs, dust, and debris. Clean surfaces work better if they don’t have any kind of build-up. The oil just helps you keep rust from ruining an afternoon BBQ.
About Grill Grates
If there has to be the nagging question that determines what kind of grill grate is better, I’ll admit it’s a jaded subject. The whole issue here is simple when you are cooking anything on an outdoor grill. But it’s one of those things that also will make people go nuts about the specifics on which grill is better. Let’s not forget why grilling on outdoor grates is part of the appeal of BBQ and especially for flavor. So how do grates affect these points?
Each grate surface is designed to keep your meats and foods off the coals, that’s all there is to it. How the grill pattern looks isn’t so much an issue as heat dispersion and access to smoke is needed. If you haven’t figured it out yet that your flavors get better when meat can cook slower with an even coloration on the outside. It also absorbs the smoke and gives a richer flavor than cooking on a stovetop.
But for the sake of giving an idea what grate will be more suited for BBQ grilling, here are the most common kinds of grilling grates you’ll find on the market.
Best Grill Grates
When it comes time to move onto a new set of grill grates, here’s our recommendations.
Cast Aluminum GrillGrates
Because they’re made from aircraft aluminum, they hold up very well under high heat. Aluminum is excellent at heat distribution so burning your meat is less likely. They are easy to clean with not too much carbon build-up and never rust! Go figure these are the top choice for BBQs
Chrome / Nickel Plated Wire Grates
If you own a standard Weber grill, you’ve seen these shiny cheap grates before. They work well for a while but after a couple of good years of service, they’re ready to toss out. The plating eventually comes off and they tend to rust quickly. Not too much loss, but then again they’re made to be replaced. These grates work excellent since the grate is thin enough to get a good sear on your meat.
Stainless Steel grates
The beauty of these kinds of grates is the variety of styles to choose from. You can pick thicker or thinner grate rods though the thinner ones are much better for allowing the heat to get to your meat for cooking. These will last longer over the plated grates but then again nothing lasts forever when cleaning will eventually wear away the metal surface and elements such as water start to allow rust spots to appear.
You can prep them so they don’t rust so easily and once again these are also replaceable. Just look for a good quality Stainless steel that will last longer than cheaper grates. What you put into the cost of quality steel also affects how your grilled food will turn out.
Cast Iron grill grates
If you ask me, these grates can be perfect for getting non-stick grilling if you are very careful. Here’s why this happens and why so many people think cast iron is some magical metal. The surface has a very nice quality of holding cooking oil. It’s iron, so the little imperfections in the metal will allow the oil to remain on the surface evenly. But when you add heat, this changes everything. That oil can burn-off and then you get fat and food sticking to the grate.
You’ll have to clean these more often when the heat is getting too hot. Even though they hold up great for higher heat, they will need scrubbing and oiling after every use. They can be a headache over the other alternatives. If you want to keep it simple, don’t invest in cast iron grates unless you are prepared to do more prepping to keep these grates well oiled and properly cleaned.