Spick and Span: How to Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates

August 24, 2023
Written by Kristy J. Norton

You can clean cast iron grill grates with commercial grade cleaner, aluminum foil, vinegar and baking soda, dishing washing soap, and more!

I’ll be honest, cleaning my grill after using it is probably one of my least favorite jobs, but it has to be done. Fortunately, I’ve managed to perfect my options over the years.

In this post you will learn how to clean cast iron grill grates from both grease as well as rust. You can also figure out how to better maintain your grates as well. Let us begin!

how to clean cast iron grill grates_

How Do I Clean Greasy Cast Iron Grill Grates?

There are actually several remedies for cleaning cast iron grates. Here are your top options:

Commercial Degreasing Grill Cleaner

If you can’t be bothered with home remedies, then a commercial degreaser or oven cleaner may be the best option for you. The only hiccup is that it can be tricky to find one that is strong enough to remove the grease but not so strong that it will remove the protective coating.

Aluminum Foil

I wouldn’t recommend this as a sole solution as it doesn’t actually help to get the grease off the grates. I do like to use wadded up aluminum foil as the first step. It works wonders for cleaning off any gunk or debris that has built up on the grates.

cast iron pan on a cast iron grill

I actually prefer foil to using a grill brush on occasion. While wire brushes are great, I do find that the foil is able to get to those hard-to-reach spots. Just remember to use heavy-duty foil so that it won’t tear during the cleaning process.

Here’s what you need to do:

Carry out this process while the grates are warm but you can still handle them. Take some foil and scrunch it up. Then rub the foil up, down, and in between the grates. While you should apply appropriate pressure, make sure you don’t strip off any of the coating underneath.

Dish Soap and Baking Soda

This is actually a rather effective method. It also has the added bonus of being gentle enough that it will not effect the grill grates.

Let the grates cool. Once they are safe to handle, make a paste using baking soda and dish soap. Apply the paste so that the grates are completely covered. Then, fill a bucket with water and dissolve half a cup of baking soda in it.

Let the grates soak in the bucket for about half an hour and then scrub the grates to remove any debris. Wash and dry.

Vinegar and Baking Soda

This is a pretty common technique, but it does take some time. You have to let the grates soak for over 12 hours to really work so it is best to plan ahead.

Place the grates in a garbage bag. Mix two cups of distilled white vinegar with a cup of baking soda. Pour into the bag, close up the bag, and let it sit overnight. Take it out the next day and gently scrub away and debris. Wash and dry.

How Often Should You Clean Grill Grates?

I believe in a routine cleaning of the grill gates – for a gas grill as well as a charcoal grill. This means that after each use, the grill gets cleaned. I know that not many people share this view. After all, the last thing that you want to do after a full day of BBQing is to clean your grill grates.

However, you should hear me out:

The first reason that you should do this after each grilling session is that the grill grates are still warm. Thus, any food, grease, or grime that is stuck to it will be soft enough to remove with relative ease.

When debris is left on the grates for a longer period of time, it becomes tougher to remove. And, the cold grease causes the leftover food particles to stick to the grates even more tightly.

Cleaning the grill grates right away can save you a lot of effort and elbow grease.

The other reason that I like regular cleaning is because I can use my grill at a later date without any hassle. If your grill is dirty, you then have to go through the motions of cleaning it while prepping for your BBQ. If it is already clean, though, you can simply get started with the grilling right away!

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How Do You Clean Rusty Cast Iron Grill Grates?

We are all guilty of forgetting about our cast iron grill grates after the BBQ, which leads to them developing rust. Dont worry – not all hope is lost! You can clean rust from cast iron grates and have it as good as new in no time at all.

Before I get started, I want to address a question that has been posed to me many times:

Is it OK to grill on rusted grates?

No, it really isn’t! It is not safe for you to ingest rust. A small quantity may not do you any noticeable harm but if you continue to cook on rusted grates, then you may get ill. In any case, this isn’t a chance that you want to take.

Now, lets move onto removing rust from the grates! There are several ways to remove rust, let’s discuss them all here:

Use an Oven Cleaner

Believe it or not, an oven cleaner can be used to remove rust from cast iron.

Use a high-quality, commercial grade cleaner for the best results. Place the grill grates in a garbage bag and then move to a well-ventilated area. Liberally spray the cleaner all over the grates, covering every inch. Then, tie up the bag.

cast iron grill gates

Let the grates sit in the solution for 24 to 48 hours or follow the instructions on the cleaner.

Once the time is up, take the grates out out of the bag, making sure to wear protective gloves. Use steel wool to scrub the cast iron grill grates until all the rust is removed. If you are finding this tricky, use soap and steel wool. Alternatively, a wire brush may work as well.

Rinse of all the rust and debris. Make sure that the grill grates are completely dry before storing them. Some people like to set their oven to low heat and to leave the grills in the oven for up to 15 minutes to make sure they are completely dry.

Be very careful when handling the grates after this as they can be incredibly hot.

Use Vinegar

Prefer an all-natural method? Then place the grates in a garbage bag or deep container. Pour in vinegar until the grates are immersed. Alternatively, you can liberally spray the grates with vinegar – make sure that they are soaked.

Then, leave the grates like this overnight.

You can then use steel wool or a grill brush to scrub the rust off. Then, rinse off well and let it dry thoroughly.

High Heat

High temperatures can remove rust pretty easily. Now, there are some people who may want to use an acetylene torch or something similar to knock off the rust, but I would advise against this.

Instead, place the cast iron grates on your grill and fire it up to as high as it can go. Then, close the grill and let the grates heat up for about an hour or two. Then, turn off the heat and let the grates cool down a it.

Make sure to use an oven mitt or something equally heatproof to handle the grates. Once they are safe to handle, scrub the rust off. You can use hot, soapy water to help. Once you are done, rinse off the soap.

Use the Self Cleaning Setting on Your Oven

Do you have a self cleaning oven? If so, cleaning your cast iron grates just got a lot easier. This is a trick that is often use with cast iron pots but can work just as well for iron grills.

Place the grates in the oven and then set the setting to clean. Let the cycle run. Once it is done, make sure to handle the grates carefully as it can still be quite hot. You will find that most of the surface rust is gone but you can use a wire pad and mild soap to get rid of the remaining rust.

How to Prevent Rust on Cast Iron Grill Grates?

It is far more important to prevent rusting than to learn how to get rid of it. Left too long, then rust damage can destroy your cast iron grill grates. Not to mention, removing rust can be annoying and time consuming.

The best way to prevent rust is to make sure that your grates are completely free of moisture before storing them. You should also store them in a warm, dry area where they can’t be exposed to moisture or water.

The other thing to consider is seasoning cast iron grill grates. This is because seasoning prevents rust – now what does this mean and how can you use it to your advantage? Well, keep reading to find out!

How to Season Cast Iron Grill Grates

Seasoning is when you create a protective layer using oil. This is a process that can take place over weeks or months. Eventually, you will have a protective finish that will prevent rust. This also creates a non stick finish that prevents food and grime from adhering to the grates.

You should season the grates from the moment that you buy them.

Rinse the grates with warm water and dry them thoroughly. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Fahrenheit. While it is heating up, rub the grates down with cooking oil. You can use a neutral vegetable oil such as canola or flaxseed.

Place the grates in the oven and turn up the temperature to the highest setting. Let the grates bake for about an hour. Turn off the heat and let the grates sit for about two hours, until they are cool. They are now seasoned and ready for use.

If you have to scrub the grates, there is a chance that this layer may be removed. In this case, you will need to re-season the grates before using them again.

This is what you need to know about cleaning and maintaining your grates. Now that you are well aware of what to do, keeping your grill in mint condition should be easy. Happy grilling!

By Kristy J. Norton
I'm Kristy – a chef and connoisseur of all things BBQ! You can find me either in my kitchen (or someone else's) or at a big outdoor barbecue surrounded by friends and family. In both my professional and personal life I’ve picked up more than a few tips and tricks for turning out delicious food. I consider it a privilege to share it with others!
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