For years, when I set out to clean grill grates I would grab my handy wire brush and scrub away at gunk, grime, and leftover food debris. 

In this article, we bring you the ultimate grilling hack by teaching you how to remove grease and food off of your grates without a standard brush and in just a few minutes.

Grilling Gift Guide

Looking for gift ideas for yourself or someone special in your life? We've got you covered.

a standard metal grill brush

We live in a very conscious world, and it’s come to everyone’s attention as of late that metal grill brush bristles can fall off a standard grill brush and end up on or in food. In short, metal grill brushes are dangerous.

bristles from a metal grill brush can fall off and get into food.

No matter how you look at it, brush debris showing up in food is unacceptable. 

A Better Way to Clean Grill Grates

When it comes to making sure my entire grill is ready for the next cooking session, I don’t turn to the brush any longer. 

You’ve probably heard of placing a sheet of foil on the grates, turning up the heat and burning the grease off. While burning the grease off this way does work, it’s pretty time consuming and requires you to rinse and then dry the grates after.

People have recommended that I cut an onion in half and use that to clean my grates. While it does work, it seems like a perfectly good waste of a great onion that I could otherwise enjoy as food.

(If you’re planning on cooking with an onion on your fire anyways for flavor, then clean on with the onion. If you’re not into that kind of thing, then eat onions. Don’t clean with them.)

A friend of mine cleans his grill with a potato. I didn’t say we were good friends, because let’s be honest, that’s next level strange. Potatoes are for fries and for smoking twice loaded with bacon, not for scraping buildup off a grill. I enjoy my potatoes covered in cheese, not charred bits of not great eats. 

For us here at The Barbecue Lab, we have a different and easier way of cleaning our grates that only takes a quick few minutes.

We use the same material that is utilized almost every cook to wrap and protect meat. A humble ball of foil.

ball of aluminum foil

Why Aluminum Foil?

A hunk of foil doesn’t shard like a grill brush can. The bristles of a metal brush will usually need surgical removal if they break off and are ingested. Foil, on the other hand, creates a tighter and tighter ball the more you press and push against it.

There aren’t any long, sharp needles of metal that could break off to worry about with a ball of foil. There’s no debris at all with a ball of foil. Who wants to taste brush debris in their food? That’s not cool.

crumpling aluminum foil into a ball

The Cleaning Advantages of Foil

It might seem strange the first time you wad up a sheet of foil and go to running it across your grill grates. (Not as strange as using a potato to scrape and scrub the grates, though.) I think you’ll notice right away though that there’s a benefit of using a malleable cleaning utensil.

You don’t need expensive tools to take care of your grates. A simple ball of foil will conform itself to your grill grates and turn itself into a customized cleaning and brushing tool for your grill grate. This even works on cast iron grates in addition to stainless steel.

Unlike the metal bristle brush of old which never fit really well between the grates, foil will create channels that fit perfectly between the grates of the grill.

grooves in a ball of foil

Will Aluminum Foil Work On My Grill?

This foil method works great on dirty gas smokers, pellet smokers, charcoal and portable grills, as well as any other BBQ grill. Electric grills and electric smoker grill grates are no exception because carbon forms on grates no matter the heating method. 

Give Clean Grill Grates A Chance

I know it’s weird, but all I can say is don’t knock it until you’ve tried it. Even though it’s not the most popular method, I think you’ll find that being free from the fear of loose grill brush wires brings a level of calm to any outdoor cooking session. Give this method a shot if you’re on the search for an easy, yet effective, way to clean your grates.

The deep clean that your grates get with a good scrub and scrape from a ball of foil will have you coming back for more, and keep your patrons safe in the meantime. 

Deep Cleaning Grill Grates

Maintaining your grill is important, especially if you want to combat the inevitable rusting process. We’ve used many different cleaning and brushing products to care for our grill grates over the years. There have been times where oven cleaner, vinegar and baking soda, lemon juice and other cleaning agents have made their way onto our grill grates. Of all the cleaning methods, nothing beats a good soaking in hot water and soap to really deep clean grill grates.

Cleaning porcelain grates isn’t any different from cleaning stainless steel grates. We usually start with a good soak in hot water overnight. While there are multiple grill tools that you can use when cleaning bbq grills, Dawn dish soap and hot water is the first step we recommend when going for a deep soak.

Pro Tip: It seems like there’s never enough room in the sink to get a good soak on your grates. We use a shallow rubbermaid container that’s just a shade larger than our grates to do our soaking.

Letting them sit and soak in the warm water, instead of just a quick rinse or spray of water, will help accelerate the cleaning process and get you back to grilling in no time. Be sure to dry the steel grates well after the soak to make sure that they don’t get any more pesky rust.

Clean porcelain grates are great for cooking on, but trying to cook with leftover food all over is going to rob you of the great grill marks that they’re known for. 

Depending on what type of material your grill grates are made of, steel wool is a great abrasive brushing utensil to knock off all food residue, buildup, and grease. 

Washing your grill and burner tubes while cleaning cast iron grates can be a messy endeavor, so bring along a trash bag or garbage bag to make cleanup simple and easy. You’ll have old steel wool, foil and food particles to dispose of, so keep the patio clean and come prepared with a bag.

Keeping Rust Off Grill Grates

Rust can rear its head on any part of your grilling unit. From the lid to the base, it can be anywhere. Some even place a pad under their grill or install a grease cup to catch excess grease to protect their deck or garden. Rust anywhere is bad, but you really don’t want it on your grates.

If you look close inside the grill and see a few rust spots on your grill grates, it’s time to remove rust anyplace it might exist. 

To remove the rust, this is where a good wire brush comes in handy. Use the brush to scrub and scrape off the rust until you can’t see any more exterior brown rust on the surface. It can be helpful to rinse off the grill grates after you scrape them, because a little iron is good in the diet, but this isn’t the best way to get it.

Once you have a cleaner surface, be sure to wipe or spray some vegetable oil on the spot where it was present until it is dry. The vegetable oil will be effective in preventing future surface rust.

Some alternate methods would be to use a thin layer of grease to prevent rust, as the grease keeps oxygen from rusting the metal.

I don’t care if you’re cooking pork chops, hot dogs or potatoes, rust on your grill grates is bad news for the food you’re cooking and the end product. Periodically cleaning your grates from time to time is the best way to keep rust away for good.

To see a demonstration of the method we talked about throughout this article, check out the video above.

For More BBQ tips and tricks for the summer season and beyond, stay tuned to The Barbecue Lab.