7 Surprising Things You Didn’t Know About Your Grill Grates

published May 20, 2022
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Credit: Shelly Westerhausen

Grilling season is just around the corner, and I can hardly wait for bratwurst lined with grill marks, smoky vegetables laced with fire-licked flavor, and all the dripping watermelon and laughter and twinkle lights that come with the season of outdoor cooking.

But before we can get to all that fun, we have to have a moment of practicality. We have to talk about your grill grates. Your grill probably offers the biggest cooking surface you own and is quite possibly the one you know the least about. You know that you can’t use metal tools on your nonstick pans or wash cast iron skillets with soap. But how much do you really know about your grill grates?

Let’s make this your most informed grilling season yet. Here are seven things you might not have known about your grill grates.

Credit: Rachel Joy Barehl

1. Cooking on dirty grill grates is really bad.

It’s tempting to just give your grates a quick brush and get right to the cooking. After all, that black stuff is just “added flavor,” right? Well, no. First of all, your food should taste like whatever it’s supposed to taste like — not last night’s dinner! Also, built-up grease can lead to dangerous flare-ups. And dirty grates can breed bacteria and mold that can transfer to your food. Your grill grates need to be cleaned, regularly and thoroughly.

2. You can’t put grill grates in the dishwasher.

Yes, the dishwasher is a quick and easy cleaning solution to many of life’s messes. But, unfortunately, grill grates don’t make it onto that list. Not only will your grates come out still dirty, but it’s also entirely possible that the cycle will make baked-on messes even tougher to deal with. And, if your grates are made of cast iron or steel, they could come out with rust on them. Grates could also warp in the heat of the dishwasher and, assuming some of the gunk did come off, it could clog up your machine. Putting grill grates in the dishwasher is a definite no-no.

3. Oven cleaner might be your best bet for cleaning your grill grates.

Oven cleaner is harsh, there’s no doubt about it, but using it to clean the burnt-on messes on your grill grates will save you a lot of time and elbow grease. Very important: Wash your grates thoroughly with soap and water after using the oven cleaner so the chemicals don’t transfer to your food.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

4. You absolutely have to clean them at the end of the season.

Cleaning your grill grates at the end of grilling season, before putting your grill into hibernation for the winter, should be at the top of your grill maintenance checklist. By cleaning your grill after summer’s heavy use, you’ll discourage pests who could be attracted to left-on bits of food and help prevent mold growth. Keeping your grill clean and maintained also prolongs its life. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

5. You also need to clean them before grilling season.

Cleaning your grill before you fire it up for the first cookout of the season is also crucial. Doing this ensures you’ll be cooking on a clean (and pollen- and spiderweb-free) surface.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

6. You should regularly inspect for bristles.

Cleaning your grill with brushes that have metal bristles can be dangerous. This is because wire bristles can fall off the brush, stick to the grate, and ultimately end up in food you eat. My best advice? Inspect the grates after each brushing or try either a wooden scraper or one that’s super heavy duty.

7. Chainmail scrubbers are good.

Another great grill cleaning tool is a chainmail scrubber, which allows you to make the most impact with all your scrubbing efforts. Even a simple paste of Dawn dish soap and baking soda works to get grill grates clean when paired with a chainmail scrubber! 

Do you have anything else to add to this list? Leave your tips in the comments below!