Yes, It’s Safe to Use a Public Grill. Here’s How to Do It.

published Jul 3, 2015
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(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

We had a rusty charcoal grill in the corner of our backyard growing up, but it was usually covered in spider webs and we only pulled it out once, maybe twice, a year. But being in temperate California weather, we could grill out more often than that, and we did. Where did we go instead? We packed up our food, headed to the beautiful parks in our neighborhoods, and happily used the public grills there.

For those of you who are scared of these well-used grills, I’m healthy and here to assure you that yes, it’s fine and safe to use public grills. It just takes a little cleaning and know-how.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

I get that it’s a bit scary to use a public grill, I really do. You don’t know who’s been there before you and the whole concept is a bit strange, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying some of the perks of parks and campsites. In fact, I’ve had great conversations with neighboring park-grillers and shared recipes and grilling ideas! And how awesome is it that you can grill even if you don’t actually own one?

Most anti-park grillers think it’s unsafe to grill on park grills, but let’s just get this straight. Grills use fire, lots of fire. Fire and heat do an amazing job of killing off any germs or bacteria that might be on the grill. So as long as you get that fire rip-roaring hot, you’ll be okay. My family and I fared just fine, and you will too!

5 Tips for Grilling on a Public Grill

If I’ve convinced to you take up the best summer “sport” — aka public grilling — here are some tips to help you out if you’re doing it for the first time.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

1. Clean out the grates as best as you can.

Cleaning out a public grill before you use it is fairly similar to cleaning out a regular kettle charcoal grill, and the first step is cleaning out the grill grates. You’re not restoring them to a sparkling clean, just using a grill brush or a wadded-up piece of foil to scrape off any carbon or food stuck on there. Do your best but know you’ll be covering the grates with foil or scrubbing the grates again once the grill is hot.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

2. Remove any ashes or debris from the bottom.

If there are any ashes on the bottom of the grill, get rid of them. An easy way to do this is to place a hand in a plastic garbage or shopping bag and use that to “sweep” the ashes out of the grill and into a trash or paper bag.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

3. Cover the grates with foil if you like.

If you’re feeling really squeamish about grilling directly on the grill grates, just cover the grates with foil and poke a few holes in it with foil before you light the grill. This is also worth doing if you’ll be grilling small things, like shrimp, that might easily fall through the grates.

(Image credit: Rachel Joy Barehl)

4. Make sure you really preheat the grill if you’re not using foil.

If you choose not to do the foil thing, which I usually don’t, just preheat the grill for a while first. When you’re ready to grill, give the grill grates another quick brush to scrape off any remaining bits that are stick on there. Oil the grates if you can to create more of a nonstick surface.

5. Clean up.

When you’re done grilling, give the grates another brush or scrape to remove any residual food while the grill is still hot, or throw out the foil. You usually don’t have to wait for the grill to cool off and remove the ashes, but some parks or campsites might require that, so check before you arrive or when you get there. In general, though, you should be a good citizen and leave your grill site as clean and tidy as possible for the next person.

See, using a public grill isn’t so bad, right? Now you have no excuse not to head out to your local park with a few friends and enjoy a meal al fresco. Be brave — just do it!