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How To Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates

Some things simply get better with age. Fine wines, artisanal cheeses and single malt scotches are excellent examples of this phenomenon. Cast iron grills also improve with age. However, you may be a bit daunted by the task of cleaning them, like how to clean cast iron grill grates for the first time. But it’s not hard at all. Below are some of the best methods to use.

How to Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates

Cast iron grills are very durable and resilient even when using an abrasive cleaning product, which is different than stainless steel grills that can become discolored or scratched from an inappropriate cleanser. Instead of avoiding scratches, the objective with a cast iron grill is to prevent rust. Stainless steel grates have other differences from cast iron. They do not heat as high or last as long as well-maintained cast iron. 

With the purchase of a new cast iron grill grate, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for seasoning the grill. It is a similar process to seasoning cast iron pots and pans. This crucial step helps prevent rust from developing in the first place. The manufacturer’s instructions may not provide instructions on how to clean cast iron grill grates. If they do, try their method before using others.

With the purchase of a used grill, it will be obvious if the previous owner used that proper care for it by looking at its condition. If it has a great deal of rust, it is unlikely that the previous owner seasoned it before using it. It may also indicate that the grill didn’t receive appropriate care at regular intervals. However, it is possible to restore a rusty grill to good working condition.

Removing Rust from Your Grill

If the rust has not progressed to a point of eating through the iron, it is most likely that removing the rust will extend the useful life of the cast iron grill. Begin by removing the rust using one of several different methods.

Start with an abrasive cleaning tool first to remove rust. Steel wool and wire brushes are good choices for the job. It is possible to remove a significant amount of rust with the abrasive tool and some muscle or a cleaning solution designed to remove rust.

1. Vinegar deep clean. This is a safe and trusted method of removing rust from cast iron. A vinegar soak is useful for regular cleaning and for an end-of-season deep clean. Baking soda and vinegar work well to break up food particles and clean of any rust. Combine one part baking soda and two parts distilled white vinegar. If the kitchen or utility sink if it is large enough to hold the grates and let them soak overnight. If not, use a large garbage bag to soak the grates. Seal it tightly. Doubling the bag with the soaking mixture may be appropriate. Afterwards, remove the cast iron grates and rinse them thoroughly. If anything is left on the grates, a scrub will easily remove it. Dry thoroughly prior to applying a layer of cooking oil.

2. Steel wool soap. For moderate amounts of rust, try soap and steel wool to clean the grill. Scrub the grill thoroughly with the soap and steel wool until all the rust is removed. It is important to note that the soap will likely strip away the seasoning, so it is important to re-season the cast iron grill grates after cleaning with this method. Be sure to dry the grates after cleaning and re-seasoning to dry them out completely.

3. Baking soda paste. This makes an excellent alternative to vinegar. Make a thick paste with water and baking soda. Apply the paste over the built-up rust and let it sit for several hours. Scrub off the paste with an abrasive tool. Repeat if necessary.

4. Salt paste. A salt paste is more abrasive than a baking soda paste. Make a thick paste of water and kosher salt. Apply the paste to the rusted area and used a wire brush or steel wool to scrub the rust off. Repeat if necessary. Begin a thorough cleaning with this approach first and then switch to a less abrasive method to finish. 

5. Oven cleaner. If the other methods have left behind rust, this last resort method is an option to clean the cast iron grill. One of the benefits to cast iron is that it is a natural surface, so it may seem like a contradiction to use a harsh chemical to clean it. Some over cleaners contain lye, which is quite effective at breaking down the leftover crud. Keep in mind, this method will strip the grill grates of their seasoning. Work in a well-ventilated area. Spray the grill grates with then oven cleaner and seal them in a large garbage bag. Let them soak away from children and pets for approximately two days. Afterwards, wash and rinse them completely using soap. Once finished cleaning them, it is key to re-season the grill grates just as it is important to season new grates.

Regular Maintenance Cleaning

The best method to keeping the grill grates in top shape is to use a regular maintenance cleaning schedule. Simply put, take just a few extra moments after each use to clean them. Avoiding this important step or putting it off entirely could ruin the grates eventually.

Immediately after grilling, turn up the heat on the grill to a high temperature. Close the lid and let the grill grates heat up. If working with a charcoal grill, be sure to open the vents. This way, the grill does the hard work of burning off any leftover food particles that remain on the grates. Once the food bits have burned up, allow the grill to cool to a comfortable temperature. It is best for it to be warm but not hot. With a sturdy grill brush, scrape away any crud left behind. When the food and sauce debris is cleared and the grates clean, apply a fine layer of a good cooking oil.

Keeping Your Cast Iron Grill Grates Maintained

As already noted, regular maintenance will keep ythe cast iron grill grates clean and free from rust. Here are just a few tips to help in the process.

  • Buy a new grill brush at the beginning of each grilling season (typically summer). Check the brush for loose bristles and remove before using.
  • Use marinades sparingly. Applying too much barbeque sauce or other liquid marinades too early in the grilling will result in burned, sticky sugar stuck on the grates.
  • If the grates are new, keep in mind that it is normal for some food to stick until the grates are fully seasoned. Using a nonstick coating can help prevent build up on the grill grates and keep food from sticking.
  • Use a grill cover when not in use. This keeps moisture from entering the grill and causing rust.
  • When applying oil or shortening to the grill, use a natural bristle paint brush or paper towel. Do not use a synthetic brush or anything made of nylon. These will melt from the hot grates.
  • Do not use a dishwasher to clean the cast iron grill grates. It sounds like a great idea. However, the grease from the grill grates will clog your dishwasher and leave behind a difficult-to-remove residue. No one wants to eat off of plates washed like this. This will only doubles the amount of cleaning when using this method.

Season Cast Iron for Preventive Maintenance

Another key step in keeping cast iron grill grates in excellent condition is to keep them seasoned. A harsh cleaning method will remove the seasoning. Once the rust is cleaned off from the cast iron grill grates, apply a fine layer of a good cooking oil, preferably a vegetable oil. Another option is flaxseed oil or shortening. Heat the grates until warm then apply the oil. Heat them to a high temperature in the oven or grill, then allow them to cool. It is crucial to maintain the seasoning of the grill grates by coating them each time after cleaning. When this is done regularly, it will prevent rust from building up or even forming at all. 

Final Thoughts on How to Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates

After reading this, it may seem like extra effort that is unnecessary. However, the more attention a chef can pay to maintaining and cleaning the cast iron grill gates, the less chance there is that it will be necessary to deep clean them at the end of the season. With a few easy steps, any outdoor cook will have clean and rust-free cast iron grill grates to cook their food. It is worth the effort to have the grill grates in peak performance.

Grilling food is a favorite way to cook. Enjoy the beautiful outdoors and the intense flavor of food cooked over the barbeque, and keep the grill grates clean for less work and more enjoyment.