How to Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates – Routine Cleaning & Rust Removal

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Cast iron grill grates are one of the most popular types of grates you’ll find on many grill types, and for good reason.  They’re durable, make outstanding grill marks on your food, and with proper care will last you an incredibly long time.

The thing is, without proper care the quality of your cast iron grill grates can go downhill quickly.  In the rest of this post, we’ll cover everything you need to know for how to clean cast iron grill grates and how to care for them the right way.

How to Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates – Overview

The best thing you can do to keep your cast iron grill grates clean is to routinely clean them after each time you use them.  I know that advice is really simple, but it’s true.  The mundane task of cleaning your grates after each use will do wonders to help retain their quality and longevity.

Here’s a step by step process to follow to quickly and effectively clean after you cook:

  1. Turn the heat up to burn off any leftover food or sauce particles.  If you’re using a gas grill, you can simply crank the knob to high and shut the grill to let it heat up.  For charcoal grills, open your vents and close the lid to let things get hot.
  2. Let your grill cool a little bit.  After all excess food has burnt off, you can turn off your heat source or put out your charcoal to let the grill cool down.
  3. While your grill is still warm, give your grates a solid work over with a grill brush.  This is the most effective way to remove any leftover food or sticky substances that might still be in there from your cook.
  4. Apply a thin coat of vegetable oil.  Do this after you’re sure that your grates have been scrubbed down and aren’t wet.  A thin coat of vegetable oil will fill in the pores of your grates and prevent rusting from taking place.  You don’t need to use a ton of oil, a light filmy coat will do.  A cloth or rag lightly dipped into oil will be more than enough to get the job done.

Season Your Grates

After that last step of applying a coat of vegetable oil, you’ve got a nice opportunity to season your cast iron grates.  It’s a good idea to season frequently, as the positive effect of seasoning compounds over time to form an easy release, non-stick, anti-rust cooking surface for you to work with over time.

If your grill is still hot after cleaning, you should be good to go.  If it’s cooled off, to properly season you should run the temperature back up to 350 degrees Fahrenheit or higher to get the heat to a level where it will polymerize the oil.

How to Remove Rust From Cast Iron Grates

Unfortunately, rust can form on your cast iron grates for a variety of reasons.  Maybe you’ve been neglecting care of your grill – leaving the cover off or not cleaning properly after you use it.

You could also see rust form simply if you haven’t used your grill for a long period of time.  Moisture can get inside of the grates and form rust simply over the course of time.

While rust certainly isn’t good, it’s probably not the end of the world.  Unless the rust damage is catastrophic, there are a few different methods you can use to remove rust from cast iron grates.  Here are a few ways we recommend for how to remove rust from cast iron grates:

Vinegar

Get a 1 for 1 mixture of water and vinegar mixed, and place your grates flat in the solution.  If your kitchen sink is large enough that’s a great place to do this.  You can also do it in a heavy duty plastic tub if needed.

Let the grates soak for a little over an hour, then remove and scrub down with a grill brush.  Give special attention to any remaining rust areas.

Be sure to do one final rinse with water to make sure all vinegar is removed from your grates.

Last, make sure the grates are completely dry so that moisture doesn’t begin the rusting process again.

Warm Soapy Water and Steel Wool

Something to keep in mind here is that this process will actually strip down any seasoning you’ve built up over time on your grates.  It’s a necessary evil though, as this process will also strip away all of the rust that’s built up.

Bring your grates indoors and place them in your sink.  Turn the water on to warm, mix with a light soap, and use steel wool alongside the warm soapy mixture to scrape all of the rusty areas off of your grates.

After your grates have been cleaned, rinse them one last time with water.

From there, it’s really important to get your grates completely dry.  Remember, moisture is a big problem child when it comes to rust, and we’ve just scraped off any protective layers that might be on your grates.

You should dry them quickly by placing the grates in an oven set to a low temperature.  Leave them in there for 30 minutes or so, or until all moisture has evaporated from your grates and its pores.

Before your next use it would be a good idea to apply a thin film of oil and bake your grates to season them and restart the process of building up a protective coat.

High Heat

Another method that can most definitely work to clean rust off of your cast iron grates is to crank up the heat on them for an extended period of time.

There are a couple of ways you can do this.

If your grill has the capability, crank up the heat to 600 degrees Fahrenheit or slightly higher.  Place your grates inside the grill (if they weren’t already before) and leave them in there for about an hour and fifteen minutes.

The other way you can do this is to place your grates in an oven that has a self cleaning cycle.  Simply put your grates in, turn the self clean cycle on, and this process will achieve similar results.

The extreme heat will burn off and deep clean your grates.  From there, let the grates cool and check for any excess rust or food particles that didn’t get burnt off.  Scrape any stragglers away with soapy water and steel wool or a firm brush.

The Deepest Clean – Oven Cleaner

If your grates are in serious need of a deep clean and have tons of rust, the above methods might not be enough.

What you need at this point is a surefire way to strip your cast iron grates down to the bare metal, removing all rust and food particles from the equation.

The best way to do this is with an oven cleaner, some trash bags, and a safe place to store them while the cleaner does its magic.

Ideally outdoors, spray down your grates with the oven cleaner.  Keep in mind there are some serious chemicals in oven cleaners, so it’s not the kind of thing you want in your eyes or lungs.  Make sure you apply it in a well ventilated area.

After application, put your grates into trash bags and tie them shut.  Make sure there aren’t any holes where air could be escaping.

Now store them for 48 to 72 hours (or whatever your oven cleaner manufacturer recommends) to ensure there’s enough time to break down the rust and carbon build up on your grates.  Store the bags in a safe place where nobody will mess with them.

After a few days, remove the grates from the trash bags, take them to your sink, and wash with warm soapy water.  Be sure to completely dry before storing, and also be sure to re-season your grates before your first use.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Restore Cast Iron Grill Grates?

When your grill grates are looking a little worse for wear, there are several ways you can give them a thorough spring cleaning without breaking the bank or calling in a professional:

  • Steel wool:

Using a big old bowl of soapy water and some good old fashioned steel wool, you can scrub away any surface rust and burnt on food – it’s important to make sure that you thoroughly rinse and completely dry them afterwards, however, as any lingering moisture will cause rust production pretty quickly. Bear in mind that you’ll need to re-season the grates before you use them again.

  • Self cleaning oven:

If you’re lucky to have an oven with a cleaning cycle, running your grates through it for the entire period, possibly twice, is a surefire way to get them looking good again.

The same effect can be achieved by leaving them in a piping hot grill (at least 600 degrees, if not more) for an hour or two. You might still want to give them a rinse and a scrub with water, just in case there’s any lingering carbon.

  • Oven/grill cleaner:

Struggling to get the worst of the burnt-on food and rust off? You might need to opt for the store bought oven cleaner/specialized grill cleaner in order to successfully finish the job.

Be aware that unlike your oven which can be cleaned in a few hours, you’ll need to leave your grill grates soaking in the cleaner for a good few days, in a warm dry place, then rinse and wash. This is a lengthy process, but very much worth the effort!

  • Proper maintenance afterwards:

Now that your grates are back to their former glory, it’s important to keep them clean! After every cooking session, allow the grill to cool down until it’s safe to touch, then give those grates a thorough scraping with your favorite grill brush.

You might also want to season them with a tiny coating of vegetable oil – rubbing them down with a lightly soaked paper towel is easiest – as this will help to prevent future rust formation.

What Do You Soak Grill Grates in to Clean Them?

There are several tried and true methods for grill grate cleaning, but the most common liquids used for soaking are hot soapy water (dish soap is fine), a mixture of vinegar and baking soda, or straight up oven cleaner.

Is It Okay to Grill on Rusted Grates?

If you don’t have any options, then yes, but it’s best not to. Ingesting rust (iron oxide) in small amounts will not harm you, but over time it’s going to have adverse effects on your digestive system and the rest of your body for sure.

Should you find yourself in a pinch, then it’s probably alright to grill on rusty grates just once, even twice at a push, but next time you should make sure everything is cleaned up properly before you break out the grill.

Can I Use Vinegar to Clean My Grill?

Absolutely you can! In fact, it’s one of the most commonly recommended methods of cleaning grill grates – a good long soak in vinegar and baking soda will deoxidise the rust present and leave everything nice and shiny afterwards.

Most would recommend leaving them overnight or for a couple of days if you have the time to spare, and then you’ll want to rinse them off with some warm water and dish soap before drying thoroughly, just to remove any excess dirt and grime.

Can I Use Steel Wool to Clean Cast Iron?

Yes indeed, but only certain kinds of cast iron products. For instance, if you’ve got yourself a non-stick pan you probably don’t want to use steel wool on it, as you’re more likely to scrape away the protective coating than remove any burnt-on food or rust.

However, if it’s cast iron grill grates you’re looking to scrub, then go right ahead! Steel wool works wonders, and since a couple of cosmetic scratches aren’t going to stop you from grilling, it doesn’t matter if you need to press down hard in order to scrape away the grime.

If you’re worried about using steel wool on a particular kind of cast iron, see manufacturer’s guidelines or do a quick Google search for the exact product, so as to get some more specific guidance on your product of choice.

How Do You Clean Grill Grates with Lemons?

Very easily indeed! The bigger the lemon, the better, too – it gives you more surface area for scrubbing to work with. First things first, you want to heat your grill up until it’s piping, then let it sit for a couple of minutes. Cut your lemon in half and pierce the flesh several times with a fork.

Dip the lemon half into some sea salt (kosher works best) and then get ready to scrub up! Using a bit of pressure, rub the entire surface of the grill grates down thoroughly, replacing your lemon halves as needed until the whole thing is nice and clean.

Be sure to dip the new lemons in salt, as this adds some much-needed abrasion and makes scrubbing a lot easier.

Once cleaned off, wait until your grates are completely cooled before removing them to thoroughly rinse under clean, hot water. That is, unless you want all of your future grilling endeavors to taste like salted lemons!

How to Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates – Wrap Up

If you came into this article not knowing, I hope you now know how to clean cast iron grill grates!  Any of these methods should work for you.  Let us know how it went!

If you happen to have either a griddle or a kamado grill, check out the below guides for how to deep clean your grill:

Looking for more grill knowledge?  Check out our grilling how to posts next.