Everyone who likes to cook and grill out knows that cast iron is a workhorse that can help you create wonderful and flavorful food, and this is why cast iron grates and grills are so popular.
Cast iron has properties that allow it to easily conduct and retain heat for long periods to help you lock moisture and flavors, but food build-up and a lot of water can ruin these grates.
If you’re wondering how to clean cast iron grill grates, we’ll give you a step-by-step guide with useful tips to help keep your cast iron in excellent condition.
Ideally, you’ll clean your cast iron as soon as you finish using it by scraping the food particles off and lightly washing it. You also have to season your cast iron grill grates before you finish cleaning to create a coating and give your food that wonderful flavor.
How to Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates – Step-by-Step
You want to assemble all of your materials and tools before you start the cleaning process to ensure it goes smoothly from start to finish.
- Baking soda
- Dish soap
- Lemon juice
- Vegetable oil
- Warm water
- Drying clothes
- Newspaper, tarp, or a drop cloth
- Paper towels
- Plastic buckets (two)
- Plastic gloves
- Plastic scraper
- Plastic wrap
- Stiff-bristled nylon scrubber or brush
Step One – Set Up Your Cleaning Space
If you haven’t cleaned your cast iron grill grates in a while, this can be a very messy project that can stain your deck or patio. Spread out your drop cloth, tarp, or newspaper where you’re going to clean the grates and put them in the center of it.
This will make cleanup much easier because you won’t have to worry about scrubbing stains off your patio or deck, and slipping on rubber gloves will protect your nails and hands during this cleaning project.
Step Two – Prepare Your Cleaning Solution
Take one of the buckets and fill it with one teaspoon of dish soap and one-gallon hot water to help cut through the grease before mixing it thoroughly.
The second bucket should contain hot clean water for rinsing your grates, and you want to bring both buckets to your cleaning area when you finish filling them up.
Step Three – Empty the Grill and Remove the Grates
If you’re using a charcoal cast iron grill, you want to wait until it’s 100% cool before you remove the ashes and charcoal embers.
If you have a gas grill, disconnect the gas line if you’re going to clean the entire thing. Remove the cooking grates and put them into the middle of your newspaper or tarp to clean.
Step Four – Start Scrubbing
Lay your grates out flat, take a stiff-bristled brush, and scrub them to remove any stuck-on food or debris, making sure you work with the direction of the grates.
For burned-on messes that aren’t coming off, use your plastic scraper to loosen the food before brushing it away again.
Once most of the food particles are gone, dip your scrubber or brush into the soap and water solution and scrub at your grates.
When they’re clean enough for you, get your bucket of clean hot water and rinse them thoroughly to remove any soap residue before getting out your cloth to wipe them dry. The grates will rust if you let them stay wet, so make sure they dry completely.
Step Five – Season Your Grates
Once you have thoroughly clean and dry every section of your grill’s grates, you’ll want to get your paper towels and apply a very light coating of vegetable oil to the top, bottom, and sides.
You’ll want to spread the oil out as evenly as possible, and the oil will slowly soak into the grates to season it.
Step Six – Reassemble Your Grill
The final step in the cleaning process is to reassemble your grill once everything is dry and seasoned.
Ideally, you’ll switch your grill on to heat it right away for 10 minutes because this will help the oil penetrate into the grates’ surface and bind with the cast iron to create that wonderful look and taste that you get when you cook on it.
Turn the grill off and season it again while the grates are hot, and wear gloves, so you don’t burn yourself.
Step Seven – Use Your Grill or Store It
If you cleaned the grates prior to using them, they’re now ready to go, and you can start cooking. If you’re cleaning it before storage, let your grates and the whole grill get completely well-oiled and dry before you pop the cover on and store it until you need it again.
Removing Rust From Your Cast Iron Grates
Rust can appear on your grill’s cast-iron grates for many reasons, like neglecting to clean it after you use it or leaving the cover off.
If you store your grill for months at a time, rust could form simply from disuse, and it’s good to know that it’s not the end of the world.
There are a few ways you can try to remove the rust from your grates and bring them back to new before you season them again.
High Heat Treatment
You can turn up the heat and burn the rust off your grates in a few different ways. If your grill can reach high temperatures, turn it up to around 600-degrees, put your grates inside the grill, close the lid, and leave it alone for an hour or so.
You can also pop your grates into the oven and switch the self-clean cycle on to get similar results.
The extreme temperatures will give your grates a deep clean by burning off any food or rust. Once they finish in the heat, let them cool, pull them out, and inspect them for rust. If you see any, you can scrape it away using a brush or steel wool before cleaning and seasoning them again.
This is the last resort to clean your grates because it’ll strip everything away back to bare metal, and you’ll have to start the seasoning process over from square one.
Take your grates outside and give them a good spray with oven cleaner, keeping in mind that there are harsh chemicals here that you don’t want to breathe in or get on your skin. Place your coated grates into a large trash bag and tie them closed.
There shouldn’t be any holes for the air to escape these bags, and you want to store the grates in the bags for 48 to 72 hours undisturbed to allow the cleaner enough time to break down the carbon build-up and rust. Keep them in a safe place where no one will disturb them.
After the 48 or 72 hours is up, remove the grates from the bags and take them either outside or in your sink and wash them thoroughly with warm soapy water.
Lay the grates out and allow them to completely dry before you store them, and season them well before you use them for the first time again.
Steel Wool with Soapy Water
Just like with the oven cleaner, using steel wool and soapy water will strip your layers of seasoning away with the rust.
Bring your grates inside to start the process and place them into your sink before turning the water on warm and adding dish soap. Take your steel wool and scrape away at all of the rusted areas you see before rinsing them off with clean water.
Set your grates aside in a place where they’ll dry because leaving moisture on them will invite the rust to come back, and you’ve just scraped away from your protective layers.
You can place your grates into your oven at a low temperature and let them dry for at least 30 minutes to allow the moisture to evaporate from the metal’s pores.
You can store them until you’re ready to use them, and it’s a good idea to apply a thin layer of vegetable oil all over them and bake them for 15 to 20 minutes to start the seasoning process and begin building up your protective coating again.
Vinegar has a powerful acetic acid makeup that can easily eat away at the rust on your grates, and all you have to do is lay your grates flat into a solution of one-to-one vinegar and water.
You should leave your grates to soak for at least an hour before removing them and scrubbing them with your grill brush, and you want to focus on any area that has rust left.
Once you get all of the rust off, give your grates a thorough rinse to help remove any vinegar that may linger on them before setting them out to dry.
When they dry, it’s time to season them before letting them cool and storing them away until you need them again. You can soak your grates in the sink or in a big rubber tub if you have one.
Keeping Your Cast Iron Grates Clean
Although it’s not the end of the world to strip your cast iron grates back to bare metal before starting the seasoning process over, it can feel like it.
The other alternative is to keep your grates clean with routine maintenance because this will help you stop any rust before it becomes a large problem.
Where and how you store your cast iron grates will play a large role in whether or not they develop a rust problem.
Ideally, you’ll want to store them in a clean and dry space that has cooler air circulating because this can impede the spread of rust and reduce the risk of moisture building up.
You also don’t want to stack your grates on top of one another because this can harm the seasoning layer, so try to have them flat in the grill when you store it.
Each time you use your grill, it’s essential that you spread a thin layer of oil over any cast iron components at the end of the cooking process because this helps to create the seasoning layer.
You’ll only need a small amount of oil spread over an even layer, but this should be enough to prevent the rust from forming and damaging your pan.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can you use a non-stick cooking spray to season your grill grates?
It is possible to use a non-stick cooking spray on your grill grates. However, it’s not recommended because it can actually make them stickier.
Also, it’s very easy to get this oil everywhere and create a mess or a fire hazard when you fire up your grill again, so you should stick to vegetable oil.
2. Are stainless steel or cast iron grill grates better?
It’s true that stainless steel grates hold up better against rust and corrosion, but cast iron retains more heat, lasts much longer, and creates a non-stick surface for your food. This makes cast iron the preferred choice over the two.
3. Is it safe to use your grates if they have rust on them?
No, it’s not safe to use your grill if your grates have a large amount of rust on them because the rust can flake off onto your food. You should try to remove as much rust as possible before cooking on them.
4. What is the best oil to season your grates with?
A lot of grill manufacturers recommend that you use peanut oil or canola oil because they have smoke points that are much higher at 450-degrees than other oils.
You can also use avocado oil, sunflower oil, or vegetable oil without a problem. The goal is to pick an oil that won’t smoke when you season or cook with it.