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Cleaning Tips for Grimy Grill Grates

How to clean your grates without burning down the house

En español | It seems like a brilliant idea: Take the gunked-up grate from your grill and clean it on the self-clean cycle of the oven or in the dishwasher.

Not so fast. Those so-called brilliant ideas — which have been floating around the Internet and on various blogs — could be a good way to ruin your dishwasher or fill your kitchen with eye-burning fumes, smoke or even flames, say the experts.

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We asked the grill gurus at Weber and the Whirlpool Institute of Kitchen Science about both these unwise schemes.

Steve Swayne, in charge of cooking performance for Whirlpool, says putting a grease-caked grill in the oven on the self-clean cycle is a good way to start a fire.

"The gunk that collects on your grates is mostly grease and it becomes combustible at high temperatures. You're risking lots of smoke and maybe fire," he says. At the very least, he notes, the oven will be left a mess, and there could be permanent staining from all the soot.

Putting those greasy grates in the dishwasher is also a bad idea — it can clog and ruin the appliance, say the experts at Whirlpool.

So what is the best way to clean a grimy grill grate?

George Rassas, product manager with grill company Weber, says there's no reason to bring those nasty grates inside for cleaning. By following these easy steps outdoors, your grill will be ready for summer cookouts with much less risk and mess than any indoor method.

Here are some easy cleanup tips — plus a few more ideas for safe grilling this summer:

  • Take 15 minutes. To clean grates on a gas grill, first preheat the grill by turning the burners to high. After 15 minutes, the grease on the grates will have softened. "Brush them with a stainless steel grill brush. It won't take long and you won't need a lot of elbow grease," says Rassas. Clean grates means foods won't stick as easily and baked-on gunk won't flare up, burning your food.
  • Show your lid some love. When the grill is warm but not hot, clean the inside of the grill lid with a damp sponge or, if it's very dirty, a balled-up piece of foil or a brass brush. The most common question Weber gets from consumers is why the "paint" is peeling on the inside of their grill lids. That isn't paint, says Rassas. The lids are enameled, so they don't flake. That's accumulated grease and smoke that is flaking off. Scrub it off so it doesn't fall on food or smoke up the grill.
  • Don't forget the drip pan. After cooking, empty the drip pan when it's warm, not hot, to prevent flare-ups the next time. If grease is too thick, use a plastic putty knife to scrape off as much as you can.
  • Don't cheat the preheat. That's one of the biggest secrets to great grilling that Weber's Rassas tells consumers. Preheating your grill for 15 minutes not only burns off the excess grease, making the grate easier to clean, but also ensures that food will cook better and you'll get better searing for those chops and steaks.
  • Wait to baste. Yes, of course that barbecue sauce is delicious. But it's also probably high in sugar, which will make it burn easily. Wait until the last 10 minutes or so of cooking before basting your chicken or meat with sauce and you'll avoid burned food.
  • Poison control. To avoid the risk of food poisoning, remember never to reuse platters and utensils that have touched raw food. That means the plate you used to carry the burgers or raw chicken out to the grill needs to be thoroughly washed with hot, soapy water before being used for the cooked food. Same goes for the utensils. Wash your hands, too, if you touched the raw food.

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