Just like fine wine or whiskey, cast iron is something that simply gets better with age. However, that statement is only true if you properly maintain your cast iron cooking tools, including your grill grates. The process of how to clean cast iron grill grates may seem like a lot of work. But it isn’t much different from cleaning other forms of cast iron, such as pans and griddles. So grab your best grill brush, and let’s get started.

Why do we cook with cast iron?

Professional and home chefs alike have sung the praises of cast iron for years. But why? Cast iron has an incredible number of advantages over other kinds of cookware. For instance:

Durability

You probably still remember your grandparents’ favorite cast iron pots and pans. Maybe you have even inherited these tools of the trade. The fact that is that cast iron is virtually indestructible and can last for generation after generation, improving with age. That is why it makes the perfect grill grates. It will last far longer than any of the aluminum or stainless steel parts of your grill, as long as it is properly maintained.

Even Temperatures

Cast iron is heavy and can take a while to heat up. But once it is hot, the cast iron will hold onto that heat far more effectively than other materials. This allows for even cooking and heat distribution, making it perfect for searing and browning at high temperatures.

Affordability

Cast iron was perhaps the most inexpensive cooking material on the market until aluminum showed up. But when you factor in its longevity, it is clear that cast iron is the real winner. It is a one time purchase and a rather affordable one at that. Many people even prefer to buy their cast iron pre-owned. Not only because of the cheap price but also the layers of seasoning that have built up over time and use.

Nonstick Coating

When properly seasoned, cast iron is naturally nonstick. It doesn’t contain any of the chemicals other nonstick cooking materials (such as Teflon) release when heated to high temperatures. These perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) can escape into the air you breathe, the food you eat, and even washed down the drain polluting waterways and ecosystems. That’s enough to make anyone consider cooking solely with cast iron.

Fortifies Food

While cast iron doesn’t release any harmful chemicals into your food, what it does do is fortify your food with iron. Need more iron in your diet? You can expect foods cooked with cast iron to contain an average of five times the amount of iron as those cooked with other materials. This is great for pregnant moms, someone with anemia, or anyone just looking to increase his/her iron intake.

How to Season your Cast Iron Grill Grates

The first step to keeping any cast iron in good condition is to season it before using it for the first time. Seasoning uses fat or oil to build up a tough coating and create a nonstick surface. This is also a process that will help prevent your grates from rusting.

If you are thinking about skipping this step and going straight to the cooking, let me caution you against that. It is imperative to the longevity of your cast iron that you follow these steps before ever firing up your grill.

There are three steps to seasoning:

Wash

Begin by rinsing your grates in warm water. Do NOT use soap. The only time you should ever use soap when cleaning cast iron is if you plan to completely strip your cast iron of its seasoning and start all over. Why? Soap is highly effective at removing oil, and oil happens to be the most essential part of seasoning. When you finish washing, dry your grates off well using a towel.

Oil

Building up layers of oil gives cast iron its nonstick capabilities. You can use a paper towel or a natural bristle paint brush to apply the cooking oil. Use a thin layer of your favorite cooking oil, such as peanut oil, and apply it in several coats for the first seasoning. When seasoning after each future use, you will only need to apply a single layer of oil.

Heat

Place your grill grates back inside the grill and light it up! Let the temperature reach 350-400°F and leave it there for at least 45 minutes. Then, allow your grill grates to cool completely.

See? Seasoning is far simpler than it sounds. Now, you will want to remember to season your grates between uses. How frequently you re-season is up to you. Some people recommend to season the grates after every use, but others will use them a few more times before re-seasoning. This helps to maintain the nonstick coating and prevent rust, ensuring the durability of your grates.

How to Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates

The best way to make sure that your grill grates stay up to snuff for the long run is to clean them after every use. This is not a task that you want to put off or avoid entirely, or you will run the risk of ruining the grates.

Immediately after cooking, turn the heat of your grill up to high and close the lid, allowing the grates to heat up. If you are using a charcoal grill, open all of the vents. Let your grill do the hard part for you by burning off leftover food and sauce particles stuck on the grates.

Once those bits have burned off, let your grill cool to a point that you feel comfortable sticking your hand inside. It should still be fairly warm but not hot. Use a good grill brush to scrape off anything that is left behind. Once all of the food debris is gone and the grates are clear, apply a thin layer of your favorite cooking oil.

How to Remove Rust from your Cast Iron Grill Grates

Rust happens, whether by accident or neglect. Moisture can invade even the best kept grills. In this case, it may occasionally be necessary to know how to clean rust from off your cast iron grill grates. There are several different options depending on the severity of the rust.

Vinegar Deep Cleanse

The safest and most trusted method of cleaning your cast iron of rust is to use a vinegar soak. This method is great for casual cleaning and for an annual deep clean. Vinegar and baking soda will work together to break apart any food particles and strip off any rust.

Combine a mixture of two parts distilled white vinegar and one part baking soda. If your sink is large enough, rest the grates in the sink and allow them to soak overnight. Otherwise, place your grill grates and the vinegar mixture in a large garbage bag and seal tightly. After soaking overnight, remove the grates and rinse thoroughly. Anything that is still attached to the grates will scrub off easily when rinsed. Be sure to rinse thoroughly and dry with a towel before applying a layer of cooking oil.

Steel Wool Soap

If you have a moderate amount of rust, you can use steel wool and soap to remove it. Scrub thoroughly with the steel wool and soap until you have removed all of the rust. Unfortunately, the soap is going to strip your grates of their seasoning, but this may be necessary depending on the amount of rust on your grates. Just remember that you will have to re-season the grates thoroughly once you have finished scrubbing.

To ensure that there isn’t any moisture left in the pores of the cast iron, dry your grates in a hot oven or inside the grill once they are cleaned and re-seasoned.

Oven Cleaner

If you have tried the other methods and rust still remains, this should be your last resort to clean cast iron grill grates. One of the perks to using cast iron is that it doesn’t contain harsh chemicals, so using harsh chemicals to clean it can seem like somewhat of a contradiction. Many oven cleaners use lye, which is great for breaking down that stuck-on-crud, but it will also strip your cast iron down to the bare metal.

Spray your grates with oven cleaner in a well-ventilated area and seal them tightly in a large garbage bag. Allow them to sit in a warm spot, well away from children or pets for two days. Then, rinse and wash thoroughly, using soap. After you have finished cleaning, you will need to season the grates as if you are starting from scratch with brand new grates.

Tips for Maintaining your Grill Grates

While proper cleaning and seasoning are essential to your grill maintenance, there are a few other tips to keep in mind.

  • Replace your grill brush annually and check your brush for loose bristles before each use.
  • Be mindful of marinades. If you use excessive amounts of liquid or barbeque sauce too early when grilling, the result will be sticky, burnt sugar caked on the grates.
  • If your food sticks to the new grates during your first few uses, be aware that this is normal. As you continue to clean and season, the nonstick coating will build up on the grates and food will stick less.
  • Always keep your grill covered when not in use to prevent any moisture from sneaking inside and starting to rust.
  • When applying oil for seasoning, you can use a paper towel or a natural bristle paint brush. Do NOT use any kind of nylon or synthetic brush to apply the oil, as they will melt when applied to the warm grates.
  • Do NOT be tempted to wash your grill grates in the dish washer. This may seem like common sense, but you would be surprised. The grease from the grates will coat the inside of your dishwasher and leave behind a gross, sticky residue. Seasoned grill grates = Good. Seasoned dish washer = Bad. You will be pulling double duty on cleaning if you dare try this method.

Conclusion

It may seem like a lot of effort, but don’t debate – clean your cast iron grates! Cleaning and maintaining your grill grates is not a chore, it is a necessity for proper grill care. With these simple steps, you will have no trouble keeping your cast iron grill grates clean and rust-free for years to come.  It is well worth the effort to keep your cast iron cooking at its peak performance.