Among the grilling community, there’s been an excess of grillers wondering, are grill mats safe? The question seems straight forward but much more goes into it than a simple yes or no.
There are several factors to consider before you start slapping a grill mat down during a neighborhood cookout.
Are Grill Mats Safe?
The short answer is: Yes, grill mats are completely safe. However, there a caveat. Grill mats are completely safe when used correctly.
Incorrect use can not only damage the grill mat but also cause the chemicals in the mat to break down and be released into your food.
Strictly speaking, grill mats are as safe as Teflon pans. Misuse can make them harmful. But, using anything incorrectly can turn it into a hazard.
While there is a minute risk when using grill mats, there is no inherent danger.
Are Grill Mats Safe? Why Use One?
If you’ve never encountered grill mats before, you might be wondering why someone would want to use one to begin with. It’s important to know what would draw you to one in the first place before wondering if grill mats are safe.
The most lauded feature of grill mats is how convenient they are. Grill mats are lightweight, flexible, and portable. They can be taken anywhere and used without any preparation.
You can also cut the grill mat to fit whatever shape you might need. If you have a circular grill, you can cut the mat into a circle to fit properly, rather than using it in the traditional rectangular shape.
That makes them incredibly versatile for any surface.
One trait that many grillers applaud is the hygiene they offer. If you’re using a communal grill, such as at a park or an apartment complex, grilling on a grill mat puts a safe barrier between your food and the heavily-used grill.
That way, you won’t be inconvenienced by the grillers before you who left without cleaning the grill.
Easy to use
One of the traits that make grill mats convenient is how easy they are to use. Grillers only need to put them down on a grill and then proceed with everything in the same manner that they would have otherwise.
Anyone wondering, "Are grill mats safe?" can use one without any sort of direction.
The only other task one could conduct while using a grill mat is cutting them to fit a surface, as previously mentioned. Obviously, this is as easy as using knives or scissors.
They’re also incredibly easy to clean. Once done, grillers can simply wipe them clean with soap and water. As with any non-stick surface, never use anything harsh to scrub the mat with, or you will damage the Teflon, rendering the mat both useless and dangerous.
Use over and over again
The last positive trait to speak of is how reusable a grill mat is. Grillers don’t need to use a different mat every time -- they only need one. That's assuming they take care of it.
With proper cleaning and care, a grill mat will last you quite some time.
Of course, they won’t last forever. Inevitably, they’ll wear down, depending on how often you use them. Again, this can be slowed down by proper care, but one grill mat certainly won’t last you forever.
Either way, needing a new one won’t be much of an issue, as grill mats are surprisingly cheap. There are dozens and dozens of brands, so shop around to see what best works for you.
While the vast majority will have the same build, some may work better than others, so it’s important to have an array of parameters before you choose a stance on grill mats.
Are Grill Mats Safe? Looking Closer
With all of the pros listed, the most important thing to know is, "Are grill mats safe?" Ultimately, yes, but some common concerns can affect that safety. What causes the thought that they could be unsafe, and how accurate are the worries?
First off, grill mats are made non-stick by a chemical called perfluorooctanoic, as well as a variety of other fluoride-heavy chemicals collectively called perfluorochemicals.
The most common form a general consumer will see perfluorochemicals in is Teflon, which is used to make the vast majority of non-stick pans and cooking ware.
As perfluorochemicals are characterized by being heavy in fluoride, many will opt to avoid it right off the bat. While generally considered harmless and even beneficial, some believe that fluoride is an incredibly harmful chemical.
That can be true in excessive exposure, but it’s highly unlikely you’ll be going through enough grill mats to encounter excessive exposure.
Are grill mats safe when they're damaged? Not really.
While completely safe originally, damaging this non-stick layer will cause the coating to break away. Not only does this render it useless as non-stick, but the chemicals will go directly into your food. It isn’t going to be fatal, of course, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
The best way to counter this is by never using metal utensils with your grill mat. Metal utensils will immediately damage this layer. When cleaning, never scrub with any sort of harsh scouring pad, or anything harsher than a sponge or cloth.
Past that, it’s important to inspect your grill mats for any damage before you use them. Stores may accidentally scuff the Teflon layer while stocking or moving them, and delivery services may handle them rough enough to cause damage as well.
Protect your mats and yourself by ensuring that they aren’t damaged before you ever start.
Are Grill Mats Safe? Why To Avoid
Now that we’re starting to touch on matters of opinion with grill purists, it’s worth looking at several other reasons why grillers avoid grill mats. So, are grill mats safe?
Yes, but being safe isn’t the only thing that makes something worth using.
Handle with care
With how easy it is to ruin a coating of Teflon and leave the whole mat useless, many feel it isn’t worth the extra effort to bother with them. An errant fork, a careless poke, or even dragging it across the grill can all destroy the Teflon coating.
Once this happens, you not only lose the use of the mat but venture back into it being dangerous.
Because of this, even the slightest damage means that you shouldn’t use the grill mat anymore. That makes them deceptively fragile and arguably not worth the effort to have in the first place.
Many grillers choose not to bother simply because of this fragility.
Yes, as absurd as it sounds for a grill-top accessory, grill mats cannot be used over an open flame. It will immediately melt through and destroy the mat, melting dangerous materials and chemicals into your food.
You should only use grill mats either far away from the fire or over smoldering coals.
In fact, high heats will cause the mat to degrade outright, and release dangerous chemicals and particles as it does so.
There are varying accounts, but generally, temperatures between 400 degrees Fahrenheit (F) and 600 degrees F will cause this breakdown.
Seeing as grills are often between 150 degrees Fahrenheit and 375 degrees Fahrenheit for most traditional grilling, there’s little risk of this, but it remains worth knowing.
Purity of grill
Many grillers consider grilling mats to be bordering on heretical when it comes to grilling. Use of non-stick accessories is even commonly listed on lists of grilling mistakes. Among other factors, that's because the cooking surface radically changes the food's flavor.
This one completely comes down to the personal opinion of the griller. Many feel that if you want to cook on a flat, non-stick surface, you should simply cook on a stovetop.
There may be some validity to this, as the grill mat will block the majority of the smoke from enriching your food.
If your goal is simply to have a cookout and enjoy some outside time, grill mats are a wonderful addition. If you intend to use your new cedar wood chips on a grill to see how it changes the flavor of your favorite grilled foods, you’ll be blocking a lot of that flavor with a grill mat.
Conversely, grill mats also allow more juices to stay locked inside your food, which many consider being a flavor boon.
Grill mats are cheap, as we’ve discussed, but they aren’t free. If you’re a grilling hobbyist or enthusiast, then you’ll be replenishing your supply every now and then. While the grill mats don’t cost much, they can add up with everything else.
Besides that, many don’t find them to be convenient. It’s yet another step in clean up and another thing to remember when hauling your gear to the grill. Why bother with extraneous, frivolous gear when you don’t need it?
Why risk it?
Are grill mats safe? Yes, but there are still risks with using them. And so long as that risk remains, why bother taking it?
There are already a few health risks involved with grilling. Other than the obvious burning, cutting, and other physical injuries, breathing in the smoke and vapors coming from a grill can damage your lungs.
So if you’re already running a risk just by operating a grill, why add any more factors into the list of possible risks?
At the end of the day, many find the convenience that a grill mat offers not worth even the slightest possible risk. That comes down to personal opinion again, of course, but it’s a sound way of thinking.
Are Grill Mats Safe? Scrubbing Off The Grill
So, are grill mats safe? Ultimately, yes, you’ll find little risk in using them, but you’ll still find that little bit of risk. They’re no more dangerous than a Teflon-coated pan in your kitchen, so it’s the griller’s choice to decide whether they’re comfortable with the possible risks.
It comes down to a matter of opinion and preference, as so many things do. Some will laud the convenience, ease of use, and reusable nature of a grill mat as excellent qualities. Others find them dangerous, fragile, and outright useless or heretical to use on a grill.
The best thing to do is to buy one and try it out on your grill. Cook a few samples of your favorite grilled foods on a mat and a few samples traditionally. Once you’ve done a bit of experimentation, you’ll have a better idea of if a grill mat is for you or not.