In the United States, three out of four people own an outdoor grill or smoker. With this type of popularity, you'd think everyone knew how to clean cast iron grill grates and get the most out of their investment. However, most people don't even know what their grill grates are made of — let alone how to properly clean them.
All grills require some maintenance. But cast iron grills require special care, and knowing how to clean cast iron grill grates is crucial if you want to keep your grill in good condition for the years to come.
Not sure how to clean cast iron grill grates in the first place? Or worried you've been doing it wrong this whole time? Don't worry, we've got you covered.
What Is Cast Iron?
When people think of cast iron, they typically picture a heavy-duty pot or pan. True, cast iron and home cookware go hand in hand. However, cast iron also works great for other cooking surfaces, like grill grates.
But what is cast iron, anyway?
Cast iron has been around for thousands of years, with the first known cast iron items appearing in China. While iron already existed, the process of casting iron was developed sometime between 800 and 700 B.C.
To make cast iron, you must pour molten iron into a sand mold. Once the iron cools, the mold is broken apart and removed. This leaves you with a solid piece of metal, like a cast iron pan or grill grate.
Cooking with iron today
Even after thousands of years, cast iron is still one of the most popular cooking surfaces in use today. After all, cast iron is extremely durable and relatively affordable compared to many modern cookware materials.
While cast iron cookware might cost more upfront, the longevity of cast iron makes these items a better investment in the long run.
Cast iron cookware is also a great alternative for consumers concerned about modern non-stick coatings and the potential health risks.
Seasoned cast iron actually stores a thin layer of cooked fat along its surface. This layer makes cast iron pots, pans, and grill grates naturally non-stick and helps prevent rust.
Many cast iron products you find in stores come pre-seasoned, even some health risks. But if you don’t treat your cast iron cookware with care, the seasoning will come off, and the metal can rust.
Replacing a single pot or pan is one thing, but replacing your entire set of grill grates is something else entirely. If you want to avoid damaging your grill, you need to learn how to clean cast iron grill grates correctly.
By learning how to clean cast iron grill grates, though, you can help ensure your grill lasts for decades.
After all, with a little bit of proper care, cast iron is one of the most durable and effective cooking surfaces you can buy!
Why Everyone Should Grill On Cast Iron
Cast iron pans offer a durable, non-stick cooking surface that works great for all types of dishes. But does cast iron really make a difference when it comes to your grill grates?
Actually, it does. While you don't need to use cast iron grates, they do offer a range of benefits.
And even though you’ll need to learn how to clean cast iron grill grates the right way, these benefits can make the little bit of extra effort totally worth it.
One of the biggest benefits of cast iron is its ability to retain heat.
With a cast iron grill, you’ll need to give it more time to heat up before you start cooking. However, once this material gets hot, it stays hot.
Because of this, cast iron grill grates are great for making perfect grill marks and cooking for an extended period of time.
Metals like aluminum or steel might stand up to the wear and tear of cooking, but how do they fare in tough weather and changing seasons?
When it comes to outdoor cooking, cast iron holds up against the elements unlike almost any other material. And unless you plan to bring your grill indoors for every storm, this is a big deal.
Of course, you shouldn't leave your grill outside in bad weather if you can help it. But for those times when it's unavoidable, investing in cast iron grill grates will offer some extra peace-of-mind.
Some cast iron grill grates will feature an additional coating, typically made from porcelain or enamel.
On the one hand, these coatings can make cleaning and caring for your cast iron grill grates much easier. However, scrubbing or seasoning these coatings like you would normal cast iron can ruin them.
Also, if your cast iron has an enamel or porcelain coating, you’ll need to store and transport it more carefully. This kind of coating chips away more easily than seasoned iron.
If you own any porcelain- or enamel-coated cast iron, check the manufacturer instructions for cleaning and care.
How To Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates The Right Way
Choosing to invest in a cast iron grill is only the first step, though. You also need to learn how to clean cast iron grill grates and keep them in the best shape possible for all your future cookouts!
Cast iron provides one of the most durable materials for cooking. If you visit an antique store or yard sale, you’ll probably find cast iron items from decades ago! However, proper cleaning and care is the key to maintaining this metal.
Here’s what you need to know to keep your cast iron grill looking (and cooking) its best:
If you have bare cast iron grill grates, seasoning is the first step.
Keep in mind, though, that some grill grates come pre-seasoned. Fortunately, though, completing this step anyway won't hurt your pre-seasoned grill grates. It will just be a small waste of your time.
You may have heard that soap and cast iron should never mix. But with unseasoned cast iron, you should actually wash with soap and water before use.
At this stage, there's no seasoning to wash away, and soap and water will help get rid of any debris left from the casting process.
Some people will even wash seasoned cast iron with soap. However, not everyone agrees on this subject. Whether or not you wash your cast iron grill grates with soap is ultimately up to you, but most people recommend against it.
After washing your grill grates for the first time, dry it off thoroughly. Next, brush the grates with the cooking oil of your choice.
After applying the oil, place the grill grates on the grill and light the grill. Heat the grates at about 350 degrees for 40 minutes, turning once for even seasoning.
You can also wrap the grates in aluminum foil before heating to help keep the oil in place.
Once you've seasoned and cooled your grates, it’s ready for use! You can also re-season your grill grates, using the same process, whenever you feel it needs a touch-up.
Although it's possible to remove rust from cast iron surfaces, it’s much easier to just prevent it in the first place.
As you may or may not know, moisture is the biggest culprit when it comes to rust development. To keep the rust off your cast iron grill grates, avoid leaving them wet for too long.
Always dry your cast iron grates immediately after cleaning, and never soak them in water.
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Cast iron is incredibly durable, and even soap won’t cause permanent damage (contrary to popular belief). If rust takes hold of your cast iron grates, though, your only options are to start scrubbing or replace the grates altogether.
Every time you use your cast iron grill grates, you’ll want to clean them. Otherwise, the buildup of old food and grease will leach into everything you cook.
Once you know how to clean cast iron grill grates properly, this process will become an easy part of your post-cooking routine.
The sooner you clean after cooking, the easier the process. If you can, clean your grates as soon as they're cool enough to handle.
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A wire brush is an excellent cleaning tool for any cast iron grill. It will scrape away anything stuck to the surface (since even seasoned cast iron can still make food stick), without the use of harsh chemicals.
Water and vinegar also make a good, soap-free cleaning solution. You can wipe the grates with this solution to loosen any debris, alternating with the wire brush. Make sure you choose the best grill brush for your grates and take care to dry the grill off immediately after cleaning.
Storing Your Grill
Now, you're ready to store your perfectly seasoned and cleaned grill grate.
Although some people worry about chipping off the seasoning during storage, seasoned cast iron offers more durability than you might think. Just make sure to have it well-oiled and away from moisture when in storage. You might even want to store it in a plastic bag to keep it from getting wet.
Time To Get Cooking!
You now know how to clean cast iron grill grates so that they'll last through years of cookouts and family get-togethers. And with your trusty cast iron grill by your side, you can explore the delicious world of grilling to its fullest extent!
While you can choose from a variety of different grill surfaces, cast iron can take your cooking up a notch. Yes, it does require a bit more care. But in the end, we think it's worth it.
Cast iron works well for anything you might want to put on your grill, from beef to salmon to pineapple. What’s your favorite thing to throw on the grill for a cookout? Leave a comment and let us know!