How to Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates: Useful Tips

If you’re enjoying the outdoors cooking or just want to treat your family to some fine seared meat – it’s only right to buy some decent gear for grilling and get to the cooking right away.

Before we start thinking about how to clean grill grates, let us explain why grates are the optimal choice for you to end up using.

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Properties of cast iron grates

This material is a compound mix, consisting of many components. As the name suggests, the main element is iron, but there is not much of it relatively. Even carbon steel has got much more iron in it.

To call the material a cast iron, besides iron itself there must be at least two percent carbon in it. Other elements can include manganese, silicon, and so on.

Depending on what the material consists of, its properties can also be vastly different.

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There are two main types of it – the regular one that was described above and the one the surface of which is covered with porcelain that makes the material visually appealing and protects it from the heat at the cost of the surface’s durability.

So why are cast iron grates great?

Advantages of the cast iron grill grates

Serves for a long time

The expected lifetime of this is several decades. The grate made from this material will most likely serve you for even longer than the grill it was on.

Warms up evenly

The whole grill heats up evenly, so the temperature will be the same for all parts of the dish you’ve prepared. Even cooking helps you assure that no parts of meat will end up being raw or burned.

Preserves the heat

It also helps retain the heat for a longer time so the dish won’t be stone cold after you’ve left it for a couple of minutes.

Doesn’t bend after a hit

Iron is also relatively durable which makes the accident where it bends after a fall pretty much impossible. It will either shatter into separate pieces, as cast iron pots do (which is very unlikely) or not take any damage at all. No one buys a grill while expecting it to break, so great durability is also a good trait to have.

Finally, it’s worth saying that the sear marks on meat cooked on top of cast iron grill grates look especially great.


Unfortunately, just as it goes for any other material – all the good qualities of iron don’t come without some negative counterparts.

The downsides of cast iron

The heaviest downside of the cast iron grill grate is its weight. Those can be hard to move around – which is not unbearable but can put some people off-guard for the first time, as well as rob you of any mood to do the maintenance routine that involves lifting the grill.

Another problem that comes with the grill grate is that it’s rusting easily. If the material is left unattended for an extended period – it will be dyed red by the time you pay attention to it.


Even if this problem sounds bad, it is much easier to solve than the previous one. The solution is simple: just take care of your grill regularly (in a way we’ll soon discuss) and it will be as good as new every day.

And the last negative point can be turned into a positive one if you have no problem with adding an extra step to the cleaning activity.

The remaining food sticks to cast iron grates. To prevent this from happening, the surface needs to be seasoned – and we’ll also tell you how to do it in just a moment. If you can afford to spend some time on seasoning – it’s guaranteed that the results will satisfy you.

Quick tips on how to clean cast iron grill grates

Now we, hopefully, managed to persuade you into choosing cast iron grates – or maybe you’re already using them by now. All that’s left is to learn how to clean up the horrific mess you might end up seeing after cooking for a while.

The first and most obvious tip for cleaning cast iron is to do it regularly. Whether you clean grill grates with vinegar and baking soda or oven cleaner or steel wool or wire brush or soapy water is up to you.

Right after you’ve cooked anything on grill grates – clean them up and wash them with water before the stuck-on food dried out and became a part of it. This is a simple trick, which can turn the cleaning process into a disaster if neglected for a long time.

Don’t leave the clean-up for later

Another suggestion that will save your cast iron cookware from destruction is to never soak them in water for hours!

Stainless steel or porcelain enamel can forgive this, but if it’s not present on your cooking grate – then soaking it is just inviting some rust to hop on. It’s also easier to clean the hot grill right after a cooking process, so don’t waste the opportunity.

Instead, right when you took all the food from a grill, use any means available to get it to a high temperature. For a charcoal grill, you can open the vents and introduce the hot coals inside to fresh air. For a gas grill it’s enough to just turn it to high heat.


While the grill is at high heat, most of the bbq sauce and food remains will either burn off or melt, which helps you remove them regardless. Once it’s done, turn the grill off and let it rest for some time.

Once the grill cools down to a point where you can place your bare hand on it – it’s time for the next step. Take a natural bristle brush and scrub the grill grates with it to remove the leftovers that didn’t come off by themselves.

There are grill brushes available for purchase that are made specifically for this task – it’s better if the brush has a scraper to remove any parts that came out to be especially hard.


After you’re done working with a grill brush – the basic cleaning is completed. Now to restore the seasoning on cast iron grill grates, you need to form a layer of a thin coat with vegetable oil.

By doing so, you’ll prevent the stubborn rust from appearing on top of a cast iron grate, since the surface doesn’t contact with air so it can’t oxidize. To make sure the layer is not too thick, do it by soaking a paper towel or a cloth piece in vegetable oil and then wiping the cooking grates with it.

Watch a helpful video on the best way to clean а cast iron grill:

Removing rust formed on cast iron grates

There are times when one thing leads to another and so it happens that the grill was left alone for too long. By the time you’ve checked up on it, the cast iron grill grates were already rusted to the point that you wouldn’t want to eat something that came from them.

The reason for rusting is moisture that comes in contact with iron and corrodes it as time goes on. If your grill grates are made of stainless steel, have an additional thin layer of porcelain, or are just well seasoned with vegetable oil – then you’re safe. Probably.

Otherwise, when not drained, the signs of corrosion will appear and quickly spread. If left like this, the pieces of grate can even fall off and turn into dust, making it unusable. Not the best perspective, right?


Luckily, the rust can be dealt with, so let’s learn more about how to save your cast iron grill grate from surface rust and dissipating.

1. Soak the grates in vinegar

To do this, you need to have a sink large enough to fully contain the cast iron grill grates. Put the grill grates in a sink, then fill it with vinegar. Distilled white vinegar is most suited for this when mixed with water in a 1:1 ratio.

You can also replace it with apple cider vinegar and add some baking soda paste to enhance the cleaning effect.

After you’ve let the grates soak for a bit, grab a wire pad or scrubber and wipe off the rust.

Don’t forget – once you remove rust from cast iron, the vinegar itself must also be washed off with hot soapy water, and then place your cast iron grill grates in the oven on low heat to dry it out.

2. Brush them with soap and steel wool

This method will remove rust together with all the seasoning from cast iron, so it must be applied again from a scratch. Or just don’t use wire brushes until you’ve tried an alternative way.


Rusty surfaces can be rather easily cleaned up with steel wool if you do it in warm water with soap. It doesn’t differentiate between dirt and oil, so you’ll remove rust and everything else until you reach the bare metal which is the sign that cleaning is finished.

After you rinse the cleaned grill grates in water, use an oven to dry off any liquid. Otherwise, it will corrode again and by the next day, you might see the rust build up once again.

3. Applying an oven cleaner

A grill cleaner or an oven cleaner is a substance that is specialized in removing any unwanted particles from your grill. Use it with gloves and safety glasses to avoid damaging yourself.

Apply an oven cleaner (also known as elbow grease) to the cast iron grill grates, then store it away in a garbage bag, a box, or another place where they can be left alone for a few days.


When you’ll take the grill grates out, all the loose rust will come off from it easily after a good rinsing with hot water.

There are no cooking recipes with oven cleaners included so make sure you washed it off together with the remaining rust.

This must be used as a last resort when other methods aren’t working since the cleaning solution contains alkaline and this is the reason why you sure don’t want an oven cleaner to end up on your skin or in a dish you’re serving.

For that reason, you should also prepare some more garbage bags to throw everything that came off away safely.

4. Use the functionality of a self-cleaning oven

It was mentioned before that some of the dirt and rust can be burned off right after cooking. While you usually do this at your own risk, some ovens and iron grills even have a built-up function of self-cleaning based on this method.

Once you’ve enabled a cleaning cycle for your empty grill, it’ll heat up to 600+ degrees for an hour. You’ll know the procedure is finished once the device stops – after that you can start the usual cleaning routine with soap and water once the cast iron grates cool down a little.

Even if this function is not available directly, you can still try and simulate the process yourself by turning the grill on while it’s empty.

5. The seasoning process of cast iron grates

No matter how thoroughly you clean the cast iron grates – it’s still too early to put them away. After you’ve done so, the seasoning that was covering it is most likely gone.

A quick reminder that the seasoning prevents the cast iron grill grates from developing rust. It does so by repelling water together with all the food residue that could have ended up stuck to metal otherwise.

If this is not motivating enough, the seasoning will also affect the taste of the meat you’re cooking on it by providing a soothing floral flavor which is bound to make your meal taste even better.

How to season the cast Iron grates once they’re cleaned

Now let’s get to know how do you care for cast iron grill grates – the right way to season your cast iron for this desired non-stick surface.


Seasoning is a polymerized cover that appears after the oil and fats soak into the pores of metal surfaces and harden there. To help them harden, high heat is required – coincidentally, this is what a grill can provide.

If you just finished the cooking duty and wiped the grates with a grill brush – then it’s enough to cover it with a thin coating once.

If you needed to remove rust from cast iron and have gone through the procedures mentioned above – then it’s better to apply multiple coats one by one until the surface is completely non-stick.

Various substances can be bought and used specifically for the seasoning process, but if you have none of them – regular cooking oil should suffice.

It’s also worth mentioning that while seasoning is done to prevent rust – it also prevents food residue from sticking to cast iron grill grates, so you might think that it doesn’t need regular cleaning – but that’s not true.

The seasoning wears off with every use so you need to re-season a clean cast iron grill from time to time –and the best way to keep the grill clean is to at least wipe the entire grill with paper towels now and then.

If you are also interested in How to clean cast iron grill pan and How to clean a flat top grill, read our articles with detailed instructions on this matter.


After reading this article you must not only know how do you clean and restore cast iron grill grates, but also how wonderful they are, and the exact areas, where they’re superior to alternative counterparts.

Whether it’s a deep cleaning or a regular after-cooking procedure, you can always refer to those guidelines to freshen up your memory and know for sure how to clean cast iron grill grates and how to removing rust from cast iron correctly.

Treat your cooking gear carefully since with proper maintenance it will bring joy to both you and your family for years to come. Happy grilling!

You will also be interested in reading: How to clean cast iron grill grates and How to fix rusted grill bottom.

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