How can I clean rust off my barbecue grill cooking grates is a common enough question from backyard chefs everywhere. We often may not notice the vaporizer shields or the burner rust but we eat the food off the grilling grids so that rust is going to seriously concern us. Ask.com seems full of failure as we look at the answers to basic, common questions like this with their “top answer” instruction:
If you want to clean rust off of your gas grill grates, you can do so using clean wet rags, vinegar, and a hard bristle wire brush. Pour the vinegar over the grates, and scrub with the wire brush. From there, wipe it all off with the wet rags.
That is stupid…and made even worse by getting listed as a Top Answer that was obviously not written by anyone who knows about barbecue grills.
Barbecue cooking grates are primarily porcelain coated steel, porcelain coated cast iron, chrome-coated steel or stainless steel in a variety of materials. Each type of grate, each material needs to be addressed separately.
infrared stainless steel grids are concave channels that collect grease
The only situation that matches the answer above is the chromed grid and honestly once a chromed grid is showing rust it is too late to do much with them. Grates are cheaper to replace than it would be to have the grid blasted and re-chromed.
Porcelain enameled grates are coated in order to protect the material whether it is steel or cast iron. The porcelain coating completely seals and protects materials that are quick to oxidize. These types of grates will vary tremendously is density, thickness and weight which can prolong their use and make the grate able to be repaired. We do not want to clean coated grids with an abrasive grid because every time we scratch or scrape the porcelain coating the enamel becomes thinner. Eventually we break through the protective coating and the material inside will begin to rust.
Barbecues will use cast iron grates because cast iron will conduct heat very effectively. A lot of barbecues that require the hood to be closed to build up heat benefit from the extra heat absorbed and radiated by cast iron. Cast iron will begin to rust practically overnight so cast iron cooking grates will always be coated. Often the grates will be coated with a matte finish porcelain which still looks like cast iron but other times the grids will have a thicker glossy coating. Either one is the same; they just look different.
With porcelain coated steel or cast iron we want to maintain and clean them the same way. Use the heat provided by the barbecue. Heat the grates for at least 10 minutes in order to break down and loosen the grease. Do this every time you are finished cooking and then lightly (lightly!) brush the grates with a Brass Bristled brush. Brass bristles are often much softer than steel or stainless grill brushes that are far too abrasive for a porcelain coating. We do not want to scratch the enamel and we do not want so much grease to build up that we have to scrape the surface and ruin the grates so heat and brush lightly every time.
Once a month or once a quarter or whatever time frame you choose to clean the grill use a powerful (usually toxic) degreaser. There are non-toxic degreasers but the non-toxic degreasers will often require more scrubbing and we do not want more scrubbing. Personally I like easy-off oven cleaner but there is zep and a few others that will visibly break-down grease. Put the cooking grates out of the grill on the floor, the deck, in the grass, etc. Allow the liquid time to do its work and flip the grids and do it again. Allow the constant heat and the degreaser to do the work and use a green scotch pad to rub off the pockets that stick. If it is necessary to use a brass bristled brush that is fine but brush lightly.
Porcelain enamel coating is not only used to protect the material in cooking grates but is also used on indoor ovens, refrigerators, sinks and bath tubs. In any hardware store we can buy a small touch-up kit of black or white porcelain paint. Typically a porcelain coating is baked on to the materials being protected although the really inexpensive parts will be painted. Paint is not optimal but touch up kits will re-seal cracks and scrapes in your cooking grates. As you clean the grates with a degreaser and minimally abrasive pad or even a sponge look for the areas where the porcelain has been scratched or broken and touch it up so the metals are totally sealed inside the enamel coating.
If you have rust on a porcelain grate clean away as much as you can and sand away as much rust as possible without damaging further porcelain around the rusting hole in the enamel. Then cover it with the porcelain touch up. Do not use a spray paint that claims it is porcelain paint. Porcelain touch up paint is in a small 1 oz or .5 oz bottle very similar to a lady’s nail polish bottle. They are not inexpensive with a small touch up of black, white or gunmetal gray costing between 6 an 8 dollars. That one ounce should last a long time and still costs a lot less than new grates or a new barbecue if replacement cooking grates are unavailable (which is very rare).
Stainless grates are awesome but most barbecues that have stainless grates use a very cheap stainless and have then fabricated overseas. American made barbecue grills like the older DCS, Solaire, Alfresco, FireMagic, AOG and even older Weber models can be cleaned and scrubbed hard and fast because the materials can handle it. If you get rust on 304 stainless the pit can be sanded off with sandpaper without damaging the stainless.
304 stainless steel has to have most of the iron oxides drained during the smelting process. During the smelting a minimum of 18% chromium and 8% nickel. Nickel is a hardener so the material will not pit and chromium reacts with oxygen atoms in the atmosphere to create a coating at the surface layer of the stainless. 304 stainless is called outdoor stainless because this type of material will last outdoors with minimal maintenance.
With stainless steel grates we’ll put a wire-wheel on a drill or a screw gun and brush the grids with a hard, stiff wire brush. The wire wheel on a drill or on a bench grinder will remove years of grease in minutes — but a wire wheel will throw the grease in the direction of the spinning wheel (duh!) so be cognizant of where you clean the grates.
With chrome coated grates we do not want to sand them clean or use a wire wheel once the grates are starting to show rust because the abrasion will strip the coating off the grate just like it will with porcelain coating. Go back to using a strong degreaser and a scotch pad so the coating does not get damaged. Also know the chrome will not allow us to see the material inside the coating so we want to clean the grates more often to minimize moisture and grease where the coating has been compromised. Once the seal is broken it cannot be resealed.
With lessor grades of stainless we can also use a wire wheel but like porcelain and chrome the best way to keep rust off the grates is to burn them and lightly brush them every time we use the barbecue. We can still use sandpaper to rub out the rust and pitting but with lower grades of stainless we’ll be doing this more frequently.
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