Every good home and professional cook knows that cast iron cookware is essential for creating wonderful food. Its properties of conducting and retaining heat for long periods also make cast iron perfect for outdoor grilling. Unfortunately, cast iron will rust and deteriorate if exposed to too much water, unlike the more maintenance-free stainless steel grills. Learn how to clean even the most crusty cast iron grill to maintain your investment and the grill's unique qualities.
How Often to Clean a Cast Iron Grill
Ideally, a cast iron grill should be cleaned after every use. Leaving grease and stuck-on food on the surface will make the surface more difficult to clean and can contribute to bacterial growth and food poisoning.
Even if the grill cannot be cleaned completely after every use, allow the grill to cool slightly and take the time to wipe down the grill grates with a paper towel to remove food residue.
Avoid Stiff Wire Brushes
Do not use a stiff, wire brush to clean a grill grate, especially right before cooking. The brush bristles can break and leave small metal particles clinging to the grate that end up in your food. Use a plastic scraper instead for safety purposes.
Equipment / Tools
- Drying cloths
- Stiff-bristled nylon brush or nylon scrubber
- Plastic scraper
- Plastic wrap
- Paper towels
- Newspaper, drop cloth, or tarp
- 2 Plastic buckets
- Rubber gloves (optional)
- Dishwashing liquid
- Warm water
- Lemon juice
- Baking soda
- Vegetable oil
Prep Your Space
Cleaning a cast iron grill, especially if you haven't done it in quite some time, can be a messy job. Spread out some newspaper, a drop cloth, or a tarp where you'll be cleaning and place the grill in the center. This will prevent having to remove stains from the patio or deck. Wearing rubber gloves will protect your hands and nails during the chore.
Mix a Cleaning Solution
Fill a plastic bucket with hot water and add one teaspoon of a grease-cutting dishwashing liquid per gallon of water. Swish to mix thoroughly.
Fill a second bucket with clean hot water for rinsing.
Empty the Grill
If you have a charcoal cast iron grill, it should be completely cool and all of the charcoal embers and ashes should be safely removed.
For gas grills, if you are cleaning the entire grill, disconnect the gas line for safer cleaning.
Start With the Grates
Remove the cooking grates and place them on the tarp. Use a nylon stiff-bristled brush or nylon scrubber to brush away stuck-on food. If something is burned-on, use a plastic scraper to loosen the food.
Dip the brush or scrubber into the water and detergent solution and clean the grates. Finish by rinsing with plain hot water and use an old cloth to dry the grates completely. Set them aside.
Clean Inside and Outside
Use the plastic scraper to remove any food particles, grease, or fuel residue from the inside of the grill bowl and lid. You will be amazed at how much grease has accumulated in the grill lid.
Once it is scraped down, scoop out the residue or use a shop vac to suck away the mess.
Using the hot water and detergent mixture, scrub down the grill inside and out with the brush or scrubber. Follow up with a hot water rinse and then dry every surface completely with an old cloth.
Use the plastic scraper to remove as much loose rust as possible. Make a paste of one tablespoon of lemon juice and one cup of baking soda. Apply the paste to the rust and cover with plastic wrap. Wait for at least 24 hours and then scrub the area with a stiff-bristled brush to remove the rust. Rinse well and re-season the grates with vegetable oil.
Re-Season the Cast Iron
Once every component of the grill is clean and completely dry, give all the surfaces a light coating of vegetable oil. Use a paper towel to spread the oil evenly.
Reassemble for Use
Reassemble the grill. Heat the grill to about 200 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes to help the oil penetrate and bind to the cast iron surfaces.
Tips to Keep Your Cast Iron Grill Clean Longer
Now that your grill is freshly cleaned, take a little time after every use to wipe down surfaces while the grill is still slightly warm using hot, soapy water. Grease and food will come right off. Finish by wiping down with a sponge dipped in plain hot water to rinse away any sudsy residue. Re-season as needed if food begins to stick to the grill.
If you have a new cast iron grill, you will need to season it. That first seasoning ensures that food will not stick, cooking will be more even, and the oiling will help prevent rusting. Wash the components in hot, soapy water. Rinse and dry the grill. Then take these quick steps to season your new cast iron grill:
- Dry the grill completely and apply a thin, even coating of cooking oil or melted solid vegetable shortening with a paper towel. (Avoid using olive oil, as it will cause stickiness.)
- Cover all cooking surfaces with oil, but don't use too much or it will be sticky.
- Heat the grill to around 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about one hour. The grates should no longer have a shine once they are seasoned.
- Allow the grill to cool before using.