A well used grill

(Do You Need to) Clean the Grill?

A while back, there were some news stories about how eating the black “char” on grilled foods was a very bad thing to do.

I think about that when I’m grilling, which is almost every day here, rain or shine, winter or summer. Is grilling an unhealthy way to cook? What about those black marks that the grill racks leave on the meat? Should we be doing more to keep the grill clean?

debris stuck on grill grates
No matter how careful you are, stuff will stick to the grill.

As with most things, there isn’t a simple answer.

Yes, there is some evidence that chemicals produced when meat is scorched by open fire or high heat could result in mutations of DNA, possibly leading to cancer. You can read the information at cancer.gov. (This applies to fish, too; but, not vegetables and fruits.) These studies involved feeding rodents several thousands of times more of the questionable chemicals than would be consumed in a normal, human diet.

In practicality, I’m not so worried about those black grill lines, though I don’t seek to eat blackened chunks of it for the simple reason that it doesn’t taste very good.

Is it necessary, then, to keep your grill as clean as the day you bought it?

How Clean Is a Clean Grill?

Funny enough, the major grill manufacturers do not recommend daily, or weekly, cleaning. The main concerns with gas grills are accumulated grease (which can catch on fire) and debris (which can retain moisture and cause rust, or block fuel ports) in the bottom of the grill.

In fact, manufacturers do not recommend using foil as a liner, as it can cause an accumulation of grease and cause a fire (thereby charring the meat that you are trying not to burn).

My take on this is that you are fine to have some black on your grill grates. You just don’t want to leave a lot of gunk on there that may accelerate the aging of your grill, or make your food taste bad.

grilling chicken breasts
Grilled chicken, ready to eat!

How to Keep the Grill Gunk Level Low

Virtually every source I’ve read gives these directions when using a gas grill:

  • Turn the grill on “high” and allow it to warm up (500°F) about 15 minutes before cooking.
  • Use a wire brush and/or metal scraper to remove stuck on debris from the grate.*
  • Then, you can turn the temperature to the desired level.

* Personally, I don’t like a wire brush, because you run the risk of eating a bristle if one falls out and sticks to the grate, and then to your food. People have actually ended up in the ER for that reason!

scraping the grill grates
Scraping the grill after it’s heated up

Stopping the “Grill Stick”

You can apply oil to grates after the grill has cooled, to prevent rust; but oiling the grates will not necessarily prevent foods from sticking. A hot grill is the way to go, if sticking food is a problem.

The best method I’ve found for oiling the grill is to not oil it. Brush oil on the food you will be grilling, instead. To prevent flare-ups and fire, put the oil on the food before you even get close to the grill; and don’t use a lot. You will save calories and your grill will stay cleaner.

Also, try not to move the food for a bit after you put in on the grill. Most foods do stick to the grate at first, but will loosen as they cook.

Inevitably, you will get some stuff stuck on the grill.  You can turn up the heat after you’re done cooking, and then scrape the grates. Or, you can clean off the debris when you heat up the grill the next time. Either way, embrace your inner grilling god/goddess, and don’t worry so much about the cleaning.  After all, it is the ease of grilling that makes it such a pleasant way to cook!

grilled chicken breast
Letting the meat cook and shrink before trying to move it can prevent sticking.


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