Can You Cook On A Rusty Grill? The Answer Might Surprise You!

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Most of us know that we should clean and maintain our grills on a regular basis.

However, it’s easy to forget to clean your grill as often as you should; sometimes this leads to rust on the grates of the grill.

Fast facts: Can you cook on a rusty grill, or is it unsafe?I​f your grill is rusty, while you should still clean it, it’s generally safe to cook and ingest food cooked on a rusty surface. With proper cleaning and regular seasoning upkeep, you are good to go, even with a little rust 🙂

However, it becomes more dangerous the more you do it, so you should clean your grill and remove the rust as soon as possible.

You should especially remove the rust from your grill if it’s loose to prevent the rust from attaching to your food.

I​n the rest of this article, we’ll talk more about why it’s safe to cook on a rusty grill every now and then and how you can clean it.

Is Rust On Cast Iron Dangerous?

Rust on cast iron is not necessarily dangerous, but it can affect the quality and longevity of the cast iron.

The rust can cause the cast iron to weaken and become more brittle. It can also affect the taste of food cooked on the cast iron as it can create a metallic taste.

In-fact, check out what the USDA had to say about rust ingestion. Bottomline, if its in small quantities, as a iron-oxide”, you will be fine.

However, if the rust is only on the surface and has not penetrated deep into the cast iron, it can be removed with a wire brush or sandpaper.

It is important to properly maintain and season cast iron to prevent rust from forming.

Overall, while rust on cast iron may not be harmful to health, it is important to take steps to prevent and address it to maintain the quality and longevity of the cast iron.

Can You Cook On A Rusty Grill?

Rust seems like the kind of substance that shouldn’t be in your food—and it really shouldn’t, at least not in excessive amounts.

However, it’s not as dangerous as it may seem. 

According to the Physics Department at the University of Illinois, rust is primarily comprised of iron oxide, which is a natural substance.

Of course, iron is an important mineral that our bodies need to thrive.

Because of that, consuming a small amount of rust (basically iron) isn’t likely to cause any damage to your body.

T​here are exceptions to this, though.

For example, if your grill is contaminated with any heavy metals or toxins, they may contaminate your food.

According to this study, charcoal grills are the most likely to have trace amounts of heavy metals. 

Toxic metals aren’t the only concern when it comes to rust on your grill, though.

While the iron in rust is largely non-toxic, it can be damaging to your body when consumed in large quantities.

This is similar to having a diet that’s too high in iron-rich foods, leading to iron overload in the body. 

A​n overload of iron can be quite dangerous, causing symptoms such as memory fog, fatigue, and abdominal pain.

It can even eventually lead to conditions such as heart failure. 

T​he good news is that it takes an incredibly high amount of iron over a long period to cause these symptoms.

It’s extremely unlikely that the rust on your grill will cause you to experience an overload of iron in your body.

However, to stay safe, you should clean your grill as soon as possible when you notice rust, especially if it comes off of the grates easily.

This loose rust is more likely to bind to your food, causing you to ingest more iron.

By cleaning it, you can be sure that you’re not ingesting toxic chemicals or excessive amounts of iron. 

Different Types of Grill Grates and Their Susceptibility to Rust

In addition to cast iron grates, there are several other common types of grill grates, including stainless steel and porcelain-coated grates.

Each type has different levels of susceptibility to rust and may require different cleaning methods.

  1. Cast Iron Grates: As discussed earlier, cast iron grates are prone to rust if not properly maintained and seasoned. They require regular cleaning and seasoning to prevent rust formation.
  2. Stainless Steel Grates: Stainless steel grates are more resistant to rust than cast iron grates. However, they can still develop rust spots over time, especially in humid environments or when exposed to harsh chemicals. Regular cleaning and drying can help prevent rust formation on stainless steel grates.
  3. Porcelain-Coated Grates: Porcelain-coated grates are the least susceptible to rust since the porcelain coating provides a protective barrier. However, if the coating is damaged, the underlying metal can be exposed and may rust. It’s essential to handle porcelain-coated grates with care to avoid chipping or scratching the coating.

Seasoning Your Grill Grates to Prevent Rust

After cleaning the rust off your grill grates, it’s essential to season them to prevent rust from forming again. Here’s how to properly season your grill grates:

  1. Preheat your grill: Turn on your grill and heat it to around 400°F (205°C).
  2. Apply oil to the grates: Using a paper towel or a cloth, apply a thin layer of high smoke point cooking oil (such as vegetable oil, canola oil, or grapeseed oil) to the grates.
  3. Heat the oiled grates: Allow the oiled grates to heat for about 10-15 minutes, or until the oil starts to smoke. This process will help the oil bond with the grates, creating a protective barrier.
  4. Let the grates cool: Turn off the grill and let the grates cool down. Your grill grates are now seasoned and ready for use.

Remember to repeat the seasoning process regularly, especially after cleaning the grates, to maintain a protective layer against rust.

Cleaning Methods for Different Types of Grill Grates

Different types of grill grates may require different cleaning methods to remove rust effectively without damaging the grates.

  1. Cast Iron Grates: For cast iron grates, the vinegar and baking soda method mentioned earlier works well. Additionally, you can use a wire brush or a grill stone to remove any stubborn rust.
  2. Stainless Steel Grates: For stainless steel grates, a mixture of water and mild dish soap can be used to clean the grates. Use a soft-bristle brush or a non-abrasive sponge to scrub away rust and debris. Rinse thoroughly with water and dry the grates completely to prevent rust formation.
  3. Porcelain-Coated Grates: To clean porcelain-coated grates, avoid using metal brushes or abrasive cleaners, as they can damage the coating. Instead, use a soft-bristle brush or a non-abrasive sponge with a mild dish soap and water solution to clean the grates. Rinse well with water and dry completely.

By understanding the different types of grill grates and their specific cleaning methods, you can effectively remove rust and maintain your grill’s longevity and performance.

H​ow To Clean Rust Off Of Your Grill

Thankfully, it’s very easy to clean the rust off of your grill—even if it’s been building up for months or years.

Try not to use commercial rust-removing products, as these can leave toxic chemicals such as sulfuric acid and hydrochloric acid on the surface of your grill. 

Instead, you can mix up your own safe, natural, and effective rust-removing cleaner with materials you probably already have in your home.

You will need:

  • Baking soda (at least a cup)
  • White vinegar
  • Water
  • A hard-bristle brush
  • A sponge

A​dd at least a cup of baking soda to a medium-sized bowl.

Gradually add small amounts of white vinegar, mixing to combine.

You want to create a thick paste that you can spread on the grates of your grill.

Once the paste is the right consistency, apply it generously to the grates of your grill using a damp sponge.

Be sure to thoroughly cover all the surfaces of the grates so the vinegar and baking soda mixture can do its job. 

Let the mixture sit on the grates for at least 20 minutes, but preferably 30-45. The longer you leave it on, the more rust it will be able to remove.

Once the mixture has been on the grates for a while, use a hard-bristle brush to scrub the mixture all over the grates.

This will help to break up any stuck-on rust. Be sure to scrub all over the grates.

After scrubbing the grates with a brush, wash them off with warm water.

The amount of water needed will depend on how much of the paste you applied to the grates. 

Once no more paste remains on the grill, use a soft cloth to dry the grates.

Then leave the grill open to air dry; making sure the grill is completely dried off will help prevent any future rust from forming. 

You can also soak your grill grates in a vinegar, baking soda, and water solution.

You’ll want to completely submerge the grates in the solution for at least 20-30 minutes.

While the grates are still covered in the solution, use a wire brush to scrub them down.

The brush will help easily remove the rust from the grates.

After removing the grates from the solution, be sure to rinse them with clean, warm water and dry them with a soft cloth.

This way, no baking soda or vinegar will remain on the grates. 

Final Thoughts

While it’s technically safe to cook on a rusty grill every now and then, you should make an effort to clean your grill whenever you notice rust forming.

This will prevent any toxic chemicals or excess iron from ending up on your plate. 

C​leaning your rusty grill is as simple as applying a vinegar and baking soda solution to the grates.

Vinegar is a completely safe cleaner and is extremely effective at removing caked on dirt and rust.

By cleaning your grill this way on a regular basis, you can also prevent rust from forming in the future.

After soaking or scrubbing your grates with the vinegar and baking soda solution, your grill should be rust-free.

You can then grill in peace, knowing your grill is clean and your food is safe to eat.