Is Cooking on a Rusty Grill Safe? 9 Easy Ways to Clean It

It’s the middle of summer, and that means cookouts! If you’re like most people, your grill is probably covered in rust.

rusty barbecue grill

You know you should clean it, but that is a chore, and messy besides. It won’t hurt to put it off just a little longer, right? So is cooking on a rusty grill safe?

Yes, it is safe to cook food on a rusty grill as long as the rust is not flaking off into the food. Ingesting rust particles is generally harmless unless the quantity is extreme.

However, rusty grills may be prone to breaking or malfunction and this could be dangerous.

It is important to clean the rust off of your grill for two reasons: first, so that the food you are grilling does not taste like metal; and second, so that your grill does not start a fire.

In this blog post, we will discuss 9 easy ways to clean rust from your grill.

Rust Removal : How to Clean Rust From Cast Iron Grill Grates

9 Easy Ways to Clean Rust from your Grill

Method One: Vinegar and Water

Soak a rag in white vinegar thinned with just a little water, then use the rag to scrub the rust off of the grill. The vinegar is acidic and will help to break down the rust and make it easier to remove.

This method works well when rust is minor, so called “dust rust.” the good news is that vinegar is totally safe to consume, no harmful residues.

Method Two: Baking Soda and Water

Mix baking soda with water until it forms a thick paste, like runny drywall spackle. Apply the paste to rusty areas on the grill and let it sit for about 30 minutes, perhaps a bit longer. Rinse with water and scrub off any remaining baking soda using a coarse pad or brush. Give it a final rinse and you are good to go.

Method Three: Soft Drink

Pour a can of Coke or some other soft drink over the rusty parts of your grill, and let it sit for several hours (or overnight).

The acid in the Coke will help to dissolve the rust pretty handily. For serious rust, a shallow container that can hold the grill grate a two liter bottle of soft drink will help.

Scrub if needed, rinse well with clean water.

Method Four: Lemon Juice

Soak a rag in lemon juice and use it to mop the juice onto the rusty spots, or leave the rag draped over the trouble area.

Scrub the rust off of your grill using a brush or abrasive pad. Lemons are acidic and will help to break down the rust, but make sure you rinse with water to neutralize it!

Method Five: WD-40

Spray rusty areas on the grill with WD-40 and let it sit for a few minutes. The WD-40 will help to dissolve and loosen the rust.

Scrub the aftermath away with a wire bristle brush. A thorough soap and water rinse is required after this one!

Method Six: Salt and Lime Juice

Mix salt and lime juice until it forms a thick paste. This creates a powerful one-two punch of abrasive salt and acidic juice that will wipe out most rusty areas.

Apply the paste to rusty areas on the grill and let it sit for about 30 minutes. Rinse with water, assess and then repeat with fresh mixture until the rust is gone.

Method Seven: Steel Wool

Soak steel wool in water to lubricate and use it to scrub the rust off of the grill.

Progressing from coarse to fine will reduce rust in a logical progression, but take care because it can scratch your finish, leaving “cobweb” marks behind.

Rinse thoroughly to remove any residue and traces of the wool.

Method Eight: Commercial Grill Cleaner

There are many brands of grill cleaner that can be purchased at most hardware stores or grocery stores, from the mild to the insanely aggressive.

Follow the instructions on the bottle to clean rusty areas on your grill, but make sure you always wear appropriate protective gear and use it in a well-ventilated area. As always, rinse thoroughly when finished!

Method Nine: Power Washer

If you have a power washer, you can use it to clean heavy rust from your grill. Point the spray nozzle at rusty areas on your grill, stand off a bit and hold the trigger observing for removal before you close in.

The force of the water will help to remove any rust buildup but can damage grill components if you are not cautious. You might have to try several nozzles, angles of attack and ranges to find the sweet spot.

Whichever method you choose, be sure to rinse the grill thoroughly with water after cleaning.

This will help to remove any residue and particulates left behind from the cleaning and prevent them from contaminating your food. Wire bristles from brushes are especially bad news!

Now that you know how to clean rust from your grill, there’s no excuse not to!

Get out the vinegar, Coke, lemon juice, WD-40 or grill cleaner and get scrubbing. Your grill will be looking good as new, and much safer to use, in no time.

Seasoning Your Grill

One way to help keep your grill in good condition is to season it before you use it.

This will create a barrier between the metal and food, which will help prevent rust and keep contaminants from getting into your meal. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Start with clean grates. If they aren’t clean, take the grates off of the grill and soak them in hot, soapy water for about 30 minutes.
  2. Scrub them with a brush to remove any built-up dirt or debris.
  3. Rinse them off and then dry them completely.
  4. Apply a thin layer of vegetable oil or grill seasoning paste to all surfaces of the grates using a clean cloth or paper towel. Take note of the smoke point temperature.
  5. Put the grates back on the grill and heat them up to the smoke point of your oil/seasoning paste. Keep them hot for about 15 minutes.
  6. Turn them off and let them cool completely before wiping off any residue. Your grates should be a glossy, dark color.

You can also season your grill periodically throughout the year to help keep it in good condition. Just be sure to clean it first so that the seasoning will stick properly.

How Can Cooking on a Rusty Grill be Dangerous?

Cooking on a rusty grill can be dangerous because the grates may break, or pieces can break off in your food.

A grill grate or grill body that fails unexpectedly could send your food plunging into hot coals, or a hot burner assembly tumbling out of the bottom of the grill or even into you!

Aside from the obvious risk of severe injury, you could start an accidental fire that will be difficult to arrest under the circumstances.

The most important thing you can do to prevent this is simply to keep the grill clean and rust-free. By cleaning the grill, you’ll be inspecting it for damage and degradation that could indicate a dangerous condition.

Also, rust can build up a surface of sorts that, while brittle, could conceal severe damage and loss of structural integrity beneath it.

It should also be pointed out that sometimes a grill component is just too far gone to save. Grates and small parts can be replaced, but if the body of the grill is rusted out or wobbly, it is time to consign it to the scrap heap and get a new one!

Keep that rust at bay and you can have confidence in your grill!

cooking on rusty grill


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