As mentioned in our review of Barbecue Tools, doctors are advising people to throw away their barbecue brushes, because of the risk of getting bits of steel fiber in the food and from there into the digestive tract. Fragments of metal wire can come off the brushes and get stuck to the grill. Then after that they can get picked up by the food and then get into your mouth, throat or even small intestine. What’s more, they can cause damage at any stage of their journey through your body. That’s a high price to pay for getting a few bites of good BBQ food in your belly.
It’s hard to resist the temptation to buy a barbecue brush when there are so many available on special offer. But emergency room surgeons are worried about this – to the point of advising people not to use barbecue brushes. And the danger is compounded by the fact that not all doctors recognize the symptoms. Sometimes they think it’s just food poisoning and give the wrong treatment.
So how, then do you clean the food grate of your grill safely, without the risk of someone swallowing a thin sliver of iron or steel wire?
Obviously, if you have a dishwasher and the grate is not too big and is dishwasher-safe then this is the ideal method. You might want to give the grate a preliminary scrub and rinse in the sink to remove the larger bits of food debris, rather than risk having them clog up your dishwasher.
The good thing about the dishwasher method is that it really cleans and disinfects with heat in a full cycle.
An alternative method is to lift the food grate out and clean it in the sink. But this requires you to put in a bit of effort.
1. Prepare a small bowl of soapy water by the side of the sink
2. Put the food grate in the sink (if you have more than one, do one at a time)
3. With a sponge, Scotch-Brite or steel wool, clean the grate, dipping the sponge or Scotch-Brite into the soapy water to replenish it until the grate is cleaned.
4. Rinse the soap off the grate under fast-running water.
5. Dry the grate immediately or place it on a surface where it can dry quickly.
6. Throw away the sponge, Scotch-Brite or steel wool
NOTE: It is okay to use steel wool if you clean the food grate in the sink, because rinsing it under running water will get rid of any wire fibers and residue.As an alternative to a sponge, Scotch-Brite or steel wool, you can use a nylon bristle brush.
Soapy Water Soaking
It is a well-known fact that the best way to loosen cooked-on food residue from utensils is to soak the utensils overnight in water.
1. Find a large bucket or plastic trough big enough to accommodate the grates.
2. Fill the bucket or trough with washing up liquid of soap and water (initially hot water, even though it will of course get cold).
3. Place the grates in the soapy water at least for two hours, ideally overnight.
4. The following morning, rinse off the grates under running water.
5. Dry the grates or leave them somewhere they can dry quickly
As an alternative, you can mix water with sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and soak the grates in that.
Vinegar and Sodium Bicarbonate
Related to the above method is one that combines both vinegar and sodium bicarbonate.
1. Mix a cup of sodium bicarbonate with two cups of vinegar in a thick black bin liner.
2. Put the food grate(s) into the mixture
3. Seal the whole thing with a strong rubber band.
4. Let it soak overnight
5. The following morning, rinse the grate(s) under running water, using a sponge to scrub off any remaining grease and food residue.
6. Dry the grates or leave them somewhere they can dry quickly.
The Onion Method
This method is well-known to veteran barbecue users.
1. Light the grill and let it heat up.
2. Put some foil on the food grate (shiny side down) to reflect and trap the heat.
3. Cut an onion in two at the “equator” between the root and stem (i.e. NOT from pole to pole like a longitude on the earth).
4. Stick a long fork through half, from the side with the skin, not going all the way through.
5. Remove the foil from the food grate.
6. Using the fork to hold the onion, slowly rub the open side of the onion (i.e. without the skin) all over the hot food grate. Make sure to go over every inch of the grate.
7. Check the surface of the onion from time to time. If it has gone black before you have gone over the grill thoroughly, throw it away and use the other half of the onion to finish the job.
What happens is:
● The heat of the grill extracts moisture from the onion, both as liquid and steam.
● The hot steam cleans the food grate like any other steam cleaner.
● The enzymes in the liquid break down any food stuck to the grill, as well as any rust.
● The solid onion acts as a sponge, so that any rust and stale food from the last use of the grill that doesn’t simply fall off is instead absorbed by the spongey onion.
If you are one of those people who cleans the grate after you have finished, then the grill is already hot and it is a lot easier than waiting for next time. And good on you for doing it right away and not being lazy after stuffing your face!
Nevertheless, I recommend using this method before you start cooking even if you did clean the grill last time. Depending on how long since you last used the grill, it may have gathered dust and in any case, the onion method is so easy and straightforward. After all, you must heat up the grill in any case to cook the food. So why not give it a quick clean with an onion beforehand? It can’t hurt and it gives you that extra guarantee that the food grate is clean and hygienic.
If you have a large grill and/or want to be really sure, you can use both halves of the onion. Oh and don’t be tempted to eat the onion afterwards. JUST THROW IT AWAY!
Regardless of which method you use to clean your grill, the most important cleaning tool is your eyes. You use them to judge if the job is done properly.
● If you use the onion method, look at how black the onion gets on the side that you rub on the grill.
● If there is much less blackness on the second half of the onion than the first, you’ll know that you’ve done the job well.
And look at the food grate itself:
● If it is made of chrome, is it now sparkling and shiny again?
● If it is a black-enameled grate, is it clean and even and a consistent shade of black?
A clean barbecue grill is not only a source pride, to show off to your neighbors, it is also a source of confidence that your food will not be contaminated with residue from the last time you used it. And if you’re cooking for children, that’s especially important.
There is however one barbecue cleaning tool that we would recommend and that is a wooden barbecue grill scraper (https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B06XCBPQNS). You use this by heating the grill and when it is hot, scraping it with the wooden scraper. As you scrape, grooves form. This is because wood is coming off or being burnt off. But unlike metal this will be incinerated in the heat and so will not form a health hazard. Once groves have started to form, you can then align them with the next row, to ensure that only one set of grooves forms. At that stage, you can even turn off the heat and thereafter use the scraper on the cold grill. The wood that breaks off will burn up in the heat next time you light the grill. So, it is no more of a health hazard than wood chips.
And now that you know how to clean your food grate, check out some of the tools you’ll need for your barbecue!
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