I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a cookout and the food mostly tasted like grease, grit, and soot.
I don’t even have to see that grill. I know dirty grates make everything taste like the Ghost of Cookouts Past.
I have a suspicion why this happens: Plenty of grilling advice out there tells you to scrub the grates right after cooking. Who’s going to do that? Nobody ever. That food’s sizzling hot and smells amazing—it’s time to eat. We say: Go, eat, enjoy.
Next time, do it before you grill. Yes, every time.
And while you're at it, think of grill grates like your teeth. You learn the habits of routinely brushing and flossing your teeth as a kid. For me, once I knew the difference when I scrubbed all that gunk off the grill before cooking, I couldn’t un-know what would happen if I got lazy and skipped it.
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It takes a minute or two—and improves your food’s flavor, texture, and appearance 100 percent.
Still need more reasons? It also helps your grill work better and the grates last longer. After you scrub, you add a quick swipe of oil to the grates before cooking. Oiling clean hot grates seasons them just like seasoning a cast-iron or carbon-steel pan—making them more nonstick and rustproof.
The bonus is that your clean, fully preheated, oiled grates produce crisper, more distinct grill marks and release food easily.
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How to Prep Your Grates
- Light and Cover: Light your gas grill, or spread the hot coals in your charcoal grill and place the grill grate over them. Close the grill cover and let the grates get good and hot for 5 or 10 minutes. This will loosen up all the sooty gunk.
- Assemble Your Tools: As the grill heats, assemble your tools: a good sturdy grill brush, a small bowl of any vegetable oil, and a wad of paper towels or cloth rag, plus a long pair of tongs, like our favorite 16-inch grill tongs. If you want more heat protection for your hand and arm, don a grill glove too.
- Scrub It Down: Open the lid and scrub the hot grate with the grill brush. It’s so satisfying to see it become clean and smooth again. Just make sure the grates are not lumpy and stuck with tons of old burned sauce and food; you don’t need to be too precious about it. Get the brush all the way to the edges and between the grates as best you can (the triangle-shaped head of our favorite grill brush is really helpful here).
- Oil It Up: Dip the paper towel or rag in the vegetable oil and, holding it with tongs, wipe it over the clean grates. You may see more blackened residue come off on the paper towel or rag and that’s OK.
- Repeat as Needed: You can oil and wipe more than once if the grates are a real mess, but most of the time a single swipe will do it. The oil will heat up and bond to the grates, creating a seasoned, nonstick coating just like on your cast-iron pan, even if the grates are stainless steel.
- Sizzle Time: You’re ready to cook, with no sooty taste or grit; crisper, more distinct grill marks; easy release of your grilled food; and well-conditioned grates that will last for years.
Make grate prep a habit, just like brushing and flossing your teeth, and you’ll never regret it.
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