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I never imagined having a favorite metal but adulting is weird. Cast iron has ended up becoming one of my best pals in recent years because it’s long-lasting, cooks evenly, and it increases my iron intake. The coolest bit is that it becomes a natural non-stick with time and doesn’t contain harmful chemicals which your regular non-stick Teflon does. Moreover, it has a low melting temperature as it’s made by adding carbon to iron.
But maintaining good things needs a whole lot of hustle. While Cast Iron happens to be a great metal to cook with, cleaning it is equally important. No one wants to see a dirty cast iron grill grate when they decide to grill some steaks. And god forbid the rust.
If you’re one of the many who have no clue about Cast Iron maintenance or one of the many who have no clue but won’t admit it, welcome to the post!
Cleaning the Grill Grates
Make regular cleaning a habit to avoid taking extreme measures in the future. Ideally, you should clean your grates immediately post each cook. Here’s a step by step guide for the same:
- Once you’re done being a MasterChef, turn up the grill heat and close the lid. If it’s a charcoal grill, open up the vents and if it’s gas, increase the heat. Doing this will burn any food or sauce residue from your grates. Moreover, the heat will kill the bacteria.
- Now it’s time to scrape. After your grill grates cool down, take a brush (kudos to you if your brush also contains a scraper) and brush off any food left.
- Time to sanitize! Make a solution of 3 parts water and 1 part apple cider vinegar. Spray this cleaner on your grates and wipe them down with a paper towel.
- For this step, you require a lot of running warm water and some sponge. Rinse your grates thoroughly and pat them down with the sponge. Where’s the soap, you ask? Avoid using soaps on cast iron because they strip off the seasoning. If you still insist, use a very mild one.
- DRY DRY DRY! If Cast Iron is the Earth, water is Thanos. Water causes rust and which is why we must dry the grates properly after each wash.
- Oil away. After drying your grate, take a paper towel and dip it in oil (vegetable, coconut, palm, olive, etc) and rub it over the grate. Oil it well because oiling prevents rust.
- Almost done, only one step to go. After oiling, wrap the grate in aluminum foil and put it on the grill. Close the lid and heat for 10 minutes.
So let’s take a quick recap: Heat, scrap, sanitize, rinse, dry, oily and heat again!
This is the basic cleaning guide for your grates. After 3 or 4 cooks, follow this process to maintain your grates.
What now? Cast iron is the wine of metals, it gets better with time. This is because oil and fat accumulates on the grate with each cook. This makes cast iron a natural non-stick. Seasoning is the oiling of the grates to prevent rusting and maintain the quality of the iron.
To season your iron, oil it after cleaning using vegetable, olive, peanut or other oils. You can also use a product like Crisbee to season.
You will heat your grates before seasoning so make sure you don’t use a nylon or synthetic brush to apply the oil because the plastic will melt. Be safe and avoid synthetic brushes.
Keep your grates well oiled to keep the rust at bay.
If you’ve been a lazy bum when it comes to cleaning your cast iron grates, chances are it’ll rust. But stress not, the situation can be salvaged. Cast iron rusts when it comes in contact with humidity. You do not need to throw away a perfectly good grate because of rust, you can use these hacks given below to restore your grates:
If I had a penny for every time vinegar was used in a household hack, I’d be able to buy a cast iron grill. The deal is that the acids present in vinegar break down the rust (and get rid of some of the seasoning too).
There are several ways you can go about using vinegar as a cleaning agent.
- Soak your grates overnight in a mixture of ratio one parts distilled white vinegar to half part baking soda. After removing the grates, rinse thoroughly to remove any residual traces. Oil well to restore the seasoning.
- Soaking again. Mix equal parts of vinegar and water and soak your grates for approximately 2 hours. Rinse thoroughly and dry with a paper towel. Oil it post washing.
2. Steel Wool and Soap
Abrasive tools are excellent for removing rust. Unfortunately, they also remove most of the seasoning. Scrub your grates with soap and steel wool. Rinse well and dry. You can also use wire brushes. But be gentle because fast cleaning will damage the surface and allow water in which will cause rusting. As always, remember to oil the grates.
3. Baking soda
This ingredient is another jack of all trades. You can shun the rust by using baking soda!
- Make a thick paste of 1 tbsp baking soda and water and smear it on your rusty grate. Let it sit for 10 minutes, then take a scrubber and scrub away the rust. You may even use a toothbrush. Rinse well and dry with a paper towel. You know what’s next- oil.
- If you don’t like pastes, you have another method of using baking soda. Fill a bucket with water, one cup dish soap and 60 ml baking soda. Soak for one hour before you rinse, dry and oil your grates.
4. Kosher salt
Make a paste using Kosher salt (coarse salt without iodine) and water and apply it on the rust. Scrub away till the rust comes off. Wash the grate with warm water, dry and oil it.
5. Commercial rust removers
Products that remove rust are not uncommon but try using natural remedies first. Products like oxalic acid powder, Zep remove rust effectively. Don’t forget to wear the required protective gear before using these.
You can also use sandpaper to scrub away the rust on your grates. Wash you grates and dry them. Don’t forget to oil!
Things are about to get pasty again! Make a thick paste using the juice of one lemon and some detergent. Apply it on the rusted grate and seal with a plastic wrap. Let is rest for an hour. Rinse, dry and oil.
8. Oven Cleaner
If you have the worst luck and none of these methods work, we have an ultimate cure. Oven cleaner contains lye, a very strong alkaline that is highly soluble in water. Put on some latex gloves and wear protective glasses before you begin. Spray the oven cleaner on the grates and seal them in garbage bags. Keep the grates in a dry, warm spot for two days. Rinse thoroughly to remove any chemical traces and dry and oil. Use this method only if required under extreme circumstances because the chemicals in oven cleaners are not advisable.
You can keep things simple if the rust is minimal. Oil your grate well and simply scrub it away. Rinse, dry and oil again. Now that you know the various ways of getting rid of rust, allow me to help you out a little more. Here are a few general tips and tricks to increase the longevity of your cast iron.
- Replace your grill brush at intervals to avoid bristle shedding.
- Avoid using too much liquid or sauces on your grill to avoid the crusting of sugar on your grates.
- Food sticking initially on your new grate is normal. The non-stick will develop with time.
- Always keep your grill indoors and keep it covered. Use a fitting cover.
- Don’t let food sit on the grill for long. The longer it will sit, the harder it will be to clean.
- Do not use the dishwasher for cast iron because the grease will stick inside the dishwasher.
- Make sure you don’t switch between extreme temperatures while cleaning cast iron because temperature shocks make it crack.
- Don’t cook very acidic foods like lemon or tomatoes on cast iron because they strip the metal. This can result in metal tasting food.
- Be gentle while scrubbing.
- Clean kettle ashes because they hold moisture- iron’s nemesis.
Congratulations! You now know everything about maintaining your cast iron grill grate. Keep your grates clean, dry and seasoned to avoid that god awful rust. And in case the rust returns, this post will be there to help you shoo it.