Skip The Scrub Brush And Clean Your Grill With An Onion

Everything tastes better on the grill — burgers, steak, veggies, chicken wings, even fruit. That is unless that food is getting grilled on grates that are still grungy with burnt debris from the last time cookout. Walking away from the grill and leaving dirty grates risks ruining the flavor of the foods that get placed on them next. And guests will be less than thrilled to be served a cheeseburger or brat with a side of last week's grilling. Even worse, old, stuck-on bits of foods can encourage the growth of bacteria or mold. 


Now that you know that scrubbing the grill grates is a must, here's a way to really do it right. Don't reach for the standard plastic or metal-bristle grill scrub brush. Instead, head to the pantry and grab a big onion. It may not seem like a tough enough tool for that messy job, but onions are a surprisingly effective scrubber. Just cut the onion in half, skewer it on a large grill fork, and use the cut side to rub down the grill grates. Here's why it works so well.  

The compounds that make you cry are great for cleaning

The moisture in the cut onion and the steam it creates when it hits the hot grill help make it an effective cleaning tool by loosening the gunk. Onions also contain sulphuric acid, the compound that's released when onions are sliced, irritating the eyes and bringing on a flood of tears. Here, this acid is a good thing: it helps break down food bits, allowing them to be released from the metal grates. These sulphuric compounds also have antibacterial properties. By rubbing the cooking surface with a cut onion, you get an extra safeguard to prevent harmful bacteria from surviving to contaminate the next batch of grilled food.


To do this job, choose any inexpensive, large onion to have the biggest, cut surface possible for cleaning. Also, for the best results, the grill grates should be hot; the heat will loosen stuck-on food and solidified grease to make them easier to remove. Clean the hot grates right after the food comes off, or if that's not possible, heat the grill back up after the meal until it's good and hot. Then scrub it with the onion.

A safer way to clean than grill brushes

Using an onion to clean the crud off of grill grates is not only a natural solution, but you can avoid the danger posed by the metal bristles of your typical metal grill scrub brushes. These brushes are most often made with bristles or coils made of stainless steel or brass which are set into a sturdy handle. There's no question that these brushes get the gunk off your grill grates; the problem is that those metal fibers can end up in your food.


With every use, the grill brush bristles or wires get bent and worn, and they begin to fray and break off. These metal fibers can stick to the grill grates and get transferred to your food. An emergency department physician shared one story on TikTok of a four-year-old patient who came in with acute pain, fever, and swelling in the neck. A CAT scan revealed that a bit of metal from a wire grill brush ended up in a burger the child had eaten, and eventually became lodged in the child's throat, causing an infection. 

The doctor goes on to share that when ingested these bits of metal can also cause bowel obstructions or abdominal issues. In a study published in the journal Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery researchers found that while injuries like this are rare, the number of patients seen at emergency departments after ingesting bits of metal found in their grilled food spikes during the grilling season. 


Cleaning the grill after every use with an all-natural, effective, inexpensive, and easy-to-find onion means grillers never have to take the chance that a grill brush injury will happen at their barbecues.