Expert Tips on How to Keep Food from Sticking to Grill Grates

Last Updated on April 13, 2021

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling, passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

A long-time contributor to SeriouslySmoked. Jim has had a lifelong relationship with the art of grilling,

passed on from his father and grandfather to him.  

barbecue

When food sticks to grill grates, it can become a health hazard and ruin your next meal. Food that remains on grill grates for extended periods can encourage bacteria growth and attract unwanted attention from pests and rodents. If grills are not clean, it can affect their performance, and you may need to replace them sooner than expected. 

While the summer months are a peak time for grilling, it’s vital to protect your grill grates all year round to reduce the risk of food sticking during the next use. 

Fortunately, following some expert tips can keep your grill grates in excellent condition and prevent your food from sticking to the grates.

1. Clean Your Grill Grates

When learning how to keep food from sticking to grill grates, the first step is to ensure your grill grates are clean before use. If there is residual dirt or debris already present, food is more likely to stick. 

Look for a grill brush with woven mesh scrubber pads because bristle brushes could scrape your grill grates during cleaning. Choosing a grill brush with a large but lightweight handle makes it easier to scrub, although you should be able to clean grill grates using minimal pressure.


2. Heat and Scrub Your Grill Grates

High heat helps to loosen dust, dirt, and any foods that may already be on your grill grates. Turn the temperature up and close the lid for 15 minutes. When you open the top, you’ll find any food pieces are blackened and crumble more easily than if they were at average air temperature. 

Any smaller debris may have evaporated in the high heat, eliminating the need for extra scrubbing

Because any remaining detritus loosened in the heat, you can remove them from the grill grates in seconds. Apply some light pressure to your grill brush and watch the dirt quickly separate from the metal.  

If you don’t have a grill brush, you can shape aluminum foil into a pad or ball shape and use the cooking tongs to hold it in place. It may not produce the same great results, but it can help remove any looser debris

You may notice that some debris remains stubbornly stuck to your grill grates. You can gradually remove this over time by repeating the cleaning process. It can also help to remove the grates from your grill and leave them to soak in hot soapy water for 30 minutes. Scrub the grates in the water to remove any stuck-on debris.

Always dry your grill grates after exposing them to water to prevent rusting. If the metal deteriorates, this can encourage food to stick to parts that suffer from corrosion.


3. Prepare Your Grill Grates Before Cooking

When considering how to keep food from sticking to grill grates, it’s vital to prepare them for grilling.

Oiling the Grates

If you’re using an oil, choose one with a high smoke point, such as sunflower or canola oil. These oils can withstand higher temperatures without burning off, preventing food from sticking to the grates. 

Pour a small amount of your cooking oil into a small bowl or container and use long grill tongs to hold one of your paper towels. 

Dip the paper towel into the oil so it is wet but not dripping. Applying too much oil makes the grill grates greasy and can affect the taste of your food. A large oil concentration also increases the risks of flare-ups that can burn food and potentially cause injury. 

When you rub the paper towel over the grill grates, an oily coating forms. When the heat interacts with the oil, it creates a non-stick surface that helps food move smoothly over the metal. 

You can also use a grilling basting brush to grease the grill grates and prevent food from sticking. They have larger bristles and can get between the grates more effectively than a pastry brush.

The Onion Method

If you’re cooking burgers, try the onion method. Cut an onion in half and, using a fork, rub the onion over the warm grill grates. The juices from the onion act as a barrier between the burgers and the grates. Because onions have a strong taste and smell, they complement burgers, but they may alter the taste of meats such as chicken, lamb, and steak.

A Word about Cooking Sprays

You can use nonstick cooking sprays, but do not spray the grill when it is hot because you can cause a flare up and get burned. Use cooking sprays before turning the grill on to heat. If you’ve turned the grill on to clean the grates, allow them to cool completely first.


4. Prepare Your Meats For Grilling

Once you’re done preparing the grill grates, close the grill lid and allow the temperature to rise.

You can coat your meat with olive or sunflower oil to lower the chances of sticking to the metal grates. You don’t want to add too much oil in case it saturates your meat and alters the taste. It’s easy to apply a light coating by spraying the oil onto the palm of your hand and holding it gently against the meat for a couple of seconds. 

Your choice of marinades or sauces is also important. Items with high sugar content carmelize in high heat, causing your food to stick to the grates.

If meat is too dry, it is more likely to crumble and stick to your grill grates, so a certain amount of moisture can be helpful. Leaner meats dry faster on a grill, but foods like lamb shoulder and chicken thighs have higher fat contents and retain moisture more effectively.

When grilling meats and vegetables, you can use non-stick grilling paper to prevent sticking. Cut the individual sheets to fit your foods’ size and set them directly on the grills. However, this can make it harder to turn meat for thorough cooking and isn’t necessary unless you want to remove any risk of food sticking to your grill grates. 

You can also opt for a grilling mat, but you sacrifice the traditional grill marks and charring that make grilled food special.


When you place your meats on the grill grates, ensure the heat is at a high level. The hotter temperature sears the outside of the meat, making it less likely to separate during cooking. This process also helps to seal in the tasty juices and aromas for better grilling results.

Resist the urge to flip your meats too soon. The meat is ready to turn when it’s easy to release from the grates with little pulling. Grill each side only once.  

If you find it challenging to turn meats, you can remove them from the grill for a moment and add a small amount of oil to the grates. Ensure your meat is on a side plate because the oil can cause a minor flare up on the grill.

Alternatively, you can baste your meat as you grill, keeping it moist and preventing sticking. Use a BBQ basting brush that can withstand high temperatures. Silicone brushes work particularly well for brushing sauces and marinades onto your meat while it cooks.


6. Non-Stick Cooking on Grill Grates

Learning how to keep food from sticking to grill grates is an essential skill that makes cooking healthier and more enjoyable. Following a few expert tips makes cleaning and preparing your grill grates a quick and easy process

There is no need to dread a messy clean up after cooking if your grill grates are in excellent condition and have been through the proper preparation before grilling your food.

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