Can You Cook On a Rusty Grill? (The Surprising Truth)

It’s a beautiful day, and you’re excited to fire up your grill for some delicious BBQ. You head outside, ready to start cooking, only to find your grill or grate is covered in rust. You wonder, “Can I still cook on a rusty grill?”

It’s a question that many grill owners have asked themselves, at some point, whether they use gas, charcoal, or electric grills. And the answer is not as straightforward as you might think.

This article will explore whether rusted grill grates are safe, provide tips for cleaning, preventing rust on your grill, and keeping it in top condition.

So, whether you’re a seasoned grill master or a newbie, keep reading to learn everything you need about cooking on a rusty grill.

Can You Cook on a Rusty Grill?

Grilling is a popular cooking method that can add delicious flavors to your food. However, when it comes to using a rusty grill, there are several things to consider before firing it up.

Expert Arguments for and Against Ingesting Rust

The question of whether it’s safe to ingest rust has been debated for years, with experts on both sides of the debate.

On one hand, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recommend discarding heavily rusted cans because they can have tiny holes that allow bacteria to enter. If you open a can and find rust inside, you should not eat the food.

Both sources also state that surface rust that can be removed by rubbing with a finger or a paper towel is not serious. Similarly, if you see rust on the surface of a utensil such as a cast-iron skillet or knife, it is recommended that you remove all the rust before using it. The same can be said for rusty grill grates.

On the other hand, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign agrees that small amounts of rust are harmless for ingesting. However, it’s still important to clean utensils before using them.

Potential Dangers and Drawbacks of Grilling on Rusty Grates

Rust can not only be dangerous if ingested but also affect the performance of your grill. Rust buildup can block the air vents and affect heat distribution, causing your food to cook unevenly. Moreover, the rust can compromise the structural integrity of the grill, making it more prone to breakage and increasing the risk of injury.

In addition, exposure to iron oxide fumes, which can cause metal fume fever, is another potential danger of cooking on a rusty grill. According to a study by the New Jersey Department, exposure to iron oxide fumes can cause flu-like symptoms such as metallic taste, fever and chills, aches, chest tightness, and cough. Therefore, it’s recommended that you do not eat, smoke, or drink where iron oxide is handled, processed, or stored.

Why Take the Risk? Err on the Side of Caution

While a little rust on a grill grate may not pose an immediate health risk, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and avoid cooking on a rusty grill. If the rust is only surface-level and can be cleaned off, it’s worth the effort. However, if the grill grate is heavily rusted and compromised, it’s time to replace it to ensure the safety and performance of your grill. Remember, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.


How to Clean Rust Off Your Grill

With a few simple steps and common household items, you can get your grill looking and working like “a dream”.

1. Removing Rust from Grill Grates with Baking Soda

Step 1: Turn on the heat and let the grill warm up for 15-30 minutes. This will loosen any leftover food and make it easier to scrub off.

Step 2: Grab a grill brush and scrub away the leftovers. It’s important to use a soft brush on stainless steel and porcelain-enameled grates to avoid damaging the surface. Ensure you get all the excess food off the grates before moving on to the next step.

Step 3: Now, it’s time to mix up a solution to soak the grates. You’ll need a large bucket and a few ingredients. In the bucket, combine one cup of dish soap with 1/4 cup of baking soda, mixed with hot water. The baking soda, which is a gentle abrasive, will work wonders in removing rust from your grill grates. If you don’t have baking soda on hand, there are other options.

One alternative is to mix vinegar with dish soap in the same manner, or you can mix one cup of salt with two cups of vinegar. Vinegar is a popular choice for rust removal because its natural properties react with rust and break it down from the metal surface. Meanwhile, the salt helps to improve the cleaning action of the vinegar.

Step 4: Once your solution is mixed up, soak your grates in the bucket for at least one hour or even overnight if the rust is particularly stubborn. This will allow the baking soda to work its magic and loosen up the rust even more.

Step 5: After the grates have soaked, take them out of the bucket and give them another good scrub with your grill brush. Rinse the grates with cool water to remove any leftover baking soda solution.

Step 6: Finally, dry your grill grates thoroughly. You don’t want any moisture left on the grates, or you could end up with more rust. Once dry, put them back in your grill and enjoy cooking on your newly cleaned and rust-free grates!

2. Use Safe Rust Removers

When choosing rust removers, safety should be a top priority. You want to ensure you’re using a rust remover that does not harm you, your family, or the environment. These types of removers are made from biodegradable, non-toxic ingredients and are gentle on your grill grates.

They come in various forms such as sprays, gels, or solutions, making them easy to use. Always read the label and follow the instructions carefully. Also, wear protective gear such as gloves, goggles, and a mask. Remember, safety comes first!

Even with the best maintenance, there comes a time when grill grates can no longer be saved from rust damage. If you notice that your grill grates are severely rusted, warped, or cracked, it may be time to replace them.

Tips for Preventing Rust On Grills

If you want to keep your grill rust-free and in great condition, there are a few things you can do to prevent rust from forming. Here are some tips to help you:

Don’t pour liquids directly onto your grill. Liquids can cause your grill to rust quickly, especially acidic liquids like vinegar or tomato juice. If you need to use liquids on your grill, try to use a container or a spray bottle to apply them more precisely.

Clean your grill after use. Leftover food and grease can cause rust to form on your grill. To clean your grill, use a soft grill brush or sponge and mild soap and water. Make sure you rinse the grill thoroughly with water and dry it completely with a clean towel.

To keep your grill in good condition, it’s important to take certain precautions. Seasoning your grill grate with vegetable oil before use can help prevent sticking and create a protective layer. For cast iron grates, remember to apply oil after cleaning.

To prevent moisture from causing rust to form on your grill, close the grill lid and cover it when it’s not in use.

If you live in an area with harsh weather conditions, it’s best to store your grill indoors. However, if that’s not possible, be sure to use a grill cover to keep it protected from the elements. Additionally, follow all safety measures when storing your grill, such as turning off the gas supply and disconnecting the propane tank.


Grilling on rusted grates may be technically possible, but it’s not the best idea. Doing so can affect the taste and quality of your food and may even pose health risks.

To avoid these issues, it’s recommended to clean the rust off and take a proactive approach to grill maintenance to prevent rust from forming.

By properly caring for your grill, you can ensure it performs optimally and safely, allowing you to enjoy tasty and healthy meals with your loved ones.


Can You Burn Rust Off a Grill?

No, burning rust off a grill is not recommended. A study suggests that flame cleaning with an oxyacetylene flame can remove rust and scale, but heavy rust should be removed manually. This method is not a substitute for blast cleaning, which allows the coating to last longer.

Is Stainless Steel 100% Rustproof?

Stainless steel is corrosion-resistant, but it is not 100% rustproof. The most rust-resistant type is Type 316, known as “marine grade” stainless steel, widely used in food and surgical applications. Type 304, the most common grade, also offers good rust resistance. The main difference between these two types is that 316 contains molybdenum while 304 does not. Therefore, when it comes to rust resistance, Type 316 is the best option, while Type 304 is a great alternative. Both types are safe for cooking.

Can You Get Tetanus from Rust in Food?

It is highly unlikely to get tetanus from rust in food. Tetanus is caused by a bacteria called Clostridium Tetani which is commonly found in soil, dust, and manure, not rust. The bacteria can enter the body through open wounds or cuts, producing a toxin that affects the nervous system.

Rusty objects can potentially harbor the bacteria if they have been in contact with contaminated soil or other materials. Still, it’s important to note that the rust itself is not the cause of tetanus. To prevent tetanus, it’s recommended to keep wounds clean and seek medical attention if you suspect you have been exposed to the bacteria.

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