How to Clean a Grill with an Onion—and Why You Should

Updated: Aug. 03, 2023

Have you tried cleaning your grill grates with an onion? Use this simple cleaning hack at your next cookout.

It’s grilling season, which means grill-marked burgers, flame-roasted veggies and perfectly charred steak skewers are on summer cookout menus across the country. If you’re not exploring the best burger in every state, chances are you’re hitting the backyard, dusting off those barbecue utensils and learning how to clean a grill (effectively). But how can you best de-gunk it between uses? There’s a pretty common vegetable for that: Simply clean your grill with an onion.

Yes, you read that right. Onions are a great burger topping (along with ketchup, pickles, prepared mustard and American cheese), but they also serve as an ideal cleaning tool for the grill. “An onion makes for an economical, chemical-free alternative to harsh grill cleaners,” says chef Matthew Kenney. “Additionally, it adds flavor to food with its natural oils and juices, imparting an irresistibly smoky essence.” Here’s how.

How to clean a grill with an onion

Step 1: Start with a grill brush

You already know the best time to buy a grill. Now you need the proper tools. If you have a nylon or non-wire grill brush that requires the grill be cool, now is the time to use it. Give the grill a quick once-over to remove that top layer of grime. “This helps the onion do its job even better,” says cleaning expert Ryan Knoll, owner of Tidy Casa.

Step 2: Preheat your grill

Just like it matters how long you grill a burger, it’s also important to know how long to heat a grill before cleaning it. You’ll want to turn your grill up to between 400 and 450 degrees Fahrenheit and allow it to heat up for 10 to 15 minutes to loosen any food stuck to it. The heat helps burn off any leftover food bits, says Knoll.

Step 3: Choose and prepare the onion

According to chef Michael Casciello, co-owner of Food Fire + Knives, a white onion works best, but a purple or yellow onion can also be used. As the grill heats up, cut your fresh onion in half lengthwise while keeping the skin intact.

Step 4: Find proper utensils

You can use grill tongs, a barbecue fork or a long utensil for this task, says Knoll. Just be cautious of the heat. Pierce half the onion with the grill tongs, and make sure the cut side is facing down.

Step 5: Rub the grill grates

“Take the onion half and rub it all over the grill grates. You’ll see the onion juice steam and work magic on the grime,” says Knoll. The onion will help you remove any grease, grime or bits of food left from other grill jobs. Repeat this process until your grates look nice and clean.

If your grill debris is especially charred on, you might need some backup onions. “Multiple onions may need to be used if your grill is particularly filthy,” Kenney says. “Once your onion has done its work in cleaning your grill, simply compost or throw it away—either will do.”

Why should you clean your grill with an onion?

Clean Grill With Onioneldadcarin/getty images

“The onion is cleaning in two ways,” says Wes Wright, founder of CookOut News, “through steam from the water content of the onion and from the acidic properties of the onion. The main benefit of cleaning a grill with an onion is that you aren’t using chemicals on the cooking grates that you could end up ingesting.” Which means that when it comes to grill cleaners, it might be one of the best natural cleaning products around.

According to Casciello, if you clean a grill with an onion, you’re also adding some flavor. “The juices released from the onion during the cleaning process can add a subtle flavor to the food you cook,” he says. “Onions also contain compounds with antibacterial properties, which can help sanitize the grill grates and reduce the risk of cross-contamination.”

Can you use an onion to clean gas and charcoal grills?

Yes, cleaning a grill with an onion works for both charcoal and gas grills. “You’re using it to remove old food from your cooking grates, which happens with any fuel source,” Wright says. “For a charcoal grill, any ash or creosote will wipe off pretty easily.” To keep your grill spotless inside and out, be sure to clean the stainless steel on the exterior as well. Make a weekend of appliance cleaning, and learn how to best clean your refrigerator, oven, microwave, dishwasher and more.

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