Why You Should Be Using an Onion to Clean Your Grill

Holly Riddle

By Holly Riddle


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You might think there’s no reason to clean your grill regularly. After all, you heat your grill grates to a bacteria-blasting and literally fiery temperature each and every time you cook on your grill, so it should be sanitary … Right? And all that black stuff on the grill grates is just char … Correct?

Well, not really.

A young man's arm arranging food on a BBQ grill.
Simon Kadula/Shutterstock

There are many reasons why you need to keep a clean, tidy grill, not least of which is the fact that a dirty grill is just unsafe and bad for your health. The build-up on your grill grates can contain carcinogens, plus a dirty grill is an unsanitary harbor for bacteria and germs. Not to mention, a dirty grill can attract mold growth and disease-carrying pests and, in some cases (like if you’re grilling fruit), you might not be heating the grill to a hot enough temperature to kill off any nasty bacteria or germs.

The good news? Cleaning your grill is likely easier and more convenient than you think and you don’t necessarily need to use harsh chemicals to do so. All you need to keep your grill looking spiffy is an onion.

Why Use an Onion to Clean Your Grill

There are two primary reasons why you might use an onion to clean your grill, in place of traditional grill cleaners. One, onions make for an all-natural, safe cleaning solution. Two, let’s just say those wire cleaning brushes that are often sold specifically for grill cleaning may be leaving behind something you definitely don’t want to ingest.

Cleaning the grates of a BBQ grill with an onion.

The heavy-duty, chemical-laden cleaners you purchase at the grocery store may wipe away grease and grime in a flash — but at what cost? These cleaners may leave behind residue that, at worst, leaches into your food or, at best (though still pretty bad) are burnt off when you heat up the grill, meaning you could be inhaling something nasty. Onions, on the other hand, are naturally anti-bacterial and filled with natural acids that gently remove residue. As an added bonus, the oils from the onion help prevent food from sticking to the grates.

As for the wire cleaning brushes, while they may look harmless, they could actually send you to the ER or even the morgue, if those bristles break off and end up in or on your food. As one study notes, between 2004 and 2012 more than 1,500 people went to the ER due to grill brush bristle injuries — which makes cleaning your grill with an onion look far more appealing.

How to Clean Your Grill Using an Onion

For this (potentially life-saving, but definitely time and money-saving) grilling hack, just grab a white onion and your grilling fork. After your next round of grilling, cut that onion in half, pop it onto the end of your grilling fork, and rub the cut side against the grates, using the onion as a makeshift scrub brush. If the grill is still hot, the onion juice will melt away any stuck-on substances and help remove bacteria.

No onion on hand? You can also use a potato for this process! While the potato, admittedly, doesn’t offer the same antibacterial properties that you’ll get with an onion, the potato’s starches will give your grill grates a non-stick coating without the non-stick spray.

Need a Deep Clean?

Of course, sometimes, your grill is just too messy for an onion or potato to handle. In those cases, you do have other, all-natural options. Consider using the tried-and-true all-natural cleaning solution of one part vinegar and one part water. Spray the mixture onto your grill grates and then scrub. You can also use baking soda, another favorite all-natural cleaner, forming a paste with water and allowing the mixture to sit on the grates before scrubbing. Rather than using a potential dangerous wire scrubber, you can use a ball of crinkled aluminum foil or dried corn husks for your scrubbing tool, if you happened to grill some corn on the cob for dinner.

It’s worth noting that all of the above cleaning options work best when you don’t allow your grill to build up a heavy layer of grease and grime. Make sure to clean your grill after every single use, preferably while it’s still warm, in order to keep it looking its best and ready to go for your next grilling sess.