Are wire grill brushes dangerous? Experts advise against this grill accessory and offer a clever alternative

Wire grill brushes can be dangerous, but grilling experts gave me another option that you already have in your kitchen

A metal grill brush cleaning a grill
(Image credit: Getty Images / Andreas Häuslbetz)

After your spatula and tongs, a wire grill brush seems essential to grilling. A clean grill is the first step of hygienic, tasty cooking, so a stiff wire brush to eradicate dirt and burnt-on sauces seems like a no-brainer.

However, in the past few years. this common grill accessory has been linked to hundreds of injuries. A wire brush can turn even the best grills into potential hazards.

But just throwing out your old wire grill brush won't do the trick, because your grill will still be dirty. I spoke to grilling experts about the best alternatives for cleaning a grill.

A grill in front of a wooden dining

(Image credit: Getty Images / Morsa Images)

How are wire grill brushes dangerous?

Wire grill brushes are dangerous because the wires can snap off. It's unlikely, but if you use a wire brush to clean your grill, these fragments of wire could end up in your food.

While it's fairly unlikely, it's not impossible. The American College of Surgeons reports that 'Ingestion of grill brush wire bristles causes over 130 emergency room visits per year.' While it mostly causes injuries to the mouth or throat, in more extreme cases it can cause significant injuries to your intestines.

Are nylon brushes better than metal brushes?

Instead of a wire brush, I recommend using a stiff nylon brush, like this Charbroil grill brush at Amazon. You can also find grill sponges like this at Amazon, but they're less effective as they clean the grill with steam rather than scrape off the residue.

However, nylon brushes are a lot less effective than wire brushes. Grilling expert Robbie Shoults told me that 'nylon brushes could be safer than metal grill brushes but will require a little more effort when cleaning the grill grates as they are softer and less rigid.'

A headshot of grilling expert Robbie Shoults
Robbie Shoults

Celebrity chef and barbecue expert Robbie Shoults is the third-generation owner of Bear Creek Smokehouse.

What are the other alternative grill brushes?

If you don't want to spend any money, most of the experts I spoke to recommended an incredibly cheap hack: kitchen foil.

Recipe writer and grilling expert Nicole Johnson doesn't like alternative brushes. Instead, she says 'Just grab a generous piece of heavy-duty foil, crumple it up in your hand, and wipe roughly following the path of the grill grates.'

It sounds unlikely, but it really works. Nicole says that 'It'll get all of those little bits and pieces off, forms itself to the shape of the grates, and does a better job cleaning than any brush I've ever tried.'

A headshot of recipe writer Nicole Johnson
Nicole Johnson

Nicole is a food blogger and recipe developer with a strong focus on outdoor cooking including gas and pellet grills as well as gas griddles. She is a former restaurant professional with front and back-of-the-house experience.

Can I use an onion instead of a grill brush?

Cleaning a grill with half an onion

(Image credit: Getty Images / eldadcarin)

You can use a lemon or half an onion to clean a grill. Grillmaster Robbie gave me the straightforward method: 'Simply cut a lemon or an onion in half, then hold it with your tongs and wipe it back and forth on a hot grill grate.' The acid in the food will break down some of the dirt on the grill and will kill any bacteria on the grates. Lemons are more acidic than onions, so they tend to be more effective.

However, this isn't a perfect method. If you grill with a lot of marinades, you'll find that these can carbonize and stick to the grill. The acid of a lemon or an onion won't be able to break this down, so you still need foil or a nylon brush to scrape the worst of the residue from the grill.

Grill brush FAQs

Can you use a grill brush on a griddle?

You can use a nylon grill brush on a griddle, but a wire grill brush will scratch the surface and damage your griddle.

For more help with grills, take a look at my guide to grills vs griddles and how much you should spend on a grill.

Alex David
Head of eCommerce

As Head of eCommerce, Alex makes sure our readers find the right information to help them make the best purchase. After graduating from Cambridge University, Alex got his start in reviewing at the iconic Good Housekeeping Institute, testing a wide range of household products and appliances. He then moved to BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine, assessing gardening tools, machinery, and wildlife products. Helping people find true quality and genuine value is a real passion.