Can you use an onion to clean a grill? Explore the effectiveness of this unique cleaning method

I found that you can clean a grill with an onion, but it's not always the best method

A mean attempting to clean a grill with an onion
(Image credit: Getty Images / eldadcarin)

As a seasoned product tester, I've tested a lot of grills in my time, which means I've put in hours and hours of cleaning up burnt-on food. If you're anything like me, you'll be getting into the swing of the grilling season, and while the food is great, it can make for a lot of elbow grease removing stubborn carbonization from your grill.

One of the most common hacks for cleaning up a grill sounds like an old wives' tale. The idea is that half an onion rubbed over the surface of a grill will clean up any grit or charred food. The good news is that the method works and it's safe, the better news is that there's an even more effective method, which is still cheap and chemical-free.

I've tested dozens of the best grills in my career, so I know the best ways to take care of them. If you still aren't convinced, I also got great advice from pitmasters and cooks about the best home remedies to clean a grill.  

Can you use an onion to clean a grill?

Cleaning a grill with half an onion

(Image credit: Getty Images / eldadcarin)

You can use an onion to clean your grill. Adrian Davila, owner-operator at Davila's BBQ, told me it's the 'best way' to tidy up a grill. The method is incredibly simple. 

Adrian says to 'cut a large onion in half, crosswise. Grab half of it and rub down the length of the grill, following the lines of the grates. It's just like cleaning a plate in your sink'. This should remove any light carbonization so your grill is ready to go for the next cookout.

What are the drawbacks to using an onion to clean a grill?

However, homesteader and recipe writer Lindsey Chastain told me that there are some issues with this method. It works for light carbonation, but she finds that  'An onion does not get hot enough or contain strong enough cleaners to penetrate thick, burnt-on grease and residue. The onion tends to burn onto the grill grates with the existing debris.' 

If you grill all the time, you're unlikely to build up much dirt that needs a deep clean, and an onion can remove this just fine. However, casual grillmasters are more likely to overcook their food, which can lead to some pretty tough stains. If you've slow-roasted something with a sticky marinade, your grill probably needs a deeper clean with a nylon brush, like this Charbroil grill brush at Amazon. As a sidebar, it's important to use a nylon brush. Wire brushes do a better job, but there's a tiny chance that wire bristles break off and end up in your food, and it's better to be safe.

The lemon method

Tray of household cleaning ingreedients

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Instead, Lindsey recommends using half a lemon. The method is identical: just substitute the onion half with half a lemon. She told me that 'lemon juice contains acid that breaks down grease and stains. Rubbing lemon or lime halves over the grates helps remove gunk. The natural degreasing action of citrus can lift burnt spots when combined with some elbow grease and scrubbing.' 

If you still need a little extra scrubbing, try dipping the lemon half in salt before you clean the grill. According to Lindsey, 'coarse salt or dry rubs make for great grill-cleaning scrubs. Salt crystals won't scratch the grill surface while removing layers of cooked-on messes. Any excess salt gets burned off next time you fire up the grill.'

Other methods for cleaning your grill

There are a couple of other home remedies worth considering if you're taking on a dirty grill. Lindsey recommends an equal-part mix of water and vinegar, which is great for removing the truly burnt-on carbonization. We explore more ways to clean with vinegar in our dedicated feature.

If vinegar isn't for you, try making a paste of baking soda and water, and slather it on the grill before you scour it. This should help lift the dirt. 

My grill recommendations

I've tested grills for years, if you're in the market for a new model, these are my favorites. 


Should I clean a grill with a wire brush?

No. It's almost always safe, but there's an outside chance that a wire brush will snap, dropping small shards of steel into your grill that might end up in your food. It's safest to use a stiff nylon brush, or the lemon method. 

For more detailed advice, we've also taken a deep dive into how to clean a charcoal grill, and how to clean a grill without a brush.

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.