Rust is made of iron oxide, which is harmless in small quantities. However, ingesting rust on a regular basis can cause iron poisoning. So, the short answer is no, it’s not safe to grill on rusted grates.
It’s not just the rust it’s not safe that poses a threat to your health, but it is also the transfer of this flaky disintegrated metal onto food. This can result in unpalatable and even harmful tastes in the meat you are cooking. If you do grill on rusted grates, it is best to remove the rust as soon as possible.
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In order to do this, start by brushing the grate with steel wool or a wire brush, and then hosing off the grates. If the rust is too much, it is possible to heat up your grill and leave it on for about 20 minutes to break the rust down. Next, you can use white vinegar or a mixture of baking soda and water to clean the grates.
Lastly, it’s best to keep in mind that there are types of grates that don’t get rusty such as porcelain-enameled and stainless steel. Therefore, if you have these, it’s highly recommended to use them and to regularly clean them to prevent them from becoming rusted. Moreover, it’s a good idea to season these grates after each cleaning to help them resist corrosion in the future. This will make it easier to remove any existing rust when necessary.