Is the Most Dangerous Thing at Your Barbecue Your…Grill Brush?

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You’ve taken every precaution to avoid a propane-fueled explosion or grease fire when you’re barbecuing. But how much thought have you given to your metal-bristled grill brush? Believe it or not, using one of these spiky accessories to clean the grates could put one of your guests in the hospital. Read on for the details, plus safer alternatives for getting your grill gunk-free.

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metal grill brush dangers: hand holding loose metal bristle in front of a barbecue grill grate
Helin Loik-Tomson/Getty Images

Why Are Metal Grill Brushes Dangerous?

Metal-bristle brushes are used to scrape off stuck-on gunk from your grill, but they can also leave tiny slivers of metal behind in your food or on the grates, which can be very dangerous if consumed.

“When ingested, wire bristles have been known to cause injury and, in some cases, lead to a surgical emergency. We urge everyone to take simple precautions to avoid injury and prevent a trip to the emergency department, including wiping the grill down after using it and inspecting it for wire bristles before cooking food,” urged the American Medical Association’s president, Barbara L. McAneny, M.D., in 2018.

Before you think that won’t happen to me, know that more than 1,600 emergency department visits happened between 2002 and 2014 (that’s about 130 annually), according to a 2016 study in the Journal of Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery. It’s not uncommon for wire bristles to become lodged in the neck, throat, intestine or colon once swallowed, all injuries that require emergency surgery.

That being said, you’re more likely to get food poisoning from eating undercooked meat than you are to swallow a stray bristle, says Harvard Health Publishing, but it can still happen. And nothing ruins a cookout like a trip to the hospital…so maybe it’s time to retire your metal grill brush.

metal grill brush dangers: oklahoma joe's nylon brush
Ace Hardware

What to Use Instead of Metal Grill Brushes

You can follow the experts’ advice by checking the grates for bristles or running over the rack with a towel or paper towels before cooking, but you could also do one better and skip metal-bristled grill brushes altogether. Nowadays, there are plenty of alternatives to stainless steel heads, including pumice stones, coil-shaped brushes without bristles and brushes with nylon bristles.

metal grill brush dangers nylon brushes
OXO/Ace Hardware

1. Nylon Brushes

Nylon may not be as durable or long-lasting as stainless steel, but it’s still a powerhouse tool to have on your side if you’re ditching your metal grill brush. They’re designed to be used on a cold grill rather than hot, since the nylon will melt, but these brushes are often equipped with scraper attachments that will help you clean gunk the nylon bristles can’t budge. You may need to replace the heads more often, but it’s a low price to pay to keep bristles out of your food.

Our favorites include the OXO Good Grips Nylon Grill Brush for Cold Cleaning, which is equipped with durable nylon bristles that are strong enough to deep clean all types of grates, including coated ceramic. The bristles are angled for cleaning in tough-to-reach crevices and corners. The stainless steel scraper tip is designed with cut-outs to clear grime and debris with every swipe. The replaceable head will also extend the life of your brush, plus it’s dishwasher safe and designed with a soft-grip angled handle.

Epicurious recommends Oklahoma Joe’s Blacksmith Combo Grill Brush. It’s two-sided, so you can use the nylon bristles to clean the grill while it’s cold and the steel wool scrubbing pad while it’s hot. For stubborn gunk, use the stainless steel scraper at the end of the brush.

metal grill brush dangers: a grill floss, scrubbing stone and BBQ Daddy side by side

2. Bristle-Free Brushes

The GrillFloss is a solid bristle-free alternative. Made from stainless steel, the tool slides right onto rounded grates. When pushed, it scrapes grime off from all angles without you needing to lift the grate off the grill. Other options—like the Better Grillin’ Scrubbin’ Stone or the Scrub Daddy BBQ Daddy Grill Brush—require a bit more elbow grease in the scrubbing department, but they won’t leave dangerous residue on your grill.

3. An…Onion

The most cost-effective alternative, thought, is—wait for it—a halved onion. Start by heating your grill to a high temperature. Once it’s hot, pierce the round side of the halved onion with a fork or hold it with tongs and rub the flat side along the grill grates. The onion will produce steam, which will loosen and remove charred food from the grates. Its acidic enzymes also break down debris as you scrub, says Tor Rydder, a cleaning expert and founder of Organizing.TV. It will also season your grates with oniony flavor—win-win. Chefs swear by using crumpled tinfoil, wooden scrapers and coiled stainless steel pot scrubbers, too.

If you insist on using a metal brush, use one with a detachable brush head. That way, you can replace it regularly before the bristles come loose or the brush wears down or warps. (Consumer Reports suggests this stainless steel-bristled pick by Nexgrill.)

taryn pire

Food Editor

Taryn Pire is PureWow’s food editor and has been writing about all things delicious since 2016. She’s developed recipes, reviewed restaurants and investigated food trends at...