How to clean a grill with an onion – this pitmasters' trick might be the best way to keep BBQs pristine without chemicals

This magic vegetable is one of the cheapest, easiest, and safest ways to clean down your charred grill grates

A stainless steel gas grill in a fenced off yeard
(Image credit: Alamy)

Cleaning the grill is the part of a barbecue that nobody looks forward to. After an afternoon spent cooking good food in the sun, wiping down your grates is probably the last thing on your mind, but it's an essential part of the clean-up process that will keep your grill serving you for longer. The good news is, you don't have to rely on heavy-duty cleaners or harsh chemicals to get the job done - a basic vegetable you almost certainly cooked on your barbecue can work just as well. 

The vegetable in question? An onion. It might not be your first thought for cleaning down those charred grates, but it can be seriously effective, whether you have one of the best gas grills or an old charcoal fire pit. 'The onion method is a great way to give your grill a quick clean,' says Hope Davis, blogger at The Grilling Dad. 'While you'll still want to do a deep clean of your grill at least once a season, this onion method can help you for all the times you grill in between. '  

Want to learn more about how one of the cheapest and safest grill cleaning methods works? We spoke with some experts to find out.

How to clean a grill with an onion 

A grill grate and half an onion on a fork

(Image credit: Alamy)

You might be having a hard time picturing how to clean a grill with an onion, but the method itself is quite possibly the easiest out there. To get started, you should preheat the grill for a few minutes. 'For the method to work, the grill still needs to be slightly warm to help lift any debris,' says Hope Davis of The Grilling Dad. 

Next, take a large onion and cut it in half. 'You can use any type of onion, but I find that white onions work particularly well,' explains Jakob Miller, grilling expert at Barbecue Pals. 'Using a grilling fork or tongs, stab the cut side of the onion repeatedly to create a rough surface.'

Once you've pricked the onion, it's time to get down and dirty with the scrubbing. 'Holding onto the onion with your grilling tool, rub the cut side all over the grates,' says Jakob. 'Apply some pressure to dislodge the gunk and grime. You might need to repeat the process or focus on stubborn areas.'

To help remove any residue, Jakob suggests using a grill brush or a damp cloth to wipe the surface of your grates down once you're done. 'Make sure to clean both the grates and the inner surfaces,' he adds. 

Hope also recommends using a vacuum to remove any crusty bits that drop down into the base of the grill. 'If you have a charcoal grill, you should be removing some of the ash during cleanup anyway.'

Why does cleaning a grill with an onion work? 

A gas grill with a griddle attachment cooking meat

(Image credit: Alamy)

Usually, when it comes to cleaning the oven or countertops in the kitchen, we're taught that only the harshest chemicals will do. However, when outdoor barbecues and charred grates are in question, the power of an onion shouldn't be underestimated. 

'The secret lies in the onion's natural properties,' says Jakob. 'Onions contain enzymes and acids that have mild antibacterial and cleaning effects. When you rub the onion on the grill, these compounds work their magic, helping to dissolve grease and grime.'

Is an onion a safer alternative to other grill cleaning methods?  

A grill grate being cleaned with half an onion on a fork

(Image credit: Getty)

Don't forget that the grates of our grill are the place where we cook our food. While a build-up of charred food debris isn't ideal, you also don't want to be making use of too many chemical cleaners as they can potentially be harmful.  

'One of the great advantages of using an onion to clean your grill is that it's a natural, non-toxic option,' Jakob explains. 'You don't have to worry about harmful chemicals coming into contact with your food, making it a win-win situation for both your health and the environment.' 

The added benefit? Onions are super cheap to buy, and there's a high likelihood that you'll be cooking with them during your barbecue anyway. All you need to do is remember to leave half aside for your clean-up later!

Color & Trends Editor

Lilith Hudson is the Color & Trends Editor at Livingetc. Writing news, features, and explainers for our digital platform, she's the go-to person for all the latest micro-trends, interior hacks, and color inspiration you need in your home. Lilith discovered a love for lifestyle journalism during her BA in English and Philosophy at the University of Nottingham where she spent more time writing for her student magazine than she did studying. After graduating, she decided to take things a step further and now holds an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London, with previous experience at the Saturday Times Magazine, Evening Standard, DJ Mag, and The Simple Things Magazine. At weekends you'll find her renovating a tiny one-up, one-down annex next to her Dad's holiday cottage in the Derbyshire dales where she applies all the latest design ideas she's picked up through the week.