I don’t know about you, but to me, the worst possible scenario when I’m grilling is food sticking to the grates. It ruins my plans of a picture-perfect meal. Instead, I end up with a well-done heap of hamburger or fish laying there in pieces.

I can explain to you how to make sure this never happens again. The trick is learning how and why to oil your smoker or bbq grill grates. There is a right way and a wrong way to do this, so knowing a few tricks will make grilling fun again and without the worry or mess.

shish kebab on the bbq grill grates

The Proper Way to Oil Grill Grates

It’s important to not only use the correct oil for your grill grates. But the technique used to apply it evenly and safely is just as important. To be clear, depending on the type of oil you’re using, only apply oil to a cold grill. If you oil hot grill grates you risk a dangerous flareups. I’ll discuss non-flammable grill grate oils in the following sections.

Starting with a cold grill, one of two techniques for oiling grill grates gets the job done nicely.

  1. Spray it On: Spray cooking oil directly on the grates, then add your food.
  2. Brush it On: A less messy way if your aim isn’t right is to use a cooking brush to coat the grates evenly. I use a small bowl with a small amount of oil and coat the grates with a smooth coat. It takes a bit longer, but a brush guarantees even coverage.

Why It’s Important to Oil Grill Grates

Grates are made of iron and iron rusts. It’s a slow process that takes several months to appear. But once it starts, you’re in trouble. It can ruin your smoked meat, smoker, or grill.

It’s easy to ignore the grates until corrosion begins to eat away at them. A few proactive steps will prevent rust from forming by preventing the iron from oxidizing from oxygen and excessive moisture.

Store your Grill Away

To really protect your grill, we recommend storing it away during the off months. Keeping it in a dry space away from weather conditions will keep your grill looking brand new. It also removes any risk of your grill grates being exposed to moisture which could turn into rust. Smaller, portable grills like the Weber Q Series grills are easier to store. If you can’t stow away, read further!

However, DO NOT store your propane tank indoors or in an attached garage.

Grill Covers

If you don’t have space to move your grill in a garage or shed during the off months, then a grill cover is a good alternative. Using a grill cover protects your grill from the elements regardless of climate. Too much sunlight or rain causes the pain to fade, and chip and your burners show the wear, also.

Oil the Grates

One of the best ways to add a barrier to your grill grates is to coat them with oil, especially when storing your grill for extended periods. Even if you’re storing the grill in a covered area away from harsh weather, you should still oil the grates.

What Oil to Use and What Oil to Avoid on your Grill Grates

Whenever you’re mixing oil and fire, you need to understand a few things – mostly the smoking point and flash point. These will guide you on what oil is safe to use.

steak on the grill

Smoke Point or Combustion Point

Cooking oils as they are called each have its combustion point. Combustion or smoke point is the temperature at which the oil begins to smoke. At this point, oils degrade and become useless, and some can emit toxins when heated beyond their smoke point.

Flash Point of Oil

The flash point of oils represents the temperature at which they catch on fire. Flammable oil has a flash point below 100F. Olive oil has a flash point of 374F. Mustard oil has a flash point of 480F, which is why it is popular for use in deep fryers. There is a variance between edible oils as seen in a temperature chart from The Institute of Shortening and Edible Oils.

To narrow down the many choices of oils for grilling, I’ve found that vegetable and canola oils perform best. And their health benefits make them a wise choice for baking, frying, and sauteing, in addition to grilling.

Coconut oil has a low smoke point (smokes even if the grill isn’t that hot) and releases toxins if heated beyond that point. This makes coconut oil least suitable to oil your grill grates. Canola oil, in contrast, has a high smoke point and emits a low level of toxic fumes compared to coconut oil.

For high-heat cooking such as deep frying and grilling, the USDA recommends using oils with the highest smoke points. It is recommended to use oils with smoke points ranging from 410F to 450F.

How Often Should You Oil Grill Grates

Instead of cleaning your grill grates soon after each use, try cleaning them about 15 or 20 minutes before each use to prepare them for oiling. The reason is simple – better performance. Let me explain.

One of the most important steps is pre-heating your grill to about 500F helps cook off leftover food. This helps the cleaning process. You’re essentially burning off anything remaining from your last grilling.

The next step is to use a brush designed for cleaning a hot grill. After you brush the grates clean, oiling is the next step. Make sure your grill is off and the grates aren’t extremely hot.

Oil your Grates vs Oil your Food?

Depending on who you talk to, some will say to oil your food and not your grates.

Some people don’t want the taste of their food affected by too much oil, so brushing oil on it doesn’t appeal to them.

Oiling the grates before cooking is the best option here. The next section goes into more detail about oiling hot and cold grill grates.

sausage cooked on the grill grates

Proper Way to Oil Hot Grates and Cold Grates

To keep your grates lubricated, you can oil the grates right before placing food on them. Fashion a piece of paper towel into a small, tightly folded square and soak it in enough oil to do the job without dripping, then coat the grates. If you’re using a spray oil, apply the oil to the paper towel away from the grill. Remember to use an oil with a high smoke/flash point that I discussed earlier.

Canola oil is a good choice for oiling cold grates. Coat the grates evenly and wipe away any excess with a paper towel, then light your grill and wait until you see the oil start to smoke (smoke point), then let the grill cool.