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I'm having trouble with some enamel-coated cast iron grill grates. I've only had this grill for a few years, I don't live on the beach (salt), we don't get much rain, and I store it outside but keep it covered when not in use. However, at this point I strongly suspect that the discoloration is rust, not old grease. It never goes away no matter how much I scrub (before and after every use), and over the last couple weeks I've tried:

  • bathing them in Simple Green BBQ cleaner,
  • hosing them off while scrubbing,
  • running them through the dishwasher, and
  • putting them in the oven on self-cleaning mode.

Nothing seems to help, and it looks like they're actually crumbling. I've read all sorts of conflicting information about what's considered normal, how to handle cast iron, and so on, and I'm just not sure whether these are in the "a few specks of oxidized iron won't affect you in the slightest" territory, or "you need to throw those away today and stick with stainless steel from now on" territory.

Stainless steel grates are not available for this model of grill (Coleman Roadtrip LXE), and the cast-iron replacements are about half the cost of the entire thing, so if these are no good I'll probably get a new, stainless steel grill.

What do I do about these things?

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Update: After getting the answers below, I've been doing regular, minor grilling. After each session, I lightly scrub the grates, put a bit of oil on them, and lightly wipe down the oil with a paper towel. Over time, the rust spots darkened and started to look more like proper cast iron, which I suppose just means properly-seasoned cast iron. I grilled for a get-together a couple days ago, and it all seemed to work out fine. No flakes or other debris from the grates, no problems with sticking or anything, no apparent issues at all. From now on, I'll try to use it more regularly and wipe it down with a thin coating of oil after use.

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    Get it red hot, brush in oil wipe off and cook :) it'll be fine... – Doug Jul 19 '15 at 15:50
  • Looks like you finally got your copper brush! ;-) – Fabby Aug 5 '15 at 22:40
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    @Fabby - This was just with regular usage and oiling, scrubbing with the steel-bristled brush. I'm sure these grates will look even better when I get a more appropriate brush! – TigerhawkT3 Aug 5 '15 at 22:55
  • Not clear to me that you don't have cast iron with a bright shiny chrome or nickel plating that is coming off and allowing rust to form. I don't like flakes of chromium or nickel in my food. Test by seeing if you can pick off a shiny bit from the edge of one of the rust areas with an awl or pointy knife. – Wayfaring Stranger Jul 1 '18 at 22:24
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"Are they OK to cook on?" can mean:

  1. Will I die within 24 hours after using them?
    No!
  2. Will I die within a few years?
    No!
  3. Will I get ill within a few years if I use them daily and lick all the juice off them after each use?
    Meh, very probably not!
  4. Does it look gross and might the food taste of rust?
    Yes!

So, thoroughly clean them before each use with a copper wire brush and after each use, clean them again and then oil them with some nice olive oil¹ and a paintbrush as soon as possible after using them and continue using them regularly. ;-)

Note¹: Don't soak them in olive oil: just some nice clean sweeps with the paintbrush lightly dipped in olive oil to make a thin film everywhere to prevent atmospheric oxygen from rusting it any further...

  • My concern is that I'm having difficulty cleaning them, i.e., making them clean. No matter how much I scrub at them or wipe them down, there's always more powder/debris. – TigerhawkT3 Jul 19 '15 at 1:59
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    I have a brush with what looks like steel bristles. Will copper bristles do a better job? I'll have to try that. – TigerhawkT3 Jul 19 '15 at 2:11
  • Looks like no local places carry them, so I guess I'll buy one online and try this out in a week or so. – TigerhawkT3 Jul 19 '15 at 2:25
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    +1 for oiling and using it regularly. That's really the most important thing. You'll probably need to strip off as much of the rust as you can first, but don't let it sit even a few minutes after cleaning without applying some oil. – Doug Kavendek Jul 19 '15 at 17:37
  • Ehh... I think original poster's problem is with over cleaning the grates. They should be black like a seasoned cast-iron pan, not polished like stainless steel. – Ross Ridge Jul 19 '15 at 19:13
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What you have is rust. You'll want to strip the grates down and re-season them

I've had mixed-luck over the years with cast iron grates on gas grills -- yes, they cook things really well, but if you leave the burners on high to burn off any food bits left on the grates after cooking, you'll risk burning off the seasoning ... which then leads to rusting.

  • I like the fireplace cleaning method!! +1 here and +1 over there too! :-) – Fabby Jul 1 '18 at 21:39

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