I Tried 5 Ways to Clean a Greasy Grill Basket — And the Winner Was Seriously Impressive

published Apr 15, 2023
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cut potatoes and onions in a grill basket on the grill
Credit: Marvin Glodek/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Grilling season is here, and that means barbecue tools are going into steady rotation. One of the most versatile of the bunch is the grill basket, a perforated stainless-steel basket that lets you grill little things like cut-up veggies, or, say, bite-sized pieces of steak and peppers for fajitas without worrying about them slipping through the grates into the fiery inferno below. 

Most of the time, the stuff being grilled in the basket is coated in some kind of marinade, which leaves an impossibly sticky residue after spending several minutes over a live fire. Oil is even worse, baking onto the metal like hardened shellac and seemingly impenetrable to just regular hand-washing.

That’s why I wanted to know if there was a way to get grill baskets shiny and clean with minimal effort. Was there a particular cleanser that could dissolve away the hardened grease? Would a DIY cleaner like vinegar or baking soda work better? I zeroed in on five popular methods and decided to put each one to the test. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How I Tested Cleaning the Grill Baskets

To begin, I wanted to make sure I had an even playing field of grime, so the first step was getting my two grill baskets evenly dirty by brushing them with balsamic vinaigrette and heating them on a 400-degree grill for 10 minutes. I figured grill baskets are mostly used for grilling vegetables, and the vegetables are usually slathered in olive oil or an oil-based marinade, so using a vinaigrette rich with natural sugars would be a good approximation of the kind of residue that usually gets left behind. At the end of 10 minutes, the baskets were coated in a mess of sticky, brown, baked-on grease.

I used the first basket to test several methods, trying three of the methods on one side of the pan and also on both the inside and outside so there was plenty of surface area to judge how effective it was. I saved the bottom of the basket for one other method. And I saved the second basket just for the last method, which involved hand-washing and running through the dishwasher.

I timed myself scrubbing for just one minute using strong but not Hulk-strength pressure. For scrubbing, I mostly used a walnut shell scouring pad because it has a decent amount of scrubbing power, but not so much that it would override the cleaning power of the cleansers. 

The ratings: I rated my results on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the worst method overall and 5 being the best. The lowest points went to those that didn’t seem to budge the baked-on grease at all. The more efficient the cleanser, the higher it ranked. I also took into account the price in determining the value of the product. Cleansers that were a good value got extra points.

Note: Be sure to always check your manufacturer’s instructions before cleaning your grill basket. Spot test if you are unsure.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Grill Basket Cleaning Method: Vinegar Spritz

  • Total time: 6 minutes
  • Rating: 1 / 5

The method: Vinegar’s acidity is what makes it such a good cleaner. In fact, because vinegar is so acidic, it can counteract some tricky buildups, including grease. I filled a spray bottle with two parts distilled white vinegar and one part water. I then sprayed the bottom of the grill pan with the mixture, and let it sit for roughly 5 minutes. Then I rubbed the treated area with the scouring pad for one minute. 

How it went: Unfortunately, the vinegar mixture didn’t seem to do anything to penetrate the baked-on grease. The scouring pad actually did all of the cleaning. 

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Grill Basket Cleaning Method: Baking Soda Paste

  • Total time: 6 minutes
  • Rating: 2.5 / 5

The method: Baking soda is a magical little household cleaner, with a fine grit that cleans without scratching. I made a paste of two parts baking soda and one part water. Then I slathered the paste onto the pan, and let it sit for 5 minutes. I rubbed the treated area with a scouring pad for 1 minute, but you can also use a dishwashing brush for tougher stains.

How it went: The baking soda mixture was noticeably more effective than the vinegar method. The baked-on grease was easier to slough off with the scouring pad. Still, it wasn’t a miracle worker, as it only made a small dent in the mess.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Grill Basket Cleaning Method: Bar Keepers Friend Soft Cleanser

  • Total time: 1 minute
  • Rating: 2.5 / 5

The method: I squeezed a generous amount of the soft cleanser on my sponge and rubbed it on the basket. I scrubbed for 1 minute. 

How it went: I had high hopes for this cleanser because I like Bar Keepers Friend for other scrubbing needs. Surprisingly, it wasn’t very effective at removing the baked-on grease. It was just a tad better at softening the mess than the DIY baking soda paste. But because one bottle costs so much more, it earns the same score. 

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Grill Basket Cleaning Method: Dishwashing Liquid + Automatic Dishwasher 

  • Total time: 1 hour, 1 minute
  • Rating: 4 / 5

The method: I hand-washed the second grill basket with grease-fighting Dawn dish soap. I then put it in the dishwasher with a Cascade detergent pod for an hour-long washing cycle. 

How it went: Because I used a regular sponge with the Dawn soap instead of scrubbing with the scouring pad, the baked-on grease didn’t budge on either pan, but the Dawn did get rid of the soft, sludgy stuff. After running the pan through the dishwasher, a good portion of the baked-on grease was gone, and I didn’t have to expend any effort in the process! This method definitely wasn’t perfect — there was still plenty of surface area mottled with brown, baked-on grease — but it’s a great way to get a majority of the gunk off and keep the hands-on scrubbing down to a minimum.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

Grill Basket Cleaning Method: Dawn Powerwash

  • Total time: 6 minutes
  • Rating: 4.5 / 5

The method: I sprayed two sides of the grill pan with Dawn Powerwash, and let it sit for 5 minutes. Then I used the scouring pad to scrub for 1 minute.

How it went: I was seriously impressed by how well the Powerwash penetrated the baked-on grease. Once I started scrubbing, I could see it melting away as I scrubbed. This was definitely the most effective cleanser at removing the worst of the baked-on grease. But it takes plenty of elbow grease. I estimated it would be a good 10 to 15 minutes of scrubbing to tackle a whole pan. Not too bad, but at least the Powerwash made the job so much easier!

How do you clean tough stains on your grill basket? Tell us in the comments below.