Metal Grill Brushes – Are They Dangerous?

In case you missed it, recently there has been a video making the rounds on TikTok about a 4-year-old boy with a metal bristle from a grill brush stuck in his throat.

The video is of an ER doctor who describes the little boy who came into the ER three times before it was discovered that the cause of his issues was a metal grill brush bristle.

Wait, what?

We’ve been using those to clean our grills for years! Have they been dangerous this entire time? Or is it some new phenomenon caused by items being lower quality than they used to be?

Luckily, we here at The Real Kitchen want the REAL answers to these kinds of questions. Read on to learn what we found and how to protect yourself and your family while still enjoying all the Summer Grilling season has to offer.

Was this a one-time thing? Or do I need to be worried?

While getting a metal grill brush bristle stuck in your body is a pretty rare occurrence, it does happen more often than you would think.

There were at least two documented cases in 2019 (one of a 12-year-old boy and one of a 64-year-old woman), and there have been other cases documented throughout the years.

Dr. David Chang (a doctor at the University of Missouri School of Medicine) did a study to find out how common this really is. By his estimation, there were around 1,700 cases between the years 2002 and 2014.

While 1,700 may seem like a lot, this was over the span of 12 years. Per year, it averages out to around 141 cases.

141 cases still feel like a big number, but if you consider the large number of people who use metal grill brushes every year and the amount of people who have eaten food from a grill cleaned with a metal brush, the chances of this happening to you are relatively low.

However, we also understand that even with very low risk, you may be feeling like throwing your metal grill brush out this very moment.

If that’s the case, we have some great alternative ways to clean your grill without having to worry about metal bristles in your food.

Alternative Grill Cleaning Tools

Aluminum Foil

One of the most common grill-cleaning alternatives is using a ball of aluminum foil to scrape against the grill grates. The abrasiveness of the aluminum foil, when it is crumpled up, is perfect for scraping off burnt bits and build-up.

The best method is to start by heating up your grill (this helps the burnt-on pieces loosen up so they are easier to scrape off). Then, crumple up a piece of aluminum foil and hold it using your long grill tongs. Once your grill is hot, scrape the aluminum foil across the grates (going with the grates, of course) multiple times until your grill is squeaky clean.


Another very popular method of cleaning your grill is using half an onion. It may sound odd, but onions actually have antibacterial properties that make them perfect for preventing bacteria and fungi from settling on your grill grates.

The best method is to start (again) by heating up your grill. While the grill is heating up, cut your onion in half and spear it (cut side out) with your grill fork (you can use the tongs, but the onion may slip out of the tongs’ grasp a few times). When the grill is hot, scrape the onion across the grill grates (again, parallel to the grates) to clean your grill to perfection.

This method doesn’t typically work quite as well as aluminum foil, but it is still a good (and sustainable) alternative.

Wood Scraper

Recently, wood scrapers have also become a popular alternative to metal grill brushes. These wood scrapers are typically made entirely of wood and (after about five uses) form to your exact grill giving you a custom fit to clean the grates.

The best method is to start by heating your grill to its high setting. Once it’s hot, run your wood scraper over the grill grates, scraping off any burnt-on bits and burning marks into the wood scraper. As we mentioned, after about five uses, the grill grates will have burned “teeth” into the end of the wood scraper, custom fitting it to your grill.

Coil Brush

If you want the clean that comes from using something metal to clean your grill but don’t want to use the classic grill brush with metal bristles, using a brush with metal coils is another option. These types of brushes have the metal cleaning agent coiled instead of brush bristles. This prevents any piece of the brush from possibly breaking off and being left on the grill grates to get into your food.

Can I still use a metal brush?

Absolutely! Here at The Real Kitchen, we’ll never tell you what you can and can’t do! We will advise you, however, to watch out for a few things.

First, make sure you buy a good quality grill brush. Unfortunately, this is one of those areas where you get what you pay for.

Secondly, make sure you continually check your grill brush for any broken or lost bristles. If you notice any deterioration, throw the grill brush away immediately.

Lastly, to give yourself an added layer of protection after you’ve cleaned your grill grates, put oil on a paper towel, hold the paper towel with your grill tongs, and run the paper towel over the grill grates. This will help pick up any bristles that could have been left behind and give you a nice, non-stick grill surface.

Try out your new grill cleaning routine by making one of our tried and true grilling recipes!

Classic Spare Ribs

Garlic Asiago Whiskey Flank Steak

Rosemary Garlic Pork Loin

What is your favorite method for cleaning your grill? Do you have a trick we didn’t mention? Let us know!

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