When you're cooking, spills and messes happen; stove burner grates get dirty no matter how careful you are. Since the grates are too hot to wipe while you're cooking on them, you can't get to spills immediately, and the food bakes on, becoming harder and harder to remove. Regular cleaning of stovetop grates helps prevent excess buildup, which makes the next cleanup job easier.
For basic cleaning, it doesn't matter if your stovetop grates are cast iron, enamel or porcelain. Always work with a cool stove. Remove the grates and wash them in hot soapy water, using a non-abrasive scrubber to loosen any burnt-on food. Use plenty of soap; rinse and dry them thoroughly before replacing the grates on the stove. For stubborn burned-on food, soak the grates in hot soapy water before scrubbing. Grates that are entirely enamel or porcelain-coated may be placed in the dishwasher.
For More Aggressive Cleaning
If soap and water aren't doing the trick, you may have a lot of grease or burnt-on food to clean. A commercial degreaser may cut the mess. Another option is to use baking soda, either sprinkled directly onto a damp sponge, or mixed into a paste with water. Scrub the grates to remove builtup gunk. Scrubbing with baking soda is also the best way of dealing with any stains on an enameled or porcelain grate.
For Really Stubborn Messes
If your grates are just not coming clean, you can use a degreaser and let them soak longer, or try a spray-on oven cleaner or ammonia. To use the degreaser, just fill a sink or bucket with hot water and degreasing agent; drop in your grates and let them soak until you can scrub them clean. To get more aggressive, while working outdoors or in a well-ventilated area, place your stove grates in a large plastic trash bag; then either spray them with oven cleaner or pour in 1/4 cup of ammonia. Seal the bag and leave the grates to soak for at least three hours on up to overnight. Use gloves when removing the grates from the bag and wash as for regular cleaning. Wear a mask to avoid inhalation of the ammonia fumes.
Preventing Rust on Cast-Iron Grates
Cast-iron grates can rust. To prevent rusting and help with future cleaning, treat cast-iron grates as you would a cast-iron skillet. Once your grates are clean, let them dry thoroughly. Using a paper towel, lightly wipe a thin coat of food-safe oil over the entire grate. Allow the oil to soak in; then wipe off the excess. Place the grate on your stove and turn on the heat. Heating the oiled grate helps burn off any excess oil and set the coating, similar to seasoning a skillet.