Grilling? Ditch the Wire Brush 

"It's a needle in a haystack, but the haystack is your tongue."

There’s still a little summer left to get out in the backyard and grill.

And there’s nothing like grilling burgers, kabob, or veggie burgers — if that’s your thing.

But you might want to pay attention to a warning coming from some Canadian doctors.

They’re urging backyard cooks to throw out those wire-bristled barbecue brushes. This is because the thin, sharp wires can come loose from the brushes, stick to the grill and then cling to food. If you swallow one of those bristles, it can be painful and very difficult to remove, sometimes even requiring surgery.

Dr. Ian Dempsey, a surgeon in Nova Scotia, told the CBC there is no easy way to remove the wires that are stuck in someone’s throat. It’s not even easy to find them.

"It's a needle in a haystack, but the haystack is your tongue," Dempsey says.

"None of us have figured out a surefire way to get rid of them, so we'd prefer just to prevent it from happening in the first place," he said. "We're hoping that if enough people raise this issue, hopefully we'll just eliminate those types of brushes from the market and use a safer alternative."

It seems that this health advisory has caught most barbecue chefs by surprise.

Not many people are talking about the dangers associated with the wire brushes, but the number people who’ve swallowed metal bristles and required emergency care is on the rise.

“It’s alarming to hear,” said Rob Rainford, a Canadian barbecue chef and author of "Born to Grill." He predicts the issue is something that chefs will soon be talking about.

“I’ve seen bristles being left behind before, but I usually attribute that to an old brush that should be changed out after every season. My advice: Change your brush every season!”

But even that precaution may not be enough.

One of Dempsey’s patients who swallowed a metal bristle told the CBC, "It happened in the blink of an eye. There was nothing I could have done, nothing I could have seen. If anyone's having a barbecue that has a metal-cleaning brush, I won't even go close to that."

So the best advice may be the simplest: Ditch the brush!

But do not fear, Rainford has some alternative ways to clean your grill.

“I like to do a deep clean on my barbecue pretty much every year," he says. “You can do the Easy-Bake Oven approach where you spray it, and you bake it for a long period of time, and then you wipe it down.”

But Rainford also recommends a simpler approach: Burn it off.

"Turn the barbecue on high after you’re finished grilling, and whether you’re using gas, charcoal or wood, let it burn. Close the lid and then literally all that debris that’s near the top of your barbecue, you can brush, wipe or knock that off.”

We looked up a few alternatives of our own:

  • Soak your grill grates in coffee for about an hour before giving them a scrub and a rinse
  • Rub the hot grill grates with an onion, cut-side down, to help loosen food debris and grease before cleaning Ball up some aluminum foil and use some long-handled tongs to grip the foil and scrub away at the hot grill. (It’s a great way to reuse foil before throwing it away!)
  • Use a nylon-based sponge or scouring pad to scrub the grime from your grill. Avoid the steel-wool scouring pads so that you don’t risk leaving dangerous pieces of metal behind.
  • Finally, consider taking a preventative approach: Try oiling the grill before you cook on it so food doesn’t stick. Happy grilling!

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