Do These Viral Grilling Hacks Actually Work? We Put Them to the Test

We tried some of the most-viewed grilling hacks on TikTok and Instagram — like using an onion to clean the grill. Here's what's worth incorporating into your cookout routine

<p>Shay Spence</p> TikTok grilling hacks

Shay Spence

TikTok grilling hacks

Shay Spence is a freelance food and travel writer based in Key West, Florida. A self-proclaimed “professional eater,” he has become a viral sensation with over 1.6 million subscribers on TikTok @theshayspence. Spence was formerly a food editor at People and competed on season 2 of Fox's Next Level Chef.

With the democratization of viral content through the generous algorithms of TikTok and Instagram Reels, cases of kitchen malpractice have been spreading like wildfire. Let’s be honest, sometimes these “easy cooking hacks that will change your life” are not as earth-shattering as they claim to be.

As grilling season approaches, I have taken it upon myself to test out some of the most-viewed grilling hacks on TikTok and see if they are worth your time and emotional energy. Now let’s fire up the grill and see what’s legit.

<p>Shay Spence</p> Use an onion to clean your grill

Shay Spence

Use an onion to clean your grill

Clean Your Grill with an Onion

This is one I already knew was a winner: Mexican cooks have been doing it for generations, and it’s long been part of my personal grilling habits. The idea is that rather than using a harsh wire brush to clean your grill grates and risk serving bristly burgers, you cut an onion in half and rub it cut side down on the hot grates to pick up any stubborn bits.

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This works because the acidic juices of the onion will start to wash off the char. However, I do like to add an extra step to make sure this is most effective: Salt the onion 10 minutes before you rub it on the grill. The salt will help extract more of those juices so you can really get things moving and grooving.

Keep in mind that this also works best when the grill is already very hot — at least 500° —and you may need to do a couple minutes worth of onion scrubbing to get it ready to go. Clean grill grates are not only essential to avoiding bitter, rancid flavor in your food, but help prevent your food from sticking — which brings us to our next hack.

<p>Shay Spence</p> Use a potato to make non-stick grill grates

Shay Spence

Use a potato to make non-stick grill grates

Create Non-Stick Grates with a Potato

I’ve now seen at least half a dozen videos telling you to rub the grates of your grill with a potato using the same technique as our onion hack. This time, the idea is that the starches in the potato will prevent your food from sticking (which I would say is one of the most common cookout disasters). But does it work?

I tested it with a burger patty, chicken breast, steak and salmon fillet side by side over the same heat. The salmon was the only one that gave me any trouble, just slightly sticking and flaking off in one of the corners. However, I continued grilling throughout the day on a side of the grill which was not potato rubbed and I had no sticking issues, so I’m not going to give this potato too much credit.

<p>Shay Spence</p> Use a potato to make non-stick grill grates

Shay Spence

Use a potato to make non-stick grill grates

If you really want to prevent meat from sticking, there are a few steps you need to follow every time. As previously stated, your grates need to be as clean as possible, and I like to coat any protein in a very thin layer of oil or non-stick spray before grilling just as extra protection.

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Perhaps the most important thing though is to make sure your grates are properly and evenly preheated, and that you cook the meat long enough for char to develop. Be patient! Just like when you’re cooking in a skillet, when the protein is caramelized, it will naturally release from the grates without sticking.

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<p>Shay Spence</p> Grill fish on a bed of citrus slices

Shay Spence

Grill fish on a bed of citrus slices

Grill Fish on a Bed of Citrus to Prevent Sticking

Fish fillets are one of the trickiest proteins to grill without sticking, so it makes sense that there are a lot of “hacks” out there claiming to help prevent this. One of them you’ll see often is to create a little bed of citrus slices and nestle the fish on top of it as a protective barrier on the grill.

To test this, I used a piece of salmon just simply seasoned and grilled on a bed of lemons — and it’s definitely true that it didn’t stick at all! But it’s also true that this prevents the fish from developing any grill marks… which is really half the fun of grilling, isn’t it?

If you don’t mind a lack of char, though, this is a nice method as it imparts the citrus flavor into the fish, and you can serve it with the caramelized lemon slices (and perhaps a sprinkle of fresh herbs) to up the presentation factor that you’re missing with the lack of grill marks.

<p>Shay Spence</p> Use ice cubes or butter to make better burgers

Shay Spence

Use ice cubes or butter to make better burgers

Related: The Best Grilling Recipes to Make All Summer Long

Put an Ice Cube in Your Burger

This is the grilling hack I’ve seen most often during my years as a recipe tester and developer, and I’ll admit that I’ve always been morbidly curious about it. The trick is to put an ice cube in the center of a burger patty to help keep it moist even if you overcook it a little bit.

I tested this side by side with a burger patty that didn’t have an ice cube in it, and cooked them well done to see if I could tell the difference. Sadly, while it’s perhaps slightly more moist with the ice cube, I feel it also waters down the beef flavor a bit, so this is not a hack I’ll be coming back to any time soon.

<p>Shay Spence</p> Use ice cubes or butter to make better burgers

Shay Spence

Use ice cubes or butter to make better burgers

If you don’t mind introducing a few extra calories to your burger, I find that a pat of butter instead of the ice cube works as a juiciness insurance policy and, of course, adds the beautiful fatty flavor you really want in a burger. It’s even better if you freeze the butter then grate some into the meat before you form the patties for ultra-delicious, butter burgers.

The Results

Overall, these were a mixed bag. Some are definitely worth incorporating into your cookout routine (always keep onions on hand during grilling season!) — while others, well, not so much (save the ice cubes for your cocktails).

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