My husband fancies himself the grill master in our home. It’s a constant battle for control of the grill because, despite his best efforts, he isn’t quite the grill master he thinks he is. One of the biggest issues is that he wants to cook things on the grill other than meat. This almost always results in burnt food and a mess inside the grill.
The best option to battle the many issues grillers face on the ‘que is to take advantage of technology advancements that help make grilling easier. One possibility is the readily available grill mat made of fiberglass fabric and a polytetrafluoroethylene coating to keep it nonstick.
You may be wondering if items made of these materials are safe to cook with, especially at such high temperatures. Beyond this, you’ll need to consider what type of mat to purchase when shopping and what other grilling implements could be used to save your- ahem, husband’s- grilling escapades.
Benefits of Grill Mats
There are many benefits to using grill mats on your grill or smoker. Grill mats are great for those who want easier clean-up. After all, who enjoys cleaning off the grills? I shudder when I think of the time my husband did barbeque chicken and left the grill for me to clean. I know what you’re thinking, and I cleaned it because he said the grilled-on bits were “added flavor.” I’d rather have a bacteria-free grill, so I spent 45 minutes scrubbing off burnt and hardened barbeque sauce. Using a grill mat fulfills both of our desires (mine is cleanliness, his is laziness). Once the grilling is done and the mat cools, it can be brought inside to be scrubbed down.
- Less oil is needed for cooking
- Perfect for small items
- Great for delicate foods
- More even cooking
- Can be used on all grill types
- Can be cut to size
- Prevents flareups
- Lightweight for travel
What Are Grill Mats Made of?
As mentioned before, grill mats are made from fiberglass cloth. This very fine cloth is then covered with sheets of polytetrafluoroethylene, which is the same chemical makeup for non-stick cookware, like Teflon. Polytetrafluoroethylene, of PTFE, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as a safe product for cooking with; however, there are instances when it can become toxic.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the concern most people should have is with the perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which is a catalyst used when creating other products, like PTFE. This is what is actually quite toxic, though most companies claim that PFOAs are not really traceable in the finished grill mats. Still, it doesn’t hurt to look for distinctions on grill mats and other non-stick cookware that is labeled PFOA-free.
Of course, with any chemically-based item, you need to be careful bringing the object to too high of heat. When the mats are put at extremely high temperatures, chemicals can be released as fumes. This can lead to “Teflon Fever,” though this is not common and requires very specific scenarios for the fumes to become a toxic level.
Consider When Buying
Now that you know these mats are indeed safe, there are a few things you’ll likely want to consider when buying a grill mat. You’ll find that they are a common item in the grilling market, so your choices are pretty diverse. Decide what you plan to use the mat for, first and foremost. Are you going to grill at high temperatures? Use it only in the smoker? Do you want it for veggies?
Depending on the use, there are different thicknesses of mats available. Thinner mats will allow the food to cook faster, but they must be used at much lower temperatures. Since the materials that make up the mat will begin to melt at 620 degrees, you’ll want to be sure your grill never reaches this extreme temperature. Thicker mats can withstand temperatures of up to 600 degrees; however, to promote a longer life for your grill mat, you should keep temperatures lower and more manageable.
Next, consider the other materials that can be included in the mats. As mentioned before, most mats are made of PTFE and fiberglass. However, some mats include copper within the makeup. These copper mats are often boosted as the elite grill mat because of their even and quick heating properties. In fact, many enthusiasts tell you that you can still get grill marks when using a copper grill mat. Unlike the non-copper variety, you’ll want a thinner copper mat to heat more quickly.
Finally, consider the cost. Since these mats are so readily available in stores, they are quite affordable. You can usually find them for as little as five dollars, and they typically will only go up to about $30. Your first instinct may be to go cheap. That way, if you don’t like it, you can pitch it without feeling you wasted the money, right? Well, this is true, but the mats may not be as efficient. This way, you won’t get an honest perspective on the trial run. Also, cheaper mats tend to wear out more quickly, so you’ll need to replace them sooner. However, if all you can afford is the inexpensive variety, you should at least give grill mats a shot.
Cleaning Grill Mats
Now the part I absolutely love about grill mats: cleaning. Yeah, my husband isn’t going to clean the grill every time we eat, and I can’t handle the thought of bacteria growing on those grill plates. So anyway, the first step to cleaning a grill mat may seem obvious, but it is an important one: allow it to cool. Grills can reach high temperatures, and despite its heat-resistant properties, grabbing this with scalding meat juices is not a good idea.
Next, take the mat inside, and run it under warm water. This is often enough to get the large chunks off of the mat since it is nonstick. To clean these mats back to pristine condition, soak in hot, soapy water. Never use a harsh chemical or sponge (like a Brillo pad) to clean these because it can remove the nonstick qualities.
Of course, today’s products are often made to be used in the dishwasher. If this is your choice, be sure to look for a grill mat that is labeled dishwasher-safe before purchase. Not all are, though most are. I still rinse off large chunks from the mat before putting it into the dishwasher. I use the bottom rack, and I make sure to keep the surrounding area clear of dishes. If your dishwasher is built this way, consider bending the mat into a “U” to hump over several slots. This way, it shouldn’t flop around as much and will be hit in all directions by the water streams.
Grilling Mat Tips
So, you’ve purchased a grill mat and are ready to tackle the grill like a pitmaster. The first thing you need to keep in mind is that grills are extra hot when they are first heating up, so you won’t want to add the mat onto the grill plates quite yet. After the grill has heated, add the mat to the grate because it will have cooled a bit. And remember, ultra-high temperatures can be the grill mat’s enemy.
You won’t need to use oil when using a grill mat. This is because the grill mat is nonstick. Adding oil to the mat will only cause a frying effect, rather than the grilling you desire from cooking out. This keeps your grilled foods healthier, cleaner tasting, and easier to clean. While some foods may need oil, consider purchasing an oil spritzer, since aerosol oils shouldn’t be used at such high temperatures.
Try to buy the proper size grill mat. Yes, these mats can be cut to size, but it’s better to get them as they are in the package. After all, have you tried to cut a perfect circle lately? Mine always look like mishappen eggs or ovals. Instead, purchase one that fits your needs. Always get a grill mat that will fit the grill entirely, otherwise, you won’t reap all the benefits of the even heating. However, if you choose to trim these, consider cutting a strip for your warming tray or the grill on your indoor stove. If you must cut a circle, consider outlining the grill size and shape with parchment and use that as a stencil for a cleaner cut.
Never use metal utensils on your grill mats. Remember, grilled foods should rarely be touched to keep in those natural juices and to give you nice grill marks. Many chefs tell you that you should never flip the food until it comes cleanly from the grill grates without hesitation. Of course, non-stick grill mats refute this necessity. The principle is still the same, and the bonus is that your grill mats will not wear away as quickly. If it’s possible, avoid using hard-edged tools, like spatulas on your mat to prolong the mat’s life. Tongs are a griller’s best friend.
Of course, grilling out has endless possibilities for cooks. B.G.M. (before grill mat), you could only cook large pieces of meat that wouldn’t fall through the slats of the grill. You may have even thought to tackle putting rolls on the grill to get some lovely toasty grill marks. However, grill mats open the world of grilling to all sorts of foods.
Grill mats work best for delicate foods, such as salmon, scallops, and veggies. The even searing of these delicate foods prevent the food from breaking and falling between the grates. High-water content foods, like mushrooms and onions, are great for the grill mat. The water will sizzle and fry up the veggies beautifully while maintaining the flavor of the food. For instance, mushrooms can char to a crisp, leaving nothing but charcoal behind on a typical grill (that is, if they don’t fall through the grates first).
Grill mats can take on smaller tasks that the grill grates normally would not work well with. Have you ever tried to grill baby carrots? Not an easy task. Even with a grilling basket, you’ll likely find a lot of burnt food from flareups.
Finally, experiment! It may seem like a strange idea, but grilled fruit has become a staple in my house. I prefer the sweetness of grilled peaches, but I’ve heard many people grill watermelon, pears, and pineapple. You can always char lemons and limes before using them in a dish to add a smokiness to their citrusy flavor. Grilling these fruits caramelizes the sugars and intensifies the sweetness. Without a grill mat, the flames could cause too much caramelization (aka burning).
Other Helpful Grilling Objects
Here are some other great grilling tools to make your pitmaster happy.
- Infrared thermometer
- Veggie basket
- Smoking pouch
- Himalayan salt slab
- Heat resistant gloves
- Burger press
- Basting brush
- Metal skewers
- Meat shredder claws
- Butter wheel
- Beer can chicken rack
- Grill clips