Deadly Risks of Everyday Grilling Tool

Last Saturday, we cooked our inaugural meal on our new grill—burgers, of course. Along with the new grill, we bought a new tool to clean the grates, a nylon-bristle grill brush. The old wire grill brush could still technically clean the grill, but after hearing factual horror stories about the dangers of this tool, it went straight into the trash.

The Dangers of Wire-Bristle Grill Brushes

Imagine biting into a juicy, just-grilled burger and a moment later feeling pain on your tongue or in your throat. Would your first thought be, “I just swallowed a piece of metal”? Probably not, but physicians are confirming that people come into medical facilities having done just that.

The scary truth is that wire bristles can fall out from the brush head as it scrapes across a grill grate. The metal bristles are thin and difficult to detect if camouflaged on a metal grate. Food cooked on the grill can end up with a hidden metal bristle that can horrifyingly end up lodged in someone’s tongue, tonsils, esophagus, or intestines. 

Tonia L. Farmer, MD, who goes by drnosebest on Instagram, warned her followers of the dangers of wire-bristle grill brushes.

“Wire grill brushes are DANGEROUS,” she wrote. Her Instagram reel explains why you should not use a wire brush to clean your grill, telling the tale of a patient who ate a burger cooked on a grill and later came into the ER because she could feel something stuck in her throat.

The ER doctor didn’t see anything in the patient’s throat. An X-ray didn’t detect anything. When the hospital called Dr. Farmer in for a consult and she learned the patient had eaten something cooked on a grill, the doctor suspected the pain was from a wire bristle. Another examination found a “single piece of wire embedded in the back of her tongue.”


The doctor removed the wire in the operating room and the patient fully recovered, but her account of the wire bristle incident is just one of many.

More Wire-Bristle Horror Stories

Two 2016 episodes of the TV show “Monsters Inside Me” documented patients who had life-threatening issues from wire bristles. Both had to undergo operations to remove the life-threatening objects. One was a teenage boy who ended up with one in his intestines. The other was a woman who had shooting pains, nausea, and blood in her vomit from a bristle stuck in her throat that pierced her tonsils every time she moved. 

On Dr. Farmer’s Instagram post, another doctor, otolaryngologist Inna A. Husain, MD, confirmed that she has removed wire bristles from patients’ tonsils before. And others commenters told tales of people they know who ingested the dangerous wire bristles. 

The incidents are frequent enough to make us all reconsider how we clean our grills.

Alternatives to Metal Bristle Grill Brushes

At the end of the video, Dr. Farmer suggests safer methods to clean grill grates, such as rubbing the hot grill with half a lemon or half an onion. (Use tongs to hold the lemon or onion to prevent burning your hand.) She also suggests scrubbing the grill with a balled-up piece of aluminum foil.

Other safe alternatives to cleaning with metal bristle grill brushes include:

  • Using a nylon-bristle grill brush
  • Steam cleaning the grill grates
  • Using a nylon scouring pad
  • Using a stainless steel grate scraper
  • Cleaning the grill grates with dish soap and water in the kitchen sink

Stores still sell wire-bristle grill brushes despite the number of confirmed incidents of stray bristles getting into food. But just because these tools are sold doesn’t mean they should be used. If you currently have one for your grill, you may want to consider putting it in the trash and using a safer method.