Comparison Guide: How to Choose the Best Cooking Grate for Your Grill
When it comes to choosing a grill, there are a lot of important details to consider.
Should you go with a gas grill or a charcoal grill?
Do you want something built-in or something portable?
Should you go with a flame-heated grill or infrared heat?
Having so many options available can be exciting, but a little intimidating.
However, one component that’s easily overlooked is the cooking surface of your grill. While you do need to decide on the best heat source for your grill and what you want the grill to look like, it’s super important to choose a grilling surface that cooks your food the way you want it.
What you need to determine, then, is which type of grill grate is best for your grilling needs. Strength, durability, material, and having a non-stick surface are all things to consider when choosing the ideal cooking grate.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through the different types of grill grates available, as well as how to pick the best type of grill grate for you.
Not all cooking grates are created equal. We will go over the different types of grill grates and the best way to care for them.
What is a Grill Grate and What is it Used for?
Many grill masters see the grilling plate that cooks their food and simply refer to it as the “grill.” In actuality, this is called the grill grate.
A grill grate is simply the surface upon which you cook your food above the heat source. Grill grates can be made of many different types of materials and take on different forms.
The grill grate is one of the most important parts of your grill. Not only does it hold your food, but it aids in even heat transfer, keeps food from sticking, and can even provide those beautiful grill marks. Choosing the right grill grate is an essential part of your entire grilling experience.
Talk about being above the fire! Regardless of the material your cooking grids are made from, odds are they will eventually wear down and need replacing. Give your barbecue grill a face-lift with new grids.
Which is the Best Type of Grill Grate?
There will always be a debate about which cooking grids are best. Stainless steel grids tends to be preferred by grillers who use very high heat/temperatures for cooking. Cast iron retains heat better than probably any other material which is why is allows for cooking at lower temperatures.
A few simple steps will extend the life of your cooking grids and save you tons in food you will actually eat instead of scrape from your cooking surface.
It really isn’t necessary to sacrifice food while cooking on the grill. No matter what material your cooking grids are made from, proper maintenance is your path to success. Proper maintenance of your grills cooking grids will ensure they remain effective as long as possible and help you maintain the quality of your meals.
Cooking grids are manufactured in a variety of materials. Most cooking grids are made of cast iron, stainless steel, or porcelain and variations of those metals, i.e. porcelain steel wire, matte finish cast iron to name a couple. When buying replacement barbecue parts, try to use parts made from the same material as the original manufacturer parts that came with the grill.
Cooking grids are a vital component of any barbecue grill. It’s the surface used for cooking all food and most would argue that it is the most important part of a grill. Take care of it and it will take care of you.
Be careful about the brushes you use to clean your cooking grids. Brushes with wire bristles can often tear away at any protective coating and scratch some stainless steel. Most important thing to remember is to wait for cooking grids to cool down before you start cleaning them. Depending on the cleaning brush you use, fibers might scorch and melt right onto the grid surface. Nobody wants melted synthetic bristles in their food.
Proper cooking grid maintenance is essential for them to function properly. Cleaning them after each use will accomplish several things: it will prevent the build of food particles sticking to them, it will keep away any bugs/critters that are savaging for snacks, and will be ensure they are ready for your next grill cook out.
Cleaning cooking grids after each use will do way more than simply improve how your grill looks. Food particles often stick to grates, and after repeated use (or depending on which foods you tend to grill) these particles will build up creating a very real fire hazard. Grease fires can happen outdoors as well so keep that in mind the next time you want to skip cleaning them.
Help prevent grease fires or flash fires by cleaning your cooking grids after each and every use. It may seem like an unnecessary chore to add to your list but it’s much easier to clean up a cooking grid than it is to clean up damages after a fire.
Meats high in fat (ground beef, marbled steaks etc.) will undoubtedly drip grease all over your cooking grids (and beyond…). When grease pools there is just as much risk for fire as there would be if you were cooking on your stove-top. Remember to NEVER attempt to extinguish a grease fire with water. Doing so will cause the fire to spread.
Types of Grill Grates – Stainless Steel, Cast Iron and Porcelain
Cooking grids are manufactured in a variety of materials. Most cooking grids are made of cast iron, stainless steel, or porcelain. Although you may think that the choice in material is based on aesthetic, the fact is that metals all have unique properties making them react differently to their surrounding elements. In the case of barbecue grills, that element is extreme heat.
Tip: Manufacturers use different materials to produce the cooking grids installed in your grill. When buying replacement barbecue parts, try to use parts made from the same material as the original manufacturer parts that came with the grill.
Stainless Steel Grill Grates
When shopping for a new grill or replacing your current cooking grates, Stainless Steel is the best choice when evaluating grill features.
Most of the high end outdoor equipment manufacturers like Lynx, DCS, Alfresco, and Twin Eagles offer heavy-duty stainless steel grates in their grills. This is due to the longevity of these grates. Though the stainless steel does not hold heat as well as cast iron, you can make up for this by opting for a heat distribution system that uses ceramic briquette trays. This will help compensate for the lower heat retention.
Stainless steel cooking grids are easy to clean and maintain compared with other materials such as cast iron. Although food may be more likely to stick to a stainless steel cooking grid, build up will eventually accumulate and require thorough cleaning.
In order to consistently improve the grilling experience, many manufacturers are introducing different shapes to their rods in lieu of the traditional circular tube. They are coming up design improvements including shapes like hexagonal and diamond. These shapes provide a flat surface on one side of the tube making for a more even cooking experience. These cooking grids promote better heat transfer to the food being cooked. With greater surface area over round rods, the hexagonal and diamond shapes improve the flow of heat to the cooking surface. Foods stick to the surface less and have more contact surface than round grids. They also have more points of contact that help to sear your food.
Types of Stainless Steel Grates
Stainless Steel Grates can come in either a rod, cast, or hexagonal form.
The rod grates are simply rows of solid tubular stainless steel rods that run vertically and are connected by a horizontal bar across the top. These are the most widely used type of stainless steel grid.
Some manufacturers will use a cast stainless steel grate. These are grates where the stainless is poured into a cast with a shape that is designed by the grill manufacturer. These are heavier than traditional Stainless Rod grates and have a greater ability to retain heat longer therefore using less fuel when grilling. These grates will flake, like cast iron, if they are not maintained.
In order to consistently improve the grilling experience, many manufacturers are introducing different shapes to their rods in lieu of the traditional circular rod. They are coming up design improvements including shapes like hexagonal and diamond. These shapes provide a flat surface on one side of the tube, making for a more even cooking experience. These cooking grids promote better heat transfer to the food being cooked. With greater surface area over round rods, the hexagonal and diamond shapes improve the flow of heat to the cooking surface. Foods stick to the surface less and have more contact surface than round grids. They also have more points of contact that help to sear your food.
Maintenance and cleaning are the key to extending the life of your cooking grates as well as food safety. Over time, they may get surface rust or have left over food that has stuck to the grates. First, spray the grates with a degreaser. This will help loosen the debris left on the grids. Then take a brass bristle brush to remove the debris. You can also use a pressure washer to get a really thorough cleaning. Be sure to clean the grates when they have completely cooled.
Stainless Steel Grill Grate Advantages:
- Easiest to clean
One advantage stainless steel grates have over cast iron grates is how much longer they last.
Additionally, stainless steel is much more resilient if hitting a hard surface. Think grid crashing on the patio floor by accident. A drop like that (even if a short distance) will most likely render a cast iron grate useless, as it can break. But stainless steel practically bounces by comparison.
Stainless steel cooking grids are easy to clean and maintain compared to other materials, such as cast iron. Simply pick up the cooking grate (when cool) and wipe it down. You may also use a brush to remove stuck-on food.
Stainless Steel Grill Grate Disadvantages:
- Must use non-stick coating, as food is more likely to stick
- Must be cleaned regularly
Cooking grids should be cleaned after each use. Stainless steel cooking grids and stainless wire cooking grids are the easiest to clean. However, if you live near any body of water (like an ocean or lake) rust will quickly become your worst enemy.
Food may be more likely to stick to a stainless steel cooking grid, and build up will eventually accumulate and require thorough cleaning.
Stainless Steel Grill Grate Maintenance:
Maintenance and cleaning are the key to extending the life of your stainless steel grill grates, as well as maintaining food safety. Over time, they may get surface rust or have left over food that has stuck to the grates. Fortunately, stainless steel grill grates are easy to clean, making this type a top choice for frequent grillers.
Something to consider:
Not all stainless is created equal. Many grids in the marketplace are claiming to be solid stainless when they are actually a stainless steel wrapped rod. This is where a thin sheet of stainless steel is wrapped around traditional steel. This is a cheap method of marketing the product as stainless steel.
Over time, and with too much heat exposure, the thin stainless wrapping begins to warp and then eventually pops open. Then, the metal inside is exposed, leaving them not usable for cooking. You want to avoid this type of grill grate at all costs.
Cast Iron Cooking Grates
Cast Iron is another metal that is poured into a cast. Most cast iron cooking grates you will find in gas grills will have a protective porcelain enameled coating on them either in a gloss or matte finish. The matte finish offers the closest resemblance to standard cast iron products as its harder to see the coating on the grates. The finish keeps maintenance at a low level since they do not have to be consistently oiled to keep the iron in the grates from being exposed to air and potentially rusting. It also protects them from drying out. Cast Iron is a popular choice for many grill brands as it is more cost effective than stainless steel. It also will generally not carry much of a warranty. They are a great feature for brands because they are heavy and when shopping for gas grills people love to have heavy grates in their bbq.
We find though that the many people do not like the porcelain coating as they like to have the ability to season their cooking grates. This is when you combine cooking oil and seasonings and rub it on the cast iron. It not only provides additional flavoring to the food but it also protects the cast iron fro drying out and rusting.
Many veteran grillers prefer the bare cast iron grill grates because they leave those delectable grill marks and hold a lot of heat. Some even hold to the philosophy that when it comes to cast iron grate, “The heavier, the better!”
Are you hoping to replace your cast iron cooking grids with stainless steel cooking grids? Consider the advantages against the disadvantages before you do. Cast iron is an excellent heat conductor. Stainless steel will conduct heat effectively and efficiently also but cast iron will retain heat much more effectively than stainless or porcelain steel wire.
Using cast iron cooking grids will allow live fire cooking at lower heat temperatures than stainless steel or porcelain wire grids will. That doesn’t mean sacrificing sear marks on your meat. Actually, cast iron is ideal for searing!
Cast Iron Grill Grate Advantages:
- Retains heat
- Moderately priced
Cast iron is used to manufacture cooking grids because it retains heat so effectively. This allows for cooking at lower temperatures rather than extremely high heat used in grills with stainless cooking grids.
Cast Iron is a popular choice for many grill brands as it is more cost effective than stainless steel. They are a great feature because people tend to love having heavy grates in their bbq.
Using cast iron cooking grids will allow for live fire cooking at lower heat temperatures than stainless steel or porcelain wire grids will. That means you don’t have to sacrifice sear marks on your meat – cast iron is ideal for searing!
People love cooking with cast iron due to its ability to retain heat. They love to get the char marks on their food and the temperature reached by the cast iron makes this possible.
Cast Iron Grill Grate Disadvantages:
- High maintenance
- Rusts Quick if not maintained
Cast iron cooking grids are much more fragile than you might think. Dropping them on any hard surface will usually cause them to break or, at the very least, crack. Be mindful when opening your new cast iron cooking grids when they arrive at your door. We understand your excitement about being able to grill again, but caring for cast iron grids starts the minute you take them out of the box.
Another disadvantage to cast iron is the maintenance. When the iron dries out you will find it becomes flaky and chunks of metal will break off. This makes having a porcelain coating an advantage. As long as you keep the porcelain intact, the iron will not be exposed. It also provides a non-stick surface thus eliminating the need for a non-stick spray.
Cast Iron Grill Grate Maintenance:
A high quality cast iron grate should last for years if you take care of them and clean them periodically If you are not willing to perform a little bit of maintenance ,then you cannot expect them to last. We recommend opting for a porcelain coating for easier maintenance.
How do you clean cast iron cooking grates?
When cleaning porcelain coated cast iron grates it’s imperative to do so when the grates are cool. Spray a degreaser on the grates and let it sit for a few minutes. Use a brass bristle brush or a stainless scrubber to clean the grate. Do not use the scraper end of your brush as the blade will chip the porcelain causing the grates to rust at an accelerated rate. After cleaning them, use a cloth or paper towel to rub cooking oil into them. This will help keep the grated from drying out and rusting.
Something to consider:
Cast iron cooking grids should be seasoned before you start cooking your food. This is done when you combine cooking oil and seasonings and rub it on the cast iron. It not only provides additional flavoring to the food but it also protects the cast iron from drying out and rusting. This technique will extend the life of your cast iron cooking grids.
There’s nothing more irritating than being so close to a delicious meal only to lose half of it because of the cooking grids on your grill.
Porcelain Enameled Grill Grates
Porcelain steel wire is typically manufactured by pooling multiple steel “threads” and using a process that stretches them (to extend and reinforce the steel), and then spin them to create a tightly wound braid-like “rope”. When this process is complete, the newly formed steel rope is coated according to specifications provided to the manufacturer.
Most cast iron cooking grates you will find in gas grills will have a protective porcelain enameled coating on them, either in a gloss or matte finish.
These grates were very popular in many gas grill brands from decades ago, long before we saw stainless steel grids in grills. When the competition began to increase, many grill brands found themselves ditching the porcelain steel grates for the more high-end stainless steel material.
Porcelain Grill Grate Advantages:
- Moderately priced
- Non-stick coating
Porcelain-coated grill grates are an affordable choice compared to solid cast iron grill grates.
Porcelain grill grates really stand out for their non-stick coating. Compared to steel grids, you have less to worry about when it comes to food sticking to your porcelain grates. However, a disadvantage that comes hand-in-hand with this benefit is that the coating is prone to chipping.
Porcelain Grill Grate Disadvantages:
- Poor heat retention
- Can’t season grates
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Porcelain grill grates are not the best for heat retention. They reach their peak temperature and then begin to decline. Cast iron grill grates are surely the best for heat retention.
Caution also has to be taken when cleaning these grates. If the rods have a small diameter, we have seen them warp in grills that reach higher temperatures. The porcelain coating is prone to chipping off, so you will need to replace the grates more often than you would with a regular cast iron grill. Additionally, you can’t season your grates with oil and seasoning because this will make the coating more likely to chip and flake off.
Porcelain Grill Grate Maintenance:
With porcelain cooking grates, you must not use the blade found at the end of many grill brushes. The blade will chip the porcelain and the steel underneath will rapidly rust. The brass bristle brush is the best cleaning tool, as brass is a soft metal and will not harm the porcelain coating. Though, if the grates are not fully cooled down, the brass bristles will melt.
Something to consider:
Porcelain is an economical choice for manufacturers who do not want to put stainless grates in their grill. They are often less expensive than cast iron, especially when the rods are on the thinner side. If you are looking to save a few bucks and are less concerned about wear-and-tear, porcelain grill grates may be the best option for your grill.
Our Choice for Best Type of Grill Grate: Stainless Steel
At The BBQ Depot, we think that the best overall best type of grill grate is stainless steel. Personal preferences aside, stainless steel offers the best advantages compared to the other two options.
Though it may cost a bit more, stainless steel is the easiest to maintain and is the longest lasting. When making a new grill purchase, look for brands that have a lifetime warranty. Also, choose grates that have a shape other than tubular. This will hold the heat better and provide the beautiful sear marks on your food.
The next best choice is porcelain cast iron. While theses grates require a bit more maintenance, they are excellent heat conductors and will hold high temperatures.
Our least favorite is the porcelain steel. They only benefit we see is the non-stick feature. They must be handled with care as to not chip the porcelain, exposing the steel and causing rust to form.
How to Choose Which Grill Grate is Best for You
Which type of grill grate is best? Don’t just take our word for it!
The reality is that personal preference does play a role in how you determine the best type of grill grates for you. You know how you grill, how often you grill, and how you like your food — and your decision should keep these details in mind.
To help you out, here are some questions to ask yourself before making your purchase:
Do I cook with high heat or low heat?
If you tend to cook on low heat – as you would with sensitive foods like fish and vegetables – then porcelain grill grates may be best for you. If, however, you like things hot, you’ll need grates with high heat retention (cast iron).
Do I like to season my grill or not?
Note that it’s not recommended that you season porcelain grill grates because this makes them more prone to chipping. If you like to season your grill for that extra flavor, you can rule out porcelain-coated grates.
How long do I want my grates to last?
Cast iron grill grates can last for decades. But they are also super heavy and are prone to breaking. In contrast, stainless steel grates are the most durable and on many grill have a lifetime warranty.
How much time do I have for maintenance?
Cast iron grill grates and porcelain-coated grill grates are super high maintenance. While it’s always recommended that you clean your grill after every session, these two types of grill grids require extra care and attention. Keep this in mind if you plan to grill often and don’t want to be bothered by tedious, meticulous cleanings.
Does my budget allow for a more expensive, yet durable, option?
If you have the budget for a more expensive grill, it will likely be worth the investment in the long run. When you opt for the best quality grill grids, you can rest assured that your grill grates will last for many years to come. However, there’s no shame with having a tighter budget; you can make your grates last a long time with proper care and maintenance.
Ready to buy new grill grates for your grill? Here’s how to measure your grill grates to find the right fit.
Tip: After buying a new grill grate, start up your grill for about 30 minutes with the grates in place. Don’t add food yet. This will help you burn off any dust, grease, or chemicals prior to cooking.
How to Clean and Take Care of Your Grill Grates
Your grill grates deserve proper care and cleaning just as with other parts of your grill. Taking care of your grill grates as soon as they come out of the box will help them last as long as possible. And, keeping up with cleanings could save you loads of money versus having to buy constant replacements.
Cool It Off
Cooking grids should never be cleaned while hot. Doing so can often cause damage to the surface or coating of the grids.
Clean Grates Before Every Cooking Session
It is always a good idea to clean and thoroughly dry cooking grids before using them to cook. Remember, this is the surface which is cooking the food you’re about to eat – whatever is on that surface will be cooked into your food as well.
Scrape Off Debris
To get cleaning, first spray the grates with a degreaser. This will help loosen the debris left on the grids. Then, take a brass bristle brush to remove the debris. You can also use a pressure washer to get a really thorough cleaning.
Avoid Sharp Edges
If your grill grates have a sensitive coating (as with porcelain grill grates), be sure to avoid using sharp objects to scrape off food. Sharp edges can also scrape off the protective coating, and your grates will then need to be replaced.
Use Warm Water and Soap
Usually it only takes some warm water and a mild soap to get your cooking grids ready for your next cook. Clear your grill of any food particles, dust, or chemicals before you grill up your food.
Rub Grates with Oil
After cleaning your grill grates, use a cloth or paper towel to rub cooking oil into them. This will help keep the grated from drying out and rusting. This will also prep your grill for cooking
Clean Grates After Each Use
The longer food and grease are left to sit on your grill, the harder it will be to scrape off. If you can scrape off excess food right after grilling, this will save you loads of elbow grease. Then, wait for the grill to cool and wipe it off so that it’ll be in good condition next time you are ready to grill.
Choosing the right grill grates for your grilling needs and taking good care of them after each use will help ensure that your grill is in tip-top shape for years to come. Be sure to consider how you grill, how you like your food, and what your budget is before purchasing new grates for your grill.
Got questions? Contact The BBQ Depot – we’re here to help! We have been Selling and Servicing Gas Grills since 1956.
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by Tracy Hollander on 31st May 2017
Through this article, we hope to help you understand Stainless steel vs porcelain grill grates