Grill materials. Honestly not something that most people give a huge amount of thought to.
Sure, we all have that friend who’s way too into the finer details of grilling, but for most of us a grill grate is pretty much a ‘set and forget’ decision. After all, once chosen a good grate can last for years.
However, the material your grate is made from does have an impact on your grilling experience.
Whether you’re in the market for an entirely new grill or are looking to replace an existing grate, it’s worth spending a bit of time considering the best material for you.
To help, we’ll be taking a look today at stainless steel vs cast iron grill grates. We’ll explore the pros and cons of each and will highlight why one might be ideal for your situation.
Without further ado, let’s get started!
What is the Difference Between Cast Iron and Stainless Steel?
In almost all cases, grill grates are made of either cast iron or stainless steel.
What actually is the difference between them? They are both alloys of iron, after all.
Well, a significant difference between the two alloys is the carbon content in each. Cast iron has about a two percent carbon content. Stainless steel only has about a one-tenth to one-half percent carbon content.
Unlike cast iron, stainless steel also contains chromium. In addition, other materials may be added to enhance the heat conductive properties of stainless steel, which is naturally quite poor. This means that the alloy may also contain metals such as aluminum and copper.
Stainless Steel vs Cast Iron Grill Grates Compared
Both cast iron grill grates and stainless steel grill grates have their benefits and drawbacks.
Before buying a new grill grate, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of each material. This will allow you to choose the option that best suits your specific needs.
Let’s take a look at the positives and negatives of each.
Pros and Cons of Cast Iron Grill Grates
Anyone who’s used a cast iron pan in their kitchen can attest to the qualities of the material for cooking.
The first benefit of using a cast iron grill grate is that it offers incredible heat retention. Once it’s heated up, cast iron does a great job of retaining its temperature. This allows you to perfectly sear delicious steaks.
Another benefit of using a cast iron grill grate is its longevity. When properly cleaned and maintained, a cast iron grill grate can last forever.
Cast iron grill grates also commonly have a porcelain or enamel coating. This provides a nonstick surface which reduces the risk of your meat sticking to the grate.
Even if your cast iron grate is uncoated, it can be made nonstick by seasoning it.
Though the list of benefits to using a cast iron grill grate is long, there are a few downsides to using this type of grill grate.
The first downside is that cast iron is extremely heavy. This makes it very difficult to move the grate out of the way if you need to adjust the charcoal while cooking.
Though cast iron is very durable, it also rusts easily if left exposed. Even when sitting inside of the grill, the grate can oxidize when the weather is humid. To ensure that the grill grate is kept in good condition, bring the grate inside or ensure that it is properly covered when not in use.
If the grill grate features a non-stick enamel, it can crack.
A cast iron grill grate can be harder to clean than stainless steel. If it doesn’t feature a non-stick enamel then the surface is rough, porous, and difficult to clean. It will also need to be seasoned more frequently to maintain performance.
If it does feature a non-stick enamel or porcelain coating, it can crack and flake off over time.
Pros and Cons of Stainless Steel Grill Grates
The first benefit of all stainless steel cookware is that it heats up very quickly. This allows you to reduce the amount of time spent waiting for it to reach the right temperature and means you can get started more quickly.
Another benefit of using stainless steel is that it is naturally corrosion resistant. This means that the product is much less likely to rust compared to cast iron. As such, there is no need to worry about leaving the grill grate inside the grill.
The final benefit of a stainless steel grill grate is that it’s easy to maintain. There are no extra steps to maintaining or cleaning a stainless steel grill grate.
Despite the positives, there are a few downsides to using a stainless steel grill grate.
The first drawback is actually dependent on the quality of stainless steel you buy. Whilst stainless steel can be exceptionally durable, often grill grates are made of a lower quality version. As a rule stainless steel grates won’t last as long as cast iron. To prolong the lifespan of your grate, always go for the highest-quality stainless steel that your budget will allow.
Another downside of using a stainless steel grill grate is that the material does not retain heat. As soon as the material is removed from heat, it begins to cool. This means that whilst cooking, the material must be exposed to constant heat.
Stainless steel is naturally very non-stick. However, after long-term use, the material begins to lose its non-stick properties. The stainless steel grill grate will also become rougher over time, making food particle more likely to stick.
Finally, over time, the grill grate will also begin to droop and warp. This makes the grilling surface uneven and makes it more difficult to achieve a thorough cook.
What is the Right Choice for You?
When determining whether a stainless steel grill grate or cast iron grill grate is the best choice for you, you must consider the types of food you will be cooking. The type of material you need is largely dependent on what you are cooking.
Cast iron will warm slowly, but after it’s hot it will evenly apply heat to the entire piece of meat. This ability will allow you to cook a mouthwatering piece of meat that is seared to perfection and sure to impress your friends. This is because the parts of the meat that touch the metal of the grate will slowly darken in color to a golden brown. This creates a crust on the exterior of the meat which improves the taste and holds in the juices.
Thicker meat in general grills particularly well on thick cast iron. These thicker cast iron grates are also the best option for fish and thinner chicken. Cast iron also works especially well for cooking smaller vegetables.
On the other hand, stainless steel grill grates are ideal for thinner pieces of meat and thicker chicken. They also grill large vegetables and pizza extremely well.
Cleaning Cast Iron vs Stainless Steel Grill Grates
The cleaning methods used for these two types of grill grates vary significantly as well. There are specific ways to clean each material due to their textures and make-up.
Let’s compare the cleaning methods of cast iron grill grates to stainless steel grill grates.
How to Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates
The first step in cleaning cast iron grates is allowing the heat to burn off the leftover food.
Then, you must use a wire brush to scrub the grates. After this, it is important to coat the surface of the grates with an oil that has a high smoke point. Then, allow the oil to dry before using again.
Whether the cast iron grate is new or worn it is important to season the grates frequently. When doing this, you should remove the grates and preheat the grill to a temperature between four-hundred and five-hundred degrees Fahrenheit.
While the grill is preheating, you can use steel wool to scrub away the rusted portions of the grates. Then, coat the grill with your choice of cooking oil. A thin layer will work perfectly.
When properly coated, place the grates back on the grill.
Once the grate is in place, turn off the grill and allow the grates to dry. Repeat the process as often as you choose. After several seasonings, the grate will have a smooth finish.
How to Clean Stainless Steel Grill Grates
There is a trick to cleaning stainless steel grill grates.
The trick is to cover the grate in aluminum foil while the grill is still hot. This will focus the heat on the surface of the grate. When this happens the residue is burnt off. When the grill cools, you may remove the foil and scrub the grates with a nylon brush.
To deep clean stainless steel grates, remove the grates from the grill and place them in the sink.
Whilst the grates are in the sink, sprinkle baking soda over them. Next, drip vinegar over the powder. The mixture will foam on the surface of the grate. At this point, you can scrape the grates with a wire brush. Steel wool can be used to rid the grates of, especially tough residue. Rinse and dry the grate, then return it to its place on the grill.