What’s the Best Type of Grill Grate Material?

Grill Grate

SmokedBBQSource is supported by it’s readers. We may earn an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you if you buy through a link on this page. Learn more.

The grill grate is an essential part of your cooker because it is in direct contact with your food.

You want a cooking surface that gives you excellent heat transfer, keeps the food from sticking, and is hard wearing.

Choosing the right grill grate is a big decision, as it can affect how your food cooks. Making that choice can be difficult as grill manufacturers love to use a lot of marketing jargon to describe their grates.

To make things as simple as possible, we’ll be breaking down the different kinds of grill grates. Then giving you the information you need to make the right choice.

What types of grill grate are available?

Most grill grates are made of cast iron, stainless steel or one of those base materials covered in an enamel coating. 

There is some debate about which grill grate material gives the best results, so we’ll be covering each one in detail and providing a list of pros and cons.

1. Stainless steel grill grates

Stainless steel grates are the most affordable option available. They tend to be lightweight, which makes them easy to move which is helpful if you need to access the coals underneath. 

The low weight also means a stainless steel grills heat up quickly. However, because they tend to be thinner they don’t retain heat very well

Proper stainless steel is highly corrosion resistant, but not 100% corrosion proof. Over time, the heat of the coals and regular cleaning will degrade the surface of your grill grate. 

This creates a rough surface that is prone to corrosion and can make food stick.

Pros

  • Light and easy to move around
  • Heats up quickly
  • Very corrosion resistant when new
  • Affordable

Cons

  • Cooking surface degrades over time
  • Wear and tear can cause food to stick
  • Low heat retention

2. Cast iron grill grates

Cast iron grill grates have an excellent reputation for heat retention and producing an even cooking temperature.

The thicker cast iron takes a little longer to heat up than stainless steel. But, once they are up to cooking temperature, you can expect excellent heat transfer and bold sear marks.

The downside of a cast iron grill is that it is heavy and high maintenance.

A heavy grate can make it difficult to access your coals and move the grate around when you need to clean it.

Meathead-Goldwyn

Meathead Goldwyn, Cast Iron Grill Grates: Don’t Bother

“It’s true that cast iron grates are heavy and have a high thermal capacity, making them very efficient at and holding and transmitting heat to meat.

They make definitive grill marks. But deep grill marks don’t translate to maximum flavor because that leaves much of the meat surface (and potential flavor) undeveloped.

Worse, cast iron grates need babying. You have to scrape them immediately after cooking, then oil them while they are still warm. The oil will fill the pores that have opened during cooking and prevent rust.

To do it right, you need to run the food into the house, leave the fire on in order to burn off residue, and while everyone is waiting for you, run back out, scrape them and paint them with oil. If you forget, within days they can start rusting and that stuff is a pain to remove.”

The porous surface of a cast iron grate is prone to rust and needs to be regularly maintained. Correctly maintained, however, cast iron grill plates are incredibly durable and will probably outlast your cooker.

Pros

  • Great heat retention
  • Produces an even cooking temperature
  • Very durable if properly maintained
  • Produces great sear marks

Cons

  • Heavy 
  • Prone to corrosion
  • Requires constant maintenance
  • Needs to be seasoned to become non-stick

3. Enamel coated grill grates

Enamel grill grates are standard stainless steel or cast iron grills coated in a smooth enamel. This coating creates a non-stick layer and also prevents the metal surface from corroding.

While an enamel layer does solve some of the corrosions issues of cast iron and heat retention issues of stainless steel, it does have its drawbacks.

The enamel layer can chip during cleaning, allowing in moisture that causes the surface underneath to rust. A chipped enamel grill grate also quickly loses its non-stick properties.

Pros

  • Creates better heat retention on a stainless steel grill
  • Prevents corrosion on a cast iron grill
  • Adds an extra non-stick coating

Cons

  • Prone to chipping if not cleaned correctly
  • Loses many of its benefits once damaged

So which grill grate is best?

Overall, cast iron grill grates offer the best cooking surface but with extra up keep required.

You will need to work a little harder to keep your cast iron grill grate in premium condition. It will need to be regularly seasoned to keep it non-stick and rust free.

In return, you’ll get great heat retention and distribution along with bold sear marks. The thicker cast iron grill also works better when cooking delicate cuts, like fish or thin slices of chicken. 

It might be tempting to opt for an enamel-coated cast iron grate to increase its corrosion resistance. The problem with that is the enamel is often far less durable than the cast iron its covering.

Cracked enamel lets in moisture which rusts the iron underneath and that can be hard to get rid of. That’s why we recommend a more straightforward combination of a standard cast iron grill grate and good old fashioned elbow grease!

If that doesn’t sound appealing, then check out the option below.

Upgrade your grill with GrillGrates

GrillGrate Set of Three 13.75' (Interlocking) + Grate Tool

A fantastic innovation, GrillGrates uses reversible interlocking aluminum panels made of hard anodized aluminum to increase your surface temperature, eliminate flare-ups, and deliver that perfect sear.

Compatible with gas grills, charcoal grills, and pellet smokers, GrillGrates can amplify cooking temperatures by up to 350°F. 

The raised rails not only impart steakhouse quality searing, but they also collect juices and drippings and then vaporize back into your food. Sealing in both moisture and flavor.

So if you are looking for a grilling innovation that will give you juicy, evenly cooked food without sacrificing on the sear or flavor, we highly recommend you upgrade your grill with GrillGrates.

Check the latest price on Amazon.

Cleaning and caring for your grill grate

Stainless steel

Stainless steel grill grates are easy to clean. Simply spread some aluminum foil over the grate to help burn off the cooking residue and then scrub with a nylon brush.

Cast iron

After cooking, burn as much residue as possible off your cast iron grate. Then, when it is cool, removed any remaining residue with a brush and scraper.

Cast iron grills need to be “Seasoned” with oil. This fills in their porous surface with a polymerized layer that prevents corrosion and stops food from sticking. This needs to be done after every use.

The best way to do this is to heat your grill grate slightly to warm it and ensure it is dry. Then apply a thin layer of vegetable oil with kitchen towel.

We go into more detail in our guide to caring for your cast iron grill grates.

Enamel coated

To avoid damaging your enamel layer, it’s best to use a brass bristle brush, rather than a scraper, to clean an enamel-coated grill. Be careful not to drop your enamel-coated grill, as this can fracture the coating.

Find the grill grate that’s right for you   

Cast iron grill grates have a lot to recommend them. But, like most cooking equipment, you should find a grill grate that matches your grilling style.

 Have you had exceptional success with a particular type of grill grate? If you have, we’d love you to tell us about it in the comments below!

Last update on 2019-09-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Joe Clements

Joe Clements

As the son of a vegeterian, I grew up dreaming about meat. Now as the founder and editor in chief of Smoked Barbecue Source I get to grill, barbecue and write about meat for a living!I'm sharing everything I learn along the way on my journey from amateur to pitmaster.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *