Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel Grill Grates – What’s the Difference?
Grates have a crucial role to play in a grill because besides holding the food as it is cooking, they also help transfer heat to it from the heat source below.
When it comes to grates, most grills regardless of the type will typically come with either cast iron or stainless steel grill grates. What works best between the two is still a hotly debated topic even among the more seasoned grillers.
But whether you are a beginner or more experienced griller, choosing between the two will require you to understand the pros and cons of each. Besides showcasing their merits and demerits, in this piece, we go a step further and highlight their key differences.
Cast Iron Grill Grates Overview
Cast iron is one of the toughest material used to make appliances and cookware, and so a cast iron grill grate is the kind that will serve you well for a long time.
Besides being tough and durable, cast iron is also famous for its excellent heat retention which is vital for ensuring faster and more even cooking when grilling.
Because cast-iron in its pure state rusts easily, most grates made from this material will be coated with enamel or ceramic which comes with the additional benefit of eliminating the need to season or cure the metal and also make clean up easier.
With cast-iron grates, you get excellent food searing because they are more effective at transferring the heat to the food than stainless steel grates. However, these grates will corrode and rust easily and take more effort to clean if they are not coated.
Stainless Steel Grill Grates Overview
Stainless steel is increasingly becoming the preferred grate material for most modern grills as many manufacturers try to address the shortcomings of the traditional cast-iron grates.
These grates are more resilient and will hence be better suited to withstand harsh elements like salt and rain and will not corrode or rust like cast iron.
They are more resistant to sticking which makes food easier to cook and clean up will also take less effort which means they will require significantly less maintenance. The material also needs no oiling to cure it before you can start cooking which further means less work for the user.
However, stainless steel is not as good as cast iron when it comes to heat retention, but grates made from this material make up for this by having a larger cooking surface.
Cast Iron Grates
Stainless Steel Grates
Ease of Cleaning
A little hectic
Fast and easy
Black and porous
Silver and shiny
Starts at $20 for 2 pieces
Starts at $30 for 2 pieces
Cast Iron vs. Stainless Steel Grill
While some grillers will swear by cast-iron grates, many others will not use anything that is not stainless steel. If you do not already have a preference or just do not know what sets them apart, here are some key differences to keep in mind when shopping.
1. Heat Retention
A good grill grate for you is one that will not only heat up well but is also able to retain the heat well to ensure faster and more even cooking.
When it comes to heat retention, cast iron grill grates will be by far the best option here because the nature and structure of the material allow it to retain heat for much longer than stainless steel. This excellent heat retention will allow you to cook your foods thoroughly even when the heat sources on your grill starts to die out for example when using charcoal.
Stainless steel, on the other hand, might not be as effective as heat retention as cast-iron, but it still outperforms many other materials like steel in this aspect. It will make up for what it lacks in heat retention by heating up quickly to ensure you can still cook faster and evenly.
2. Grill Marks
If your barbecue is never complete without seeing some grill marks on the food, cast iron grill grates are the best option for you.
Cast-iron leaves some professional and well-defined grill marks that will be distinct in most food types making it look more delicious and appetizing. These amazing grill marks come from the fact that besides retaining heat well, cast-iron is also good at transferring it to the food.
Stainless steel, on the other hand, will not produce the distinct grill marks that you would get with cast iron no matter how hot it becomes, but the good news is that it will still sear the steaks and other foods well enough.
Weight also matters a lot when it comes to choosing between these two grill grate options as it is a key determinant of how easy the grate will be to handle.
Overall, cast iron grates are quite heavy, but the extra weight is not always an indication that they are made from a superior material because in many instances stainless steel will outlast cast iron given that the latter is more prone to corrosion and rust.
Stainless steel grates are made from lighter alloy metals, and will hence be more lightweight and easier to handle. If you do not want to add a lot of weight to your grill to ensure it will still be easy to move around, stainless steel grill grates are the better option.
4. Ease of Cleaning
No grill will be super easy to clean regardless of its size and design, and the same also applies for the grates that you will buy because grease, ash, and smoke will always leave them looking nasty after use.
However, the ease of cleaning varies from one grate type to the other. When comparing cast iron with stainless steel, the latter is much easier to clean than the former.
Stainless steel grates will have a smoother finish than the cast iron ones, and they are more resistant to food sticking. Hence, you can easily clean up a stainless steel grate with a wire brush or even remove it and clean it up in the sink.
Cast iron grates will take a little more effort to clean, and this is more so if they have enamel or ceramic coating as you have to be careful not to scrub too hard since this can damage the surface.
While the look might not necessarily affect how your grill will perform, it is still a great idea to know how each of these grates should look. And this is because this shows you what to expect and to avoid buying the wrong thing.
If you are buying a pure cast iron grill grate, it will be black and porous and even most of the enamel and ceramic-coated models will have mostly the same appearance. This black color blends in well with most grill types and will have a nice rustic appeal.
Stainless steel grill grates will have a shiny silver appearance which is also striking enough but will not be as hard to maintain as it might look.
But, it is important to note that stainless steel tends to darken and discolor over time, and this is more so if not well-maintained, but cast iron maintains the same appearance (unless it rusts or corrodes) for a long time.
6. Average Prices
It is not always easy to tell how much you will spend on either of these grill grates as different factors will influence their prices from the size to the brand.
While a certain type or brand of stainless steel grill grate might cost more than what you would pay for a similar cast iron one, for others the cast iron option will be more expensive.
But, on average, you will spend at least $20 to get 2 pieces of cast iron grates while similar size ones meant for the same types of grills but made from stainless steel would cost around $30.
There are various materials used to make grill grates but if you are looking for something that cooks well and is high-quality enough, you will typically need to choose between cast iron and stainless steel.
Each of these grill grates will have its merits and demerits, and if you are a regular griller, the best idea will be to have both as they will be useful for different situations.
But, if you only have to buy one, cast iron will be your best pick if you want something that retains heat well and will give your food some well-defined grill marks.
However, if you prefer something easier to clean, heats up well and it is much lighter and hence easier to handle, stainless steel is perfect.