If you are new to grilling and toying with the idea of buying a grill, you may be wondering which is better for grilling cast iron or stainless steel grill grates.
Both materials have their own set of positives and negatives and it boils down to your personal preference and what you want out of your grill.
Some may prefer the ease of cleaning a stainless steel grill grate while others may prefer the cast iron that can give better sear marks and impart more flavor to the food.
It is also important to note that if you are going to buy a new grill, it would be best to stick with buying one with dishwasher-safe parts so as not to void your warranty and to make cleaning and maintenance easier.
The choice of stainless steel vs cast iron is not a question of which material cooks better, but rather of what benefits you want to reap from your grill.
As such, we will tackle some of the main advantages and disadvantages based on the most common uses for grills so that you can choose if you want to go for cast iron or stainless steel.
Stainless steel grill grates are the most common choice today because it is more affordable than cast iron and is easy to clean. It has a shiny-like appearance that will look good on any type of grilling set up whether it be an apartment balcony or patio deck, or even in an indoor grill.
These types of grates come in various sizes, shapes, and even designs so you can choose one that is aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
Cast Iron Grill Grates
Cast iron is a common material for grills and skillets because unlike other materials, it can be seasoned and it does impart more flavor to the food you cook on it.
The cast iron used to create grill grates contain 2 – 4% carbon along with traces of silicon, manganese, sulfur, and phosphorus. Thanks to which these grates becomes incredibly hard and durable.
It also heats faster than stainless steel, stays hot for longer periods, and has excellent heat retention which means that your grill cooks even as you adjust the temperature.
This may be a plus for those who like to multitask and grill while doing other things or those who do not want to spend too much time monitoring the temperature of the fire.
Cast iron is also sturdier than stainless steel so you can expect it to last longer.
However, this type of grate is harder to clean especially if you do not season it well and you will need to take special care in handling them so as not to damage the surface.
How Do You Clean Cast Iron Grill Grates?
Stainless steel is pretty simple to clean and you can do it by hand or with a dishwasher. Cast iron grill grates, on the other hand, require more time and effort to clean thoroughly.
You will need to scrub it with some steel wool or a wire brush to remove any debris that may have stuck to the grate after cooking.
You should also use oven mitts or barbecue gloves when handling since it heat up faster than stainless steel.
Another tip in cleaning cast iron grill grates is by pouring hot water over them and scrubbing with some kosher salt and a paper towel.
Using hot water while cleaning will remove any debris on the grate and the salt acts as an abrasive agent that will help you scrub away harder-to-remove burnt bits.
Maintaining Your Cast Iron Grate
To ensure that your cast iron grate lasts longer, you should clean it regularly and avoid cooking highly acidic food like tomatoes and lemons on them as they can corrode it.
You should also avoid cutting food directly on your cast grate since this will damage it or cut grooves into the metal. You can use a PVC-coated wire brush to remove debris before you start cooking and use a pair of tongs to handle them when they’re hot.
The best way to keep your cast iron grill grate in great condition is to use it. By using your grates regularly, you are protecting them from corrosion and damage.
Stainless steel is also fairly easy to maintain as long as you clean them after every use. You can put them in the dishwasher or wash them with hot water and soap.
You can also use metal scrubbers or steel wool to remove tough food particles that may be stuck in them.
Pros of cast iron grill Grates
✓ It is sturdier than stainless steel grates.
✓ Cast iron grill grates heat faster and stay hot longer, perfect for grilling more than one type of food on the same grill.
✓ It is known to impart more flavor in the food you cook, something avid grillers look for.
✓ It is easy to maintain and take care of.
Cons of Cast Iron Grates
✗ Cast iron tends to rust compared to stainless steel grates.
✗ It is heavier and harder to handle especially if you have small hands or arthritis.
✗ Cast iron grates are typically expensive so if you want a budget-friendly option, go for stainless steel.
If you prefer a grill with a shiny and clean look and one that is easy to maintain, go for a stainless steel grate.
If you want your grill to have good heat retention and with which you can cook multiple types of food such as steaks and vegetables, then choose cast iron.
Stainless Steel Grill Grates
Stainless steel, on the other hand, is more common in indoor grills because it does not rust and does not leave behind any residue. Unlike cast iron it contains less carbon from 0.3% to 1.5% only.
Further it also does not contains traces of other elements such as silicon and manganese but contains small amount of chromium and nickel. The more the chromium it has better its rust-resistant.
It is also better in terms of hygiene because it does not build up any bacteria or dirt while you use it.
But not all grates that shines are made from stainless steel. Many cheap grills have plated steel which rusts fast and easy once the protective layer breaks or chips away.
Genuine stainless steel grates have smoother surface and does not easily sticks. Further they do not get rusted easily thus lasting for a lifetime ( more than 5 years ).
However, some people may find stainless steel to be too shiny and aesthetically unpleasing especially when paired with an outdoor setting.
How Do You Clean Stainless Steel Grill Grates?
Stainless steel grates are easy to clean since they do not rust or leave behind residues. You can simply wipe it with a damp cloth or scrub it with a brass brush to remove any grease, dirt, or food that may have stuck on the surface.
Some stainless steel grates will have a non-stick coating to make it easier for you to clean them but this will not last long so after some time, you may need to replace them.
While stainless steel grates might be easy to clean it requires cleaning right after cooking. Getting rid of the grease and other food particles will help maintain a smooth surface.
Use regular grill brush to scrubbing off any food particles sticking to the grates and let it cool down before cleaning. Once cleaned run a half lemon across the grate for best results.
Maintaining Your Stainless Steel Grate
Maintaining your stainless steel grate will help it last longer and give you a better grilling experience.
You can do this by scraping off food residues immediately while it is still hot so you can easily remove them before they dry. You can also apply some oil or fat to the grate to keep it shiny.
Another tip in maintaining your stainless steel grate is by seasoning it to make it last longer. Seasoning involves mixing oil with ash or baking soda to coat the grate and protect it from rust.
Pros of stainless steel grill Grates
✓ It does not rust and is more hygienic compared to cast iron grates.
✓ Stainless steel grate is easier to maintain and clean compared to cast iron.
✓It has a sleek and shiny appearance that works well for indoor grills.
Cons of Stainless Steel Grill Grates
✗ It is less durable compared to cast iron grill grates.
✗ Stainless steel grates are typically more expensive than cast iron.
✗ It does not have the same heat retention and searing capabilities as cast iron.
✗ It does not impart as much flavor as a cast iron grate.
If you want a grill with a shiny and sleek look, then choose stainless steel. But if you want the grill grate to retain heat better so that your food cooks evenly and faster, go for cast iron.
What Are The Main Differences Between Them?
There are not any significant differences in what both materials can offer in terms of performance because both can sear well and impart good flavor to the food.
However, since stainless steel is easy to clean and maintain, it is the more popular material for indoor grills.
While cast-iron might be sturdier and can last longer, it is also harder to maintain and keep clean. This makes stainless steel the better choice for those who want a grill that is hassle-free and fuss-free.
Silver and smooth
Black & Rough / Smooth & Shiny
Slowly Loose Non-Stick property Overtimes
Require proper Upkeep to maintain Non-Stick Property
Cast Iron vs SS Grill Grates – Final Thoughts
In terms of appearance, however, stainless steel can look better in a more modern setting while cast iron looks better in rustic outdoor kitchens.
As for cost, stainless steel cannot be beaten when it comes to budget while cast iron is the choice for those who do not mind spending a bit more.
Nonetheless, if you like the benefits of both materials and want something that is easy to clean and looks good, it would be better to go for stainless steel.
With all this information, you must now ask yourself what grill type will best fit your lifestyle and cooking preferences.
Stainless steel is still a popular choice but if you want something that can sear meat better and transfer heat more efficiently, then the cast iron grate is an excellent choice.
Both materials will need to be seasoned and well-maintained so as not to rust and to prevent food from sticking. If you are new to grilling or if you just want a grill that requires less maintenance, then stainless steel will be easier for you because it does not need seasoning.