Stainless Steel vs. Cast Iron Grill Grates

Many people never think about their grill grates, but maybe it’s time to give them some attention. You’ll find that when it comes to stainless steel vs cast iron grill grates, they both have great features but they are very different. One is more durable than the other, while another grate has better non-stick properties.

So, which is best with cast iron vs stainless steel grill grates? We are going to highlight what the grates actually are, their pros and cons, cleaning tips, and other information so that you know which is right for you.

What are Cast Iron Grill Grates?

If you know your metallurgy, then there are probably a few things you know without us telling you. You probably know that both cast iron and stainless steel start with iron as a base material, that carbon is used in both of these, and that iron by itself is actually pretty fragile. This is especially true when iron is heated.

Cast iron is not pure iron. Instead, it has a small percentage of carbon that makes it much harder and more resilient. While cast iron is very dense and durable, it is also somewhat brittle. This is most apparent if you drop it as the metal can crack.

Most people only think of the bare black metal, but there are two types of cast iron. There is:

  • Uncoated Cast Iron: black, porous, and somewhat rough
  • Coated Cast Iron: has a porcelain enamel coating, smooth, can be in various colors

Aside from their color and texture, another big difference is their porousness. Uncoated is porous while coated is nonporous. Coated is initially nonstick and should remain that way, but the coating can come off if the grate is dropped or if you clean too vigorously. Uncoated becomes non-stick as fat fills the pores and seasons the grill.

What are Stainless Steel Grill Grates?

Many people think that all silver-colored grates are stainless steel, but that isn’t true. They might be plated steel or other cheap metals (remember, lots of metals are silver). These fakers don’t last nearly as long, plus the surfaces become chipped and can quickly rust.

True stainless steel is very smooth and resistant to sticking. The surface also takes many, many years to corrode, so you can expect these grates to last a very long time.

Cast Iron Grill Grates Pros and Cons

One of the best benefits of cast iron is that it retains heat well. This ensures you get a good sear on your meats and veggies, giving you that dark crust you’re looking for. Plus, the grate will stay hot even if the charcoal is dying down.

Cast iron transfers heat directly. This means you’re cooking the food faster and developing an amazing crust on the outside. Stainless steel can develop a crust as well, but the heat transfer is very different.

Cast iron also lasts a very, very long time. You can expect the grate to last for decades if you properly care for it.

However, there are disadvantages. One of the biggest problems when it comes to stainless steel vs cast iron grill grates is that these grates are very heavy. Shifting the grate around or lifting it out of the grill will take significant effort.

Uncoated iron can rust quickly. Humid weather will oxidize it, and rain can destroy it after repeated exposure. It might be best to keep the grate indoors until it’s time to cook.

Maintaining cast iron isn’t hard, but it’s more effort than stainless steel. It’s harder to clean, and you’ll need to season it every now and then to keep the metal from sticking.

Stainless Steel Grill Grates Pros and Cons

Cast iron needs time to preheat, but stainless steel heats up fast. This allows you to start grilling much faster. Stainless steel also isn’t as prone to rust or corrosion, so you can leave it in the grill without worrying about it oxidizing.

These grates also tend to be easier to maintain. Simply clean the steel when it gets dirty and that’s about it.

Stainless steel gets hot, but it doesn’t retain heat that well. It cools quickly, so it won’t retain heat once removed from the heat source. It also doesn’t sear as well as cast iron. Cheaper grates don’t tend to last that long, so be sure to get good ones.

While stainless steel is fairly nonstick once preheated, they can lose this if the metal is overused or cleaned too vigorously. This can lead to the metal getting rough, which makes meat stick.

Some cheaper grates can warp with time and too much heat exposure, which can lead to uneven cooking. Higher quality grates typically don’t have this issue.

Cleaning Cast Iron Grill Grates

After you’re done cooking, scrub the grate with a wire brush and then coat it with oil. You’ll want to choose something with a high smoke point like canola or peanut oil.

You’ll also want to season the grill, especially if it’s new or any rust has formed. Remove the cast iron grate and preheat the grill to 400-500 degrees. If there are rusted parts, then scrub them off now with steel wool.

Place the grate back onto your grill and place a very thin layer of oil. Allow it to cool and your grate is now seasoned. You may want to do this two or three times.

Cleaning Stainless Steel Grates

Some people place aluminum over the grill when it’s still hot to burn off residue. Scrub the grates with a nylon brush once they cool down.

For a deeper clean, put the grates in your sink and sprinkle baking soda and then some white vinegar on them. A wire brush or steel wool can clean any remaining food bits. Rinse with water and then dry before putting it back in the grill.

Final Thoughts

So, which is best between stainless steel vs cast iron grill grates? Stainless steel is durable, much easier to clean, significantly lighter, and heats up faster. However, cast iron retains heat much better, gets an amazing sear, and can last for decades.

Both are great, so it depends on which you prefer. If searing is important to you, then cast iron is the best. If convenience is important, then stainless steel is better.