Although there are exceptions, most cooking grates found in grills and smokers are made of either cast iron or stainless steel. Both materials can provide a safe and effective surface on which to cook food. But cast iron and stainless steel are different materials, so they affect your culinary activities in different ways. Whether you’re shopping for a new grill or smoker, or if you’re looking to upgrade your existing grill or smoker with a new cooking grate, you should familiarize yourself with the differences between cast iron and stainless steel grates.

How Cast Iron Differs From Stainless Steel: The Basics

Both cast iron and stainless steel are considered alloys of iron. In other words, they are primarily composed of iron ore but contain other metals or elements. The primary difference between cast iron and stainless steel lies in the specific types, as well as quantity, of the non-iron metals or elements used.

Cast iron is an iron alloy that’s characterized by a minimum carbon composition of 2%, whereas stainless steel is an iron alloy that’s characterized by a maximum carbon composition of 1.2% and a minimum chromium composition of 10.5%. Therefore, cast iron contains more carbon than stainless steel, but stainless steel has a high composition of chromium, which isn’t found in cast iron.

The Benefits of Using a Cast Iron Cooking Grate

Cast iron cooking grates offer superior heat retention when compared to stainless steel cooking grates. After warming up, they’ll hold that heat, allowing you to sear delicious steaks and meats. Stainless steel grates hold heat as well, but their unique composition offers a lower heat retention value than that of cast iron grates.

Assuming you clean and maintain it, a cast iron cooking grate can last for years or even decades. They are incredibly strong and durable, with most cast iron grates lasting even longer than stainless steel grates of the same size. Just clean the grate each time you use it, and it will offer you countless years of enjoyment.

Food is also less likely to stick to a cast iron cooking grate than a stainless steel grate. Many cast iron grates are coated with a nonstick finish, meaning your food shouldn’t stick to them. Even if a cast iron grate doesn’t have a nonstick finish, you can create a natural nonstick surface by “seasoning” it. This doesn’t involve sprinkling salt and pepper over the grate. The term “seasoning” refers to coating a cooking grate in multiple layers of oil to create a nonstick surface. The oil will soak into the grate’s semi-porous surface, allowing for the formation of a nonstick surface. If you discover that your food begins to stick to the cast iron grate after seasoning it, simply repeat the process to “re-season” it.

The Benefits of Using a Stainless Steel Grate

Stainless steel cooking grates still offer some advantages over cast iron grates, including greater protection against rust and corrosion. Neither cast iron nor stainless steel are immune to rust or corrosion. When exposed to oxygen and moisture, oxidation will occur, resulting in the formation of a new compound called iron oxide, which is more commonly known as “rust.” Because they contain chromium, however, stainless steel grates are less likely to develop rust or corrosion than cast iron grates.

Another benefit of using a stainless steel grate is ease of cleaning. They have a smoother finish than cast iron grates, so you can easily clean them using a wire grill brush. You can even remove a stainless steel grate from your grill or smoker to clean it inside your kitchen sink. Stainless steel grates are significantly lighter than cast iron grates. And because of their lightweight properties, they are easy to transport.

You’ll probably discover that stainless steel grates cost less than cast iron grates. Cast iron is more expensive to produce and ship, so grates made of this material typically cost more than those made of stainless steel. If you’re on a tight budget, you can save money by purchasing a stainless steel grate for your grill or smoker.

Can’t Decide? Purchase Both for Your Grill or Smoker

As you can see, both cast iron cooking and stainless steel cooking grates offer their own benefits. Cast iron grates last longer, retain more heat and provide greater nonstick properties, whereas stainless steel grates are better protected against rust and corrosion and are easier to clean. If you’re struggling to choose between the two, you can always purchase both types of grates for your grill or smoker. With both types of grates, you can use the one that’s best suited for your culinary activities.

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