The Definitive Guide to the Best Grill Grates

Which grill grate is best: stainless steel, cast iron, enamel coated, plated wire, or cast aluminum? The answer may surprise you.

Before we take a look at the different grill grates and consider their pros and cons, you really should read my article busting the myth of grill marks. It discusses how to get the perfect surface color on your meats, a rich, dark brown color from edge to edge with no tan in between. Essentially, no cross-hatched grill marks. That's max flavor, just as you can see on the surface of this grilled ribeye.

 

Yes, I know you've been indoctrinated all your life to start drooling when you see grill marks, but the truth is that grill marks mean much of the meat's potential has been lost. Tan meat is meat that has less flavor than brown meat. So the goal should be an even dark brown all across the surface.

When you buy a new grill, you might want to replace the grates to get the best browning on your meat. The conventional thinking on gridirons focuses on their ability to hold and transmit heat. That's why there is a mystique about cast iron grates. They absorb and hold a lot of heat, and they brand the meat surface with that heat, creating dark sear marks. But I don't want my grill grates to cook just parts of my meat. Grill marks mean that only about 1/3 of the surface has been altered by the magical Maillard reaction, the process by which tan, dull meat is transformed to a brown, intensely flavorful crust. I want the radiant heat of the fire below, accompanied by smoke and combustion gases, to do the job. If I wanted the metal itself to sear my steaks I could do it better in a frying pan. On a grill, I want an evenly-cooked surface, not black stripes on the surface.

Worse, thick cast iron grates with little space between them block smoke from contacting the meat surface. Smoke is one of the main reasons we cook outdoors, isn't it?

Think about the Brazilian steakhouse where everything is cooked on rotisserie. Waiters come to your table with the meat still on the spear and cut thin slices, not more than 1/4" thick from the surface of the meat. Then the meat goes back over the coals until the surface browns again. The whole purpose of the system is to give you an evenly browned surface with medium rare meat immediately below. The meat is delicious, and there isn't a grill mark in sight.

OK, sometimes grill marks do come in handy. When you are cooking thin or small foods like skirt steak, asparagus, kabobs or shrimp, it is almost impossible to get dark brown surfaces with just radiation or convection before the center is overcooked. The only thing that works is conduction. And that means grill grates that transmit heat well. That's why my two favorite grill grates are polar opposites. The best solution for both gas and charcoal grills? For gas grills, I recommend GrillGrates (TM), and for charcoal grills, thin stainless steel grates get the job done.

One last thing: When you get a new grate, fire up with the grate in place for about 30 minutes without food in order to burn off any grease, dust, or manufacturing byproducts. Your guests will thank you.

"Grill grates are only there to keep your meat from falling into the coals. The smaller and lighter the better."

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, author of The Food Lab, 2016 Cookbook of the Year
GrillGrates Cast Aluminum Grate
GrillGrates (TM) are an amazing recent invention and I recommend them for gas grills and many pellet smokers. They have multiple benefits, the least of which is giving you better crusts and better flavor. Read more...
BBQ Dragon Rotating Grill Grate
The BBQ Dragon Spin Grate rotates 360 degrees, making cooking on round kettle grills much simpler. Spin it to avoid flareups or easily switch between direct and indirect heat. The grate is hinged so you can easily add wood or charcoal, or adjust your fire without removing the grill grate. Read our full review. Read more...
Smokenator Hovergrill
Made by the Smokenator people, this is a quality stainless steel grate with legs can do three great things for your cooking. Read more...
Stainless Steel Grate
Stainless steel grill grates can be made from thin or thick rods, but I prefer the thin ones that allow more radiant heat through, especially for charcoal grills. The problem with thick rods is that they block radiant heat and make large dark grill marks. Read more...
Porcelain Enamel Coated Grill Grate
A sturdy porcelain enamel coating is applied to a variety of metals of different weights. With proper care, these grill grates will work well and last for years. Read more...
Weber Wire Grate, Hinged
Yes, nickel plated steel grill grates warp under extremely high heats and eventually, the plating chips off, they rust, and you've got to pitch them. But they're so cheap that replacing them is a cinch. If you have a Weber Kettle, I recommend upgrading to the hinged grates so you can easily add more coals and wood. Read more...
Cast Iron Grill Grate
Cast iron fry pans and griddles can become non-stick with use, so many people are under the misimpression that cast iron grill grates are also non-stick. They are not. Cast iron grill grates are more trouble than they are worth. Read more...
Placeholder
Their best feature is that they clean up easily, with soap and water, and can even go through the dishwasher. Read more...
Tempered Steel grill grate
Here are the main strengths of tempered expanded steel grill grates: they are inexpensive and lightweight. Yes, they also make diamond shaped grill marks without having to rotate the meat, but grill marks are not the holy grail of great tasting meat. The truth is, there are better grill grates available. Read more...
Enamel grate with thick bars
As with cast iron, thick enameled stainless steel grill grates retain and transmit a lot of heat, making big bold grill marks: but that's not what we want. They're too thick to let through maximum radiant heat from the fire. That radiant heat is really what we're after when trying to create great grill flavor. Read more...

grilled ribeye

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