There are a lot of options when looking for the best grill grates these days. Of course, most of us end up with whatever comes with the grill we buy and they may or may not be the best choice. Nowadays, however, there are a number of companies producing aftermarket cooking grates that can greatly improve the grills we have. They are also great options for custom grills and smokers, particularly custom charcoal grills that are easily adapted for size.
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It is important to point out that there is no standardization in the outdoor cooking industry. Just because two grills appear to have the same measurements doesn’t mean that the cooking grates can be swapped between them. Further, different grills have different ways of holding their grates in place. Always check with the manufacturer of the cooking grates to find out if their grates will fit your grill. Most aftermarket makers will know this information. Manufacturers of grills probably won’t, but they will have exact measurements for their cooking grates.
Upgrading your cooking grates is a great way to improve your grill or smoker’s cooking capabilities. Of course, four hundred dollars of cooking grates are not going to turn an old, cheap cooker into a new grill. A better grilling surface can certainly make improvements, but in most cases, buying a better grill is the smarter choice. There are options and even a small investment if better cooking grids can give you better results and improve the quality of your cooking.
Replacement Grill Grates
In general, it is best to select exact match replacement grill grates. However, if you need to replace, you may be able to upgrade at the same time. For instance, Weber offers 9mm stainless steel grill grates for their Genesis line of gas grills. These Weber grill grates are only standard on special edition versions of Genesis grills. However, they fit every model and are substantially heavier and better than the standard versions. You can also find improved grates (live stainless steel rod or cast stainless steel grill grates) for grills from Napoleon and Broil King.
Stainless Steel Plate – The Best Grill Grate
With all the durability of stainless steel, but cut from thick plates of metal, cooking grates of this type are found on some of the highest-end products. Not only do these grates have the mass to hold and transfer heat efficiently, but their smooth surface reduces sticking and maximizes contact. Best of all, custom made, these grates can carry any design from logos and names to artwork. Look for 300-series stainless steel for corrosion resistance. Grates like these can last for decades without a lot of extra care. Prices for these grates will be high. The stainless steel plate used can be as much as a quarter-inch thick and the metal alone is very expensive. Add in the cost of the laser cutting equipment need to make them. Prices can easily exceed $400USD for a simple design on a smaller grill.
Cast Stainless Steel
Cast stainless steel offers the mass to hold heat and the corrosion resistance of the best stainless steel. These cooking grates are found in some of the highest-end gas grills and are generally not available in custom sizes. This means that they either fit or they don’t and special sizes are not likely to be found. Like the stainless steel plate above, these grates are not cheap. Typically sold in six-inch widths (and lengths between 19 and 21 inches) they can cost between $80USD and $120 per section. Most grills will require three to four sections. The biggest advantage of these grates is that they offer all the characteristics of cast iron without the problems of corrosion.
Cast stainless steel grates have become increasingly popular in recent years. When they first started appearing, they were only on the most expensive gas grills. Now you can find them on a wider range of gas grills including the very popular Napoleon Phantom.
Most people will not know what these grates are, but they really have some impressive capabilities. They were first introduced by Modern Home Products for their MHP line of gas grills. For more than a decade, they have been available from a company called GrillGrate. Aluminum is a superior conductor of heat and these cooking grates are made of a thick, solid configuration of this metal. They heat very quickly and transfer that heat more efficiently than any other cooking material. You can find these cooking grates available in a wide range of shapes and sizes that fit the most popular gas and charcoal grills on the market. They are also a great solution for increasing the searing capabilities of smokers and pellet grills. You will also find these grates used by some of the top steak competition cooks. For the typical gas grill, the cost is around $150USD for a full set.
GrillGrates, the brand, is commonly used to improve many pellet grills. The typical pellet grill reaches temperatures of no more than 500 degrees F (many less). These grates can hold heat so much better than the wire grates you typically find in many pellet grills. Plus, they can trap heat under the grates. This gives you an improved searing capability at a lower cooking temperature. One word of warning. Anodized aluminum melts at 1,200°F. I know that sounds too high to worry about, but these grates can melt in special circumstances like intense flare-ups or when used in close proximity to high charcoal fires.
GrillGrates typically sit on top of your existing cooking surface. This way, they don’t need to be an exact size match. For some grills, exact matches are available and they can be used as replacement grill grates.
Shop for Anodized Aluminum Grill Grates
Stainless Steel Rod
Many grills, particularly gas, use stainless steel rod cooking grates. Made from rods of stainless steel welded to crossbars, these cooking grates provide excellent corrosion resistance. Remember that it is the weight of the grates that provide the direct heat transfer that produces grill marks. The heavier the grate the better. For best results look for 1/4-inch (as the minimum) or higher diameter rods. The good news is that since these grates are among the most popular, there is an excellent selection in a wide range of measurements. Also, they are considerably less expensive than the cast stainless grates above. A whole grill can have new, good-quality stainless steel grill grates for under $100USD.
Porcelain Coated Cast Iron
That cast iron grill grates don’t appear higher on the list is going to puzzle and maybe even anger a number of people. The reason that I list these grates where I do isn’t that they are not potentially fantastic. The problem doesn’t even lie with those that buy them and don’t take care of them, after all, the porcelain coating on grates of this type should prevent corrosion and make them as durable as any of the grates above. The problem is that there are a lot of bad porcelain-coated cast-iron cooking grates out there. Cheap grill makers use them as a selling point and then use bad coatings that chip, crack, and flake. Once this happens the cast iron below will corrode and it can corrode quickly. Also, no one should be eating porcelain flakes. If you spend extra on these grates, take care of them, and get them from a reputable company to make sure you are getting high-quality porcelain-coated cast iron. Otherwise, stick to something above.
Bare Cast Iron
Before the hate mail escalates, let me say that I prefer bare cast iron to all other materials in all my cooking. I make my morning eggs in a forty-year-old cast iron skillet. Grates of this type, particularly the very heavy ones have the best cooking characteristics. The heat retention and transfer are excellent. And if cared for, they will outlast many of the stainless steel products appearing higher on this list. The simple problem is that most people don’t want to put in the work to keep them in the best of condition. Cast iron requires a regimen of care, particularly in an outdoor cooking capacity. High temperatures from the grill can strip away any seasoning quickly. This leaves the metal to begin rusting before it has a chance to cool down. If you are going to do the work, get bare cast-iron grates. If not, pick something above.
Take a look at ManGrate for more information.
At the bottom end of the cooking grate list are those lightweight, plated steel grates that come standard on far too many grills. The biggest advantage of these grates is that they are lightweight. That’s makes it inexpensive for the manufacturer to have shipped. Aside from that, these grates do little more than keep the food from falling into the fire. It is because of this style of cooking grate that many of the aftermarket makers got into the business. I list in this category any cooking grate that is basically thick steel wire coated in something whether is it nickel, chromium, or porcelain enamel. While not necessarily bad, these grates don’t add to the cooking process. The other advantage is that they are cheap to replace.
I have been writing about Barbecue & Grilling for 25 years. I have cooked on almost every grill or smoker ever built. In that time, I have endeavored to match people with the grill or smoker that is right for them. I believe that the right product is the one that you find easy to use, capable of doing everything you want, and is reliable. If you have a good first experience, you will be back for more. In this way, we grow barbecue for the next generation. I want you to make the memories that your children will cherish.
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