When you first buy a grill, it usually comes with a set of grates paired by the manufacturer. With some makes and models the best option for that grill is selected for you. However, there are quite a few manufacturers who have a “Brand Image” that dictates the types of grates they furnish in their grills. This can be especially bothersome with long-standing grill companies who hold to decades-old traditions without acknowledging that material selection and engineering have passed them by.
It’s also accepted that as time goes on your grill’s grates might wear out long before the grill’s firebox and other components have given up the ghost. This is even more likely to happen if you have a bad habit of failing to clean your grates in a timely manner, which can promote rust and corrosion problems.
Whether your grates are worn out, or you simply don’t like the ones that came with your grill, there are a lot of different replacement grates on the market. Some are from grill manufacturers who offer replacement grates for their more popular models. Though there are also some third party manufacturers who are all too happy to get in on the action, by offering standard replacement grates at reasonable prices.
To choose the best grates for your grill, you need to weigh your material options.
Popular Grill Materials
There are a few different options to choose from in the replacement grate market. Each tends to have its benefits and drawbacks.
This is an old fashioned material used for grill grates back in the 1950s and 1960s when a lot of do-it-yourselfers were trying their hand at making their own backyard grill stations. Chances are good you can still find some in the sheet metal section of just about any hardware store!
The benefit here is that it’s usually the cheapest option. The drawback is that they are prone to rust and metal fatigue. Not to mention they can be a challenge to scrape clean. So, if you are really hurting for money, and you’re willing to replace the grates every summer, then replacement grill grates made from expanded metal might be on your radar.
Stainless Steel And Chrome Plated Replacement Grill Grates
Right out of the box these grates have a beautiful gleam, and they tend to cost less than most of the other options. So, it’s a popular way for grill manufacturers to save on production costs. Unfortunately, that beauty fades. Depending on how you clean your stainless steel or chrome-plated grill grates that beauty can fade fast.
Technically, stainless steel is not prone to corrosion and rust. However, aggressive scraping with steel wool and wire brushes can scrape up the surface of stainless steel grill grates. This can also leave tiny microscopic traces of metal from the grill brush embedded in the scratches stainless steel surface. When humidity or moisture from food gets introduced to the equation, the little pieces of textured metal can rust on the surface of otherwise stainless steel or chrome-plated rungs.
It’s also worth noting that stainless steel and chrome-plated grill grates tend to be a little sticky when they are brand new. If they get scuffed up by wire grill brushes or steel wool, this stickiness will only increase.
If you need to save a little money by going with stainless steel grill grates, you might want to also invest in a stiff nylon bristle grill brush. Then put in your best effort to clean your grates thoroughly after every use. This will inevitably help extend their lifespan.
Cast Iron Grates
Cast iron has an impressive ability to absorb and exude heat energy. With proper preheating cast iron can really put a great sear on steaks, chops, burgers, and bratwursts. You just have to give the grill a solid 10 to 15 minutes to properly preheat.
The problem with cast iron is that on its own the metal can be very prone to rust. Especially if you are someone who likes to grill foods with a lot of sloppy, acidic marinade. One way around this is to develop and maintain a “Seasoning Layer.”
While a seasoning layer does impart a small amount of flavor, it’s really made out of a glaze of hydrocarbon particles that are bonded to the surface of the cast iron. This essentially creates a protective coating.
However, you are responsible for maintaining that protective coating throughout the life of the cast iron grill grates. This calls for doing things like rubbing them down with neutral stable fats like grapeseed oil, flaxseed oil, or vegetable shortening after every grilling session. Depending on the spacing of the rungs, this can be an annoyingly meticulous task.
More than one experienced grill master has turned away from cast iron grill grates after finding a light coating of rust.
Porcelain Coated Grill Grates
Porcelain coating, which is sometimes referred to as “Enamelized Porcelain” is a relatively new material that’s started taking the grill industry by storm. This special coating can be applied to wire grill grates or cast iron grill grates to give them semi-nonstick properties. It also helps protect the underlying metal from exposure to water, which can lead to rusting.
It has quickly become a beloved companion to cast iron. To the point that the porcelain coating makes it safe for you to wash the grates in warm soapy water!
The drawback here is that the process of coating the grill grates with porcelain also drives the price up. Still, if you’ve got a little extra wiggle room in your budget porcelain coated grill grates are your best bet for seeing a robust return on your investment.
Buying The Right Replacement Grill Grates
This really is a time when you want to measure twice and buy once. Once you grill on them, the manufacturer isn’t going to accept a return. So, take out your tape measure and be meticulously measuring the length and width of your current grill grates as well as the depth.
Most grates sit on some type of ledge or lip that keeps them flush with where the lid meets the firebox. Ideally you want your replacement grates to sit in place flush like the originals or lower. If the new grates are even a few millimeters thicker than the originals the grill’s lid might not fit securely.
This is more likely to be an issue if you are going from a thin stainless steel grill grate to a robust cast iron grill grate with a protective porcelain coating.