Grills Cast Iron vs Stainless Steel

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Updated June 27, 2022

If you’re looking for a new barbecue, the top built-in grills and cast iron vs. stainless steel grills are something you want to consider. Cast iron grates confer benefits that BBQ enthusiasts might appreciate more than most, the best grill for you may be either, depending on your personal preference.

Speaking of preference, you’ll want to consider your health when comparing charcoal vs propane, as charcoal has been found to cause carcinogens that cause cancer. You may want to move on to an infrared grill or a gas grill, instead. Moreover, keeping your grill clean (depending on if you have a 304 or 430 stainless steel BBQ) with a top grill cleaner will prevent rodents from taking it over. 

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  • Cast iron grates are better at searing and can last a lifetime with proper care.
  • Stainless steel grills are far more resistant to the elements and are easier to maintain, but will lose their nonstick properties over time.
  • Stainless steel grills have more entry-level options and can offer good performance for most food types, but lower quality grates have much shorter lifespans than cast iron.

Cost, durability, ease of maintenance, and searing capabilities are all big factors to consider when deciding between the two options. You may also want to look at the differences between charcoal vs propane grills while you’re at it.

Insider Tip

Cast iron is more expensive than stainless steel, however, it’s by far the best type of grill for getting restaurant-quality sears.

Are Stainless Steel Grills Better than Cast Iron Grills?

When it comes to the differences between stainless steel and cast iron grills, we’re talking about the grates, or cooking surfaces specifically. There are big differences in performance between the two, including heat retention and searing ability. Beyond that, cost, maintenance, and lifespan are all factors, and what matters the most to you depends on what kind of grilling you’ll be doing.

Heat Retention/Searing

Cast iron grates retain heat much better than stainless steel grates. This means that cast iron will give you better sear marks far more consistently and with shorter cook times than stainless steel, since it transfers heat more efficiently and the cooking surface remains hot even as charcoal dies down. Most restaurant chefs prefer cast iron grills for this reason.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Stainless steel is far easier to clean and maintain than cast iron. Cast iron needs to be seasoned to gain non-stick properties, and cleaning it properly is far more difficult since regular soap and water cleaning can easily strip the seasoning. Cast iron can also rust fairly easily and is more subject to the elements.

Lifespan

Another major difference between cast iron and stainless steel is lifespan. With proper care and cleaning, cast iron products can last a lifetime, but they are susceptible to rust if cleaned incorrectly or left wet for an extended period. Stainless steel, on the other hand, varies quite a bit in quality from model to model, but it can’t compete with the longevity of cast iron, even with the best of care.

Cost

Cast iron products can be quite expensive, though you can find relatively inexpensive cast iron grills on the market, depending on size and features. Stainless steel grills have the advantage here, coming in a wide range of price points, including plenty of entry-level models in the $150-200 range.

F.A.Q.S

Is it better to cook with cast iron or stainless steel?

If you’re looking for the best sear, the higher temperatures and better heat retention of cast iron will give you restaurant-quality results, especially with charcoal grills. While great sears are possible with stainless steel grill grates, it’s more difficult.


Which kind of grill lasts longer?

Cast iron grills, like all cast iron products, can last a lifetime with the proper care. Conversely, stainless steel grills can vary considerably in terms of the quality of the steel, and while many can last years, they can’t match cast-iron models.


How do you clean cast iron cooking grates?

The best way to clean cast iron is to wait till the grates are cool, then spray a degreaser on the grates and allow them to sit for a few minutes. Finally, use a brass bristle brush or stainless steel scrubber to clean the grates.



STAT: Cast iron contains 2%-4% carbon, as well as substances like silicon, manganese, sulfur, and phosphorus in various amounts. (source)

Warning

While cast iron grills can last a lifetime with proper care, they’re more vulnerable to rust and other environmental hazards, and are more tedious to clean than stainless steel models.

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