Great grilled food starts with a good cooking grid. It’s the secret to sensational sear marks, that sought-after crusty exterior, and maximum grill flavor. If your cooking grid is rusted, warped or burned through in spots, it might be time to replace it. Here’s what you need to know if you’re in the market for a new one.
Why is a good cooking grid important?
Outdoor grilling almost always involves three types of heat energy to cook food: radiant – the infrared energy generated by a charcoal or gas fire that excites and heats the molecules within food; convection – the movement of hot air inside the closed hood of the grill; and conduction – when food comes in direct contact with a hot surface. Cooking grids are responsible for conduction cooking and are what makes grilling … well, grilling.
Most cooking grids are made from one of five materials – chrome-plated steel, porcelain-coated steel, cast iron, porcelain-coated cast iron, and stainless steel. Each offers distinct differences in durability, how they retain and transfer heat, how easy they are to clean and maintain, and how much they cost.
The bars within a cooking grid come in different shapes and thicknesses and can be spaced close together, wide apart or somewhere in between. The configuration of the grid can impact cooking performance almost as much as the material they’re made of.
HOT TIP: Wider bars on a cooking grid offer more surface area for contact with the meat. This creates more pronounced grill marks.
The five main cooking grid materials:
- Chrome-plated steel grids usually have thin, widely spaced rods. They lack the surface area and heat retention needed for good searing. These grids are also significantly less durable, and tend to warp, pit and rust with use. On the plus side, they clean easily, but repeated rough scraping can remove the chrome surface and shorten their lifespan. These grids are considerably less expensive than other types of grids and may be just fine for infrequent grillers on a budget.
- Porcelain-coated steel grids are also configured with widely spaced, thin rods. The porcelain coating protects the steel, lessens food from sticking, and helps the grids last longer. They can be cleaned easily with a brass-bristle brush or non-abrasive scraper. Just be careful not to chip the porcelain, otherwise rust could develop. These cost slightly more than chrome grids, but are still very reasonably priced.
- Cast iron grilling grids are heavy-duty, super-durable, and offer the best heat retention of any grid material. They usually have thick bars to create awesome grill marks, and sometimes are configured with valleys between the bars to catch and vaporize drippings to add even more grill flavor to food. The downside is they require some upkeep. Like a cast iron skillet, cast iron grilling grids must be continually “seasoned” with a coating of oil to keep them clean, rust-free and performing at their peak. But, with proper care, they’ll last a long, long time.
- Porcelain-coated cast iron grids hold slightly less heat, but otherwise, have all the benefits of cast iron grilling grids, plus one more. The glossy coating spares the need for frequent oiling and other maintenance hassles. As with all porcelain coatings, you must be careful not to chip the surface through rough scraping or dropping an errant spatula.
- Stainless steel grids are considered the most premium, durable, and long-lasting option, but are also the most premium-priced. The rods, whether thin or thick, hold heat well for a good sear. Other advantages: the stainless steel material is easy to clean with most any type of brush, scraper or grill-cleaning tool, and will not rust, chip, or corrode.
HOT TIP: To make those iconic, cross-hatch grill marks, rotate food a quarter turn halfway through the cooking time required on the first side. Then repeat the process on the second side.
A pound of prevention…
A little ongoing maintenance will help preserve your cooking grid for years to come, no matter the material or configuration. Whether you’re grilling filet mignon or a humble hot dog, it’s important to start with a clean, hot, oiled cooking grid.
For a complete list of replacement cooking grids, select your brand and model.
Lisa Mayer June 16th, 2015
Posted In: BBQ Maintenance, BBQing HowTos