The Importance Of The Right Grilling Surface In Outdoor Cooking

grill_gratesWhen it comes to good barbeque, we all know that your choice of fuel has a huge effect on the finished product. We also know that temperature control, smoke, and recipes are fundamental to success. We sometimes forget one of the most important aspects of outdoor cookery, the actual surface you use. A grill surface is something we often take for granted as part and parcel of the barbeque, and don’t often questions our options in cooking surfaces. In much the same way you might prefer a cast iron pan for cooking bacon, and a teflon pan for easy-over eggs, the material of your barbeque grate can change the way you grill.

The obvious dilemma in choosing a grate material is that you only get one.  Much as we might like to, changing the grate to suit your cooking needs from recipe to recipe isn’t a realistic option. When deciding on the right material for your home grill, have a look at what you typically cook, how often you do so, at what temperature, and with what sort of fuel. All these factors will play an important part in the longevity of your grill, and your success as a cook.

Gas and charcoal grills are typically furnished with grates constructed of cast iron, porcelain coated cast iron, stainless steel, plain steel or porcelain coated steel. The high heat produced by gas grills, and the speed at which they achieve it can cause problems for your cooking surface. All metals, while able to withstand great variances in temperature, do not do so well when the changes are sudden. When a gas grill is fired up and brought to temperature quickly, the changes can corrode your cooking surface over time, making it brittle and likely to chip. A chipped grill is a sticky grill, so take care to protect the surface as best you can. The heat produced by charcoal, while still high, is slower to develop and more gentle on cooking surfaces. You will see less temperature related damage to a coated grill when it is heated with charcoal.

Plain steel surfaces are a fine choice for a grill that sees low to moderate use. Over time, when exposed to high temperatures, plain steel, stainless steel and porcelain coated steel will all degrade and become prone to chipping. If you tend to cook gently, and are keen on having a coated non-stick surface, then porcelain coated grates are the way to go. Viking Grills feature high quality porcelain grates that stand up to heavy use when treated properly. They are well suited to fish and seafood, vegetables and cold smoking. It is imperative that you protect a coated grill from chips, as these will allow moisture to collect under the surface, which will eventually cause rusting and further chipping. Once a coated grill is chipped, it is no longer non-stick, and you may run into trouble cooking delicate foods.

My preference for a cooking surface will always be cast iron. I find these grates to be the most durable, the least likely to stick over time, and given the proper care, the longest lasting. Treat your cast iron grill the same way you would a trusty old frying pan, by keeping it well seasoned, clean and oiled, and free from excess moisture.

One of the reasons I like cast iron grates so much is that they not only get hot, they stay hot. Cast iron is unmatched in heat retention, and will always produce those lovely grill marks that make any cook feel like a pro. They work well with either gas or charcoal fueled grills. Great examples of cast iron grates are found in the Fuego Element Grills and The Big Green Egg.


Katie Sanders is a professional chef and freelance writer who lives and works in British Columbia. She received her culinary training in Vancouver, and went on to work in some of the city’s finest establishments as a cook and pastry chef. Her primary area of expertise is dessert, but she has a deep affinity for any food that can be consumed with a good glass of wine.

After several years of intense restaurant work, Katie decided to pursue a quieter life in the country. She now lives and works in Canada’s most prestigious wine country, the Central Okanagan.

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