Pros: Cleans easily; requires no extensive seasoning process
Cons: Light weight may translate into a shorter useful life span than stainless steel grates.
We live in a Weber household. All grilling and barbecuing around these parts take place on our Weber grills for good reason. I have a fear of cheap grills. It is just that simple and I base that fear on experience.
Equal Half and I once purchased a bargain Sunbeam model that looked good and appeared to fit our needs. Encased in a metal frame, a narrow window on the front of the hood gave a birds eye view of whatever was in the process of charring beyond recognition. The concept made sense and the grill worked well enough for the first few months that we suffered no buyers remorse.
Year-round residents of the Deep South will attest to the fact that even top of the line grills rarely stand up well to humid conditions. Within four months, the fittings and screws on the Sunbeam began to fail. The grill teetered on rusty legs for a few moments each time I moved it into position.
The last straw as far as the usefulness and safety of this less than desirable product arrived with fanfare and fireworks. After placing six steaks on the grids, closing the lid and taking a giant step back, the glass window imploded. Expensive meat bore signs of deeply embedded shimmering shrapnel and that money-saving cooking appliance hit the trash pile.
Since that less than savory experience, we put our trust in Weber Grills. Over the years, we purchased the small Spirit 500 and later on, we opted for the evolved version of the Spirit, the Genesis Silver A. Finally, we went all out when doling out the dollars for the Summit 450.
Weber sells the Silver and Summit series grills in a number of different configurations depending upon what the retailer or direct purchase consumer requests. Home Depot, where we made our last two purchases, offers an automatic upgrade on cooking grates. Instead of the porcelain on steel grids most often found on the base models or the stainless steel grates on the higher end grills, Home Depot sold their Weber gas grill models with cast iron grates.
Both the Summit we use now and the Genesis Silver A model we purchased as a gift came with cast iron grates. Once the grates go through a rather extensive and repetitive seasoning process, they do perform well. Had we chosen to live anywhere that humidity is not an issue, the cast iron would continue to be the perfect choice. We always believed nothing comes close to grilling, smoking or cooking on cast iron. The grid marks appear more distinctive and the favor seems enhanced.
Unhappily, cast iron and the sunny south make a sad coupling. Add to the mix an overly helpful customer service person at point of purchase and it is a recipe for disaster. The service person guided us through the seasoning procedure and then gave us a hint about creating a self-cleaning environment. He told us to turn the gas control knobs all the way up to the highest setting immediately after taking all the food off the grill. In ten minutes, turn off the heat and once the thermometer reaches the coolest level, brush off the grill plates.
The man sounded so authoritative and knowledgeable, we failed to question his advice. Logic dictates that making a practice of excessively heating any empty cast iron vessel dries out the metal and it becomes brittle. If speeding up the deterioration process sounds like a fun pastime, I present the following poor advice given to us by that same helpful customer service person:
Thanks to following some stellar advice (insert appropriate sarcastic facial expression here), we turned our cast iron grids into rusted metal matchsticks. As per the expert directions received, once each month we covered the grid with heavy-duty aluminum foil and turned the heat up to bonfire level. For ten short minutes, the grates suffered a lack of oxygen along with punishing heat. After the Weber completely cooled, we removed the crusty, ash covered foil to find the cleanest cooking grates this side of new. Three years into the cycle of ritual abuse, our high-end cast iron grates deteriorated into dust.
Hello Happy Camper!
Ready for a the altercation of the millennium, I picked up the phone, dialed Webers toll-free support line and seethed like a victim of some elaborate scam. Resigned to shelling out at least a hundred dollars including shipping, I decided to give whoever picked up the call my rendition of George Carlins Seven Words You Cannot Say On Television.
By the time we got through the requisite verification of ownership process, the momentum built up during the development of my venomous plan lost steam. Any fly braving a nearby wall can attest to the fact that I handled my end of things in a less than cordial manner at first. Explaining the events leading up to the demise of my beloved cast iron grates, I heard my voice cracking and bending into a most unattractive whine.
The telephone service person immediately understood the issues I systematically listed. She immediately informed me that although the grids carry a three-year warranty and my grill passed that mark months earlier, she wanted to send me a set of replacement grids no charge!
We discussed how to not repeat that dreadful experience of innocently though methodically turning perfectly wonderful cooking grates into mulch. The representative placed me on hold, while Equal Half and I discussed whether to take the offer of replacing the grates with identical ones or opting for the porcelain or stainless steel versions. Knowing that humid conditions could bring about a similar end to the new grates and not being especially fond of stainless steel cookware, we decided upon the porcelain enamel cooking grates.
Burn Baby Burn!
We knew when agreeing to accept the porcelain grates that their intended for use is with Genesis Silver series model grills. The dimensions of the cooking area of our Summit 450 match those of the Genesis Silver.
Our new grates arrived the next day, just as we finished our annual maintenance on the grill. A quick hand washing with dish detergent and we slid them into place. The two grates combined weighed less than a single cast iron grid but we refused to let that spoil the joy of having a safe cooking surface, once again.
The telephone representative mentioned coating the grates with oil before first use followed by preheating for the usual ten minutes before cooking. Clean-up instructions turned out to be the exact opposite of what the first service person directed us to do with the cast iron grates. Both the Weber site and the accompanying paperwork advise:
"Do the Burn Off
To clean the porcelain grates on your gas grill, before grilling turn all burners to High until the smoke stops, then brush the grates with a brass brush."
In the months since receiving the replacements, we found no negatives concerning our trading down to porcelain enamel. Webers quality carries through every product line bearing their logo.
We expected less attractive grill marks on the food when using the replacements. The narrower grid marks on food grilled on the original cast iron equaled an ideal any professional or back yard chef would envy. The wider, half-round columns making up the porcelain grates create equally attractive though wider spaced searing marks. No matter what the design on top of our steaks, burgers, chicken and fish, the results are equally superb.
My House, Bring Dessert
The trial run of our Weber Porcelain Enamel Grates lasted six months. We use our grill an average of six days each week so our test run might approximate several seasons of outdoor cooking for under normal conditions. What might even out the comparative test results is the simple fact that no testosterone-laden individual has ever touched those grids or even flicked the ignition switch on the grill other than during routine maintenance and not without the benefit of close supervision.
Let this critique serve as testament that the art of grilling is not just a macho-mans domain. The old boys club may need to rethink a few membership policies when it comes down to creative cremation of the daily variety.
That said, maybe I should mention that this review is part of the Manly Man Write-Off hosted by none other than Hawgwyld and Joubert. These men chose to mark their Third Epinions Anniversaries by inviting this sites members to join in on this most macho of all events. Happily, this works so much better than leaving ones scent in the usual manner and is not considered a misdemeanor in most states.
Please join in the celebration by visiting the Manly Man website creatively camouflaged by char.mike: