A cooking grate is necessary for cooking many foods on a grill or over an open fire such as a campfire. A grate not only makes the process of cooking easier but it also keeps the food from touching the fire. The overall size, the size of the slats and the width between them are all important. The type of material from which the cooking grate is made and the ease of care are also important.
Size is dependent in part upon what types of foods you will frequently be preparing using the cooking grate. First, if you are looking to purchase a cooking grate for your grill a proper fit will be important. Some types of grates will replace the current rack while others can just be set right on top of the typical grill rack. There are even interlocking grates so you can build any size you like by adding or taking away interlocking pieces.
A cooking grate with widely set slats is excellent for cooking large items such as a roast but isn’t optimum for grilling smaller items such as shrimp or veggies. A grate with widely spaced slats also won’t create that grill mark pattern that makes grilled meat look so appetizing. If you cook a variety of foods, choosing more than one type of grate may be the most convenient option.
As far as materials go, there is a good variety of cooking grates made from quality metals. They are designed to retain heat and avoid rust when given proper care. Some require more care than others. Cast iron, for example, must be properly seasoned and this must be done fairly often. Stainless steel is simpler to care for but may not last as long. There are also anodized aluminum cooking grates; anodizing creates a tough, long-lasting surface. It is very important to keep a cooking grate clean in order to make it last a long time. Some styles offer a non-stick surface, but there is also cooking spray designed especially for grilling.
For some people, the choice is just a matter of preference. Many people like the way food cooks on cast iron. Cast iron stays very hot so it will sear the outside of the food, helping to retain moistness. Food cooks in less time on a cast iron surface than it would take to cook on a grate made from another type of material.