In addition to the type of meats and seasonings you use, the type of surface you use when barbecuing can have a profound effect on the outcome of your meals. If you go shopping for a grill, whether gas or charcoal, you'll notice that grills come with a variety of cooking surfaces, which include steel, stainless steel, porcelain-coated and cast iron. Cast iron is an alloy of iron and carbon that is hard but relatively brittle in comparison to steel. Despite being brittle, it has several advantages for barbecue cooking.
One of the main benefits of a cast-iron grilling surface, or grate, is that it can hold heat for long periods of time. When barbecuing, this translates to meats cooking quickly and developing the pronounced sear lines that make barbecued meats both delicious and aesthetically pleasing. Cast iron also has the advantage of being heavy. This makes for a sturdy cooking surface that does not shift or shake when you are flipping or repositioning meats. A further advantage of barbecuing with cast iron is that, unlike with its stainless steel and porcelain-coated counterparts, it is not prone to chipping. Chipping causes cooking surfaces to become uneven, which makes meats and other foods more likely to stick.
A main disadvantage of barbecue cooking on a cast iron surface is maintenance. In comparison to other grilling surfaces, cast iron surfaces require more work to keep them barbecuing foods optimally. This disadvantage stems from the fact that cast-iron surfaces produce intense amounts of heat. The intense heat causes grease to vaporize quickly, increasing the possibility of foods sticking to cast-iron surfaces. Even if you barbecue greasy foods regularly on a cast-iron surface, which can help replenish the supply of grease, this practice alone will not ensure that the entire surface remains greased.
The process of deliberately coating a cast-iron grilling surface with grease is known as seasoning. According to the online barbecue resource Barbecue Tricks, if you barbecue regularly throughout the year, you should season your cast-iron grilling surface once a month. Otherwise, if you only barbecue in the summer, you should season your cast-iron grilling surface twice: once at the beginning of the barbecue season and once at the end of the barbecue season. A common strategy for seasoning cast iron is to heat up your grill and repeatedly coat the surface with lard shortening until the cast iron takes on a deep, black color.
In addition to seasoning a cast-iron grilling surface, it is important to clean it regularly. Cleaning will help the surface retain grease, which optimizes barbecuing conditions. For best results, scrape residue from the cast iron using a metal scraper and then scrub the surface thoroughly with a stiff, wire brush.