Cast iron is the best. That said, I leave the ash drawer empty but leave a nice bed of ashes on the top of the grate when I have my stove going. It is a bit of insulation. I have a Hotblast furnace that was new in 1995 and its time to get some new grates. They were original though.
In the summer, clean out all the ashes as they are corrosive if they get damp with humidity and the new ones will last a long time. There is cast iron on stoves and steam engines for a reason!
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