Guide to Stainless Steel
by Tracy Zeidler
Stainless steel is one of the most prevalent materials in today’s kitchens. It’s used in everything from cookware to appliances to dishware to flatware, but how do you choose the right stainless steel products, and is it safe?
Stainless steel is durable, easy to sanitize and corrosion resistant to various acids found in milk, meats, fruits and vegetables. And most importantly, stainless steel is a safe option when it comes to food and beverage, as there are no chemicals that can migrate into your food from these products.
That being said, all the numbers swirling around stainless steel can make it a confusing material to understand, let alone confidently purchase. Have you ever wondered what the difference is between the different grades of stainless steel (304, 430, 220, etc.)? Or, what do the different numbers mean (18/8, 18/10, 18/0, etc.)?
The “grade” of stainless steel refers to its quality, durability and temperature resistance. The numbers (18/8, 18/10, etc.) are the composition of the stainless steel and refer to the amount of chromium and nickel (respectively) in the product.
Example: A manufacturer will purchase Grade 304 stainless steel from a steel mill, which has a range of 18-20% chromium, and 8-10% nickel content
So, what do these numbers mean?
18/8 and 18/10 Stainless Steel
These are also known as 304 Grade, are part of the 300 series of stainless steel and are the two most common grades of stainless steel used for food preparation and dining. The first number, 18, refers to the amount of chromium present and the second number represents the amount of nickel. For example, 18/8 stainless steel is comprised of 18% chromium and 8% nickel.
304 grade stainless steel is also comprised of no more than 0.8% carbon and at least 50% iron. Chromium helps bind oxygen to the surface of the stainless steel product to protect the iron from oxidation (rust). Nickel enhances the corrosion resistance of stainless steel and therefore, the higher the nickel content, the more resistant the stainless steel is to corrosion.
18/0 Stainless Steel
This is commonly referred to at Type 430 stainless steel and is part of the 400 series. 18/0 stainless steel contains a negligible amount of nickel (0.75%) and therefore has a reduced corrosion resistance (is more likely to rust); yet the 400 grade is still very hard and durable. Unlike the 300 series stainless steel, the 400 series is magnetic.
200 Series Stainless Steel
You may often find stainless steel water bottles and food containers made from 200 series stainless steel. These are typically less expensive than 304 grade as manufacturers essentially substitute manganese for nickel. Although food safe, 200 series stainless steel is not as resistant to corrosion as 304 grade is and likely will not last as long.
What about stainless steel cookware and bakeware?
Stainless steel is a great alternative for cookware and bakeware considering the dangers of Teflon but it is not a great conductor of heat. For bakeware this isn’t a problem, but rather a benefit because it allows the oven to cook the food, not the pan. However, on the stove or cook top, stainless steel alone won’t do the trick, which is why pots and pans are typically made of tri-ply construction. In the case of a stainless steel frying pan, an aluminum core is sandwiched between two layers of 18/10 stainless steel allowing heat to distribute evenly across the pan.
What about stainless steel flatware?
When it comes to flatware, people often assume that 18/10 is heavier in weight. Actually, there is no difference between 18/8 and 18/10 flatware when it comes to weight. The additional nickel in 18/10 flatware makes it a bit sturdier (meaning the tines of a fork are slightly more difficult to bend back and forth). The additional nickel also lends itself to a shinier surface.
Is stainless steel safe?
At MightyNest, we believe that stainless steel is one of the safest materials to use in the kitchen. When stainless steel is not an option, other safe materials include glass, cast iron, wood, ceramics with lead-free glaze and bamboo as there are no chemicals that can migrate into your food from these products.
This is a guest post by Tracy Zeidler from MightyNest.com, a unique website that provides you the ability to research, get advice and buy safe, healthy non-toxic alternatives to everyday products including stainless steel cookware.
Image Credit: Creative Commons photo by bcmom