Have you ever been bamboozled by terms when shopping for stainless steel cookware? You know the sort of thing I mean – 304 stainless steel, 18/8 stainless steel, 430 stainless steel, austenitic stainless steel…sometimes it seems like manufacturers just throw these terms around to impress us and get us to buy their products!
Apart from clever marketing tactics, these terms do actually mean something about the type of stainless steel that has been used. And that’s what we’ll be exploring here, let’s take a look at what these terms mean and what type of stainless steel is best for your cookware.
Firstly, in case there was any doubt in your mind, let’s remember why stainless steel is a great choice of material for manufacturing cookware.
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Why Use Stainless Steel Cookware?
Stainless steel is a type of iron-based alloy that contains a minimum of approximately 11% chromium, a composition that prevents the iron from rusting as well as providing heat-resistant properties.
Being able to withstand high temperatures and resist rust are obviously two important properties of stainless steel that make it a great choice for cookware. Besides their sleek and beautiful shiny look, there are many other reasons for choosing stainless steel cookware. Here are some of those reasons.
One of the reasons that you should choose a stainless steel pot or pan for your daily cooking needs is that it is incredibly durable and strong. They are long lasting and can withstand a lot of pressure.
As many layers of steel there are, the stronger and more durable the stainless steel cookware is going to be. Good quality stainless steel cookware should last a very long time.
Even Heat Distribution
When it comes to even heat distribution, stainless steel cookware offers a lot of balanced distribution to all sides.
Whereas if you take a cast iron pan or copper cookware, you’re going to see that the distribution of heat is not as even, which might cause longer cooking periods and uneven cooking.
Easy to Clean
Another great thing about stainless steel cookware is that it’s easy to clean. As the name suggests, the steel is “stainless” so most foods won’t leave any permanent marks or stains on your cookware.
Usually all it takes is a quick hand wash in the sink to have your cookware looking clean, shiny and new again. As an added bonus, most stainless steel cookware is also dishwasher safe – it doesn’t get much easier than that!
Stainless steel is probably the most common material used to make pots and pans these days which has brought the cost of these, once very expensive items, down to a much more affordable range. In addition to that, stainless steel cookware is reasonably less-expensive as compared to cast iron skillets and copper or carbon steel pans.
Once you factor in how long this type of cookware will last, their affordability becomes even more recognisable – think of them as an investment that will last you for years.
Types of Stainless Steel used for Cookware
First of all, not all types of stainless steel are food grade. Obviously to be used to produce cookware, manufacturers are reduced to using only a few types of stainless steel, ones that are safe for food.
Most types of stainless steel cannot be used for cookware of any type. However, there are some special types of stainless steel that can be used for cookware, and these are considered “food grade”. Here are those “food grade” types of stainless steel explained.
430 Stainless Steel VS 304 Stainless Steel
When it comes to food grade stainless steel, 304 and 430 stainless steel belong to different families, the “300 series” and the “400 series”. Of the 400 series it is 430 stainless steel which is most commonly used for cookware and, in the 300 series, 304 stainless steel is the one manufacturers choose.
Here are the details and the properties of both types for a brief comparison.
430 Stainless Steel
430 Stainless steel is one of the most commonly used types of food grade Ferritic stainless steels. Ferritic stainless steel contains high chromium content and low carbon content. They are magnetic in nature. 430 Stainless Steel has great corrosion resistance and can be easily maintained in a cookware form.
In the kitchen, 430 stainless steel can be used for a variety of purposes. Here are some of them.
- Cooking Pans
- Large Induction Pots
- Cooling Racks
- Pizza Cutters
Also referred to as 18/0 stainless steel because of its composition since there is 18% chromium and 0% nickel in it, 430 stainless steel is one of the best cookware materials in the market as of now.
304 Stainless Steel
304 stainless steel is a type of Austenitic stainless steel which is very commonly used in cooking equipment. Austenitic stainless steel products are non-magnetic and contain high levels of chromium in them. 304 stainless steel is durable, strong and resistive to corrosion, making it another good choice for cookware.
Here are some of the common cooking applications of 304 stainless steel.
- Food Processors
- Cooking Appliances
- Bowls and Containers
- Baking Trays/Pans
There are two compositions under the 304 stainless steel. The 18/10, which means there is 18% chromium and 10% nickel and the 18/8, which refers to 18% chromium and 8% nickel composition of the 304 stainless steel.
As far as cooking and cookware goes, there’s really not any difference between 18/8 and 18/10 – you certainly won’t be able to tell the difference.
18/10 VS 18/8 VS 18/0 Stainless Steel – What’s the difference?
As explained before, the 18/ terminology refers to the composition of the stainless steel. Each of these types of steel has 18% chromium coupled with either 10%, 8% or 0% nickel.
So, while both 304 and 430 stainless steel contain 18% chromium. 304 stainless steel will also have either 10% or 8% nickel while 430 stainless steel does not contain any nickel.
The advantage of the added nickel is that it makes the stainless steel more corrosion resistant. The disadvantage of the added nickel is the extra expense – 304 stainless steel is more expensive to produce thanks to the cost of the extra nickel.
When it comes to choosing between the two types of stainless steel, it really comes down to its intended purpose.
While not quite as corrosion resistant as the 304, 430 stainless steel is in fact still resistant to corrosion and may be the better option for the application in mind, especially if it will make a significant difference to the affordability of the product.
Is Stainless Steel Magnetic or Not?
This is a question we get asked a lot! It’s funny, some people will swear to me that “pure”, or “real” stainless steel is magnetic, while others will tell you it’s not. (If you don’t believe me just check out some Amazon reviews for items made from stainless steel – there are debates raging on on there from people with differing views!)
Let’s put an end to the myth surrounding the magnetic properties of stainless steel. The truth of the matter is…it depends! Most are, but not all.
See, there is no right or wrong to this question – some types of stainless steel are magnetic and some are not. As stainless steel is an alloy, it depends on the composition of each stainless steel to determine its magnetic properties.
For the two types of food grade stainless steel discussed on this page you may have noticed that one type, the 430, is magnetic while the other type, the 304 is not.
Whether stainless steel is magnetic or not tells you nothing about the “purity” of the stainless steel – you can have high (and low) quality stainless steels with or without magnetic properties.
As explained though, most types of stainless steel are magnetic. Here are some of the magnetic types of stainless steel.
- Ferritic Stainless Steel
- Martensitic Stainless Steel
- Duplex Stainless Steel
But then, on the flip side, there is also non-magnetic stainless steel, also known as Austenitic stainless steel.
Austenitic Stainless Steel
The only type of stainless steel which is non-magnetic is austenitic stainless steel, of which 304 stainless steel is an example. Even though there is a large composition of steel, it still doesn’t contain magnetic properties as opposed to the ferritic stainless steel that is 430 stainless steel.
Another thing to be aware of regarding the magnetic properties of stainless steel is that different procedures during the manufacturing process can actually change the stainless steel’s ability to attract magnets.
So, ultimately, the takeaway message here is, there is no point in “testing” your stainless steel cookware with magnets to see if it really is stainless steel or not! As we’ve just discussed, this will tell you nothing.
If you’re really concerned about the authenticity of the stainless steel when buying stainless steel cookware, buy your cookware from a reputable brand or business – they have no reason to lie to you, if they say it’s made from stainless steel then you can trust that it is made from stainless steel.
So, What’s The Best Stainless Steel For Cookware?
If you’ve read right through everything written on this page you can probably guess that I can’t definitively answer that question. It depends on the application and cost effectiveness.
If I had to choose, I would probably suggest that 304 is a higher quality stainless steel than 430. However, is it worth the extra dollars to have added nickel in your stainless steel?
Personally, I let the manufacturers of these products decide which type of stainless steel is best suited to whatever application my cookware is intended for.
They’re the ones with the experience and the know-how regarding which type of stainless steel would be best suited to the job – I just like to cook with it!