Stainless steel has been a go-to material in the world of catering for a long time now. First seen in 1913, Harry Brearley made a discovery of ‘rustless’ steel.
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This is obviously known today as stainless steel. Used in so many products, it’s hard to go a day without coming into contact with, or at least seeing stainless steel. This is especially true for both commercial and domestic catering. But why has it become such a popular material? And why do the professionals swear by it, still?
When thinking about stainless steel you can’t help you think; strong and durable. These properties are what makes them a perfect, all-purpose material for the catering world. One of the most important things that a kitchen looks for in their tools, countertops and equipment is a reliable material that isn’t going to need replacing after a few months of use. There’s nothing worse than being in the middle of a service or rushing to get an order finished and the tools you're using break or stop working.
Having something that's going to last will also help to save money in the long term. This is an easy way to keep everyone happy and keep costs down. The longevity of stainless steel offers a lifespan that’s ideal for most commercial kitchens, their equipment needs to be long lasting and hard wearing.
An ability to withstand high temperatures also gives stainless steel worktops an edge that other worktops like MDF won't be able to live up to. Stainless steel has a melting point of around 1400°C which works in its favour. Although other materials like quartz and marble may withstand high heats too, they’re incredibly expensive, which means if they get damaged the replacement will set you back.
Having to constantly clean a commercial kitchen is a bit of a drag, but is a necessary process. Whether you’re looking to maintain hygiene or you need to clean up a spillage, a wipe down with hot soapy water and a clean cloth should do the trick.
Regular cleaning of stainless steel cupboards, worktops and sinks will help to preserve their hygienic properties if they’ve been manufactured with 304 or 316-grade materials.
One of the biggest reasons that stainless steel is so popular in the catering industry is that it works very well with food. The heat of a kitchen can sometimes be overwhelming. This heat can sometimes produce a lot of steam which is a bad thing for your kitchen depending on the materials you’re using. Let's say you have a solid wood countertop, this steam offers an opportunity for bacteria to grow and contaminate the food that you’re preparing. The use of chromium oxide means that you have a non-reactive material, so you won't get a funny taste on your food or rust forming on the worktop, knives or bowls.
Above: Ideal for Food Preparation.
Stainless Steel Grades
Stainless steel can come in a range of different grades to suit its purpose. This is a result of the composition of the steel and the alloys that are used in the manufacturing process. In the UK there are three main types/ grades of stainless steel; 304, 316 and 403.
304-grade is a very high-quality product used for a number of applications, especially in the catering industry. Some of the common uses are for things like worktops because it's completely stained resistant and with no possibility of rust with normal use. 304 is also food-grade stainless steel that’s suitable for kitchen use which means you’re able to prepare food directly upon it if you want to.
316-grade stainless steel is also a high-quality material, it has a few added alloys that help to increase its resistance to corrosive substances and acids. While this is usually used in laboratories and industrial applications, it is sometimes necessary for catering.
430-grade offer a low-quality range of material and isn’t commonly used in the catering. It can discolour and eventually corrode in the right environment which will cost more in the long run with a number of replacements.
Perception of Quality
Whether you're an upmarket restaurant or a one-man band looking to expand, stainless steel seems like a no-brainer. Sensation transference is something that you can take into account. When your customers are picking put your cutlery, the perception of quality is important. Materials like stainless steel offer a weight factor and a natural reaction is to perceive this weight as quality in a product.
Similarly, if you're purchasing equipment for your kitchen, maybe something like a new set of knives or utensils you will usually associate the heavier items with higher quality. This can sometimes be true due to the fact that there’s likely to be more material which should last longer.
While stainless steel has a number of incredible qualities that make it perfect for a commercial and home setting, it would seem that other materials are trying to compete with it. For example, a popular material that has started to gain some traction is ceramics. Although it still has some way to go in terms of market share, ceramics do have the attention of some. However, this comes with a huge expense. Ceramic worktops can come in at extortionate prices which is why most steer clear of them. Similarly, many professional chefs have endorsed stainless steel and remain sceptical of other materials at the moment.
So stainless steel seems to be the perfect way to create and maintain a commercial kitchen. A long-lasting, durable space that can withstand a typical day of spillages, burns and high heats. Having both tools and worktops made of stainless steel creates a complimentary environment in which hygiene and cleanliness are the top priorities. While there are alternative materials out there, it just doesn’t make sense. From a cost, durability and reliability perspective stainless steel works well, there are no misconceptions; it lives up to its name.
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