How Different Steels Can Help You Bridge the Gap
St. Louis in 1874 had itself a problem. River trade was dwindling, and the city needed something which could handle the mass of the ever popular locomotive. With the help of designer and builder James B. Eads, they proceeded to build the world’s first ever steel bridge. For more than a hundred years, steel has been bridging the gap between problem and solution. Today, the same is still true for you and your restaurant. Let's take a look at how steel is helping you succeed and accomplish your goals.
Simply put, steel is a mixture of iron and one or more other metals or non-metallic materials. The steel’s “grade” will depend on what elements were used when the steel was made. This is important because these different "recipes" come with different properties and price tags. Not all steel is created equal – and that's a good thing. We just need to make sure you know which one you need and why. Let's check out a few that are common in foodservice.
Stainless steel is a bit of a misnomer. It can actually stain. It can, in certain conditions, even rust. But it earned its name and reputation because it is remarkably corrosion resistant. In a harsh world, stainless steel is the eternal optimist, smiling and shining come what may. So what is its secret?
Stainless steels are distinguished by having at least 10.5% chromium in their makeup. Like other steels, much of the rest is iron and would be vulnerable to oxidation (aka "rust"), but chromium is stainless steel's secret weapon, the key to its incredible corrosion resistance. When these alloys are exposed to elements (salts, acids, water, even air!) that could cause oxidation, the chromium atoms are the first responders. Throwing themselves in front of the iron, these chrome heros are themselves oxidized and form a passive, protective layer on the face of the steel. Of course, this is just part of the story. There are many types of stainless steel, each with key players (nickel, manganese, and nitrogen, to name a few). These different types have different properties and different applications. You may want to read more to ensure you're getting the right stainless for the right job.
Chromium, nickel, and the other components in stainless steel are not cheap, which is why stainless steel options come at a premium. But when you want something to last, it's hard to beat the strength and longevity of stainless. It's the go-to for sinks, prep-table surfaces, and pretty much anything which comes in contact with food.
Galvanized steel is distinct from stainless steel, but it is also known for being rust-resistant. While stainless steel has its defenders (chromium) mixed throughout the metal, galvanized steel has them just at the surface in a thin layer of zinc. This is broadly effective at keeping rust at bay and offers an economical solution for corrosion resistance but it does have its limitations. It has a slightly less smooth feel and doesn't clean as well as stainless. More importantly, if the zinc barrier is breached (by deep scratches, acidic materials, salt water, etc), there is no defense against corrosion. The happy news is that most quality manufacturers (the type we carry!) know where galvanized steel is a good fit and where it is not. By using galvanized steel strategically, they fight to keep the equipment cost lower for you without sacrificing performance or durability. Look for galvanized steel in things like undershelves, prep table legs, or the tops of equipment installed under a counter. Since these things are less likely to see surface wear, they’re perfectly suited for galvanized steel.
While stainless and galvanized steel will be what you see most often, there are a few other types which are special in their own right. The first of these being aluminized steel. Similar to galvanized steel, aluminized steel is hot-dipped, but instead of zinc, manufacturers use an aluminium-silicon alloy. This process causes aluminized steel to handle heat well, and stand up to salt corrosion and humidity better than galvanized would. You’ll mainly find this type of steel in equipment chassis.
Next, we have carbon steel. When most people hear "carbon steel", if anything comes to mind, it's probably a knife blade. Knives are regularly made with ultra-high carbon steel to be extremely strong and hold a keen edge. But this is not the only use of carbon steel. Even at lower carbon levels, its strength and affordability make it a great material for everything from equipment frames to food pans to our hydromechanical grease traps. Like most iron products, many carbon steels are prone to rust, so this is usually only appropriate where it will not be exposed to harsh elements or where the steel will be coated (as with our grease traps).
A subset of carbon steel is our final type of steel, mild steel. This type, unlike its name, is also quite sturdy. In fact, it’s so strong, it’s almost considered cast iron. Because of it’s Herculean fortitude, it’s popular in everything from pipelines to pots. It also has a proclivity to resist heat. Because of this and its ability to work well with grease and oil, it’s often used in fryers.
So, whether it’s innovating bridges, or innovating the effectiveness of your kitchen, steel has its reason for being renown. Found in almost every piece of restaurant equipment today, it’s a special part of the kitchen. And hopefully, now that you know more, you can enjoy it’s revolutionary qualities a little bit more as well.To learn more about stainless steel, check out Demystifying Stainless Steel: What You Need to Know.