In Celebration of Stainless Steel
Updated: Oct 14, 2020
Years ago, before anyone had stumbled upon the minor miracle that is stainless steel, our ancestors used to eat their soup with a copper spoon—and endure an icky metallic taste with every mouthful.
Stainless steel, the most prevalent material lining the walls of commercial kitchens and flashing smartly from the appliances and pots that populate them, is an extraordinary metal for many reasons.
For one, it's famously resistant to corrosion. Its finish is not subject to flaking, peeling, or the effects of wear. Water doesn't stain this metal as it does others. It requires very little maintenance and is capable of being shined to an impressive lustre. It can be steam-cleaned and sterilized, and does not require paint or any other surface finish.
What's more, stainless steel is 100 percent recyclable, a feature whose import could not have been imagined when it was first discovered. An average stainless steel object is composed of about 60 percent recycled material, some 40 percent of which originates from end-of-life products.
All told, there are more than 150 different grades of stainless steel, but only about 15 are in common usage.
Stainless steel is the metal of choice in everything from rockets and pistols to surgical instruments and sinks.
The world was introduced to the first iteration of stainless steel in 1743 when British cutlers dipped copper in silver to reduce their utensils' unpleasant taste and called it silver plate. In 1840, the discovery of electricity made the process more affordable with the advent of electroplating. But silver had an unfortunate taste of its own.
Then, in 1913, a metallurgist called Harry Brearley discovered stainless steel in his pursuit of improved steel alloys for gun barrels. This breakthrough was delivered by way of steel coated in chromium, a combination that changed the metal's surface, made it resistant to rust, and, best of all, tasteless.
The world and all the kitchens operating within it have never looked back.