Why Stainless Steel Cookware?

A little history

Metal cooking utensils have been in common use for centuries. Stainless Steel cookware is a more recent development.

The smelting of Stainless Steel (an iron-nickel-chromium alloy) didn’t occur until 1910 when Harry Brearley (under the employ of John Brown Laboratories and Thomas Firth & Sons, England) sought to smelt a metal resistant to rust, erosion and corrosion-a metal adaptable to military use, capable of withstanding nature and the intense heat fluctuations common to repeat firing arms.

Metallurgical studies dating back to the early 1820’s (Berthier, France), the 1870’s (Woods and Clark, Britain), and refined in 1909 (Giesen, England) pointed Brearley in the direction of an 18/10 chromium/nickel blended alloy to meet his performance criteria. Brearly’s alloy, known today as t304 Stainless Steel (one of the 300 series of ‘austhenitic’ Stainless Steel) also contained a host of additional benefits-durable, nonporous, mirror-like sheen impervious to stain, easily molded, cleaned, polished and chemically inert (nontoxic).

Given the unique character of surgical grade Stainless Steel, Brearly’s t304 alloy has proved far more advantageous as surgical instrumentation and cookware than bullet casings. The unique properties of t304 Stainless Steel produce the most hygienic, impervious (non-erosive, non-corrosive, non-porous, non-toxic, non-stick) cooking surface available in the cookware marketplace.

  • non-erosive (will not leach, flake, peel or degrade into foods)
  • non-corrosive (will not rust, tarnish or react to water, air, salt; no seasoning or tempering-wash in soapy water)
  • non-porous (will not house bacteria in microscopic pores as will cast iron or other soft metals-copper, aluminum, etc.)
  • non-toxic (t304 Stainless Steel is totally chemically inert)
  • non-stick (real foods contain all the essential fats and fluids necessary to release themselves from a hot surface-excessive heat causes sticking, charring & burning, not the cookware).

These unique characteristics are but the advantages of Brearly’s base alloy. Advancements in the fabrication of Stainless Steel cookware over the past fifty years has evolved to a point where Stainless Steel cookery is recognized as and has proven to be the epitome of safe, healthy, food-friendly cooking utensils.

When assessing all the common base metals involved in today’s cookware (aluminum, ionized aluminum, copper, titanium, cast iron, ceramic/glass and synthetic-coated cookware), Harold McGee says of t304 Stainless Steel cookware; “…these hybrids are the closest thing we have to the ideal chemically inert but thermally responsive pan.” (On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen, Scribner 2004, page 791).

By “hybrids”, McGee is referring to today’s Multi-Ply Stainless Steel cookware, fabricated with multiple layers of Stainless Steel-5-plies, or 7 plies, or 9 plies for example. To understand the importance of this ideal, it helps to understand the fundamentals of real food and cooking-not the act of cooking just, but the true intent of cooking.

Cooking is actually a moment of truth, a culmination of nature’s food cycle, a moment when the vital cache of earth’s nutrient goodness is tastefully enhanced or sadly wasted. A pot or pan is more than an appliance to heat processed food material or boil away nature’s precious minerals, vitamins, enzymes and antioxidants. Real food deserves better. There’s simply more to the enriching soils of organic vegetables and free-range meats, more to engage the palate, the nose, the eyes, more to savor and certainly more to revitalize and re-energize. We are, after all, only as healthy as the health of that which we eat. To that end, pots and pans are a huge contributor to the nutritional and savory fate of foods. Much can be gained or lost in the simple act of cooking.

What are we really losing when this fundamental intent is lost to convenience?…when our diet (served at today’s dining table) is laced in fats & oils (fried), cleansed of natural nutrients (boiled) or simply re-heated from pre-cooked, highly processed foods (canned, frozen, boxed, etc)?

Today’s ‘cooking’ is not cooking at all; far from it. The high price we pay, of course, is abundantly displayed in hospital emergency rooms and verified in the red ink of a fattened and nearly bankrupt health care system. Maybe it’s time to return to the fundamentals of real food and healthy cooking practices.

Alicia D. Walker

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