This topic is one that many people are unsure of. I know I was for quite some time! There are many opinions about stainless steel. Some people say that stainless steel is completely safe and non-reactive. Some claim it can leach dangerous heavy metals into food. It is regarded as the best cookware and should be used by everyone. It’s safe only if it’s magnet steel. This sounds familiar. It’s possible you have heard it before. That’s what I considered the best way to check for quality. You might find some additional information I have since discovered.
Let’s get started with the magnetic thing. This topic is confusing!
What’s the deal with magnetic stainless steel?
There is a rumor that the magnet test, which claims you can test the quality of stainless steel using a magnet. This test is really for austenitic steel, or made from a metal alloy that contains chromium, nickel.
There are three types of stainless steel structures: austenite, ferrite, and martensite. You will see 18/8 and 18/10 stainless steel labels. This indicates how much nickel and chromium is contained in the steel. The first number is 18% chromium and the second number is 8% or 10% Nickel. Nickel is the key ingredient in the formation of austenite stainless. Both 18/8 and 18/10 can be considered austenitic.
The “magnet test” involves attaching a magnet to stainless steel cookware. If it sticks, that means there is no nickel present. But if it doesn’t stick, it is not safe and may contain nickel (which is austenite steel). It is true that a magnet would stick to steel. This means that the alloy would not contain nickel (austenite).
This theory has a problem. There aren’t any stainless steel pans that are magnetic from the inside and the outside. Please correct me if I am wrong. I searched and searched and searched for stainless steel cookware that was magnetic on both the outside and inside.
This is a good reason. Austenitic (or nickel-containing, nonmagnetic stainless steel) is extremely resistant to corrosion, which is very important if you are cooking directly on it. The piece would corrode quickly if it was made entirely of magnetic stainless steel. It wouldn’t last long without the nickel to stabilize it. It would be nickel-free but I doubt I would want a magnetic 18/0 stainless steel plate for this purpose.
You can locate magnetic stainless steel in the layer outside containing some high quality pieces of stainless. This is because it’s compatible with induction stovetops that use a rapidly charging electromagnetic field to heat the cookware. Good quality stainless steel manufacturers use three layers of metal to ensure optimal heat conductivity. The austenite layer on the inside and the ferrite on the outside are the two main layers. Steel alone doesn’t conduct heat evenly. A lower-quality stainless steel usually only has one layer of austenitic steel.
However, there are still differences in the quality of non-magnetic and austenitic stainless metals. This is due to the manufacturing process. By “cold-working” steel, you can form ferrite or martensite. However, it is more susceptible to corrosion and leaching.
This is why austenite is used in high-quality, stainless steel cookware. This produces an austenite alloy that is extremely stable and resists corrosion and leaching. A purely magnetic stainless-steel steel could corrode and break down over time. It doesn’t even exist in the marketplace!
Anyone who has used good quality stainless steel cookware over the years can see that it is very resistant to corrosion. It also holds up well over time.
To answer your original question:
How can you tell if your stainless steel is of high quality?
You won’t know the quality of your stainless steel’s craftsmanship unless you are a metals expert. It’s best to buy stainless steel from scratch. However, there is a way you can check if your stainless cookware is reactive.
The Vinegar Test
According to my research, boiling water and a tablespoon of baking soda in a pan for a few seconds can be used to test the quality of the steel. The steel will react if the water tastes metallic.
However, I have learned that stainless steel is best understood by acidic food. This means there’s no need to worry about any leaching. Baking soda is an alkaline. So I tried a new test and did a little science experiment!
Here’s what I did.
I used a few tablespoons of plain vinegar, which is quite acidic, to fill two spoons. One was a good quality spoon and the other was a generic stainless steel spoon that I had lying around. As a control, I added some vinegar to a glass cup.
After waiting a while, I tried the vinegars from both. The vinegar from the spoon tasted identical to the vinegar in my glass cup. The vinegar in the generic stainless pan tasted more like metal than the good quality spoon’s vinegar. Blech. As I type, the taste is still there in my mouth!
My vinegar test is an excellent way to check the reactivity in stainless steel. You can try it on yours to see if it passes. If it fails, don’t panic! Avoid cooking with acidic foods like tomato-based sauces, and don’t store these foods in stainless steel.