BBQ Stainless Steel Guide: What steel grade makes the best BBQ?
When choosing your new BBQ or learning about your BBQ, one subject that consistently comes up is the stainless steel quality.
There are more than 150 types of stainless steel, so it’s easy to get lost. All types of stainless steel, called inox, are made of iron and contain at least 10% chrome, which make them rust resistant. They contain other elements like nickel, which will affect the resistance, durability, the look and also the magnetism.
There’s a myth in the BBQ world that says that stainless steel is magnetic and thus isn’t as good at resisting high heat. While it’s easy to compare products just using these points, you really need to consider more before you decide on a stainless steel grade.
What are the two most common types of BBQ stainless steel?
The two most common types of stainless steel for us in grills are austenitic and ferritic.
304 grade is the most common type of austenitic steel, and contains more nickel and less steel in the alloy. This type of steel is higher quality and higher cost. However, only the most expensive cookers use 304 exclusively, since most grills use more than two types of steel.
The 304 stainless steel is a widely-used steel, especially with BBQs. It’s highly used among high-end grills, and it is not magnetic. It is now a BBQ staple material. The mix is composed of 18% chrome, between 8% and 10% nickel and a max carbon level of 0.008%. It is highly resistant to exterior elements and high-temperature cooking. All of that comes at a cheap price with a very nice look.
The 443 stainless steel is more rare, but it is gaining notoriety in the BBQ world. It’s the most rust-resistant type of stainless steel, and, contrary to the general thought, it is magnetic due to its high level of chrome. This type of steel has a good level of chrome, but mostly titanium. The titanium guarantees stability when exposed to high temperature. This special mix allows an even greater resistance to external elements like humidity, salt, and rust.
According to The Grill Father, Although most Ferritic alloys cannot compete with Austenitic alloys in terms of durability, the high level of Chromium in 443 makes it at least as corrosion-resistant as 304. Also, when compared to 304, 443 expands even less with heat, which means less stress and less warping. Remember, since 443 has high levels of Chromium, it is magnetic. This does NOT mean, however, that it is a low quality stainless! Even with a magnet on it, Chromium is one of the most corrosion-resistant metals around!
The most common ferritic steel, called 430, is not as durable and it is harder to weld properly. 430 contains more steel and it is magnetic.
The 430 stainless steel is usually used as a finishing material for the BBQ doors and panels. Its high level of iron makes it fragile to high temperature. This is because iron expands and it makes it prone to rust. It’s a high-quality mix, but it should not be used for the tank or the burner.
Amazing Ribs writes that the most significant problem with cheap grills is they often use very thin 430 stainless. These lightweight machines are pretty and shiny on the showroom floor but vulnerable to the demands of grilling. They can quickly develop minute stress fractures that lead to corrosion and reduced performance. They also lose their shine quickly and need polishing to maintain their sexy showroom look.
430 is not as durable as 304 and it is harder to weld properly.
The 201 stainless steel grade is used when building super high-end BBQs, writes the Grill Father. It’s a mix that gives a nice, economic and durable look because nickel has been replaced by nitrogen. On the other hand, nitrogen is less resistant to rust than nickel, and that’s why it’s not used as much. This stainless steel is not magnetic, even though it’s less durable and contain chrome.
Some grills are also using 201 and 202 stainless, which has recently become very popular. Although they are Austenitic alloys, like 304, these alloys are not comparable to 304 in terms of durability and resistance to corrosion. They were created to cut the cost of Austenitic alloys by replacing most of the Nickel with Manganese or Nitrogen.
According to The Grill Father, the problem with this is that neither Manganese nor Nitrogen are nearly as resistant to corrosion as Nickel. So, although these alloys are NOT magnetic, they do not stand up to the elements nearly as well as 304 or 443. 201/202 is not very corrosion-resistant, especially under high temperatures, but low cost has made it more and more commonly used. Don’t let the magnet deceive you.
Cleaning your grill
All stainless steel shows dirt, dust, grease, and rainspots and maintaining it is a constant task that many of us simply don’t give much energy to.
Warm soapy water with a clean water rinse works well. Do not burnish stainless steel with a circular motion. Rub, wipe and polish in the direction of the grain. Do not use abrasive pads or steel wool. Covering your grill will keep it cleaner and extend its life.
Legendary grillmaster and New York Times bestselling author Meathead Goldwyn told the website this:
“I have a well-worn Char-Broil made with 430 and it is holding up fine after many years of heavy use. It looks like crap because I don’t cover it. If you are a neat freak you’ll go crazy polishing your smoker. But it’s a barbecue for cryin’ out loud. Who cares if it’s dirty on the outside?”
Our final advice
Magnetism doesn’t represent the quality of the stainless steel used. However, it’s good to know the type of alloy that’s used. For example, we recommend 304 or 443 stainless steel instead of the 430 for the pieces in contact with heat.
If you are choosing between stainless and other materials, writes Amazing Ribs, select in favor of thickness. Thick powder coated steel or enamelled steel will retain heat better than thin stainless and if properly coated, they will not rust. And coated steel is cheaper than stainless.
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