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stainless steel

ok - i just heard about something called SURGICAL GRADE stainless steel. (I know, i'm probably the last to find out..)

what the heck is THAT??? does "surgical" even mean anything? i'm not using it for surgery - it's for cooking!

supposed to NOT LEACH NICKEL into my food. really?? i'd hate to have to throw out a lifetime of collecting beautiful cookware just to make sure i'm not poisoning my family.

i have a hard time believing this one folks.. anyone got any evidence? am i filing this info with sasquatch and area 51? or do i start chucking braisers and sauciers out the windows?

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  1. its a BS marketing term generally used to sell infomercial cookware particularly "waterless"

    1. Hi, rmarisco:

      Do not defenestrate your braisers and sauciers. "Surgical stainless", as used in cookware marketing, is pure bunk. It's one of the favorite ploys of the waterless hucksters.

      There *are* specialty SS alloys which resist corrosion better than 18/8 and 18/10 at very high temperatures (think refineries and power plants). One of the waterless weasels uses one of these (I looked it up once, think it was 316 or 319), but if you examine the metallurgy and physical properties, if offers no benefit short of 700C.


      1 Reply
      1. re: kaleokahu

        <Do not defenstrate your braisers and sauciers>

        you slay me, kaleo!

      2. Lmao, don't start chucking yet. I try do do most of my cooking with iron cookware for this reason

        1. Surgical grade is great for surgical tools. Nurses' bandage scissors will last forever and always look good. I don't know why that matters for cooking. I leave it to the EPA, FDA, etc. to ensure that my cooking implements aren't going to poison me.

          1 Reply
          1. re: GH1618

            HAHA!!! so... maybe i need to be using surgical tools instead of my beloved wooden implements instead! ;))

          2. I don't think it's fair to lump surgical stainless and Area 51 together. One is hokum and the other is part of a valid conspiracy theory. I'm just saying. :)

            2 Replies
            1. re: DuffyH

              (i think that's me answering my own question..)

              1. re: rmarisco

                Oh, well, yeah, that's entirely different, then. Point taken.


            2. Surgical grade stainless steel means absolutely nothing. Really. Just don't even worry about. It is like the term of "high carbon stainless steel". It really mean nothing in these days of age.

              1. Guess I'm showing my age here. My dad was a doctor, and "surgical grade stainless steel" was a big deal in the 1950s when it meant that all components of an item (including welds, screws, etc.) could withstand high-heat sterilization, as well as not rusting.

                The newer, more expensive 18/10 and 18/8 stainless came in during the late 1960's - early 1970s when it was first marketed as a substitute for silver on the tabletop. It gradually took over the "quality" niche for stainless, until rising prices recently caused some manufacturers to drop back to the earlier formulation.

                Having a company tout this as a "superior" material for cookware is similar to the ploy of a well-known knife manufacturer touting the "superior" stainless in their serrated knives. Both were "superior" technology back at the time of the Korean War--about 60 years ago.

                (I'm not an expert, just an observer.)

                1. The metallurgical term is "martensitic." Here is a brief summary of the martensitic grades of stainless steel:


                  8 Replies
                  1. re: GH1618

                    Apples and Oranges. Martensitic steels are tool steels, meaning they can be hardened. Pots and pans don't benefit from heat treatment.

                    Also from the source you linked to, it was 317 that I was thinking of. http://www.spiusa.com/Ref001/austenit...

                    1. re: kaleokahu

                      Type 420 is probably what I think of as "surgical" steel. The question is, what type of steel, precisely, was being referred to? Most of these lack nickel, which seems to be the objective.

                      1. re: GH1618

                        Hi, GH:

                        Well, what the Vapo-Seal hucksters call "surgical" is good 'ol 304. I've seen others who claim to use 316 and 316L. Both have considerable molybendum added, and the "L" connotes lower carbon (to minimize carbon precipitation when welding, etc.)

                        I'll keep a lookout for anything in the 400 Series used in pans...


                        1. re: kaleokahu

                          kaleo - are you saying that stainless cookware is generally 316/L stainless, and that at that rating, it should be considered somewhat inert for leaching nickel? and at a lower number it might be more prone to leaching?

                          higher number, less nickel? or... higher number better containment of nickel? are either of those interpretations correct?

                          1. re: rmarisco

                            Hi, rmarisco:

                            Nope, not saying that at all. 316 is not used much in cookware. Although it is used in food handling machinery.

                            As I mentioned to GH, 316 and 316L have a fair amount of molybdenum in them (317 even more), the idea being to reduce pitting-type corrosion. 316L just has lower carbon. 316 also has nearly twice the nickel as 304 (aka 18/8), so if it's gonna leach, there's more of it there to leach.

                            Now, before you get all excited about 316 cookware not pitting, the advantage really only comes into play at very high temperatures and high salinity. It would be fair to call 316 "marine grade", and it would mean something.

                            One of these waterless companies will some day discover 321 (titanium added) or 347 (tantalum/columbium added). They'll brag about it and call it AEROSPACE stainless. As long as they can get $2,400 for a $350 set of cookware, maybe they can afford it.


                            1. re: kaleokahu

                              This is why I'm sticking to carbon steel and cast-iron no leeching

                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                HOW DO YOU KNOW ALL THIS STUFF??!!!!

                                amazing.. thanks for the info. i think.

                                1. re: rmarisco

                                  My makuahine was a schoolteacher, who instilled curiosity in me as a cardinal virtue. Life is dross without it.

                    2. There's not a specific definition for "surgical" steel but one condition manufacturers must comply with is that it be "corrosion-resistant." Technically, surgical means that it's application in medical environments is safe.

                      316 grade is the most common, but it has higher nickel content. 420 and 440 are common with knives and cutlery as they have higher carbon content and chromium added to make them stronger.

                      Will nickel leach into your food from 316? If it's poorly manufactured. However, 316L is used for most food applications (and jewelry) specifically because it's manufacturing process greatly reduces nickel leaching likelihood.

                      Most likely the kitchen and food items you've been exposed to or using throughout the years is either 316 or 316L. Some of the higher-end cutlery is more likely the 440 or 420.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Rigmaster

                        fabulous, clear reply. thank you!

                        see... it IS on the internet - now!

                      2. Surgical grade stainless steel is not hokum. It has many real applications for people with severe nickel allergies and any situation in which a piece of metal is expected to be inside you for years.

                        For cooking, it's mainly used to extract maximum currency out of your wallet.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: TBridges

                          Just so we're clear, when I called it "hokum", I was referring to it in the cookware sense. As in, the term is meaningless for cookware.