A Lesson In Intricacies Of Table Flatware

LA MESA -- OK, so who knows what the numbers on your flatware translate into? What is the difference between 18/0, 18/8. 13/0, 18/10... 301, 304, 316... Well, it can be very confusing, deceiving and expensive if you make the wrong choice. So here is my best explanation of what all the numbers mean.

To begin, the two numbers on your stainless (most flatware will have the specs either stamped on the utensils or on the box) represent a ratio, a composition of the various metals used in the manufacturing of the flatware. The first number on the left of the slash is the amount of chromium in the iron while the number on the right represents the percent of nickel. With that, stainless steel flatware that is 18/10 means that 18% is chromium and 10% nickel-easy , right! Wrong! This information can be very deceiving and usually dictates into huge price variation at the store. Why are some sets $79.00 while others are $400.00. Well, it’s a marketing ploy to get the consumer to spend a lot of money on low quality flatware.  Manufacturers would love nothing more then to sell consumers new sets of flatware every couple years as apposed to once every twenty- get the point!   Also, be aware that if the specs are missing altogether, the flatware might not even be real stainless steel!

The addition of chromium and nickel metals are necessary to protect the flatware from corrosion. Simply stated, the higher the numbers the higher the chromium/nickel content which translates into better quality steel and thus a higher price! That said, prices of stainless steel flatware vary considerably depending on these specs. Do not be fooled into thinking you are buying the best quality flatware if the nickel content is 0% even if the price is high and the flatware has weight. Some 18/0 stainless steel flatware sets are as expensive at 18/10 sets, however, the two sets are not even close in quality and the 18/0 set will become subject to pitting and corrosion in a short amount of time. It should be noted here that even the best 18/10 stainless can corrode if not cared for properly. Follow these simple rules to extend the life of your flatware.

Always place your flatware in the dishwasher with the ‘business” end up ! (the business end is the end you eat from.)
NEVER, NEVER, NEVER use the high heat cycle to dry your dishes. This causes spotting ,staining and pitting. TURN IT OFF! Besides, it will save you money on your electric bill.
If possible, hand wash only! ( I know, but it is the best way to care for your flatware.) If you must use a dishwasher, air dry or remove the flatware and hand dry. Your stainless will thank you for the extra care you give it.

Some manufacturers will label flatware or cutlery with a slightly higher then 8% nickel content, for example, 8.3% as 18/10, since it doesn't quite fit the 18/8 category. This labeling is totally allowable, but a little deceiving, none the less. FYI, there is little difference between 18/8 and 18/10 so don’t pay for it because they both have almost exactly the same amount of nickel. Many times there is a large price difference between the two and it is a waste of money.

To confuse the discussion more, there is, in recent years, a 300 series of stainless steel. The 300’s can range from 301 to 316 stainless with #316 being the same as 18/10 stainless. Again, the higher to number to better in terms of the amount of chromium (Cr) and nickel (Ni) mixed with the iron. Please note the following percentages:

#301 stainless, 16-18% Cr. And 6-8% Ni
#302 stainless, 17-19% Cr. And 8-10% Ni
#304 stainless, 18-20% Cr. And 8-10% Ni
#316 stainless, 16-18% Cr. And 10-14% Ni

A huge misconception is that the heavier a piece of flatware the better. This is not always true. Tensile strength and weight is determined by the design and geometry of the individual pieces. There are many flatware sets that are heavy 18/0 however very low quality. These sets are purposely made heavy to fool the consumer into thinking they are of higher quality. Remember, it is all about the chromium and nickel additives that determine the length of service you will receive from you flatware.

Tensile strength is another determining factor which many consumers confuse with quality. Tensile strength is the “bend-ability” of the flatware and is achieved by a mechanical process during manufacturing. A process called “cold working”, which is the rolling or drawing through a die or extruding through a die which deforms the metal causing it to become harder, is how this is achieved.  Flatware can also be made thicker, which makes for a heavier piece and increases its tensile strength. Again, remember its all about the percentage of chromium/nickel which dictates how long your stainless will last not the thickness or weight. There is no point in owning a nice heavy fork that is rusty, dull and pitted. Again, heavier and thicker utensils does not mean they will last longer. Don’t be fooled!

The bottom line is buy the best set of stainless steel flatware you can afford. There are many good quality bands available that will give you many years of service. Just do your homework and buy what you like. Purchase only 18/10 or # 316 stainless and you will be very happy with your investment for years to come.

Frank Dittmer is the owner of  What A Dish!, a tableware and specialty food shop in La Mesa Village. He writes occasionally on home topics for La Mesa Today.


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Tags: Frank Dittmer, La Mesa Today, La Mesa news, What A Dish!, flatware, fork, stainless, steel, utensil


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Comment by David Stanley on November 16, 2013 at 9:05am

Frank, to most people, those who just use flatware with which to eat, this information is mind boggling and many will begin reading, become dizzy and move on the next item. However, facts like this intrigue me and I catch myself, later on, days, or even weeks later, remembering something I read about a subject and must either tell my wife or family or at least sit and revisit the facts I learned. I forget many things but things like this I retain. Very interesting and thanks, mate. David

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