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Why Do Grill Parts Rust When They’re Stainless Steel?

Why do stainless steel grill parts rust? Everybody acts shocked when their barbeque grill starts to rust after sitting outside and not getting cleaned enough. I meet customers who purchase a stainless steel barbecue grill with a lifetime guarantee because they no longer want to buy a new grill every two years. Then two years later their big stainless steel grill is rusting and they feel betrayed. There are a lot of answers to this question but most of them are simple and sometimes obvious.

One reason is the quality of the grill parts. We know restaurants and resorts cannot waste time buying a new grill for their kitchen every few years so we assume if we purchase commercial quality items we can get the same level of quality as professionals. Now any cheap, low cost manufacturer can call their product a commercial series or a professional series item and the association is made. Add a few hundred dollars profit to the price and the customer gets tricked. I have seen this in many industries when the terms “commercial” and “professional” get used as the name of a product model rather than a true description of the quality of the product.

Knowing homeowners associate stainless steel with high quality, unsavory manufacturers will purposely use cheap stainless to mimic the look and idea of high quality while selling cheap steel that is quick to rust and discolor. Many of us do not realize there are many different types of stainless steel. Stainless steel mistakenly becomes symbolic of high quality and long lasting parts. Often a customer will tell me they want a stainless steel grill as though they are describing the barbeque they want to purchase. In their mind, they have asked for a particular level of quality using the term “stainless steel”. Aside from personal taste people think of stainless steel as higher quality. The fact is there are several types of stainless steel, many no better than regular steel and indistinguishable visually.

Look at who makes the grill – not the importer but the actual manufacturer. Barbeque grills that are made in America will generally disclose the type of stainless steel that has been used. If the manufacturer is providing a warranty, call them and see if a human answers or if the warranty is a sham. When we purchase an American Made stainless steel BBQ grill, we spend a lot more money and have much higher expectations of the product. Contact local dealers and find out if local professionals who repair grills recommend the product.

Commercial products do not say “commercial” on them and restaurants or resorts do not buy their appliances at the gigantic retail exchanges that advertise the lowest price in town. I have clients who purchase a $300. grill and feel they have spent a lot of money. For that BBQ owner the information above regarding different types of stainless steel is applicable. Keep the grill covered and clean it as often as possible.

High quality barbecues will be manufactured by a stainless steel designated as 304. Stainless steel is classified in numerical categories and 304 refers to outdoor stainless because of its chemical properties. In order to be considered 304 stainless steel not only are iron oxides drained to such a degree that a magnet cannot hold it but nickel and chromium are added during the smelting process in amounts of 8% nickel and 18% chromium.

Chemicals added to stainless steel protect the material in its specific application. Indoor products that do not contend with weather need a different and less resilient stainless than your outdoor grill parts. Outdoor gas barbeque grills use 18 gauge 304 stainless steel because of the nickel and chromium. Nickel is a hardening agent. Nickel is shiny and attractive but its main benefit is as a hardener. When stainless begins to rust it shows up as “pits”. When oxidation begins a small rust spot will appear at the weakest parts of the stainless as a pit. Nickel at eight percent in outdoor stainless hardens the surface to resist pitting.

Chromium protects the surface of the stainless steel in the same way that oil protects a cast iron pot. Chromium reacts with oxygen in the atmosphere and creates a barrier at the surface of the stainless steel. If the stainless surface ever becomes damaged or scratched the surface can be lightly sanded and the chromium will recreate the barrier. Chromium is added during the smelting process so scratching-out rust does not remove the protective effects of chromium.

Mid-range barbeque grills like Weber and Broil King use combinations in manufacturing. Much of the stainless is decorative but generally the burners, cooking grates and heat shields will be better quality. This is because the inside of the grill gets wiped down less and gets a whole lot messier than the hood.

For the very expensive grill that has a lifetime guarantee against rust, the reason your grill is rusting is grease. I have seen DCS grills over twenty years old without a single pit on the outside of the barbeque but the burners have been replaced six times. On the rare occasion a customer claims the hood is rusting, it is usually not rust but a light discoloration caused by heat. When the grill shows rust, it is the burners, heat shields, rod trays, cooking grates, etc. The grill parts inside the firebox get grease and drippings and carbon discoloration from heat. All of these things combine to coat the stainless and stop the chromium from reacting with oxygen in the atmosphere.

Once a year I take the cooking grates, heat plates and burners out of my grill. I clean – really clean – the inside of the firebox and I clean the parts I have removed. I have a wire brush that attaches to my drill and I scrub the grates, burners and even the firebox with that brush spinning at 60 miles per hour. This is the closest I have been able to get to looking new again.

For barbeques that use less-expensive stainless steel, know it is decorative. They know the decoration allows the assumption regarding quality to be made but no one who sells grills will point this out. Either accept that you will have to buy a new BBQ grill every two years or start buying replacement grill parts. Next time you buy a barbeque in the same price range, get an aluminum grill that is made in America. Pure aluminum will last forever.

Often, the best tool to fix a problem is education. Once we understand a problem, the solution will show up in our normal actions. Once you know the chromium needs oxygen to protect your stainless steel your regular post-grilling habits may change. Once we know oxygen reacts with chromium, we can degrease the stainless surface.

The gas grill can be affected by its placement relative to landscaping, pool, toy boxes and chemicals. Pool chemicals can cause the grill to corrode if in direct contact with high quality stainless steel. However, the stainless steel can also be damaged just by closeness to the pool or stored pool chemicals. Pool chemicals merge with oxygen in the air. Near the pool, a shortage of oxygen atoms can cause the same effect as covering the stainless steel with grease. Chromium becomes unable to react with the oxygen in the air.

If you have a well-built stainless steel gas grill, cook on it often because of you’re going to spend the money use it. Also the heat lessens mess. After cooking, burn the grill on high or ten to twelve minutes to dry it out and then scrape the stainless. Once or twice a year, take it apart or call a professional. A properly maintained gas grill should last forever.


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