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Is Stainless Steel or Aluminum the Right Choice for Your Cart?

stainless steel vs aluminum

Aluminum and stainless steel are two of the most popular materials used to make foodservice equipment for the commercial kitchen today. While they have many similarities, they also have several key differences that may make one better than the other depending on your needs as an operator, chef, or foodservice director. When it comes to foodservice, there are perks to both materials as well as some downfalls to note in the comparison of the two. Let’s look at both aluminum and stainless steel so you can choose which one makes the most sense for your kitchen space and cooking needs.

Stainless Steel:

This material is one of the strongest metals used for everyday foodservice equipment. Not all stainless steel is the same though. There are different grades with each having minor, but notable, differences making them unique from each other. Two of the more commonly used stainless steel grades are the 304 and the 304L. The variation between the two comes down to the amount of carbon in the metal. The grade 304 has a maximum of 0.08% carbon while the 304L grade has a maximum of 0.03%. The rest of the composition of these two grades is nearly identical with iron making up the difference. This may seem insignificant but makes a difference. 

The 304 grade of stainless steel is generally considered to be the stronger of the two. So why would the 304L be chosen then? The lower level of carbon in the 304L helps to minimize carbide precipitation during the welding process. This is particularly relevant for manufacturers. Using the 304L eliminates the need to anneal weld joints prior to final use. This allows time and money to be saved during the manufacturing process which can in-return allow a product to be shipped to you sooner. Stainless steel has proven its value to the foodservice industry for many years. 

stainless steel coils


“Aluminum is the third most common element in the Earth’s crust,” according to the World Economic Forum, making it a material that is often used due to its abundance. It has been produced in commercial quantities for industrial applications for just over 100 years and is now being used across many different industries. Aluminum is lighter in weight when compared to other metals while still having a considerable amount of strength. It also has various grades with slight variations in their performance that are suited for different applications. Aluminum alloy 1100 is commonly used in chemical and food processing. Aluminum alloy 2014 on the other hand is a copper-based alloy with very high strength making it commonly used in aerospace structural applications. But there is one grade that is most commonly used and that is 3003. 

3003 aluminum is completely pure but with added manganese that helps to improve the strength of the material to 20% stronger than the 1100. The 3003 also has great workability and corrosion resistance that helps make it one of the most common alloys. Aluminum has many benefits of its own in comparison to stainless steel, but its most notable difference is its lightweight characteristic. 

aluminum coils

Foodservice Application: 

Now that the basics have been covered, we can go into more depth as to which is better for foodservice applications. Both stainless steel and aluminum are used in the industry and the choice between the two comes down to what tasks the piece of equipment will be used for. “While stainless steel and aluminum are both strong materials, steel is typically stronger,” according to Tamp Steel. If the piece of equipment you are looking to purchase will be used to carry various heavy loads a day, stainless steel is usually the better choice. However, it is important to remember that aluminum is lighter than steel and has a higher strength to weight ratio. If a piece of equipment is needed for lighter loads, aluminum may be the better choice. Both stainless steel and aluminum have corrosion resistant properties which is crucial in this industry to ensure operations are sanitary. Making the decision between the two can be difficult, so take a look at the application it will be used for as your starting point. Lakeside manufactures a wide selection of utility carts to help operators transport with ease. Explore our selection here!