British Steel saw the band reprise the commercial sound they had established on Killing Machine. This time, they abandoned some of the dark lyrical themes which had been prominent on their previous releases, but some of it still remains. In a June 2017 appearance on Sirius radio podcast "Rolling Stone Music Now," Rob Halford said the band may have been inspired by AC/DC on some tracks after supporting them on a European tour in 1979.British Steel was recorded in December 1979 at Tittenhurst Park, home of former BeatleRingo Starr, after a false start at Startling Studios, also located on the grounds of Tittenhurst Park, due to the band preferring Starr's house to the recording studio itself. Digital sampling was not yet widely available at the time of recording, so the band used analog recording of smashing milk bottles to be included in "Breaking the Law", as well as various sounds in "Metal Gods" produced by billiard cues and trays of cutlery. It is the first Judas Priest album to feature drummer Dave Holland, and it was released in the UK at a discount price of £3.99, with the advertisements in the music press bearing the legend "British Steal". The songs "Breaking the Law", "United", and "Living After Midnight" were released as singles.
In 2009, Judas Priest kicked off their 30th anniversary tour in the US by playing British Steel live in its entirety for the first time. The only other Judas Priest albums of which all the songs have been performed live are Defenders of the Faith and Rocka Rolla, but neither of them were played in the original LP running order or during the same tour (though the original US debut LP had a different running order than the UK version).
The 30th anniversary release of the album came with a DVD and CD of a live show recorded on 17 August 2009 at the Seminole Hard Rock Arena in Hollywood, Florida as part of the British Steel 30th Anniversary tour. The live versions of all the British Steel tracks from this release were also made available as downloadable content for the Rock Band video game series beginning 11 May 2010.
The album received positive reviews. AllMusic gave the album five stars out of five, explaining that the album "kick-started heavy metal's glory days of the 1980s", and saying that "There are still uptempo slices of metallic mayhem bookending the album in 'Rapid Fire' and 'Steeler', plus effective moodier pieces in 'Metal Gods'".