Choosing the right pans for your kitchen can be a difficult task. You’ve heard of hard anodized cookware – but what’s it made of? And what about aluminum leaching – is hard anodized cookware safe? What benefits does it have over other types of cookware?
Here we’ll list the pros and cons of hard-anodized aluminum cookware. We’ll cover everything you need to know about this type of cookware so you can decide for yourself whether it’s a good fit for you.
What is Hard Anodized Cookware?
Hard anodized aluminum cookware is made of standard aluminum that has been processed through anodization. In simple words, the material is put in sulfuric acid and then an electric current is applied. This creates a dense coating of aluminum oxide.
A hard anodizing process involves the acidic solution being cooled to the freezing point of water and the use of a higher electric current (1).
The oxide which forms on the surface of the aluminum increases the metal’s resilience. It becomes less reactive and is more corrosion resistant.
From our research, most hard-anodized aluminum cookware comes with a nonstick coating. This is either made of ceramic or PTFE (Teflon).
Hard anodized cookware without a coating is very rare. The Calphalon brand previously made pots and pans without a coating. But they got too many complaints about how sticky the cooking surface was. Now their products typically have a nonstick coating.
READ NEXT: The Best Hard Anodized Cookware Sets
Some brands provide non-coated hard anodized cookware for commercial use (2). So you might see this type of pan in a professional restaurant. But for use in your home kitchen, you’ll be looking at pans with a nonstick coating.
Hard Anodized Cookware Pros
First, let’s consider the benefits of hard anodized aluminum cookware.
Pro: High Heat Conductivity
Aluminum has a high heat conductivity: it’s second only to copper in this respect. The higher a material’s thermal conductivity, the quicker it heats up. And the faster the heat will spread to unheated areas. So this is ideal for cookware as you won’t get hot spots developing (3).
Aluminum’s good heat conductivity also means that it has a quick response time to changes in your stove temperature. As well as heating quickly, it’ll also cool rapidly once you take the pot or pan off the heat.
The aluminum oxide created on the surface of aluminum in the anodizing process makes it more durable than non-anodized aluminum. It also has a wear resistance that is over ten times more than the metal in its non-anodized form.
And hard-anodized products can last up to 20 years. This also means that they’re less prone to warping.
Also, the anodization process makes aluminum resistant to corrosion. This means that aluminum stops rusting or turning white in damp conditions.
So in terms of cookware that lasts, this material is ideal.
Pro: Scratch Resistant
On its own, aluminum is susceptible to scratching because it’s not classed as a hard metal. But the aluminum oxide created in the anodizing process provides a thicker layer on its surface.
So when hard-anodized, aluminum shouldn’t peel, chip or flake. In other words, it’s very strong.
However, remember that hard anodized cookware mostly comes with a nonstick coating such as ceramic or PTFE (Teflon). This nonstick surface may scratch if you don’t use it or care for it properly.
So the body of the pan will have good scratch resistance, but the coating may not have.
See this product from GreenPan:
It’s made from hard-anodized aluminum but has a ceramic coating.
Pro: Non Reactive
Standard aluminum is reactive to certain types of food, especially those with acidic ingredients. The metal can leach into your food giving an unpleasant metallic taste. The reaction can also discolor lighter-colored soups or sauces.
So you should avoid cooking or storing such foods in regular aluminum cookware.
But hard anodized cookware won’t react with your food. The anodization process seals the metal and prevents toxins from leaking. The hard surface that is formed also prevents acidic foods from changing color or taste.
Hard anodized aluminum is a light metal, even lighter than titanium. It’s one of the lightest cookware types: it’s 60% lighter than both stainless steel and copper. So it’s an ideal material for cookware because it’s easy to handle and move around.
Compare these 2 skillets which are both 11 inches.
- GreenPan’s product is made of hard-anodized aluminum and weighs 2.3 pounds: Valencia Pro Hard Anodized Induction Safe Healthy Ceramic Nonstick Frying Pan.
- On the other hand, Blue Diamond’s stainless steel pan weighs 4.2 pounds: Triple Steel Ceramic Nonstick Stainless Steel Frying Pan.
You’ll benefit from hard anodized cookware if you like to travel around. Some brands have designed pots and pans made of hard anodized aluminum so that campers and walkers can cook efficiently without having to carry heavy cookware (4).
Pro: Promotes Healthy Cooking
As we’ve said above, hard-anodized cookware comes with a coating. This nonstick surface will usually be either ceramic or PTFE.
These nonstick coatings mean that you need to use very little oil or fat in your cooking if any. So if you’re concerned about cooking healthily, this type of cookware is a good fit for you.
Pro: Ideal for Cooking Delicate Food
The nonstick coating found on hard anodized aluminum cookware also lets you cook delicate foods to perfection. Even sticky dishes involving eggs, such as crepes or pancakes, or fragile foods such as small fish fillets, can be cooked on the nonstick surface.
The anodizing process seals the aluminum so there’ll be no toxins leaking into your food. The process alters the molecular structure of the metal which prevents aluminum leaching.
Traditionally, there have been concerns about the links between aluminum cookware and Alzheimer’s disease. But, experts don’t see the problem lying with hard anodized cookware.
Rather, the issue could be due to levels of aluminum in food and food additive products (5).
However, as we’ve mentioned above, hard anodized aluminum pots and pans come with a ceramic or PTFE coating. So in terms of safety, it’s not just the aluminum base that you might want to consider. If you’re worried about ceramic coatings or Teflon cookware, you can find out more here.
Pro: Easy to Clean and Maintain
Hard anodized cookware is easy to clean because of its nonstick cooking surface. Food will not stick to it and warm water and mild soap should be enough to clean it. So you won’t need to invest in any harsh chemicals or abrasive pads that might scratch the interior.
Hard anodized cookware is also low maintenance because it requires no seasoning. Unlike cast iron or carbon steel pans, you don’t need to apply this regular care.
Hard Anodized Cookware Cons
Now let’s look at some of the disadvantages of hard anodized cookware.
Con: Doesn’t Retain Heat Well
Hard anodized aluminum has a low specific heat per cubic cm, which means that it doesn’t retain heat well.
A student conducted a scientific test on four different materials – copper alloy, aluminum alloy, stainless steel, and cast iron. They found that aluminum was the worst of the 4 in retaining heat (6).
But for cookware, the metal is usually made thick enough so that heat is distributed evenly. Most pans have an aluminum base that is around 3.5mm to 4.5mm thick.
Stainless steel, by comparison, has the highest specific heat per cubic cm. So cookware in this material is usually less thick.
Con: Overheating Risks
We’ve said earlier that hard anodized cookware has good heat conductivity. And that as a result, the pots heat up quickly so you get fast cooking.
The downside of this is that the pans can overheat. The risk then is that you might burn your food! So when using this type of cookware, you need to be careful, especially when using high heat.
Con: Not Induction Ready
Induction cooktops only work with cookware made of a magnetic material, such as iron or steel. Aluminum is not magnetic and so won’t work on this type of stove.
READ NEXT: The Best Cookware Set for Induction Cooktop
But, some manufacturers are now adapting their traditional aluminum pans to make them induction safe. They do this by bonding a magnetic stainless disk to the base of the pan so that they will work on an induction cooktop (7).
Check out this skillet from All-Clad which has a stainless steel base:
Con: Shorter Lifespan than Other Types of Pan
Hard anodized aluminum cookware will have a shorter lifespan than cookware made of cast iron, carbon steel, or stainless steel. This is largely because of its nonstick coating.
On average, some users have said that cookware with a ceramic coating will last for around six to twelve months. Others say they’ll last longer, but not usually more than one to two years.
Hard anodized cookware with a Teflon coating will last longer. And this is even if you regularly use your pans to sear steak at a temperature of around 500oF. A 2001 Nature study found that heating Teflon pots to this heat resulted in the cookware lasting c. 2.3 years (8).
Another factor affecting the lifespan of your cookware is how well you look after it. If you avoid using metal utensils whilst cooking, and harsh chemicals to clean them, your pots will last longer.
For hard anodized cookware, this will still be less than say cast iron pans which can last forever. But for a pan with a coating, you can make them last with some care.
Con: Sensitive to High Temperatures
Hard-anodized aluminum has a low heat resistance. And as this cookware heats quickly and evenly, you don’t need really high temperatures. For best results, you should stick to low to medium heat.
This will also increase the lifespan of your cookware. If too high a heat is used, bits of food will begin to carbonize and form a layer over the nonstick coating. So the surface will start to lose its nonstick capability.
High temperatures can also damage the ceramic or Teflon coating on hard anodized cookware. This leads to warping which means your pots won’t work as well. For cooking dishes on high heat, for example, searing steaks, you should consider a different type of cookware – cast iron, stainless steel, or carbon steel.
Con: Requires Special Care
A lot of hard anodized cookware is dishwasher safe, although you should always check the manufacturer’s details.
But it’s better to wash your pans by hand with warm water and dish soap. This will lengthen the lifespan of your cookware and ensure that there are no scratches left from the dishwasher cycle.
For instance, Anolon says that their hard anodized cookware is not suitable for the dishwasher. They claim that a dishwasher can discolor the cookware because of the high temperature and harsh chemicals in the dishwasher detergent.
Anolon also suggests using a paste made of baking soda and water to clean the pots and pans. And not using steel wool or abrasive pads (9).
You should also avoid using a cooking spray on hard anodized cookware. Most of these sprays contain an emulsifier called lecithin which can build up on the interior of your pots. It’s then difficult to remove from the surface.
And only stack your cookware using a pad(s) to help protect the nonstick coating.
Take Stock of our Hard Anodized Cookware Pros and Cons
It’s difficult to pick the right sort of cookware for your kitchen. There are lots of options out there to choose from, including hard anodized cookware. You’ve seen what advantages this type of cookware offers.
Hard anodized cookware is a good option if you want pans that offer a high cooking performance – they’ll conduct heat well and evenly. These pots are also durable, lightweight, and safe. You don’t need to worry about health risks from aluminum poisoning.
But as you’ve seen, there are also some disadvantages to hard anodized pans. They don’t retain heat very well and don’t work well at high temperatures. And most are not induction or dishwasher safe, but require careful maintenance. Yet if you can manage these aspects, hard anodized cookware is worth investing in.
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