You want the best type of cookware for your kitchen. But you’re on a budget and not sure about what to buy. Should you pay more and opt for stainless steel? Or is inexpensive cookware made of hard-anodized aluminum metal best for you?
This article will cover everything you need to know about stainless steel vs hard-anodized pots and pans. You’ll learn which is right for you and your cooking needs.
We’ll cover what each of the cookware materials is made of. And you’ll see the main differences between them: whether they cook food evenly, whether they can resist corrosion, and how they compare in safety, weight, price, and maintenance.
Stainless Steel vs Hard-Anodized Aluminum: What’s the Difference?
Hard-anodized aluminum is aluminum that has been made more resistant through an anodization process. It also has a coating such as Teflon or ceramic to make it nonstick. Stainless steel doesn’t have a coating but it’s naturally corrosion resistant. But you do need to use it carefully to avoid food sticking to it.
Stainless Steel vs. Hard-Anodized Cookware Comparison Chart
|Product||Stainless Steel Cookware||Hard-Anodized Cookware|
|Resistant (Corrosion, scratches, heat)|
Note: aluminum is originally reactive, but thanks to the anodization process, it is not anymore
What is Stainless Steel Cookware?
Stainless steel is an alloy. It’s made of iron and other metals and contains a minimum of 11.5% chromium. This part of it makes the steel “stainless” – the iron doesn’t rust. And it makes it durable and heat resistant (1).
Stainless steel cookware can be combined with other metals like titanium or nickel. So when you read 18/10 or 18/8 stainless steel cookware, 18 matches to 18% chromium and 10 or 8 to 10% or 8% nickel.
There are 2 main types of stainless steel cookware:
- The most common is multi-ply: two or more layers of stainless steel or layered with an aluminum or copper core. See for example All-Clad D3 Stainless Cookware – 12-Inch Fry Pan with Lid, Tri-Ply Stainless Steel.
- Another type is where the cookware is bottom clad with a metal such as copper to optimize heat conductivity. See for example:
- The 9 Best Stainless Steel Cookware Sets Of 2023
- Carbon Steel Vs Stainless Steel Pan: Which Is Better?
- Advantages & Disadvantages of Stainless Steel Cookware
- Stainless steel vs. nonstick cookware: Which should you get?
What is Hard-Anodized Cookware?
Hard-anodized pots and pans are aluminum cookware that has gone through an anodization process. This involves a dense coating of aluminum oxide being created when aluminum is put in sulfuric acid and an electric current is applied (2).
Anodized means that an acid bath of around 68-70°F has been used. But hard-anodized is done at a cooler temperature of about 34-36°F.
This makes the aluminum corrosion-resistant and stops the metal from turning white. The result is a thicker coat and a more abrasion and scratch-resistant surface.
Finally, hard-anodized cookware always comes with a good nonstick coating.
Is there a Difference between Stainless Steel and Hard-Anodized Cookware?
Yes, there are some differences between stainless steel and hard-anodized cookware.
The main one you should be aware of is how well they conduct heat.
On its own, stainless steel has the lowest heat conductivity of all metals used in cookware sets. So most stainless steel pans have an aluminum base to improve heat conduction. But it’s a very durable material.
Aluminum conducts heat really well. And when it has been through the anodization process it’s also more durable and less likely to react with your food.
Therefore, both materials have their plus points and their downsides. Let’s look in more detail at these below.
In-Depth Feature Comparison
Here you’ll find the main differences between stainless steel and hard-anodized cookware.
As we’ve said above, this is the biggest difference between these cookware materials.
Aluminum is second only to copper in terms of thermal conductivity. This means that it heats quickly. And it heats evenly (3). So aluminum offers two characteristics that are key for pots and pans.
Stainless steel is the worst material at heat conductivity. It’s often made thin to improve this and to eliminate hot spots. But it also needs the addition of aluminum or copper layers to help it heat quickly and evenly.
A student conducted a scientific test on four different materials. They found that stainless steel has the highest specific heat per cubic cm, so retained heat the best (4). . So when the temperature changes, it has good resistance.
But add to this, it has the worst heat conductivity. The result is uneven heat distribution and hot spots. This is why it needs to be clad with aluminum or copper.
Another consequence is that stainless steel must be made really thin, or it will never become hot. This is why we find cast iron skillets retaining heat for a longer time. They’re made thicker than stainless steel pans.
Aluminum, by comparison, has a low specific heat per cubic cm. So the worst heat retention capability. But for cookware, the metal is made thick enough so that heat is distributed evenly
Stainless steel has alloying elements, particularly chromium, which provide a film that stops the steel from becoming rusted. So it has high resistance to corrosion (5).
The anodization process used on aluminum helps its corrosion resistance and stops it from turning white in damp conditions (6).
The result: both materials are fairly equal in terms of not rusting.
Plus, stainless steel is a hard material. It can withstand, for example, the use of metal utensils, and doesn’t scratch (7).
Hard-anodized aluminum is also very strong and shouldn’t chip, flake, or peel (8). But this type of cookware normally has a nonstick coating such as Teflon or ceramic. This surface may scratch if not used or cared for properly.
Finally, stainless steel has very good heat resistance. High heat can be used on the grade types found in pans without damaging them, due to the high melting points:
- Grade 304 – 2552-2642°F;
- Grade 316 – 2507-2552°F (9).
This is why most stainless steel pans are oven safe up to high temperature and broiler safe.
Hard-anodized aluminum on its own has a lower heat resistance – 1221oF – but this is still good enough for cookware (10).
However, if hard-anodized aluminum is coated with Teflon, it may be dangerous to overheat it. At temperatures above 570°F (300°C), Teflon starts to break down, releasing toxic chemicals.
On the other hand, ceramic-coated cookware can stand higher temperatures. It begins only to deteriorate above 662°F but can survive up to 842°F.
In any case, do check advice from the manufacturer on what temperatures can be used due to the coatings on most pans.
High-quality stainless steel pan isn’t naturally nonstick (11).
This is because of its porous surface. When the heat expands, its pores shrink. This makes the food get pinched by contracting pores and sticking to the pan.
Add to this the fact that stainless steel is hard to coat. And doesn’t require a coating since it won’t react with acidic food.
But you can season it regularly to help its nonstick ability – see this how-to video
Hard-anodized cookware always comes with a nonstick coating. So even the stickiest of food won’t be a problem and cleaning will be easy.
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One of the main plus points of stainless steel is that it’s the least reactive of all cookware materials. And it’s non-toxic, so safe to use without needing a coating.
On the other hand, aluminum on its own does react, especially with acidic food (12). Then the metal can leach into your food. But when aluminum is anodized, it’s sealed, and so safe to use for cooking as no toxins will be leaked (13).
When compared to a material such as cast iron, stainless steel is not that heavy. This All-Clad pan is 10 inches and weighs 3.2 pounds which isn’t too hefty for a sturdy pan: Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded Non-Stick Fry Pan.
But hard-anodized aluminum is even lighter. It’s 60% less than stainless steel, making it very lightweight. As a comparison, see this Cuisinart pan which is also 10 inches but weighs just 1 pound: Chef’s Classic Nonstick Hard-Anodized Open Skillet.
Stainless steel has great durability. It’s built to withstand the physical and chemical conditions that it might be exposed to. Stainless steel can last up to 60 years without deteriorating (14).
The aluminum oxide created on the surface of aluminum in the anodization process makes it more durable and wear-resistant than non-anodized aluminum (15). These surfaces can last up to 20 years. But, the nonstick coatings on this cookware can deteriorate more quickly than this.
Induction cooking requires magnetic cookware.
Certain types of stainless steel cookware are magnetic and so compatible with induction cooktops. But aluminum is not, so you can’t use this on an induction cooker on its own.
Read Next: The 6 Best Induction Cookware Sets of 2023
Stainless steel requires low maintenance. You can clean it easily with your normal detergent or soap. You don’t need to worry about damaging it due to its good scratch resistance. Plus most models are dishwasher safe since it doesn’t have a nonstick coating.
Read Next: How To Clean Stainless Steel Pans.
Hard-anodized cookware, by comparison, requires a bit more care. Maintenance is a little harder. For example, the coating might scratch or chip if you were to use a metal scrubber. We also don’t recommend putting your pan in the dishwasher since it may damage the coating.
Most stainless steel cookware is more expensive than hard-anodized.
Compare, for example, these two frying pans that are both 12 inches:
- The All-Clad Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Bonded Fry Pan is about $190;
- whereas the Ninja Fry Pan Foodi NeverStick Premium Hard-Anodized is about $60.
But some brands offer more affordable stainless steel pans.
See this 12-inch frying pan from Tramontina which retails for $90.00: Fry Pan Stainless Steel Tri-Ply Clad
Stainless steel is more aesthetically pleasing to some due to its shiny look. Many people think that it has an attractive appearance and makes their kitchen look professional.
But hard-anodized cookware can also be appealing. The Ninja Foodi pan above is dark with a matte finish and minimalistic look. And the brand also makes a set in this design which you might like.
So it’s down to your personal taste.
Stainless Steel vs Hard-anodized Cookware: Which One is Best for You?
Think about what type of food you’ll be cooking in your pots and pans.
Stainless steel is good for meat, chicken, and fish as it works well in frying, searing, browning, and braising. Just make sure that you heat it sufficiently to start with to ensure a high cooking performance.
Hard-anodized cookware is better if you’re more likely to cook delicate foods like eggs, omelets, and crepes. Its nonstick coating means that even these sticky foods won’t cling to the cooking surface.
But both surfaces need less oil or butter if you’re worried about health issues.
If you’re on a budget, hard-anodized cookware is generally cheaper. And there’ll be more options for your price range. You might also want to think about what heat the cookware is oven safe up to, and whether it’s dishwasher safe or not.
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