Aluminum vs Stainless Steel Cookware: Battle of the Metals

Aluminum vs Stainless Steel Cookware: Battle of the Metals

Aluminum vs Stainless Steel Cookware: Discover The Right One For You

DING! When cookware choices seem endless and time is running out, it’s certainly time to pit the contenders against one another. Enter the battle between aluminum vs stainless steel cookware, two popular types of cookware that have long dominated the culinary world.

These versatile metals have their unique advantages and characteristics, and they both have a place in home kitchens, commercial kitchens, and professional kitchens alike. But in situations where you’re forced to choose only one, things can get a little tricky.

So let’s start by getting to know a little bit more about aluminum and stainless steel cookware! Because let’s be real, they look almost the same at first glance..

Aluminum Cookware - Discover the Different Types and Their Advantages & Disadvantages

Aluminum cookware basically refers to pots and pans made primarily or entirely from a type of lightweight metal called aluminum.

That said, there are 3 different types of aluminum cookware with distinctive differences:

Bare aluminum pots. Photo by Scott Umstattd.

1. Bare Aluminum Cookware

The most basic of aluminum cookware. Bare aluminum cookware refers to aluminum pans, pots and bakeware that are made from pure or alloyed aluminum and are uncoated.

It’s usually found without the polished finish you see on most metal cookware, and it’s typically lightweight. One easy way to identify it is by giving it a quick tap - if you hear a dull “thud” or a very light “ring”, then it’s highly likely aluminum.

Hard-anodized aluminum cookware. Photo by Cooker King.

2. Hard-Anodized Aluminum Cookware

Hard-anodized aluminum cookware is created through a special electrochemical process called anodization. This process involves submerging the cookware in a chemical bath before exposing it to electric currents to allow the aluminum’s surface to bond with oxygen. 

Thus creating aluminum oxide, a protective oxide layer on the aluminum’s surface. This protective layer is corrosion resistant, making it incredibly hardy, non-toxic, and non-reactive where food is concerned.

The Cosmo Mini Pan, an example of a non-stick aluminum cookware.

3. Non-Stick Aluminum Cookware (Coated Aluminum Cookware)

Coated aluminum cookware bears the excellent heat conductivity of aluminum with the durability and non-reactive properties of other materials. It’s typically made with an aluminum core sandwiched between layers of another material, just like how most ceramic-coated cookware are made.

This combination ultimately gets you non-toxic cookware with non-stick properties, even heat distribution, excellent heat conductivity, and durability for vigorous use. You’ll often see nonstick-coated aluminum cookware in various colours, shapes, and forms.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Aluminum Cookware, Part 1: The Advantages

1. Non-Reactive

Applies to: Hard-Anodized Aluminum Cookware, Non-Stick Aluminum Cookware

Hard-anodized and non-stick aluminum cookware are non-reactive because of its treated cooking surface. 

When a cookware is non-reactive, alkaline and acidic foods like tomatoes and citrus fruits won’t react with the aluminum cooking surface, which preserves the taste, colour and integrity of your dishes.

This means that your cooking won’t be tainted with an unpleasant metallic taste or discolouration.

2. Excellent Heat Conductivity

Applies to: All aluminum cookware

A staple feature across all aluminum cookware is how it conducts heat excellently. Aluminum is simply one of the best heat conductors so you get to enjoy fast and even heat distribution across your aluminum cookware’s cooking surface.

This minimizes the risk of hot spots for even cooking with precise temperature control, which ultimately gets you fantastic cooking results. Which is also why aluminum cookware is a top choice to cook delicate foods like chicken, fish, and vegetables.

3. Lightweight and Easy to Handle

Applies to: All aluminum cookware

Aluminum is well known for its generally lightweight build, making it easy to handle in the kitchen. Compared to others like cast iron cookware and stainless steel cookware, aluminum is significantly lighter.

This works incredibly well to reduce strain on your wrists while providing greater maneuverability for those who enjoy added flair like flipping ingredients while cooking. It truly makes cooking and cleaning that much easier.

No more fuss with stuck food bits with nonstick aluminum pans.

4. Non-Stick Surface

Applies to: Hard-Anodized Aluminum Cookware, Non-Stick Aluminum Cookware

PRO TIP: Not all hard-anodized aluminum cookware have non-stick properties, so it’s best to check the manufacturer’s label on whether that particular hard-anodized aluminum cookware you’re eyeing is non-stick.

Now that we’ve got that out, most hard-anodized aluminum cookware and all non-stick aluminum cookware are popular because of their non-stick capabilities. It offers hassle-free and often healthier cooking because of the easy food release even with little to no oil or butter.

You’ll especially love it when it comes to cooking delicate dishes like eggs and fish, and how you won’t have to scrub furiously when it comes to cleaning up.

5. Resistant to Rust and Corrosion

Applies to: Hard-Anodized Aluminum Cookware, Non-Stick Aluminum Cookware (unscratched)

Anodized and non-stick aluminum cookware possesses a natural resistance to rust and corrosion. However, it only applies to non-stick aluminum cookware when all the layers are fully intact with no scratches because the internal core is susceptible to rust and corrosion.

What makes these cookware resistant to rust and corrosion is the protective surface layer which gives it durability to resist wear and tear.

6. Fast Heat Distribution and Energy Efficiency

Applies to: All aluminum cookware

Aluminum not only conducts heat well, it also distributes it rapidly so you save heaps on your energy bill in the long run!

Aside from saving on your energy bill, you’ll also save time by not having to wait around for it to get to the temperature you need it to be. So if you’re the type who enjoys a quick midnight ramen or a speedy stir-fry, aluminum pots and pans are your best bet.

Dishwashing is easier than ever with ceramic non-stick aluminum pans and pots.

7. Easy to Clean

Applies to: Hard-Anodized Aluminum Cookware, Non-Stick Aluminum Cookware

If you’ve ever felt dread when it comes to the dishes after cooking, then you’ll love what aluminum cookware has to offer.

Treated aluminum’s smooth surface makes the task of cleaning stubborn stains and food residue off easier than ever. You won’t need to expose your skin to harsh chemicals and you’ll get more time to spend with the ones who matter.

And because it’s so easy to clean, giving your aluminum pots and pans the proper care it needs will be effortless, allowing it to remain in excellent condition for the years to come.

8. Affordable

Applies to: All aluminum cookware

Between aluminum vs stainless steel cookware, aluminum is the more affordable one. Aluminum cookware offers you excellent performance, sometimes on par with stainless steel, without breaking the bank. 

That’s because aluminum is a relatively inexpensive material, making it the perfect cookware of choice for those who have just ventured into the culinary world or for those who enjoy casual home cooking.

Non-stick aluminum cookware has a huge advantage with the availability of stunning designs and colours.

9. Stunning Design and Colours

Applies to: Non-Stick Aluminum Cookware

Non-stick aluminum cookware, especially ceramic-coated cookware (ceramic cookware), comes in a rainbow of colours, designs, and styles, allowing you to mix and match for the kitchen aesthetic of your dreams.

Whether it’s a sleek and modern aluminum pan, or a traditional cottagecore style aluminum pot, there’s certainly an aluminum cookware option to fulfill your tastes. It’s truly the best of both worlds when beauty and functionality come together!

Advantages and Disadvantages of Aluminum Cookware, Part 2: The Disadvantages

1. Reacts with Certain Foods

Applies to: Bare Aluminum Cookware (and damaged hard-anodized and non-stick aluminum cookware with exposed core)

While hard-anodized aluminum and coated aluminum are non-reactive, bare aluminum cookware can and will react with alkaline and acidic foods. The reactivity will cause a metallic taste to leach into your dishes while causing slight discolouration on the aluminum.

If for any reason you’re only able to cook with bare aluminum cookware, it’s best to avoid recipes that call for acidic and alkaline ingredients like tomatoes, citrus fruits, and vinegar. You’re good to go with everything else!

2. Gentle Handling Recommended

Applies to: All aluminum cookware

Aluminum cookware, especially those that aren’t coated or anodized, are highly prone to scratches and dents. So you’ll want to stick to wooden and silicone utensils with aluminum cookware, and ensure they’re stacked properly with cushioned protection between each pan.

Once it’s dented or scratched, it won’t merely be a cosmetic imperfection, because it will likely impact its cooking performance. Just take care of it and it will take care of you.

3. Not Induction Compatible

Applies to: Bare Aluminum Cookware and only certain Hard-Anodized Aluminum Cookware and Non-Stick Aluminum Cookware

Aluminum is not inherently magnetic so most aluminum cookware are not compatible with induction cooktops unless stated by the manufacturer.

Those that are induction-suitable usually have a magnetic layer or base built within to make it induction compatible. Most of which are often found in non-stick aluminum cookware these days, just like our range of ceramic-coated pots and pans in Cosmic Cookware.

4. Limited to Low-Medium Heat Exposure

Applies to: All aluminum cookware (Certain Non-Stick Aluminum Cookware are oven-safe)

Extreme heat over 240°C causes aluminum to expand unevenly, so it not only loses its sturdiness, but ends up delivering less-than-desired cooking results.

So if you’re using bare aluminum or hard-anodized aluminum cookware, it’s best to keep them away from high temperatures on your cooktop and in the oven.

5. Limited Browning and Maillard Reaction

Applies to: All aluminum cookware

The much desired Maillard reaction and browning typically calls for high temperatures. But because aluminum cools as quickly as it heats up, and it’s not suitable for exposure to high heat, chances of getting the desired browning and Maillard reaction are lower than that of stainless steel cookware.

6. Hand Washing Recommended

Applies to: All aluminum cookware

Manufacturers typically don’t recommend washing aluminum cookware in the dishwasher. That’s because the dishwasher’s harsh detergents and high heat may cause discolouration or deterioration of the aluminum’s surface over time.

Not to mention the naturally abrasive movements of the dishwasher can potentially contribute to the cookware’s early demise. Ultimately, it’s best to hand wash aluminum cookware with mild dish soap and non-abrasive cleaning tools.

7. Limited Lifespan

Applies to: All aluminum cookware

Aluminum cookware’s generally softer nature gives it a finite lifespan compared to cast iron and stainless steel, which are often popular choices when it comes to heirloom cookware pieces.

Stainless Steel Cookware - How Each Type Differs and The Advantages & Disadvantages That Come With It

While it’s easy to think of stainless steel as “just another type of cookware”, it is actually a collective term for various types of stainless steel cookware available in the culinary world.

As a whole, stainless steel cookware is a type of cookware that is made primarily or entirely from stainless steel. This type of metal is an alloy composed of iron, chromium, and other materials, giving it its unique properties of incredible durability, non-reactivity, and resistance to corrosion, rust, and stains.

Here are 3 different types of stainless steel cookware you can find in the market along with their differences:

A single-ply stainless steel pan made from only one layer of stainless steel.

1. Single-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware

Walk along the cookware aisle in almost any supermarket and you’ll likely see heaps of single-ply stainless steel cookware at budget prices. Single-ply stainless steel cookware is basically what it is - cookware made from a single layer of stainless steel.

While it is more durable than bare aluminum, it’s the least favoured choice of cookware because of its flimsiness.

Bottom-clad stainless steel cookware can be identified through the sharp horizontal line across its base.

2. Bottom-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware

Spotted any stainless steel pan or pot with a different looking base layer? Yes, the type of cookware that looks like two pieces of metal joined together. That’s bottom-clad stainless steel cookware!

This type of stainless steel cookware incorporates an aluminum, stainless steel, or copper core for a thicker base that enhances the cookware’s overall heat distribution for more even cooking.

It’s one of the popular choices for stainless steel cookware because of its durability, even heat distribution, and affordability.

Example of a multi-ply stainless steel saucepan with a non-stick cookware surface.

3. Multi-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware / Fully-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel cookware with the terms “3-ply” or even “5-ply” fall under the multi-ply stainless steel cookware category. This means that the cookware was made with multiple layers of stainless steel and other metals like aluminum and copper. Some even come with a layer of nonstick coating!

How it’s made involves bonding these layers of metal together through a process called “cladding” or “ply construction”. The inner and outer layers are typically stainless steel, while the inner layers, or rather the core, is aluminum, copper, or a combination of both.

It’s certainly a top choice when it comes to stainless steel cookware because of its superior performance in the kitchen and immense durability which can last a lifetime when properly cared for. That said, its benefits do often come with a much higher price tag.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Stainless Steel Cookware, Part 1: The Advantages

1. Non-Reactive

Applies to: All stainless steel cookware

Stainless steel is naturally non-reactive so you’ll never have to worry about it leaching metallic flavours or chemicals into your dishes.

This also makes it a popular choice for professional chefs because there are no chances for dishes to be compromised.

2. Extreme Durability and Longevity

Applies to: Bottom-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware, Multi-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware

Almost all stainless steel cookware feature extreme durability, with the exception of single-ply stainless steel simply because of its flimsiness.

This particular material’s high density allows it to withstand high heat, knocks, drops, use of metal utensils and abrasive cleaning tools without damaging its integrity. Which is also why it’s a popular choice to be handed down as an heirloom cookware.

3. Resistant to Corrosion, Rust, and Stains

Applies to: All stainless steel cookware

Just like its namesake, stainless steel is resistant to corrosion, rust, and staining because of the chromium within its build. It’s inherently resistant to oxidation, allowing it to withstand long-term exposure to heat, moisture, and acidic foods without deteriorating its natural sheen.

4. Excellent Heat Distribution and Retention

Applies to: Bottom-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware, Multi-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel cookware’s excellent heat distribution comes from the aluminum or copper core within its layered construct.

This minimizes the risk of hot spots for consistent and even cooking results because stainless steel alone follows through by retaining heat excellently.

Stainless steel cooking on induction. Photo by Katerina Holmes.

5. Induction Compatible and Suitable on All Heat Sources

Applies to: Bottom-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware, Multi-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware

Bottom-clad and multi-ply stainless steel cookware grants an underrated convenience that you’ll certainly enjoy; it can be used on all heat sources including induction cooktops. Yes, it's oven safe too (provided the lid and handles are oven-safe)!

6. Dishwasher Safe, but Hand Wash Recommended

Applies to: All stainless steel cookware

Those who absolutely dread the thought of post-cooking clean up will appreciate how stainless steel cookware is dishwasher safe.

While it may be dishwasher safe, manufacturers often recommend hand washing it most of the time to maintain its shine.

Stainless steel's scratch resistant properties and timeless construct allows it to blend beautifully into any kitchen.

7. Attractive, Timeless Design

Applies to: All stainless steel cookware

Stainless steel cookware is renowned for its sleek and timeless design that fits in any kitchen. Its polished surface and natural sheen adds a touch of elegance that blends beautifully into various kitchen styles and complements appliances.

8. Incredible Cooking Versatility

Applies to: Bottom-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware, Multi-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel cookware boasts incredible cooking versatility because it can handle a wide range of cooking techniques and extreme heat. Whether it’s sautéing, searing, simmering or boiling, your stainless steel pans and pots can handle it well.

This versatility also makes it a top choice for professional chefs because they can easily obtain the highly sought Maillard reaction.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Stainless Steel Cookware, Part 2: The Disadvantages

1. Poor Heat Conductivity

Applies to: Single-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware

Compared to other materials like aluminum and copper, stainless steel’s heat conductivity is definitely not the best. Not unless it has a layer of aluminum or copper within its layers!

Single-ply stainless steel suffers from uneven heating, hot spots, and longer preheating times, which are all the things you’d want to avoid while cooking.

2. Expensive

Applies to: Multi-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware

There’s no doubt that budget-friendly options of stainless steel cookware are available. But compared to other types of cookware, stainless steel cookware tends to be relatively more expensive.

Think multi-ply stainless steel cookware and stainless steel pots and pans with additional features like ergonomic handles. Some of these are even priced up to the thousands, making it an investment that requires proper consideration.

3. Not Naturally Non-Stick

Applies to: All stainless steel cookware

One major downside to stainless steel cookware is how it is not naturally non-stick. This makes it challenging when it comes to cooking delicate foods like fish and eggs which are prone to sticking on the surface.

It also means that you’ll be more inclined to use extra oil and fat in your cooking to prevent sticking. One way to combat this issue is by properly seasoning your stainless steel cookware on a regular basis, and to use proper preheating, oiling, and cooking techniques.

4. It Gets Dull Over the Years

Applies to: All stainless steel cookware

Only if you don’t care for it well and subject it to harsh chemicals, burnt food, and abrasive tools like steel wools and brushes. These won’t impair the cookware’s overall performance, but it will dull stainless steel’s natural shine and leave signs of scratches.

5. Prone to Uneven Browning

Applies to: Single-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel’s poor heat conductivity makes it challenging to achieve consistent and even browning. This is why you’ll often find stainless steel pans in the hands of a professional over casual homecooks because proper cooking techniques, which take time to master, will be helpful in preventing this.

6. Tends to be Heavy and Bulky

Applies to: Bottom-Clad Stainless Steel Cookware, Multi-Ply Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel pots and pans with a thicker build can be relatively heavy, making it a less-than-ideal choice for those with limited strength and dexterity.

7. It’s Non-Reactive, But It Can Still Leach Nickel and Chromium

Applies to: All stainless steel cookware

Chromium and nickel are two compounds commonly found in stainless steel which may leach into acidic food through scratched and damaged stainless steel cookware.

One of the ways to identify the exact amount of chromium and nickel in your stainless steel cookware is by referring to the number tied to it, for example - 18/10 stainless steel would mean it has 18% chrome and 10% nickel.

Between Aluminum vs Stainless Steel Cookware, Which is the Better Choice?

Now that you're better equipped to make an informed decision, the "better choice" between aluminum and stainless steel truly depends on your cooking preferences, budget, and lifestyle.

If you're a natural or veteran in the kitchen with a larger budget to space on cookware that you have no intention to change over the years to come, then multi-ply stainless steel is an excellent choice to consider.

But if you want an affordable option that also allows you to enjoy the freedom of styling your kitchen at each different phase of your life, and you want the benefits offered by non-stick pans, then ceramic-coated non-stick aluminum cookware will certainly be your best bet.

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