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Jun 18, 2012 04:06 PM

How does hard anodized aluminum cookware fit into the equation?

Hi there:

Main question:
Where/how does hard anodized aluminum cookware fit in terms of uses in the home kitchen? I'm specifically interested in the stuff *without* non-stick coatings. In other words, what's it best for?

What's been done:
I've spent days reading and learning about various types of cookware on this and other forums over the past several months, have read the egullet Q&A resource on choosing pots and pans. It does not seem this hard anodized aluminum stuff gets much love.

It appears that CI and carbon steel gets the ubiquitous good luvin' as a non-stick alternative, and both stainless and copper taking up the rest; SS mostly for all round stuff, and copper for more delicate temp control. Upon reading, it's my impression that many people here purchased anodized hard aluminum as a "first step", deal with some of its idiosyncrasies, and then move on to the other offerings after reading the internet. A number of home cooks seem to like the non-stick hard anodized aluminum offerings, though for as many as like it, seems the as many are abandoning it. Again, I'm not interested in the ones with non-stick coatings.

Follow up musing:
Would it be right to place it as a less expensive alternative to copper cookware, though it is somewhat pricey? It can brown, the anodized part gives it an ability to deglaze, and I think it can go in the oven. So what's wrong with it?

Premise and ramblings (you can stop reading at this point):
The above is the result of me looking to replace and change my pans for a number of reasons (mostly because I like nice things); currently I've got a couple cheapo non-sticks, a carbon steel japanese wok, a SS saute pan and stock pot, and a small SS stock pot with copper bottom. The le-crueset dutch oven cracked. Not sold on the wok yet, probably because my gas stove doesn't have the BTUs and the hood vent at my place is really bad so the smoke set off all my fire alarms at once. Last weekend I brought home a vollrath carbon steel frying pan, spent the day seasoning it, and see what all the hype is about (mmmm duck fat fried eggs..!).

My cooking mostly revolves around searing and sauteing fish, veggies, chicken, turkey, pork. I don't do many deglazing suaces, usually a little flavor with citrus fruits, a little wine, or stock (often times in the form of a crushed ice cube). On limited occasion I will finish in the oven. Red meat goes on the BBQ.

The carbon steel vollrath will replace the non-stick pan for sure, and I'm wondering whether I'd find use for hard anodized aluminum. I would go with plain aluminum, however, because I use a lot of citrus juices, that doesn't seem like a good idea; likely better off with a ss lined copper (yes!... ?).

Thank you for reading!

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  1. Hard Anodized "good quality" aluminum cookware has its place. A lot of it today seems too thin. I have some older Calphalon which works much better then their newer stuff which seems thinner.

    One real advantage most people overlook is the sheer weight of a thick pan. Really. If you have wrist or hand problems, arthritis. or other issues the reduced weight of a thick pan is a real asset. These pans are very responsive on a good cooktop / burner to heat changes unlike steel, cast iron, etc.

    They don't retain heat so, searing a steak can be a real problem. Fried eggs and bacon work well on a good burner but, not so good on a cheap rental stove. Sauce and Stock pots are where they seem to work best with lower pot weight and good heat distribution on moderate heat levels.

    Carbon steel, stainless steel, and cast iron all have their places in the kitchen. Factory "sets" insure most people don't have a good mix of cookware (both in size/capacity and materials).

    1. Hi, jedovaty: "It does not seem this hard anodized aluminum stuff gets much love."

      Not here, it doesn't. But by the units-shipped stats kept by the Cookware Manufacturer's Association, aluminum cookware is consistently *twice* as loved as clad, and EIGHT times as loved as CI, steel and copper combined. See, Granted, the "aluminum" they count doesn't differentiate between plain, anodized and nonstick-coated, but still...

      "Would it be right to place it as a less expensive alternative to copper cookware, though it is somewhat pricey?"

      Absolutely. That's one of the reasons why it dominates the restaurant and institutional markets. Personally, if I couldn't have copper, thick, hard-anodized aluminum would be my first choice overall.

      I dunno if hard-anodized aluminum is fairly characterized as a starting step. The best of it has always been very good stuff, and it outperforms everything but copper in most applications. It is generally recognized as nonreactive, so you needn't worry about acidic foods. Only the bare stuff risks discoloring light or egg-emulsion sauces, greying onions, etc.

      The downsides are that: (a) the anodizing will degrade over time (but still very slowly if you wash by hand and use non-metal utensils); (b) larger pans have a slight propensity to warp (especially on commercial hobs); (c) re-anodizing isn't a realistic option; and (d) the dark anodized surface makes burn and fond assessment a little harder.

      Then there's cost. Cutleryandmore has the Calphalon Commercial 5Q anodized saute--including lid--on sale for $80 right now. Falk's 4.5Q in copper is $395, and another $125 for the lid. Is the Falk 6x or 7x better? Don't bet on it.


      6 Replies
      1. re: kaleokahu

        Thank you, Kaleo, this answers my question.

        There are several restaurant supply shops open to the public near me, they all carry aluminum cookware, but not the hard anodized stuff.

        Advantages over copper: less expensive (considerably, when compared to the quality stuff), not quite as finicky when it comes to heat and deglazing. Greatest drawbacks appear to be warping and it's not something one expects to become an heirloom since the anodized layer will eventually give.

        When you loose the anodized layer, you loose the "non-stick" abilities, and the relative non-reactive properties.

        There's a local Home Goods / TJ Maxx that just put out a bunch of Calphalon stuff, all of it Ohio made. How does one tell if it is coated with non-stick? It has a slippery surface, but it is rough, not like my teflon pans. A 10" fry pan is on sale there for $19, and they have what appears to be a $199 saute pan for $50 as well. Internet documentation indicates "long-lasting non-stick". Hmmm.

        In other news, I just got done sanding down my new vollrath CS fry pan; accidentally grabbed it with my rubber-lined tongs and the rubber melted all over. It wouldn't scrub or scrape off, so I took my rotary buffer with a sanding pad to it.. all clean, but now I have to reseason. Yay.

        1. re: jedovaty

          Hi, jedovaty:

          You're welcome.

          I neither want to complicate the issue or push you in any particular direction. But the loss of anodizing in a good quality pan can take a *very* long time if you take care of it. There are folks here on CH who have decades-old Calphalon that is still going strong. Bear in mind that the anodized layer is much harder than SS, it typically wears away gradually, and the reactive areas exposed are quite small (at least until the pan *looks* terrible). Bear in mind, too that even bare aluminum is less sticky than SS.

          How do you tell anodizing from non-stick? Well, it's not unlike telling a pleather sofa from a leather one. The PTFE-coated one's interior will feel "plastic-ey" and a little more lubricious or slick. The anodized one will be smooth, but not feel particularly slick, and chances are that both the inside *and* outside will be anodized. A lot of PTFE coatings have a little glitter-type reflectivity to them, whereas anodizing usually has a dull luminosity.

          Hope this helps.


          1. re: kaleokahu

            To add to Kaleokahu's contribution, "Hard anodizing" is an extra thick layer of aluminum oxide (13 - 150nm thick). Even when the hard anodizing wears down, the fresh aluminum alloys will naturally oxidize to form an aluminum oxide layer 5-15nm thick.

            Corrosion resistance mainly comes from the sealing process of the aluminum oxide, not the thickness. Unsealed aluminum oxide layers are extremely porous. Sealing anodized aluminum is all about filling the pores or microscopic fissures. One process of sealing aluminum oxide is a hydro-sealing process which at the most basic level is boiling the aluminum oxide layer in water for some period of time (30 minutes, 60 minutes....) and can be done at home, though sealing at home would not be as uniform or as thorough as commercial processes possibly using different sealing solutions than water, and with more controlled temperature/times. Home sealing would also probably result in lower corrosion resistance and increased reactivity of the underlying aluminum alloy substrate to cooking liquids. Sealing is not a one-chance-only process - every time you are cooking with a liquid (simmering, boiling, etc), you may be contributing to sealing pores or fissures to some degree, which is important as through normal wear and tear new pores and fissures will form.

            The thickness contributes to increased wear resistance and a sort of aluminum analogue to increased "hardenability" (ability to achieve a level of hardness at a given depth - all aluminum oxide has the same "hardness" or resistance to penetration regardless of the thickness of the layer). On the other hand, the thicker aluminum oxide layer is, the more susceptible to thermal stress cracking (also known as crazing) due to the aluminum alloy substrate having a very different linear thermal expansion coefficient than the anodized layer. Crazing can happen at fairly low temperatures in cooking terms (in the range of 200 deg Fahrenheit). If the anodizing process was done properly, the crazing would be microscopic and should not compromise the hardness/durability of the coating, but these microscopic fissures can decrease the corrosion resistance of the layer.

            Aluminum cookware can be good stuff, but it can be horrible also, just as multiply stainless or copper cookware can be. Aluminum cookware faces the same type of problem that Indian food and Chinese food faces (or made in China goods currently face). Namely aluminum cookware often is made a inexpensively as possible in order to compete on price and not to compete quality. Because of this, most people's experience with aluminum cookware is with shoddy pots and aluminum cookware gets a bad rep, even though aluminum cookware has the potential to be great at lower price points than many other materials if they are well designed and well made.

            1. re: khuzdul

              Dood.. excellent background, thanks.

              1. re: khuzdul

                One other thing -- the restaurant supply store has some regular AL pans, ranging from $8-15. That's ridiculously cheap. I've considered picking one up just to play with and see what exactly how the quick heat/cool and transfer works in reality, but first I don't like "waste"; and then it won't really fit into my cooking style. Hmm.

              2. re: kaleokahu

                Your description is sound, but I'm still having trouble discerning between actual product and market speak when it comes to "non-stick". I'll just have to do a bit more digging. Thank you for helping :)

          2. Before I got my induction cooktop my fry pans were Calphalon Hard Anodized. I think I bought them about 20 years ago. I liked them very much; good heat control and easy to clean as you could let them soak and use the green nylon scrub with them. One piece I had was a try-me piece; a 7 inch fry pan that was a little thinner material. I used it for eggs and rarely washed it with soap but just used hot water. That piece would get so slick. I gave them to my niece and she was happy to get them.

            2 Replies
            1. re: biscottifan

              So you can scrub them with elbow grease?

              I don't have the kind problems with food sticking to my stainless saute or stock pot** that I've read people having; just occasional when I accidentally burn something; hopefully my "techniques" are transferable to next cookware I get.

              ** stock pot doubles works as my sear->oven->deglaze since my saute pan has stupid rubber parts on the handle, boooo.

              1. re: jedovaty

                It doesn't take a lot of elbow grease. I'm just saying that the hard anodized surface can stand up to the green scrubbie which is not something I would use on stainless steel. My older Calphalon were quite easy to clean. I'm impatient and sometimes I turn a piece of chicken before it's ready and a bit of it sticks. The first time I made hash browns I had a bit of mess to clean.

            2. I've been using my Calphalon anodyzed Dutch oven for years, and love it. I have some Calphalon frying pans that pretty much sit in the cupboard, and a very large/deep saute that gets used infrequently, because, well, there are only two of us in the house and I don't cook in that quantity very often!

              I notice that the newer Calphalon has stay-cool handles. That would be nice (says someone who doesn't always remember to use the potholder...)

              1 Reply
              1. re: kcshigekawa

                How big is your saute pan? That's actually where my search has moved to, might be a good direction to go.

              2. I have a hard anodized dutch oven, the real camp cooking kind, from GSI Outdoors. It's a 3 qt 10" pot with lid (no legs - uses a tripod instead). I would class it as a low-stick surface, roughly comparable to enamel.

                I can't say a lot about responsiveness since I use it on a coil burner. Even heating is ok. I use it mainly for baking (i.e. a 10" deep baking dish) or stews.

                For quick response, and even heat, I mostly use induction compatible cast aluminum skillets. So far I've only see these in nonstick (mainly at TJMaxx).