A solid, well-seasoned cast iron skillet or Dutch oven is the one piece of cookware that transcends all cooking styles. You can saute, bake, broil, deep-fry and sear without damaging the cookware. From stovetop to oven, cast iron has proved its effectiveness and wear-ability for hundreds of years. But it has also been known to leach iron into foods.
Cast aluminum is created when molten aluminum is poured into a mold, forming the particular pot or pan rather than creating it from a piece of hardened aluminum. Anodized aluminum takes the process a step further by hardening the surface of the cast aluminum, making the product easier to use and safer. Both types of cookware have their benefits in a well-equipped kitchen.
From the hanging three-legged cauldron used when fireplaces were cooking ranges, there emerged a full range of cast iron cookware. Being cast means liquid iron is poured into a mold and it's set until it hardens. The mold is cut away and the piece of cookware is then fine tuned for commercial or personal use. In the late 1800s, as concern arose over the amount of iron leaching through the pan into food, porcelain enameling was introduced. This process created a coating that sealed the cast iron, eliminating concern for leaching. While not considered nonstick, the original cast iron and enameled cast iron pans release foods easily.
Iron wasn't the only metal that caused concern, as trace amounts of aluminum also leached into the food being prepared. Aluminum's softer consistency, tendency to scratch, its highly reactive state when paired with alkaline or acidic foods and fears of leaching led to the casting of aluminum cookware, creating a harder product. Another step further improved cast aluminum as it was hard-anodized, resulting in even tougher aluminum cookware and eliminating the fear of leaching.
Using Cast Iron
A well-seasoned cast iron pan is considered nonstick. The iron is porous and absorbs cooking oils, giving it a sheen and resulting in its nonstick qualities. While it takes a long time to heat up, once it does, the heat is evenly distributed and retained, making it ideal for oven-based foods. Cast iron cookware is extremely heavy, can react to acidic foods and is vulnerable to rust. It's also labor-intensive to clean. Enameled cast iron eliminates the reaction to both acidic and alkaline foods, adds to the weight but makes cleaning far more easy than nonenameled cast iron. One of the joys of using enameled cast iron is the ability to sear a roast, add the necessary ingredients to the same pot and transfer it to the oven, thus creating a one-pot meal. An enameled Dutch oven is ideal for stews and roasts.
Using Hard-Anodized Cast Aluminum
The major difference between cast iron and hard-anodized cast aluminum is the weight. Both take a long time to heat up, but lifting and moving a cast aluminum pot won't pull your arm muscles. Heat conduction is even and the pots and pans resist scratching. Avoid extreme high heat when using hard-anodized cast aluminum.