When it comes to buying cookware for the kitchen, it can be hard to choose from the large number of options that are available. Cookware comes in all sorts of materials: stainless steel, copper, aluminum, carbon steel, cast iron, nonstick, ceramic, clay and stoneware. With so many different options, the best choice depends entirely on your kitchen habits. Recently, people have been moving toward hard anodized cookware for use on their stove tops.
What Is Anodized Cookware?
The term anodized refers to a metal with an electrochemically treated surface. This treatment involves submerging the aluminum in a chemical bath to which an electrical current is then applied. This will oxidize the aluminum on the surface, creating a layer of oxide, which is much harder and more resistant to corrosion.
The phrase hard anodized takes this process to an extreme, using higher voltage to create a product that's much more durable and resistant. In the case of cookware, hard anodized aluminum has a nonreactive, hard surface that's smooth and generally nonstick. As aluminum is less expensive than other metals used in cookware, this can provide the same properties at a lower price.
Choosing Hard Anodized Cookware
Using this type of cookware in the kitchen has a number of advantages over other types of cookware materials. Be sure to consider all the pros and cons of hard anodized cookware and read hard anodized cookware reviews before making a purchase.
- Nonstick surface: The anodizing process leaves a smooth, nonstick surface that, while it isn't perfect, keeps food from sticking much better than many other types of cookware. Other nonstick pans use a polymeric coating that can degrade with heat and over time. The anodized surface is less likely to discolor and is safe for use with metal flatware that might scratch the polymeric coating off of other nonstick pans.
- Durability: Hard anodized aluminum is an incredibly durable material. This cookware is scratch-resistant and much more difficult to dent than other metal materials.
- Ease of cleaning: Due to the smooth, inert surface, hard anodized pots and pans will be easier to clean than other materials. Any food that does stick can be easily removed with a sponge and water.
- Fast, even heating: Aluminum is a powerful conductor of heat, meaning the bottom and sides of the pan are more likely to stay in equilibrium, cooking the food faster and eliminating hot spots.
Hard Anodized Cookware Disadvantages
Of course, there are disadvantages to this kind of cookware, as well:
- Potential health concerns: Aluminum is a heavy metal, and could potentially leach through the anodized surface and into food as the surface weakens. Nonanodized aluminum cookware can react with acidic foods, but once anodized, the surface is considered inert. While the risk of aluminum leaching in hard anodized aluminum is deemed somewhat negligible, many consumers prefer to avoid it altogether.
- Cleaning: Hard anodized aluminum cookware is not usually dishwasher safe, meaning that while cleaning might be easy due to the nonstick properties, all washing has to be done by hand.
- Cost: There are pros and cons to the cost, depending on which other types of cookware are under comparison. Aluminum is a less expensive metal, so the baseline cost may be cheaper than other materials. However, the electrochemical process does add cost and is more expensive than the traditional polymer coatings used in nonstick cookware. That being said, the upfront cost can be offset by the increased lifetime of the cookware.
Seasoning Hard Anodized Cookware
Some users like to season their hard anodized aluminum cookware, much like one seasons cast iron pots and pans. The oxidation process has already sealed the surface of these hard anodized products, but seasoning pans may be personal preference. To season hard anodized aluminum, wash the cookware first to remove any remaining material from packing and dry with a paper towel.
Put the cookware on the stove top at high heat, and add cooking oil. With a clean new sponge, spread the cooking oil around until the entire inner surface of the cookware has been coated. Allow the cookware to heat until the oil begins to smoke, then remove and let it cool. Once cool, wipe off excess oil with a paper towel and properly store the cookware. Once seasoned, it's recommended to wash the cookware with warm water only. If soap is used, the pan may need to be re-seasoned.
Heat Conductivity and Heat Use
Due to its high heat conductivity, it's best to use hard anodized cookware for dishes requiring medium to medium-high heat for a longer period of time. You'll want to cook dishes at a lower temperature than you may have using other materials. The high heat conductivity makes hard anodized aluminum a great material for a stir-fry wok or other such dishes.
Because the pan is nonstick, only a small amount of oil is required, allowing dishes to be cooked in a healthier manner. Be sure to use real oil and not nonstick sprays; some of them can become sticky or build up.
Due to its properties and construction, hard anodized cookware can be used in the oven as well as on the stove top. This is great for stove-to-oven dishes like quiche or casseroles.
Storing Hard Anodized Cookware
Hard anodized aluminum cookware should be stored in a place where there's no possibility of contamination from splattering oil or food preparation. Most people store cookware in a designated cabinet or on a pot rack. Hard anodized aluminum pots and pans can be stacked on top of one another, but should be stacked carefully to avoid any change of scratches or dents. Putting the cookware away or pulling it out should be done carefully.
Because hard anodized aluminum is so strong, it can be stacked on itself, but should not be stacked on pots or pans made of other materials. The hard anodized surface and edges of this aluminum cookware could scratch, dent or damage other materials. Pay extra attention when stacking hard anodized aluminum cookware with pots and pans that have a nonstick polymeric coating; this can easily be scratched or removed by the edges of hard aluminum pans.
Cleaning Hard Anodized Cookware
Hard anodized aluminum cookware must be hand washed, and it must be hand washed carefully. Do not put this type of cookware in the dishwasher. You'll also want to avoid harsh scrubbers like scouring pads, which could potentially mar the surface of the cookware. If you've seasoned your pots and pans with oil, wash with a clean sponge and warm water unless there is heavy buildup on the surface that requires soap.
Hard anodized cookware can be hand washed with dish soap in warm to hot water. Use a rag, sponge, or other soft cleaning scrub pad to scrub away any food residue or surface staining. Difficult stains can be removed with other formulas, including a baking soda paste, Comet, Ajax or Soft Scrub.
Be sure to check the owner's manual to determine which chemical treatments could harm the cookware. Often, brands offer a special cleaning solution to be used with their cookware, as well as a finish that will restore the usual shine of the cookware.
Overall, hard anodized aluminum makes an excellent choice for cookware as long as it is properly maintained. The distinct durability advantages mean this type of cookware can last for years if treated appropriately.