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Cooking With Aluminum

by Only Cookware
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Over half of all cookware sold today contains aluminum. It's a great metal for cookware as it conducts heat fast and evenly, is light to handle and is relatively inexpensive compared to other materials.

The downside to aluminum is that it is a soft metal and so it scratches and dents easily. The bottom of an aluminum pan can eventually bow – especially if it is frequently used over a high heat.

It can also react with some acidic foods and actually change their taste. Anything containing egg yolks, asparagus, apples or artichokes can cause oxidation. This is a color change, usually a darkening, caused by the acidity of the foods.

There are ways to avoid this. The cheaper option is to look for cookware that has an inner core of aluminum and an outer coating of stainless steel.

A slightly more expensive answer to the problem is to choose anodized aluminum cookware.

What Is Anodized Aluminum?

Aluminum has a naturally occurring layer of aluminum oxide. The anodizing process thickens this layer. The thickening gives the cookware a harder, darker, non-porous surface which won't react to acids. It also means that it can heat up faster and reach higher temperatures.

Once it's been anodized, aluminum will be more resistant to chipping, cracking or peeling. However, it can still be scratched. If the surface is damaged, the anodized coating will be lost in that damaged area.

Sheet or Cast?

The most common forms of aluminum are anodized, sheet or cast.

Sheet Aluminum is the most common. The metal is rolled or stamped into shape and is most often used for baking sheets and cake pans – although stockpots, steamers, pasta pots and even cheaply priced skillets can be made from it.

As it is so soft, it is usually mixed with magnesium, copper or bronze to make it stronger and more durable.

Cast Aluminum is made by pouring heated molten aluminum into a mold. During this process, microscopic air pockets form in the metal. This means that the resulting cookware items will hold their heat for longer than sheet cookware. It also makes them quick to heat up and they only need a low heat source.

However, they are not so great at distributing the heat evenly and are also quite brittle. If they are dropped, they will probably crack. Cast aluminum cookware is porous and needs to be seasoned.

How Do I Season It?
  • Wash the cookware with hot soapy water.
  • Dry it and then coat it thoroughly with vegetable oil. The easiest way is to pour the oil onto a paper towel and work it well into all the surfaces.
  • Put the well-coated cookware into a 250 degree oven and leave it there for 2 hours.
  • Never use scouring pads or detergent on cast ware. Simply wipe it out using a damp cloth.
  • If food starts to stick to the cookware, just season it again.

How Do I Look After It?
  • Repeated washing in a dishwasher will strip off any seasoning, can cause discoloration and is not advised. Remove the staining by boiling something acidic like tomatoes or apple peelings and then re-season.
  • Don't leave it to soak in soapy water
  • Don't use steel-wool pads to clean it
  • You can use non-abrasive cleaners or a paste made with baking soda and water. se either of these with a gentle, synthetic scourer and your sheet or cast aluminum will shine!

Is It Safe?

Many people are scared to use aluminum cookware as they believe it may cause Alzheimer's disease.

Back in the 1970's, some researchers in Canada reported the finding that people who had died with Alzheimer's had unusually high levels of aluminum in their brains. It sparked controversy – was aluminum the cause of Alzheimer's, or the result of it? Many people were alarmed by this and threw away their aluminum cookware.

More recent studies would seem to indicate that the increased levels of aluminum were due to the Alzheimer's itself. Brains which have already suffered damage from Alzheimer's will allow unusually high levels of aluminum in.

This is not difficult as aluminum is everywhere. The most common elements on Earth (in order of prevalence) are oxygen, silicon, and aluminum. It's in air, water, soil and consequently in the plants and animals that we eat.

So can using aluminum cookware harm me?

Current research believes that it is safe to use. To put it into perspective, many common medications contain aluminum.
  • One antacid tablet may contain more than 50 milligrams of aluminum.
  • One aspirin may contain between 10 and 20 milligrams of it.
  • The World Health Organization says that an adult can safely ingest more than 50 milligrams of aluminum each day. People in the western world naturally consume about 10 milligrams each day and only 2 of those milligrams come from aluminum cookware.

Article provided courtesy of Only Cookware - a premier resource for cookware, stainless steel cookware and cast iron cookware sets.

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Written by Only Cookware
Published on August 21, 2007 at 05:37 PM
34 comments on Cooking With Aluminum:(Post a comment)

On August 22, 2007 at 02:30 AM, MisterEd said...
Hi Michael, thanks for the article, quite an interesting read.

I haven't encountered much cast aluminium cookware in the shops over here, maybe I am just not going to the right ones. I see plenty of cast iron cookware, though, and noticed that the process of caring for it is the same.


On August 22, 2007 at 03:43 PM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: silicon(e)
Quote:
The most common elements on Earth (in order of prevalence) are oxygen, silicone and aluminum


Um... silicone is not an element. Perhaps you meant silicon?


On August 22, 2007 at 04:12 PM, GaryProtein said...
This should probably be in the "useless stuff" thread, but I thought it would be interesting here, since the abundance of elements was mentioned in the aluminum cookware post.

The most common elements in the observable universe are hydrogen and helium, which comprise 97.9% of the matter by weight. Everything else totals only 2%!


Element......Parts per million by weight

Hydrogen ......739,000
Helium...........240,000

Oxygen...........10,700
Carbon..............4,600
Neon.................1,340
Iron..................1,090
Nitrogen...............950
Silicon..................650
Magnesium...........580
Sulfur...................440
All Others.............650


On August 22, 2007 at 05:47 PM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: silicon(e)
Anonymous wrote:
Quote:
The most common elements on Earth (in order of prevalence) are oxygen, silicone and aluminum


Um... silicone is not an element. Perhaps you meant silicon?

Yep, they must have meant silicon. I've made the correction.


On August 26, 2007 at 04:47 AM, Len (guest) said...
Subject: Aluminum cookware
Michael,

Another good article. My experience with cast aluminum in the past has been with dutch ovens and sauce pans. While they don't have the glitz of copper or the flash of shiny stainless steel (aluminum sandwich in the middle), they are awfully durable and are very evenly heated. The stamped skillets and other "pots and pans" are functional (once you figure out the hot spots), but for saute and sauces they don't cut it. How many times have you heard the stories of people who have tried a hollandaise or sauteeing onions and the mess it made afterwards using those stamped beauties?

The black anodized (Calphalon ?) are very nice and are worth buying a piece at a time, just like any other good and functional cookware. I've only used the sauce pans and they are every bit as good as my best copper. A lot cheaper to boot. The only caveat with the this type is that unless it says who made it. those knock offs are worthless.

Continued success to you and yours


On September 01, 2007 at 11:09 PM, CQE Chef said...
I've used about every type of material there is for cookware and swore off aluminum about 20 years ago except for baking. I didn't like the quality of construction I found, it's durability, or how it heated.

Steel, cast iron, or copper is the way to go if you can afford it.


On September 05, 2007 at 09:28 PM, pellis said...
Subject: Science behind pan seasoning
Perhaps this may be the subject of another post entirely, but what's the harm in scrubbing down aluminum with steel scrubbing pads? I realize you'll wear through the aluminum and shorten the life of the pan and perhaps increase the aluminum content of the food cooked in the pan, but are there other reasons? Is there a process after cleaning with a scrubbing pad that could even out the surface and reduce the aluminum transfer affect? I like the effectiveness and speed of scrubbing with a steel pad, and on cheaper pans, I see no reason to care about longevity.

Additionally, I'd like to get more information on seasoning pans. What happens when you have the oil on the pan in the oven for 2+ hours and why does it take that long? Once you heat the oil in the pan, do you wipe the oil off and put the pan away until the next use? I assume this isn't a preparation step that has to take place before you cook every time. What types of cooking necessitate a seasoned pan? I imagine seasoning the pan won't have much of an impact on poaching/boiling, steaming, and braising, but I don't understand the process completely.


On September 08, 2007 at 09:41 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: do not scratch aluminium!!!
Right, I come from a country that formerly used to be part of the Soviet Union. Aluminium used to be a big hype in there at one point - nowadays noone really dares to use it. Why?

As covered in the article, there are problems with acidic foods and soft surfaces that makes you consume it in your body. But it was also a common knowledge that the Soviet army used on purpose aluminium dishes etc because the added benefit besides weight was the fact it suppressed your sexuality. So stay clear of scratching it and never eat out of an aluminium dish as you undoubtedly will scratch it then!


On September 08, 2007 at 08:43 PM, GaryProtein said...
Subject: Re: do not scratch aluminium!!!
Anonymous wrote:
. . . . the Soviet army used on purpose aluminium dishes etc because the added benefit besides weight was the fact it suppressed your sexuality. So stay clear of scratching it and never eat out of an aluminium dish as you undoubtedly will scratch it then!


Do you know of a refereed journal where it says that so we don't start another unsubstantiated urban legend?


On September 10, 2007 at 05:27 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: Seasoning
Regarding seasoning, the word among cast-iron camping types is to NOT use vegetable oil, but instead use Crisco (or equivalent) shortening. The oil will leave a stick film that the Crisco won't.

Also, I've never heard of seasoning cast aluminum. As far as I know, it isn't necessary like for cast iron.


On October 31, 2007 at 02:57 PM, simplemind (guest) said...
Subject: Aluminum w/ teflon
So what is the current thinking w/ regard to PTFE coatings and safety? It's the only way I have found to do an omelet w/o sticking, and no I won't drown it in oil/butter to keep from sticking!
I usually go to the restaurant supply store and pick up a skillet that lasts about 2 years before it starts sticking. Then just replace it.


On October 31, 2007 at 08:03 PM, Dilbert said...
overheating seems to be a major cause of non-stick failure to non-stick....
I killed a couple when I shifted to gas from electric.

guess I got carried away with the the ole' 'preheat the pan' bit.

out gassing from overheated PTFE can be fatal to (pet / house) birds.

I'm sure somewhere there is someone who will insist any food cooked in non-stick pan is instantly fatal to any consuming human.
I have also established (patent pending) that the root cause of death is life, so I take the "everything is going to kill you" routine with a bit of salt. which of course will also kill you.

meanwhile, like you, I've given up on finding/buying some ultimate non-stick fry pan. I buy a $7 grocery store pan, when it becomes sufficiently scratched / dinged up that non-stick is a memory, I chuck it and buy another $7 pan.....


On November 05, 2007 at 05:56 PM, pikachiu132 (guest) said...
Subject: forget aluminium
by stoneware.

http://pamperedchef.com/our_products/catalog/overview.jsp?categoryCode=FH


On November 05, 2007 at 11:04 PM, Dilbert said...
is that non-stick "by stoneware" ?
or
"buy stoneware"?

spelling counts, even amongst engineers.

for info the link you specified shows bake ware.

bake ware is not intended for use as a frying pan


On January 14, 2008 at 08:57 PM, Graciela (guest) said...
Subject: Season Aluminum cookware
Hi, Michael congratulations for this great site!

I love to cook with luminum pans and I have been using Soy Lecithin to season them, just wipe a small amount on the heated pans with a paper towel and keep heating them on the stove for 10 minutes. Try it and let me know.

Regards from Venezuela,

Graciela


On May 19, 2008 at 03:30 AM, Guest (guest) said...
Subject: Aluminum pots and pans
The most efficient aluminum pots and pans Ive found are Wearever brand. These are the pans found in most restaurant kitchens, as opposed to those glitzy pots and pans displayed on the cooking shows, and can be found in any restaurant supply house. They are thick walled, hold heat evenly and well, and very sturdy. For myself, I use the heat resistant rubber handle covers also found in restaurant supply houses. My wife disapproved of my "flaming towel" method of moving the pots when the handles got hot.

They are not necessarily inexpensive a 14-inch Wearever saut pan with lid (sold separately) can cost over $100. Restaurant supply houses also are great places to find double-walled, heat cored, Vollrath stainless steel stock pots for those acidic foods, but thats another story.

Ive cured smooth Wearever fry pans with great results using Crisco and following the directions given to me by a local chef. Heres how its done: If you dont have at least a 750 cfm exhaust fan, temporarily disconnect your smoke detector. Fill the fry pan with solid Crisco. Heat until oil turns slightly brown. Turn off heat until pan cools. Repeat the process until the oil smokes. Turn off heat and let the pan cool until the Crisco just begins to solidify. Pour the Crisco into a container. Rinse the fry pan in warm water and dry with a paper towel.

Once cured, Wearever fry pans cook like they were teflon providing that sufficient heat, butter and/or oil are applied. Ive tried curing Wearever saut and sauce pans using the same method with differing results. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesnt. I think it has something to do with the radial machining on the bottom of the sauce and saut pans.


On June 11, 2008 at 12:12 AM, HeidiS13 (guest) said...
Subject: Cooking in nonstick
I cook a lot, and use both nonstick and "other" pans. Including aluminum.

Basically the best pans are the "restaurant quality" pans. First, they are CHEAP. A good cookie sheet costs $7. A good fry pan cost about $30, and they last and don't warp (meant for high heat).

As for sticking: nonstick is good for beginners. It's no good for "real" cooking, at least not for me. First, I need high heat to carmelize foods. Once it is carmellized, it surely makes a mess: all this brown gunk on the bottom! But then, you add a douse of water or wine, which makes this amazing SHOOSH! of steam (very impressive). It's called "deglazing" but the main point is: 1) It cleans your pan and 2) It makes this amazingly delicious sauce.

You can't cook on high heat OR do deglazing in nonstick. You can do both in either aluminum or steel. Steel works better, in my book, because it puts up with more abuse and stays "flatter". However, my steel pan does have an aluminum core, so it doesn't have hot spots. Steel also outlives nonstick amazingly. I had 2 sets of nonstick before I switched to steel, but none of the steel pans have died, whereas the nonstick needs to be replaced every few years, usually after someone else had them on high heat for too long.

I do have one pan that has some sort of "glass steel" coating that is listed as "nonstick" but isn't teflon of any type. It's a different kind of steel. Very expensive, and amazingly effective, and rarely sold.


On April 19, 2009 at 02:51 AM, KGWagner said...
Subject: Aluminum cookware
For those disposed toward needless worry, you'll get a lot more aluminum in your body through the use of antiperspirants than you'll ever get from your pots and pans.

As for non-stick pans being less than ideal for high-heat cooking or deglazing, that's no longer true. There's at least one manufacturer - Scanpan - who makes a line of non-stick pans that use a ceramic-titanium coating over aluminum that can take a great deal of heat, doesn't off-gas PTFEs, and will withstand the abuse of metal utensils. They're also oven and dishwasher safe. On top of all that, they still guarantee them for life.

Of course, they don't give the little rascals away; you'll pay a pretty penny for them. But, if they last as long as they say they will and they're willing to replace them forever, they're a bargain. We have a set here and while we've only been using them for a couple months, They're everything Scanpan says they are, and clean up almost as easily as rinsing. I can't recommend them highly enough.


On February 08, 2010 at 12:11 AM, Superchef (guest) said...
Aluminum pans don't work on induction stoves and have not enough thermal mass to keep temperature high when you put a large hunk of meet in. Nothing for the serious chef.


On March 15, 2010 at 10:08 AM, twoblink said...
Here's my take on aluminum..

I personally don't find it a safe cooking medium; so I don't use it. Basically 2 items are not used in my kitchen; aluminum pans, and the microwave.. I take that back.. I use the microwave to nuke my sponges. 2 minutes on high. But never food. Both aluminum pots and pans, and microwaves do things to food that are bad for you, IMHO.

BUT.. if you want really really sound scientific proof as most are engineers here; I'll give you the argument from the food quality standpoint.

Cast iron heats evenly, browns beautifully, and is cheap to own and will outlast you. Aluminum is soft, and has a funky taste.

I cannot think of a situation in which aluminum is superior to either cast iron or stainless steel with a copper core. Stainless definitely has a more neutral taste; if you don't believe me, throw a few tomatoes into a recipe and see how strange things taste in aluminum pans. Any meats, I prefer cast iron. Anything that is acidic sauce in nature, I prefer stainless.

There is almost no point to arguing that aluminum pans are bad for you, because those who believe it will always believe it, those who don't, will die early.. :lol: And I agree with Superchef, slap down a heavy piece of meat and the aluminum pan gets cold.

So you shouldn't use an aluminum pan because it is simply an inferior cooking surface..


On May 13, 2010 at 04:29 AM, rsauerheber (guest) said...
Subject: aluminum fluoride
In fluoridated water cities I would throw out aluminum pans because it has been published repeatedly in journals incuding Nature that aqueous fluoride leeches aluminum efficiently during heating. The studies by Varner in Brain Research proved that levels of fluoride intentionally injected into water supplies, when present with aluminum at very low levels, cause aluminum incorporation into brain in tested animals very rapidly with neural degeneration mimicking Alzheimer's disease. It is bad enough cities such as San Francisco and most other large cities in the U.S. must accept fluosilicic acid fluoride in all water, but to also do so while intentionally injecting alum (aluminum sulfate) as a clarifying agent at the same time is unconscionable, with what is now known about aluminum toxicity. The ion itself is usually eliminated from the GI tract, but in fluoridated water the aluminum fluoride complex forms at stomach pH which is probably assimilated in the duodenum prior to acid neutralization in the jejunem of the intestine. In any event, aluminum is rendered a toxic substance in fluoridated water, when nondrugged water would have left aluminum well enough alone as a nontoxic metal ion.


On December 11, 2010 at 08:38 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I would much prefer to err on the side of safety....

http://search.mercola.com/Results.aspx?q=aluminum%20cookware&k=aluminum%20cookware


On December 11, 2010 at 08:49 PM, Dilbert said...
err any side you'd care for, but Dr. Mercola is a Quack.

no science, all hyperbole


On December 12, 2010 at 08:12 AM, Michael Chu said...
Dilbert wrote:
err any side you'd care for, but Dr. Mercola is a Quak.

no science, all hyperbole

Agreed.


On October 05, 2011 at 11:07 PM, foodZu (guest) said...
Subject: Cookware
When I began learning about food I cooked with aluminum, Now Stainless Steel has been my preference for years now.

..
Natalie C.


On November 24, 2011 at 06:08 AM, joegreen said...
Subject: Aluminum Griddle
I had a 3/8" Stainless Steel Griddle along side my 6 burner Gas Range top. It was heated from the center only and gave very uneven heating results. I replaced the Stainless with 1/2" Cast Aluminum plate (Seasoned with Canola Oil). The temperature distribution across the entire Griddle Cooking area is now very even (if I remember correctly it is within +- 10 Degrees F) and gives perfectly golden brown pancakes 8 at a time.


On November 29, 2011 at 11:58 PM, Reici (guest) said...
Subject: Cooking Apple Butter in an aluminum pot
Man!!! And All I really wanted to know was; if I cooked my apple butter in an aluminum pot will it change the flavor or just deepen the color?


On November 30, 2011 at 01:25 PM, Dilbert said...
"classical" prep for applebutter is a very long slow cook time -

I would not recommend using aluminum - the acid of the apple will darken the pot and over that length of time, you could pick up some off flavor.


On July 26, 2012 at 12:18 AM, an anonymous reader said...
Subject: The imaginary hazards of microwaves
How exactly do you propose a microwave oven "changes" food aside from cooking it? There is no difference, between microwave cooked or any other food. You probably are the sort of idiot that has to wait a few minutes to even open a microwave despite the fact any microwaves will dissipate at the speed of light


On November 16, 2012 at 03:09 AM, guest (guest) said...
Subject: RE:The imaginary hazards of microwaves
you go ahead and "nuke" your food then. i rather keep my food molecules radiation free.


On November 16, 2012 at 03:56 PM, Michael Chu said...
Subject: Re: RE:The imaginary hazards of microwaves
guest wrote:
you go ahead and "nuke" your food then. i rather keep my food molecules radiation free.

I think there's some fundamental misunderstanding of how microwave ovens work and possible confusion with electromagnetic radiation and ionizing radiation (they type that creates comic book superheroes and causes mutations, radiation sickness, and all sorts of other problems).


On December 15, 2012 at 10:29 PM, an anonymous reader said...
I'd avoid cooking/baking with aluminum pots & pans if I have something else to use.
One question... I lined the bottom of the oven with aluminum foil, is it consider harmful ?


On December 15, 2012 at 11:41 PM, IronRinger said...
Do any of you Aluminum Alarmists ever eat in restaurants? Every commercial kitchen I've ever poked my head into uses Al cookware almost exclusively. It has great cooking properties, and it is cheap, which is a prime criteria because pots and pans get replaced frequently.

I use different criteria for choosing pots and pans in my own kitchen than restaurants do. I still like to eat out sometimes, but I worry much more about excessive salt and trans fats in my dinners than I do about cookware composition.


On March 18, 2013 at 09:08 PM, ApacheRosePea00 (guest) said...
Subject: Microwaves
I came here because I have some camping cookware that is said to be aluminum---it is a cheap set made in Taiwan I picked up a few years ago. After reading everything here, I think I'll stay away from the cheap set I have but not because it is aluminum. Cooking with aluminum a few days a year is a small concern comparable to daily activities where we are exposed to lots more aluminum. I'll steer clear because it was a cheap set made in Taiwan and because of that, I don't know exactly what it is.

But I did read one thing I want to comment on. Microwaves heat your food by heating up the water molecules and other compounds such as fat in said food(popcorn can be popped in the microwave for this reason and if you know why popcorn pops then there is the proof). Nothing more, nothing less. The only way you would be exposed to the radiation would be if you have a broken microwave---like you have broken the shield in the door that protects you(some waves escape but if you're that paranoid, you shouldn't be watching TV or sitting in front of a computer screen) or you're foolish enough to mess with the microwave unit and have made it a danger to use. Again, all it does is throw waves through your food and the food molecules do a little dance which causes them to heat up---which is why certain foods heat up better than others in a microwave. Concerning my food in a microwave or just a microwave oven in general, I'd be far more concerned about eating foods I prepare at home and eating nutritional foods versus 99.9% of the junk found at my local grocery---full of preservatives, man-made chemicals that are indigestible, fillers, etc.

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