Welcome to this Stainless Steel vs Aluminum cookware review where we’ll be putting two popular types of cookware against each other. In truth, stainless steel and aluminum are a pair that are often used in conjunction with one another and are more like friends than enemies.
However, for this comparative analysis, we will be focusing on the types of cookware that are either predominantly stainless steel or aluminum. We’ll be taking a close look at the benefits and drawbacks of both.
What is Stainless Steel cookware?
Essentially, stainless steel cookware involves pots, pans, and other related items made using a combination of metal compounds known collectively as stainless steel. This composition includes iron, carbon, chromium, and nickel, among other various alloys.
Stainless steel cookware typically comes in three styles: single-ply, semi-clad (a.k.a bottom-clad), and fully-clad. All of which have varying layers and thickness that affect the cookware’s performance.
What is Aluminum cookware?
Likewise, aluminum cookware is any pot, pan, or related cooking item constructed from the metal compound known as aluminum. Known for its lower density and greater affinity toward oxygen that creates a protective layer, the material works exceptionally well for heat conduction and durability.
Aluminum cookware typically comes as either raw or untreated aluminum or hard-anodized aluminum. The latter is more rust and corrosion resistant and often comes with a non-stick coating.
How are they different?
Suppose you were to hold a typical stainless steel pan in your left hand and an aluminum pan in your right. You’d likely notice that the stainless steel pan is significantly heavier than its aluminum counterpart. This is because aluminum cookware weighs around one-third of stainless steel cookware. This is a direct result of its lower density.
While this means aluminum pots and pans are more lightweight than stainless steel, they aren’t as durable. They are more vulnerable to scratches and chips.
Other core differences between the two types of cookware include that stainless steel cookware tends to be induction compatible. This means you can cook food on induction cooktops in addition to gas, electric, and halogen (1).
Aluminum cookware in and of itself does not come with this luxury. So, you need to ensure your set comes with a magnetized base to enable compatibility with induction stove tops.
Another key difference is that stainless steel cookware is always dishwasher safe. In contrast, aluminum cookware (especially untreated versions) will experience corrosion from high heat, water, and harsh chemicals. It is therefore not safe for dishwasher cleaning.
How are they similar?
The obvious similarity between stainless steel and aluminum cookware is that they are both great at conducting heat and distributing heat evenly and effectively. Also, both aluminum cookware and stainless steel cookware can withstand high temperatures as they often feature oven-safe benefits of up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit.
Furthermore, both types of cookware are highly durable and resistant to rust and corrosion. Although, only hard-anodized aluminum cookware competes with stainless steel on this front.
Both aluminum and stainless steel lines offer nonstick cookware sets for the cooking surface, but on their own terms. Typically, nonstick cookware works better with aluminum cookware because of its greater heat conductivity which eliminates the need for the interior to be made of a heat retaining material.
On the other hand, stainless steel cookware often does not need a layer of non-stick coating as they are already naturally non-stick to a degree. With that said, it’s normal to see stainless steel cookware that also comes with non-stick coating. But, keep in mind this is typically due to a combined construction with an aluminum core that makes it more viable.
The bottom line is that a nonstick cooking surface is achievable and available with both aluminum and stainless steel cookware sets. Therefore, it should not be a limiting factor in your decision.
What’s better about Stainless Steel cookware?
Perhaps the most notable advantage stainless steel cookware has over aluminum is its greater level of durability. It achieves this from its denser, bulkier, and heavier composition. It also boasts better compatibility across a wider range of stovetops through its natural compatibility with induction stoves.
Furthermore, its ability to be cleaned via a dishwasher gives it an edge over aluminum cookware which will corrode and rust if washed in the same manner.
Other benefits of stainless steel cookware include its naturally non-stick surface, which reduces the amount of seasoning required for cooking. In addition, the thicker cladding and additional layers (especially for fully-clad cookware) provide extra protection against rust, corrosion, and chipping for a highly durable finish.
As such, you can be a little more reckless and vigorous with your cooking using stainless steel pans and pots compared to aluminum.
What’s better about Aluminum cookware?
As far as heat conduction goes, aluminum cookware is unmatched. The super-conductivity of aluminum is such a major factor that even stainless steel cookware will often feature a combined construction to gain its benefits.
The superconductive properties of aluminum also give it an edge in heat distribution and heat-up times. As a result, it allows you to reach your desired cooking temperature quickly and effectively.
Another incredible benefit of aluminum cookware is its compatibility with PFOA-free, non-stick coating. Due to the high heat conductivity of aluminum pans and pots coupled with their more lightweight construction, they tend to be more compliant with the non-stick layering of the cooking surface. They won’t interfere with the cookware’s heating capabilities.
As such, aluminum cookware often offers a safer cooking alternative that is chemical-free and cookware that is easier to clean by hand. In addition, thanks to its quick food release and non-stick properties, it caters to delicate foods.
Who should get Stainless Steel cookware?
Individuals who like to cook at higher temperatures without worrying about their cookware getting damaged would benefit greatly from stainless steel cookware. Stainless steel cookware is safe for high heat cooking. Its thicker cladding and naturally dense material provide higher oven-safe levels of 500 degrees Fahrenheit without any damage to the pot or pan.
Thus, stainless steel cookware suits those who care more about long-lasting durability as opposed to faster heat-up times.
Who should get Aluminum cookware?
Unlike stainless steel, aluminum heats up a lot faster due to its conductive core that transfers heat more effectively throughout the pot or pan. For this reason, you will often see hard-anodized aluminum pots and pans coming in with a durable nonstick coating that is scratch resistant and free of PFOA chemicals.
I would highly recommend an aluminum cookware set for those looking for a safer and healthier cooking experience and faster heatup times and better food release properties.
Of course, the things we must address in the aluminum vs. stainless steel cookware contest revolve around the material itself. By nature, hard-anodized aluminum cookware does not chemically react to acidic foods such as meats, eggs, and beans. This means you can enjoy cooking acidic foods without producing a metallic taste that compromises the flavor and enjoyment of your food.
Stainless steel excels in being naturally high in scratch resistance and durability. If you go for a brushed finish, you can enjoy the benefits of not worrying about smudges or fingerprints ruining the look of your cookware. Additionally, stainless steel cookware is also non-reactive, like aluminum. So, you don’t have to avoid cooking acidic foods for a healthier experience free of harmful chemicals (2).
To top things off, stainless steel is a naturally non-stick material. While it is not quite as effective as the Teflon nonstick coating you often find with hard-anodized aluminum pans, it certainly keeps food release properties to an ideal standard.
Stainless steel is also a fairly conductive metal in and of itself, so you wouldn’t be missing out on too much by forgoing the superconductive properties of aluminum.
Thus, stainless steel can compete with aluminum in various characteristics and offer unique benefits in terms of durability and longevity. Therefore, the winner will have to go to stainless steel as the more versatile, well-rounded material choice.
Winner: Stainless steel
To fairly compare the performance of aluminum with stainless steel, we must consider everything from heat retention, conductivity, strength, and overall cooking experience.
As mentioned, aluminum trumps stainless steel in conducting heat and distributing it evenly and effectively. However, stainless steel is the victor when it comes to retaining that heat for longer periods due to the thick cladding.
Ultimately, aluminum cookware facilitates faster and more even heating that eliminates cold and hot spots for a more balanced result with your food. On the other hand, stainless steel cookware makes for a more durable solution. It is not quite as effective in terms of conductivity but has higher heat limitations due to better oven safety mechanisms.
Thus, the victor will likely come down to the non-stick cooking surface and food release properties when it comes to performance. This ultimately goes to aluminum for its more durable PFOA-free options for its non-stick layers.
There is a huge range of bundles, sets, and single individual items available for both lines in terms of the kinds of products you could get from each type of cookware. Typically, many brands offer both stainless steel and aluminum cookware sets that often feature a range of saucepans, saute pans, dutch ovens, and other items.
Usually, pure aluminum cookware is cheaper to purchase than pure stainless steel. However, on a grander scale, the most common cookware combines stainless steel exteriors with aluminum cores. This gives the user the best of both worlds. It also provides plenty of room for slapping on non-stick coating in the process.
Thus, as far as product offerings go, you’ll usually find the same products available in both styles: stainless steel or aluminum. As such, stainless steel and aluminum are all tied up in terms of the products offered by each.
Moving onto their compatibility with the various types of stoves and cooktops could be tricky. In truth, both aluminum and stainless steel cookware offer induction-compatible pots and pans in their own styles. By nature, stainless steel will almost always be compatible with induction cooktops, but the same cannot be said for aluminum.
Untreated aluminum cookware is typically not compatible with induction cooktops, and even many hard-anodized aluminum pots and pans are the same. For an aluminum cookware set compatible with induction cooking, you must seek out those that come with a magnetized base.
Thus, because your options as an induction cooktop owner ultimately become more limited with aluminum cookware, you are better off going for stainless steel.
Winner: Stainless steel
Naturally, stainless steel is easier to maintain for the long run because of its thicker cladding and layered construction that is resistant to rust, corrosion, and chipping or cracking. However, when comparing the actual cleaning processes, you may find it easier to use aluminum cookware. This is because of its more prominent non-stick coating with the pot or pan.
Foods, sauces, and other dirt just slip right off when applying hot water and detergents due to aluminum cookware’s quick food release properties.
On the downside, metal utensils could potentially scratch the surface of the non-stick coating. This makes the cooking and cleaning processes a little more hazardous in potential than quality stainless steel cookware.
In addition, stainless steel cookware is typically dishwasher-safe. This takes out the unwanted labor of cleaning your pots and pans after cooking altogether. Thus, this win will have to go to stainless steel cookware once again for its easier maintenance processes and longer shelf-life.
Winner: Stainless steel
List of Stainless Steel companies
List of Aluminum cookware companies
Stainless Steel vs Aluminum cookware FAQ
Is Aluminum or Stainless Steel better for cooking?
Both aluminum and stainless steel are exceptionally good choices for cooking, and each type of cookware excels in different areas. Stainless steel is the preferred choice for durability, oven safety, and longer-lasting results. However, go with aluminum cookware for heat conductivity and PFOA-free non-stick cooking.
Is aluminum safer than Stainless Steel?
Aluminum tends to be safer than stainless steel in terms of being chemical-free and offering healthier cooking and eating alternatives. This is because the cookware is more compatible with PFOA-free non-stick coating free of harmful chemicals. This means you won’t get a nasty metallic taste that comes along with your food upon completion.
What is better Aluminum or Stainless Steel pots?
Depending on your needs and wants, the answer to which line of cookware you prefer could honestly go either way. Typically, an aluminum pot would be better at cooking meals faster. Whereas a stainless steel pot would excel at keeping food warm long after it’s been cooked and will also last longer.
(1) – https://www.cfs.gov.hk/english/programme/programme_rafs/programme_rafs_ft_02_03.html
(2) – https://www.dentalhealth.org/blog/what-foods-and-drinks-contain-acid-and-why-it-spells-trouble-for-our-oral-health#:~:text=The%20most%20acidic%20fruits%20are,and%20our%20body%20needs%20them.