September 4

Aluminum Cookware: Everything You Need to Know (And Is It Safe?)

By trk

Last Updated: November 28, 2022

aluminum cookware, aluminum pans, aluminum safety, best cookware

Aluminum is the most common metal found in cookware. But a lot of people wonder if it's a good choice--and more importantly, if it's safe to cook with.

We cover the basics about aluminum cookware: types of aluminum cookware, using aluminum cookware, safety issues, and the best kinds of aluminum cookware to buy.

Aluminum Cookware at a Glance

Here's a quick reference table of cookware that contains aluminum. We talk in more detail about each one below.

Cookware Type/Example

Pros

Cons

-Affordable

-Lightweight

-Won't rust

-Many pieces and sizes available.

-Can give food a metallic flavor

-Can discolor from heat and certain foods

-May cause health issues (but evidence for this is weak)

-Soft: scratches easily

-Not induction compatible

-Not dishwasher safe.

Anodized Aluminum Cookware

coated: Anolon Luxe Nouvelle (PTFE), Green Pan Lima (ceramic nonstick)

uncoated: Calphalon Professional (discontinued)

clad: Viking

-Mostly affordable

-As durable as stainless steel

-Lightweight

-Won't rust.

-Nearly impossible to find without nonstick coating

-Not induction compatible

-Not dishwasher safe

-Expensive when clad with steel (Viking) but excellent cookware.

Coated Aluminum

Vollrath Wear-Ever  (bare alum. w/PTFE coating)

Rachel Ray (exterior enamel coating, interior PTFE)

-Most has nonstick coating

-Easy to clean

-Affordable

-Lightweight

-Won't rust

-Many buying options (but most aluminum cookware has nonstick coating).

-Nonstick coatings are not safe to cook with

-Many environmental issues with PTFE industry

-Not induction compatible without magnetic disc bottom

-Can't use metal utensils, aerosol spray, high heat, or dishwasher.

Clad Stainless Steel Cookware

All-Clad D3 (alum. interior)

Viking (anodized ext/alum int/steel cooking surface)

-Durable

-Safe, stable cooking surface

-Corrosion resistant/wont rust

-Heats evenly 

-Most are induction compatible

-Many are dishwasher safe

-Many sets/pieces available.

-Good brands are expensive

-Heavier than aluminum cookware.


Disposable Aluminum Cookware

foil pans

-Cheap

-Disposable (no need to wash)

-Convenient

-Several sizes/styles 

-Most are recyclable.

-Not very sturdy (bad choice for heavy foods)

-May leach metallic flavor

-Must wash before recycling

-Landfill issue if you don't recycle.

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Why Cookware Contains Aluminum

Cookware contains aluminum for two reasons. The first is that it has excellent thermal conductivity, meaning that it heats quickly and evenly. The second is that it's abundant--it's the most common metal found in the earth--and cheap to use. 

Compared to aluminum, only copper has better thermal conductivity: copper heats about twice as fast as aluminum. But copper is rarer and much more expensive, so it is typically found only in high-end, expensive cookware. (Don't confuse copper-colored cookware with real copper cookware; you'll know real copper cookware by the exorbitant price. Copper-colored cookware can even have copper in its name, but it's really aluminum cookware that's copper-colored.)

Cast iron, carbon steel, and stainless steel have notoriously poor thermal conductivity, meaning they heat slowly and unevenly. Thermal conductivity is measured in watts per meter Kelvin (W/m.K), also called "k value." Though this unit may not mean anything to you, this comparison chart tells you plainly which metals have the best thermal conductivity:

Copper: 401 W/m.k

Aluminum: 237 W/m.K

Cast Iron: 80 W/m.K

Carbon Steel: 51 W/m.K

Stainless Steel: 15 W/m.K

So you can see why aluminum is used in cookware.

You may wonder why some of these other materials are used in cookware, when their thermal conductivity is so low.

Cast iron and carbon steel heat slowly and unevenly, but their heat retention is excellent, which is also a desirable trait in cookware. It allows them to hold heat for a long time, even when cold food is added to a hot pan. This makes them excellent for searing and browning (hot cast iron + steak = pure deliciousness).

Stainless steel is used for the exterior layers of clad cookware, meaning it has an aluminum (or sometimes copper) heating core surrounded by stainless. This configuration makes for durable and usually induction compatible cookware. The combination of excellent heating and durable exterior makes stainless steel cookware our choice for the best all-around cookware. However, there are hundreds of brands (maybe thousands), and they are not all good quality. We talk about this in several of our reviews, and will recommend a few good quality brands below. 

Aluminum is cheap, abundant, and has excellent heating properties, so it is used in many types of cookware.

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Types of Aluminum Cookware

The table above shows all the types of cookware that contain aluminum (there may be others, but these are the most common). In this section, we go into more detail about what they are.

Uncoated Aluminum Cookware

Vollrath Wear Ever Aluminum Skillet

Vollrath WearEver aluminum frying pan.

Uncoated aluminum cookware is just that: bare aluminum cookware made from stamped or cast aluminum (we discuss the different types of aluminum cookware below).

Uncoated aluminum cookware is most popular in the restaurant industry because it's cheap but has good heating properties. You won't find it in upscale professional kitchens, but you'll find it in abundance in diners, drive-ins, and dives. 

The Vollrath skillet shown above is marketed to both professional and home cooks, but Vollrath is best known as a company that makes commercial products. 

If you want to see real restaurant aluminum cookware, Webstaurantstore.com is the place to look. 

Uncoated aluminum cookware is not popular with home chefs even though it's affordable. Aluminum is a soft metal that scratches easily, and it's not great for acidic foods, which can cause leaching and give a metallic flavor to your food. 

Some people believe that uncoated aluminum is also unsafe. It has been associated with Alzheimer's disease. This is probably not an issue, though. You are exposed to much higher doses of aluminum from antacid pills and deodorant than you are from bare aluminum cookware. This article from cleanplates.com quotes studies that show how little aluminum actually leaches into your food from aluminum cookware, even when using acidic ingredients.

Still, the softness of aluminum is an issue: it can cause off-flavors, and it isn't durable. So most cookware marketed to home buyers is not bare aluminum.

Pros: Cheap, lightweight, won't rust, many pieces available. 

Cons: Not very durable, not great for acidic foods, not induction compatible, may cause health issues (though evidence for this is weak).

Uncoated aluminum cookware is mostly seen in restaurants, but is available for home cooks.

Anodized Aluminum Cookware

Anolon Nouvelle Luxe skillet set

Anolon Nouvelle is our favorite anodized nonstick pan.

According to anodizing.org:

Anodizing is an electrochemical process that converts the metal surface into a decorative, durable, corrosion-resistant anodic oxide finish. Aluminum is ideally suited to anodizing, although other nonferrous metals, such as magnesium and titanium, also can be anodized.

Anodizing strengthens and stabilizes the outer layer of aluminum, which makes it more durable and less reactive than uncoated aluminum. In fact, anodized aluminum is one of the hardest substances known to man, and stronger than stainless steel. The anodized exterior fuses with the underlying aluminum, so it won't peel, chip, or flake off; it's there for the life of a pan. 

Anodization results in a dark gray or black matte finish that is not dishwasher safe, so you have to wash it by hand. 

Anodized aluminum has the same excellent heat conductivity as regular aluminum, with none of the drawbacks (except perhaps you have to hand wash it because dishwasher detergent dulls the anodization--but you should hand wash all good quality cookware). 

Hard anodized aluminum is created by the same process, but it makes a thicker layer than regular anodization. As far as cookware goes, either process results in durable cookware, so there is no need to look for hard anodized rather than anodized.  

Anodized aluminum is the most common aluminum cookware in the consumer market, and the vast majority of anodized aluminum cookware has a nonstick cooking surface. (Calphalon had a line of cookware that was anodized throughout, Calphalon Professional, but they've discontinued it. We know of no others, though they may be out there.) 

Most people who buy anodized cookware want a nonstick cooking surface. In fact, "anodized" has become largely synonymous with "nonstick" cookware, but it's not the anodized aluminum that's in contact with your food, it's the nonstick coating. So even if the exterior of a pan is anodized, it's still nonstick cookware.

This is an important distinction that a lot of sellers and review sites don't make: nearly all "anodized cookware" has a nonstick cooking surface--be sure to understand this before you buy, especially if you're concerned about toxins in nonstick coatings. 

We talk more about this below in the section on nonstick cookware. But if you want to see what we mean, google for "best anodized cookware" and you'll see that the top results are all nonstick, even if they don't explicitly say so.

A few brands of anodized aluminum cookware are clad with an aluminum heating core and a stainless steel cooking surface. All-Clad LTD has this configuration, but has unfortunately been discontinued. The only line we know of that's still being made is by Viking, which is 5-ply with an exterior layer of hard anodized aluminum, three internal layers of aluminum, and a cooking surface of 18/10 stainless steel. (See our Viking Cookware review for more info.) 

The Viking line of hard anodized/stainless cooking surface is excellent cookware (though expensive). Because it has an outer layer of aluminum as well as an aluminum heating core, it has more aluminum than most clad stainless cookware with an outer layer of steel. More aluminum means faster, more even heating, while the stainless cooking surface and anodized outer layer mean superb durability.

We're not sure why anodized clad stainless cookware isn't more popular. Perhaps it's because you can't toss it in the dishwasher, even though good quality cookware should be washed by hand, anyway. But if you want anodized aluminum without a nonstick cooking surface, the Viking line is one of the only options we know of that's still being manufactured. 

Pros: Extremely durable while still having excellent heating properties.

Cons: Most of it has a nonstick coating, is not dishwasher safe, and is not induction compatible.

"Anodized cookware" and "nonstick cookware" are NOT synonymous, but most anodized aluminum cookware does have a nonstick cooking surface. A few brands have a stainless steel cooking surface, but no brand we know of has an anodized aluminum cooking surface.

Since the cooking surface is what's in contact with your food, be sure you know what type of cooking surface an anodized pan has before you buy it, especially if you're concerned about toxins in nonstick coatings.

Coated Aluminum Cookware (Regular and Anodized)

All Clad Nonstick HA1 pans

All-Clad HA1 anodized nonstick skillets: PTFE coating on cooking surface.

Rachel Ray Cookware Set

Rachel Ray cookware: PTFE coating on cooking surface, enamel coating on exterior.

There are two kinds of cookware coatings: nonstick and enamel. (There may be more, but these are the most common.) 

Coatings are used to make cookware more durable or easier to clean. In the case of enamel, it protects the soft aluminum pan body and also adds a pop of color. 

Nearly all aluminum cookware (that isn't clad) sold in the US is coated with a nonstick cooking surface.

If it's not anodized, then the outer layer is often enameled (but most of it is anodized). 

You also find enamel on cast iron cookware, but typically the cooking surface is also enamel (not a nonstick coating, though enamel is often considered semi-nonstick).

We talk more about nonstick cookware below in the section on what aluminum cookware to avoid.

The two most common coatings seen on aluminum cookware are nonstick and enamel. Nonstick is seen on the cooking surface, while enamel is seen on the exterior.

Clad Cookware With Aluminum Core

All-Clad D3 10 piece set

All-Clad D3: stainless steel with aluminum heating core.

Most people think of aluminum cookware as nonstick, but it's not the only kind. As we've already mentioned, aluminum is used as the heating core in most clad stainless cookware. 

Therefore, clad stainless cookware is also a type of aluminum cookware, even though no aluminum is exposed. (By the way, no aluminum is exposed in anodized or enameled nonstick pans, either.)

The most common configuration of clad stainless is tri-ply, with a cooking surface of 18/10 (or similar) stainless steel, an exterior of magnetic stainless (for induction compatibility), and an interior aluminum heating core.

5-ply is another popular clad cookware, with three inner layers of aluminum or two thin layers of aluminum and a layer of copper. All-Clad D5 has two inner layers of aluminum with a layer of stainless steel between them; the only cookware we know of with this configuration (and not one we recommend).

Many people believe that 5-ply is inherently thicker than tri-ply and heats better, but this isn't always the case. The important factor is the thickness of the heating core, not the number of layers it contains. (There's more to say about this, but for the purposes of this article, we'll leave it at that. Follow the link in the last paragraph if you want to learn more.)

Still another, less popular type of clad cookware is disc-clad, also called bottom-clad or impact-bonded. This cookware has an aluminum/steel disc welded to the bottom, with stainless steel sides.

It's easy to see disc-clad cookware by the seam where the disc is welded to the pan: 

Cuisinart Chefs Classic sauce pan

Another type of clad cookware has an anodized aluminum exterior, stainless cooking surface, and aluminum heating core--see the Anodized Aluminum section above. 

(Many people assume disc clad cookware is lower quality than fully clad, but that isn't always true. In Europe, there are several high quality brands of disc clad cookware, including Demeyere and Fissler.)

The main point is that pretty much all clad cookware contains at least one internal layer of aluminum. Aluminum is necessary because stainless steel alone has terrible heating properties. 

Clad stainless steel cookware is the best choice for most cooks. The steel exterior makes it durable and induction compatible (many brands are also dishwasher safe), while the aluminum interior gives it great heating properties. 

The quality of clad cookware varies. When you pay a premium for it, you're paying for two things: 1) good quality steel and 2) a heating core that's thick enough to spread heat evenly and hang onto heat well. 

What is a thick-enough heating core? Fully clad cookware should have an aluminum layer at least 1.6mm thick (the thickness of All-Clad D3). Disc clad cookware requires a much thicker layer of aluminum to spread heat evenly and should be at least 2mm (and thicker is better).

You don't have to pay All-Clad prices, but you do have to do your research. Our Cookware page has several articles on how to buy clad stainless steel cookware (as well as the brands we recommend).

Clad stainless steel cookware has no exposed aluminum and is the most durable, safest, and longest lasting type of aluminum cookware. It is the type we recommend.

Disposable Aluminum Cookware

Disposable Aluminum Roasting Pans

Disposable aluminum cookware is just that: thin, lightweight pans meant for one-time use. You see them at parties, pot lucks, family get-togethers, and anywhere a disposable pan makes for a convenient way to serve a dish. 

Disposable cookware is available in many shapes, including cake pans, brownie pans, pie plates, roasting pans, loaf pans, baking sheets, takeaway containers, and more. 

Disposable aluminum is cheap and convenient, but it's not great for heavy dishes. If you want to roast a turkey in it, be sure to put a sturdy baking sheet underneath, or you'll never get it out of the oven.

Is disposable cookware really cookware? Well, it's used for cooking, so yes, we think it counts. And if you're concerned about aluminum leaching into your food, disposable cookware is probably the biggest culprit that a home cook is exposed to, so you may want to minimize how often you use it. 

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Using Aluminum Cookware

This section covers basic issues of using and caring for aluminum cookware. It applies mostly to bare and anodized aluminum with a nonstick cooking surface; since the aluminum in clad stainless cookware is not exposed, its use and care instructions apply to stainless steel (not aluminum).

Types of Aluminum: Stamped, Forged, and Cast

Buyers should understand the difference between stamped, cast, and forged aluminum. How the aluminum is made affects the quality and heating performance.

Stamped aluminum is seen mostly in inexpensive cookware. It is stamped by a machine out of a sheet of aluminum and is the thinnest type of aluminum cookware. Stamped aluminum heats quickly because it's thin (low mass), but it can't hold heat well (low mass) and is prone to warping. GraniteStone is an example of a stamped aluminum pan.

Cast aluminum is made by pouring molten aluminum into a cast, or mold. Cast aluminum is typically thicker than stamped, so though it heats slightly slower (because it has more mass), it heats evenly, holds heat better, and is more resistant to warping (because more mass). 

Because aluminum is a cheap material, many cast aluminum pans are priced similarly as stamped aluminum or just slightly more expensive. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a pan is cast or stamped, and price isn't always an indicator (although extremely inexpensive nonstick pans are almost always stamped).  All-Clad HA1 is cast aluminum, and go for about $35-$60 per pan. 

Forged aluminum is made by a machine process, but forged parts are made from much thicker pieces (ingots rather than sheet metal) and produce much heavier-duty products than stamping. Thus, forged aluminum pans are as thick as cast pans or thicker. Forging is used when parts need to be extremely strong. Thus, forged aluminum pans are thick and durable, and typically have excellent heating properties.

Since cookware isn't subjected to stresses (like car and machinery parts are), there's not a huge advantage to buying forged aluminum pans over cast aluminum pans, but the cost is usually about the same, and forged aluminum produces a durable pan. Ballarini is an example of a forged aluminum pan.

To summarize, cast and forged aluminum pans are thicker and higher quality than stamped aluminum pans, usually without being much more expensive--so it is well worth spending a little more on cast or forged aluminum cookware.

If you want better heating properties, look for cast or forged aluminum rather than stamped.

Is Aluminum Cookware Durable?

Durability varies, depending on the type of aluminum cookware you're talking about.

Nonstick-coated aluminum pans are the least durable of all cookware because nonstick coatings are easily destroyed by high heat, dishwashers, metal utensils, and abrasive scrubby pads. In fact, any cookware with a nonstick coating will be the shortest-lived cookware in your kitchen. Many people accept this and replace their nonstick cookware every couple of years to have cookware that's easy to wash. Below, we discuss nonstick cookware in more detail, including why we think it's the worst cookware you can buy.

Anodized aluminum and enameled cookware with a nonstick coating are both included here: although the pan's base can hold up for decades, the nonstick coating means it's only usable for a few years. (Once a nonstick coating is shot, it is not safe to continue using, especially if it's PTFE.) 

Anodized aluminum with a stainless steel cooking surface is extremely durable and will last for many decades. And if you can find 100% anodized aluminum, without a nonstick coating, that, too, will be extremely durable. But any anodized aluminum with a nonstick cooking surface should be considered not very durable

Uncoated, 100% aluminum isn't very durable, either. It scratches easily and can leach into acidic foods. However, these pans don't have a delicate nonstick coating to wear out, so you can use them no matter how scratched or old they might be--though you should probably avoid cooking acidic foods in them.

To summarize, clad cookware with internal layers of aluminum is the most durable aluminum cookware: Since there is no exposed aluminum, these pans have the durability of stainless steel, or less commonly, anodized aluminum. 

Clad cookware with aluminum interior is the most durable aluminum cookware because it has no exposed aluminum. 

All nonstick aluminum cookware, including anodized and enameled, are the least durable cookware you can buy because nonstick coatings only last for a few years regardless what the exterior).

Is Aluminum Cookware Easy to Clean?

Ease of cleaning varies, depending on the type of aluminum cookware.

Nonstick cookware is the easiest-to-clean cookware. This includes all types of aluminum with a nonstick coating: bare, anodized, and enameled. Clad stainless cookware with a nonstick coating is also easy to clean.

Of these, only enameled and clad stainless can go in the dishwasher, and even then, nonstick cookware is best washed by hand because abrasives in dishwashing detergent can destroy nonstick coatings (even if manufacturer says it's dishwasher safe).

100% uncoated aluminum can be sticky, so can take some elbow grease to clean. Using low-medium heat and plenty of cooking oil makes a huge difference in how easy a plan is to clean.

Clad stainless cookware with a stainless steel cooking surface can be sticky and sometimes hard to clean, but this shouldn't stop you from buying it. Knowing the right techniques to use with stainless cookware makes it much easier to clean, but not as easy as nonstick. (Technique: Low-medium heat, enough cooking oil to coat the cooking surface, then allowing food to release naturally before trying to move it.)

How to Use Stainless Steel Cookware So It's Easy to Clean

1. Heat on medium or heat.

2. Add enough cooking oil to thinly coat pan and turn heat to low-medium.

3. When oil is just starting to shimmer, add food. (If it smokes, it's too hot and you should start over.)

4. Do not attempt to stir or flip food until it has naturally released from the pan (several minutes).


Can Aluminum Cookware Go In the Oven and Dishwasher?

Washing dishes

For best results, you should wash all your cookware by hand.

Dishwasher: The only aluminum cookware that can maybe go in the dishwasher is clad stainless steel with a full steel exterior. 

Uncoated aluminum, anodized, and all types of nonstick must be washed by hand. Clad stainless should be washed by hand as well, as the dishwasher detergent can scratch and dull pans.

Manufacturers often market nonstick cookware as being durable enough to withstand a dishwasher, but it's a bad idea. If you want your nonstick cookware to last, wash it by hand.

Oven: Yes, aluminum cookware can go in the oven. Check your brand for the safe high oven temp because it can vary quite a bit. For example, most clad stainless cookware (with aluminum interior) is oven safe up to 500F, and most PTFE nonstick is also safe to 500F. But aluminum pans with a silicone or rubber handle are probably oven safe to no more than 350F. 

If you want your nonstick cookware to last, don't put it in the dishwasher, even if the manufacturer says you can. Dishwasher detergent has abrasives that take a toll on the nonstick coatings.

Does Aluminum Cookware Work on an Induction Cooktop?

Aluminum is not induction compatible, so it needs a magnetic base to work with induction. This is similar to disc-clad cookware in that a base containing magnetic steel is welded to the bottom. It may also have an additional layer of aluminum or copper in the base (like Anolon Nouvelle Luxe, our favorite nonstick skillet).

Magnetic bases are fairly common on aluminum cookware, but they're not universal. If you have an induction cooktop, be sure any aluminum cookware you buy has a magnetic base.

Aluminum is not induction compatible, but many pans have a magnetic base to work with induction.

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Is Aluminum Cookware Safe?

You may have heard that using aluminum cookware can contribute to Alzheimer's disease. While there is some association between aluminum ingestion and developing Alzheimer's, the amount of aluminum that leaches from your cookware or bakeware is very tiny, and not enough to be cause for alarm.

Therefore, aluminum cookware--even uncoated aluminum--is considered safe.

(If you are concerned about aluminum ingestion, look to deodorant and antacid pills, which both contain far higher amounts of aluminum than any that could leach from your cookware. See this article on aluminum safety for more information.)

But wait...there's more. Since most aluminum cookware has a nonstick coating, you should also be concerned about this. For any coated cookware, it's smart to ask "is the coating safe?" because that is what your food is exposed to. 

The answer is not simple, and we look at it in more detail below in the section on cookware to avoid.

You will ingest much more aluminum from antacid tablets than from cookware.

However, nonstick coatings, though extremely popular, may NOT be safe--which we discuss more in the next section.

Does Aluminum Leach Into Food from Cookware?

Yes, it does, but in extremely small amounts. Even if you use an aluminum pan for acidic food (tomato sauce, for example), and the food takes on a metallic taste, the amount of aluminum in that food is still very small.

According to this article, tomato sauce cooked and stored overnight in an aluminum pot leached about 0.0024 milligrams of aluminum per cup. This is well below the weekly safe intake threshold of 68 milligrams per week.

So yes, you are exposed to aluminum from some aluminum cookware, but it is an extremely small amount. And if you are using coated, anodized, or clad aluminum cookware which has no aluminum on the cooking surface, then your amount of aluminum exposure goes down to zero. 

Since few people use cookware with a bare aluminum cooking surface, the biggest concerns are with disposable aluminum cookware.

Bare aluminum cooking surfaces can leach aluminum into food, giving it an off taste, but in very tiny amounts, so it is generally considered safe. 

Factors that Increase Aluminum Exposure in Cookware 

High heat and acidic foods increase aluminum leaching. This will be most noticeable in bare aluminum cookware, including disposable aluminum pans. However, even high heat and acids result in extremely small amounts of aluminum leaching into your food (see the above section for more information).

Coated aluminum cookware has no aluminum exposed, so leaching will only happen if the cooking surface is scratched or peeling. If this is the case, this cookware is probably not safe to use, as it will leach more than aluminum (for example, PTFE coatings can leach toxic PFAs). 

Clad cookware with an aluminum heating core won't leach any aluminum. It is almost impossible to wear a stainless cooking surface down to the point that aluminum is exposed, even after decades of use.

High heat and acids can increase leaching of bare aluminum, but the amounts are so small they are considered safe. And this only happens on a bare aluminum surface, which for most cooks means disposable aluminum cookware (bare aluminum pans are used mostly in the restaurant industry and not often found in home kitchens).

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Pros and Cons of Aluminum Cookware

Pros
  • Excellent heat transfer: fast and even
  • Affordable
  • Lightweight
  • Doesn't rust
  • Can be clad with other metals or coated for greater durability
  • Anodized aluminum is very durable.
Cons
  • Bare aluminum can leach into acidic foods, giving them a metallic taste
  • Soft; scratches easily
  • Not induction compatible in any form
  • Not dishwasher safe in any form
  • Thin pans can warp and lose heat quickly (not great for searing)
  • Nonstick coated pans require non-metal utensils
  • Nonstick coated pans have heat limits of 500F (and safer below 400F).

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What Is the Best Aluminum Cookware to Buy?

Since aluminum is inexpensive and spreads heat so well, it's a good choice for cookware. But there are definitely better pans than others. 

Here are our picks.

Clad Stainless Steel with Aluminum Heating Core

Demeyere Industry 5 10pc set

Demeyere Industry 5 10pc set.

The best aluminum cookware by far is clad stainless steel with an aluminum heating core. It's the best of both worlds: the durability of stainless steel and the excellent heat conduction of aluminum. 

Clad stainless cookware varies greatly in quality, so we recommend doing your research before buying. Remember, you want good quality steel and a thick heating core. Since this information isn't always easy to find, we recommend going with one of our recommendations.

Here are our picks:

Demeyere Industry 5: ("De-MY-ruh") 3mm thick with 2.1mm aluminum heating core. Made in Belgium. Our top pick for clad stainless steel cookware. See our Demeyere review for more information.

All-Clad D3: 2.6mm thick with 1.7mm aluminum heating core. Made in USA. D3 is our pick of the All-Clad lines. LIghter than Demeyere but still excellent heating and lifetime warranty. See our All-Clad review for details.

Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad: The best All-Clad D3 knockoff. Nearly identical configurations as D3, 18/10 stainless, lifetime warranty. Made in China or Brazil. See our Tramontina Tri-Ply Clad review for details.

Viking 5-ply with anodized aluminum exterior is top notch cookware, too, though the anodized aluminum exterior isn't as popular with buyers as stainless steel. It has excellent heating due to all the aluminum and will last for decades.

We also like Heritage Steel, 360, and Cuisinart MultiClad Pro. If you want the best of the best and don't mind heavy cookware, Demeyere Atlantis is the best stainless cookware on the market, particularly the Proline skillet.

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Avoid These Types of Aluminum Cookware

AC Essentials Nonstick Skillets

Though very popular, nonstick cookware is not safe and is terrible for the environment.

Here are the types of cookware we recommend you avoid.

Nonstick Cookware (Both Types)

Nonstick is probably the most common cookware sold in the US and maybe in the world, so we know we're really out on a limb here telling you not to buy it. But if you'll hear us out, we might be able to convince you.

There are two types of nonstick cookware. PTFE (the generic term for Teflon) and ceramic. PTFE cookware has been around since the 1950s. It can contain many additives such as granite, titanium, and diamond, but the base is still PTFE, even if the manufacturer neglects to mention it. Also, "PFOA-free" does not mean there's no PTFE in the cookware. In fact, "PFOA-free" usually means the cookware is PTFE. "PFOA-free" also does not mean the cookware is safer or cleaner, because PFOA replacements are similar to PFOA. 

Ceramic nonstick has only been around since 2007. The ceramic coating is not the same as you find on enameled cookware (which is not nonstick). Ceramic nonstick is touted as safer and better than PTFE, but we really don't know yet if that's the case. What we do know for sure is that ceramic nonstick coatings tend to last even less than PTFE; this includes boutique brands like Caraway and Our Place, which are really just ceramic nonstick pans with the coating throughout the pan.

With that basic knowledge in mind, here are the reasons we suggest you avoid nonstick cookware:

  • Both PTFE and ceramic nonstick coatings lose their nonstick properties quickly, so you are left with unusable pans. 
  • Both PTFE and ceramic nonstick coatings require low heat settings and non-metal utensils, which limits their versatility.
  • PTFE cookware becomes unsafe above about 490F and begins to emit fumes as low as 390F.
  • Although PTFE cookware is safe when used properly (low heat, no metal, wash by hand), the industry itself has polluted the planet with "forever chemicals" and continue to do so with the PFOA replacements. So even if you use your cookware properly, you are buying a product that is one of the biggest producers of environmental toxins and carcinogens.
  • Ceramic cookware contains titanium dioxide nanoparticles that some studies have associated with health issues, including carcinogenic tumors. Though considered safer and cleaner than PTFE, the research on ceramic nonstick coatings is limited, so we really don't know enough to say for sure this is true.
  • Since both types of nonstick have such a short life span, they contribute to landfill waste. Though most nonstick pans are recyclable, very few curbside programs take them--so most of it ends up in landfills.

Furthermore, we believe it's largely a myth that nonstick cookware is easier to care for. It has so many use and care restrictions that it's difficult to use it correctly all the time. If you use clad stainless steel correctly, washing it is an easy task. And if you really need a nonstick surface for eggs and such, consider cast iron or carbon steel, which is just as good as nonstick, and will last for decades or even generations.

We know people are probably still going to buy nonstick cookware. But if you do, consider limiting its use to only eggs and sticky foods to prolong its life span as long as possible. 

Our favorite nonstick pan by far is Anolon Nouvelle Luxe, which has a thick copper/aluminum induction base that gives it the best heating of any pan in its price point (which is surprisingly reasonable). You can read more about it in our Anolon review, or see it on Amazon.

Pure Aluminum Cookware

We recommend avoiding pure aluminum pans (like this skillet), not because it's unsafe, but because it can alter the taste of your food, especially acidic foods like tomatoes, lemons, wine, and vinegar. Though this cookware is quite affordable, it's not the best choice for home cooks who want durable, non-reactive cookware.

People love nonstick cookware, but we recommend avoiding it for these reasons: it doesn't last, it has a lot of use limitations, it may not be safe under certain conditions, and the PTFE cookware industry in particular has polluted the planet with forever chemicals (and continues to do so, even if the cookware is "PFOA-free").

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One Last Thing: Is Aluminum Foil Safe?

According to this Healthline article, the research shows that while using aluminum foil can increase the amount of aluminum you ingest, it is a very small amount and not considered dangerous. 

The dull side of aluminum will leach more aluminum than the shiny side, so if you use the shiny side on any foil exposed to food, you can keep your aluminum exposure to a minimum. 

Aluminum foil is considered safe, but if you want to minimize leaching, make sure the shiny side is what's in contact with your food.

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Final Thoughts on Aluminum Cookware

Aluminum is found in many kinds of cookware because it's cheap, abundant, and has excellent heating properties. We think clad stainless steel with an aluminum core is the best aluminum cookware because it heats well, is durable, and a good brand will last for decades or longer.

Pure aluminum can leach into food and can give it an off taste, but is not considered unhealthy by most researchers. (You are exposed to much more aluminum from antacid tablets and deodorant,) 

Probably the most unhealthy aluminum cookware is that with a nonstick coating: nonstick coatings pollute the environment and can be unsafe at heat above 390F. People love nonstick cookware, but stainless steel is much safer, more stable, much more durable, better for the environment, and easy to clean when you know how to use it. 

Thanks for reading!

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