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Anodized pans

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
I'm looking to purchase a few pans for cooking (I'm a new cook trying to learn) and am confused by what anodized pans are.

If I understand correctly, an anodized pan is an aluminum pan that has had the special process done to it so it won't react with the food during the cooking process?

Also, apparently there are different types of anodized pans, such as diffused anodized (and maybe a couple of other types)? What are the differences?

post #2 of 11
Anodizing is an electrical process in different acidic baths, voltages and times for different results. (colors, hardness)

It's basically a thick layer of oxidation. This helps build up wear resistance and CAN contribute to non-reactivity, but it's usually porous so a sealing process of some kind is necessary.

It's still pretty easy to scratch, it's not non-stick though it is less-stick. The anodizing can be removed in the dishwasher, scrubbing and so forth though it takes repeated exposure to remove it.

I don't think anodized cookware is that good. It doesn't generate a good fond when it's in good condition. It's not durable. The dark color of the pan makes it difficult to tell the color of a sauce. Scratches in the surface create reactive points for acidic ingredients. And for it's performance, it's overpriced.

For a nonstick pan, it's a waste. The teflon is now the cooking surface and the anodizing doesn't matter except for aesthetics.

The different types you're seeing are mostly marketing hype.

Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
post #3 of 11
I actually like my anodized pans because I don't have to keep them spectacularly clean. :D

But for most saute applications, plain aluminum will work just as well as anodized. You just can't simmer an acidic sauce in aluminum for hours.
post #4 of 11
You normally don't think of aluminum as rusting. But anodizing really is aluminum rust -- oxidization as Phil said. An aluminum pan is connected to one pole of a power source, and placed in an acid bath. An electrode connected to the other pole is also placed in the bath. When the current flows, the surface of the aluminum grabs some oxygen from the acid solution, and voila! The surface is extremely hard and very smooth. As far as I know no sealer or other surface treatment is applied -- except to non-stick pans.

I've had a few good anodized pans almost since Calphalon first introduced good hard-anodized -- about twenty years ago.

They have the major virtues and vices of aluminum pans. They're relatively light and responsive, but warp easily. However, single-metal stainless warps easily too. Oddly, anodized aluminum tends to be a little more dent resistant than ordinary aluminum.

The Calphalon hard anodized surface gained the reputation for being more non-stick than stainless. Would that it were, but it isn't in a meaningful way -- at least not compared to good stainless. Anodized pans need to be used in exactly the same way to maximize their "release" potential, i.e., the pan must be properly preheated before adding fat, then an appropriate amount of fat that is also properly preheated before adding food. Fond development is the flip-side of release -- if there are any differences, I can't find them.

The dark color is not a handicap in either detecting fond or determining the color of a sauce. The first time I'm aware anyone raised it as an "issue" was in a cookware survey by Cook's Illustrated a few years ago. I think Phil was right to bring it up, but it's overhyped.

A good hard anodized surface is scratch resistant compared to untreated aluminum or stainless. But the anodized layer itself is only a couple of microns thick and when it's scratched, it's scratched. Surface scratches in aluminum or stainless get buffed out (to some extent) during normal cleaning. The anodized surface will absolutely not crack or peel. It's not a coating, You can use metal tools without fear. In the greater scheme of things a good hard anodized surface will outlast almost any un-anodized aluminum by far, but not good stainless.

Anodized aluminum is absolutely non-reactive to anything you'd cook. You don't have to worry about vinegars, or tomatoes or any food. Even after it's scratched, the scratches represent so little surface area, any "reaction" is undetectable.

Anodized aluminum pots and pans CANNOT go in the dishwasher. NO. NOPE. NYET. NON. The soap particles will pit the surface, it will no longer be smooth, and will develop a very annoying propensity to stick.

Your question about "diffused" anodized, probably relates to a Calphalon line of "infused" anodized cookware. In that case, "infused" is a marketing term meaning the cookware has been treated with a non-stick surface. As high-end residential non-stick goes, the Calphalon has a good reputation. However, most good cooks do not choose non-stick cookware. Also, for what it's worth, Swiss Diamond probably has a better reputation and costs less.

In any case, multi-ply stainless has displaced good anodized from the market place. I'm only aware of one truly good line, which is a commercial line from Lincoln-Wearever. It's very good cookware. At this time, anodized aluminum is mostly used for pan exteriors, and for which it's extremely well suited.

If you're thinking about purchasing a "set" from one manufacturer to form the heart of a disparate collection, as a home cook your best choice is a good multi-ply stainless and after that good stainless with a multi-ply disk. I recommend stainless for its adequate performance and non-reactivity. I won't recommend any anodized exterior with a non-stick interior because I've yet to meet a non-stick I can recommend.

Hope this answers your question. Confused yet?
post #5 of 11
Thread Starter 
Boar_d_laze - thanks for the great detailed explanation.

One reason I'm concerned about aluminum is because of potential health issus that I've read about it. I'm learning to cook to help my 11 yr old son who has crohn's disease, so he already has a compromised digestive tract.

Sounds like going with stainless steel that has a clad bottom for even heat distribution may be the way to go.

I may consider a cast iron pan if I have the courage to try using it; I'm a little spooked by what sounds like some tricky maintenance for it but maybe its not that bad.

One question: if I'm not concerned about using grease - i.e., I'm not trying to minimize it - what's a good way to make scrambled eggs? That is, can I do that in a stainless steel or cast iron pan?
post #6 of 11
K-mart used to carry some stainless with Martha Stewart labeling. I was given a set and its pretty decent. Heavy bottoms and fairly thick sides. I haven't managed to warp any of it over the 10 years I have owned it.
post #7 of 11
There are a few different lines under the Martha Stewart name. Offhand I forget the actual manufacturer. The current stainless lines have composite bottom disks, or are composite construction throughout (tri-ply). The use of different materials in a constrained layer mode (i.e. they're sintered together) reduce warpage considerably. "Emeril" cookware with it's anodized exterior aluminum and stainless interior is made by All Clad and is supposedly very good for the price.

There are a number of other second tier brands that will work just as well. If money is an object, the "good" pans you find at K-Mart, Target, and the TV outlet sites work darn near as well as the prestige labels. Besides Emeril and Martha you might want to look for another famous cook. A friend of mine has some Wolfgang Puck she bought from for nearly nothing, and it's very nice indeed.

Few pots are "heirloom" quality, few "pots" will turn a mediocre cook into a good one. You want one that's good enough not to fight you -- and that's about all you can hope for.

I'm ordering two new skillets today myself and am trying to choose between Vollrath, Paderno and Matfer-Bourgeat carbon steel. I have enough non-reactive anodized for those times when I need it, now I want the high performance and budget price of plain ol' steel. Paderno are supposedly "the best," I've never been unhappy with a piece of Vollrath, but I like the arch of the Bourgeat handle -- and the price.

I don't know about Crohn's specifically; but most of the health concerns associated with aluminum cookware have remained unsubstantiated despite extensive testing. Still, it's a good idea for any cook to build a core set of pans around a material that cook anything she's likely to cook. Right now, for that, stainless dominates the market place. Then, if you're interested in building a set of higher performance or more specialized pieces you can add them without worrying about whether they're reactive or not -- because you've already got that covered. Remember not that many things require a non-reactive pan. You need them for the things that do, but otherwise there are often better choices.

post #8 of 11
BDL Calphalon makes some good stock pots, but they will react. I have returned two now to them after making a few batches of my Habanero hot sauce ;)
post #9 of 11
That stuff will pit stainless :smiles: so not a fair comparison.
post #10 of 11
Over the years I have owned several hard anodized pots, 4 of the old-style, commercial Calphalon (Made by Commercial Aluminum Cookware in Toledo) and two hard anodized Magnalite stock pots. Every one of them had the coatings wear away, except the 16-quart stock pot, which hardly got any use. Granted, it took a while, but the coatings are gone.

post #11 of 11

Strictly speaking the anodized surface isn't a coating. It's the first few microns of the aluminum surface which has been oxidized by immersion in an acid bath and electrolysis. Even though the anodized surface is far harder than the unaltered aluminum beneath it, eventually it will wear off. When it does, it's time to get replace the pan. Like most other things, the anodized surface doesn't last forever.

The subject is mooted by the marketplace. Perhaps one of the reasons anodized interiors have pretty much disappeared is their ultimate mortality. On the other hand, anodized aluminum is alive and well for pot and pan exteriors, not to mention all sorts of structural construction applications.

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