What the Heck is Anodized - and Why Do I Care?

Have you come across “hard anodized” cookware and wondered what the heck that is? Well, in a nutshell it's aluminum cookware that has been chemically and electrically treated to make it hard and (almost) nonstick. It has that gray finish you are probably familiar with.

Aluminum is one of those pluses and minuses kinds of things. It has some great properties as well as some characteristics that limits its use. On one hand, it’s a fantastic conductor of heat. On the other hand, it’s too soft a metal to use for cookware that is durable. On one hand it’s light and inexpensive. On the other, it’s easy to dent and ruin - boosting your cost over time.

That’s the beauty of hard anodized cookware. It can bring together the positive elements of aluminum while offsetting the challenges aluminum has.

Many major cookware manufacturers like CalphalonCirculon, Cuisinart, and All-Clad have a line of hard anodized cookware.

What Is "Hard Anodized"?

Anodization is a process that uses a chemical process (a sulfuric acid bath) which prepares the surface to receive an electrical charge that increases the thickness of the oxide layer. The acid is then cooled and a heavier electrical charge is applied which causes the outer layer to anodize (or form a hard protective layer) making it harder and more durable. In effect the aluminum is strengthened to almost twice the hardness of stainless steel. The process also makes the surface virtually nonporous and therefore essentially nonstick. But it is not completely nonstick. This is actually a good thing; as it allows foods to pick up that browning on the outside like stainless steel does. Often a nonstick surface is still added to the cookware, though.

It is nonreactive so you can cook with acidic and alkaline foods (like tomatoes) without the food picking up any metallic taste.

One of the best things about hard anodized cookware is that it provides great heat distribution - even up the walls of the cookware.

Dos and Don’ts

  • DO let the cookware cool completely before cleaning to avoid warping.
  • DO hand wash. It is not dishwasher-safe.
  • DON’T use aerosol cooking sprays like Pam. It’s chemical propellant can be tough to remove and can actually make it easier for foods to stick to the surface. (Calpahlon, a manufacturer of hard anodized cookware, suggests using an oil mister or a wipe with a little oil on a paper towel.)
  • DON’T use abrasive cleaners or harsh scrubber cleaning pads. They could damage the surface.
  • DON’T use sharp tools like immersion blenders or knives which could damage the surface. It can, however, stand up to metal utensils like whisks, spoons, etc.

 

So that’s the quick-n-dirty low-down on anodized cookware. Easy to use, easy to care for. You can see why it's become so popular over the years. All in all it’s a great material for cookware. Just keep the few “don’ts” in mind and you should get many years of usage out of your hard anodized cookware!