The difference between aluminum and stainless steel is significant – they are two different substances, however they are both commonly used to produce kitchen equipment. Aluminum is primarily used in the kitchen as a coating on pots and pans and in the construction of a lot of baking pans/baking sheets and cake tins.
It tends to be a thinner, flimsier metal than stainless steel which is known for its durability, resistance to corrosion, and ability to withstand heat up to 800℃ or 1400℉. This article discusses the main differences between these two types of cookware materials.
I like to believe that cookware manufacturers are the experts in their fields and know what they’re doing, so if they’ve created a pot, pan, or utensil out of aluminum, then they probably think that this is the best material for the job.
However, it’s important to note that aluminum is a lot less expensive than stainless steel, so sometimes, manufacturers might choose to make their products out of aluminum to help cut down on manufacturing costs.
Aluminum is much cheaper and lighter than stainless steel, with the largest single producer of aluminum in the world being China. Aluminum is also found in a much wider variety of uses than stainless steel and is often used in cookware production in conjunction with other metals.
One of the main reasons aluminum might be added to the base of a saucepan is because of its superior conduction of heat. While both materials are metals and thus relatively good heat conductors, aluminum has the edge over stainless steel in this department, offering rapid and more even heating.
Stainless steel gets its name from its resistance to corrosion that results from oxidation. This material has been known as a versatile metal that lasts for many years and can withstand high temperatures for hundreds of years.
So it’s no surprise that it’s a popular choice in high quality cookware. The highest-quality stainless steel contains chromium (at least 10%), nickel (at least 18%), and molybdenum (about 3%). There are different types of stainless steel used in cookware and this can also affect the quality of the finished product.
Aluminum and stainless steel are both fairly durable and are useful for a range of purposes. One of the main differences between these materials is that aluminum can resist heat up to 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 degrees Fahrenheit) while stainless steel can be heated up to 800 degrees Celsius (1,472 degrees Fahrenheit).
So, while aluminum is less tolerant to high heat than stainless steel, both substances can withstand temperatures much, much higher than would ever be needed for cooking, so this difference does not have a big impact on their different uses.
The beauty of aluminum is that it doesn’t rust – because it can’t! It can, however, corrode. Acidic substances like vinegar and tomatoes can eat away at aluminum pots and pans.
Also, aluminum cookware cannot be cleaned in a dishwasher as dishwasher detergents are too harsh on aluminum surfaces and will discolor and corrode your cookware.
Stainless steel on the other hand is designed not to rust, but it is still a form of steel so, sometimes, without proper care, rusting is possible, especially if using lower quality stainless steel. On the plus side, stainless steel cookware is usually safe (check manufacturer guidelines) to wash in the dishwasher, and usually comes out looking shiny and new!
Aluminum, while being good at conducting heat, is a much cheaper metal. It is also less durable than stainless steel as it cannot be used with abrasive materials such as knives or cutlery without getting scratched up.
Stainless steel on the other hand has been known to last for centuries withstanding even the roughest of treatment (being dropped or slammed). Long lasting pots and pans will tend to be made from stainless steel.
Aluminum or Aluminium?
It depends where you live! Aluminum and aluminium are the same substance and both refer to element 13 on the periodic table, it’s just written and pronounced differently in different parts of the world. In American English, it is known as aluminum, while British English refers to it as aluminium.
The word has undergone some changes since it was first suggested to be ‘alumium’, but then got changed to ‘aluminum’, it then was finally changed into ‘aluminium’ to conform to the analogy of sodium, potassium, etc. Most of the world refers to it as aluminium, except for the English speakers of North America, who have held onto the second variation of the name for this element as ‘aluminum’.
- Aluminum and stainless steel are two common metals used to construct kitchen equipment.
- Aluminum can take up to 600 degrees Celsius of heat while stainless steel can be heated up to 800 degrees Celsius.
- Stainless steel is more expensive than aluminum but it lasts longer and can withstand more abuse without getting scratched up or dinged up as easily as aluminum does.
- Stainless steel is easier to clean because you can use abrasive materials such as knives and cutlery without scratching it up.
- Aluminum generally offers superior heat conductivity to stainless steel, but is usually more lightweight and flimsy in cookware construction than stainless steel.
So, should you choose aluminum or stainless steel? It depends on the type of cookware and what you want to use it for. Trust that the manufacturers of these products have some idea of what they are doing and have therefore likely chosen the most suitable material for the job.
If you had to say which is better, stainless steel would win due to its durability and safety in the kitchen. But, you get what you pay for (usually) and stainless steel cookware will usually cost more to produce and will therefore be more expensive for you, the buyer.
Here is a good article from a manufacturer explaining the differences between their stainless steel baking pans and their aluminum baking pans.