Aluminum vs Cast Iron Cookware – What Is the Difference?


Aluminum vs Cast Iron Cookware image

This article was last updated on December 13th, 2020

Let’s say that you have enough money to either buy aluminum cookware or cast iron cookware. You need to know the advantages and disadvantages so that you can make the right decision. Both cast iron and aluminum pans have things to offer customers, and it pays to know what each of them can offer.

Aluminum vs. cast iron cookware – what is the difference? Cast iron has a wide following, but aluminum pans have many similarities to cast iron. Aluminum pans weigh less than cast iron, but cast iron pans hold heat longer. Cast iron lasts from 75 to 100 years, whereas aluminum lasts three to five years. 

Learning the differences can help you to figure out what you should buy. In the following article, we will dive deeper into the advantages and disadvantages of each so that you can decide for yourself. If you’d like to learn more, keep reading.

Lifespan: Aluminum vs Cast Iron

As we said before, aluminum only lasts three to five years in comparison to cast iron’s 75 to 100 years.

However, we’d like to follow that up with an important piece of information.

While cast-iron lasts for 75 to 100 years, replacing aluminum pans costs a fraction of what it costs to buy cast iron.

You can pay anywhere from $25 up to $275 for a cast-iron skillet. Aluminum pans will cost anywhere from $12 up to $89 with the average cost in the $40 range.

Healthy vs Dangerous: Who Wins?

Unfortunately, some researchers have linked aluminum pans with a potential risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

You can address this concern by understanding the type of aluminum that you have. Untreated aluminum leaches small amounts of aluminum into your foods.

Don’t use untreated aluminum with acidic foods like tomatoes, where the acid reacts with the aluminum.

You can buy aluminum cookware with a stainless steel coating to prevent this risk. It doesn’t react to the acids.

In contrast, cast iron comes with benefits for anemics and anyone who wants more iron intake. During the cooking process, iron leaches in small amounts into the foods from cast iron pans.

This can help people who have iron deficiencies like anemics. In some cases, the iron leached into the food will exceed your daily desired intake, but it isn’t serious.

The only other danger of heavy cast iron pans comes from if you drop it on your foot. It will hurt far worse than if you drop an aluminum pan on your foot. Ouch! Don’t do that. 

Holding Heat: Which Pan is Better?

Every chef complains about uneven heat distribution in the pan where one part cooks faster than the other.

That might be one reason that someone would seek out a cast iron pan. It holds heat much longer than an aluminum pan.

Aluminum pans deserve their own props. They hold onto heat fine, but they don’t hold onto the heat for as long as cast iron pans.

If you wanted a cheaper alternative to cast iron, you might choose aluminum to get some of the benefits, but cast iron holds heat better. 

Where does holding heat matter? Let’s say that you wanted to add cold or room temperature foods to the pan. With an aluminum pan, you may have to reheat it for two to three minutes, but cast iron doesn’t require reheating. 

The other advantage of a pan that holds its heat comes from how you can turn off the burner and the pan will continue to cook the food. This ensures that you cook the food right up to the point where you need it.

You can cook cast iron pans on a lower heat level, which will save you on energy costs. 

Non-Stick Surfaces: Who Wins?

Cast iron and aluminum pans both have non-stick surfaces, but they achieve this in different ways.

With cast iron, you get the non-stick surface through a method called seasoning, which also prevents rust on the pan.

Aluminum pans, on the other hand, uses a synthetic surface that doesn’t require seasoning. Depending on the person, you may find this advantageous because you don’t have to maintain an aluminum pan as much.

With a cast iron pan, you will have to season your pan a few times per year to ensure it doesn’t stick and keeps the rust away.

On aluminum, pans shouldn’t use abrasive tools because they can scratch the non-stick surface. After that happens, the food will burn and stick to the pain much easier. You will have a harder time removing it. This can cause health problems as the non-stick, toxic peelings can get into your food.

Use on Induction Burners

Because of aluminum’s non-magnetic properties, you can’t use it on an induction burner, which uses magnetic forces to cook your food.

Cast iron, on the other hand, works well on induction burners. While you can use cast iron on induction burners, you have to exercise caution because of how it can scratch the glass. Only move the cast iron around gently without sliding it.

Aluminum, glass and copper don’t work on induction burners, but you can use them if you add a magnetic base.

Oxidization: Which One Does Better?

Aluminum takes home the gold medal when it comes to rust. You don’t have to maintain it to keep the rust away.

Cast iron, on the other hand, if you don’t maintain it will rust. Water causes both iron and steel to rust, which means that you have to dry off cast iron and steel pans after you have washed them.

On the one hand, even if a cast iron pan rusts, you can take the rust off with steel wool.

With everything said, is rust dangerous to your health? You shouldn’t go out of your way to eat rust, but eating a little rust won’t harm you. We ingest rust every day in the water that we drink, which comes out of rusty pipes.

Still, if you notice rust on your cast iron pans, you should remove it immediately. Don’t cook food with a rusty pan.

Which Takes Longer to Heat Up?

Depending on whether you want to have a fast home-cooked meal or a slow one, some could see this as a disadvantage to cast iron pans. With cast iron, you usually want to preheat it for 10 minutes to ensure that it heats evenly throughout the pan.

Not everyone wants to wait that long. Aluminum, in comparison, only takes between two to three minutes to preheat.

Both of them distribute heat well, but the aluminum heats up faster. Part of the reason for the slow process of heating cast iron comes from how cast iron has a thicker density than aluminum.

Pros and Cons Aluminum Pans

Pros – Aluminum Cookware Cons – Aluminum Cookware
Costs less than cast iron Aluminum is a soft metal, not as strong as cast iron
Costs less to replace an aluminum pan than buy a first cast iron
Potential links to Alzheimer’s
Less work to maintain Only lasts three to five years
Easy to clean Doesn’t hold heat as well
Good heat conductor and good heat distribution Non-stick surface not as safe
Lightweight pan Doesn’t work with induction burners
Doesn’t rust  

Pros and Cons of Cast Iron Pans

Pros of Cast Iron Pans Cons of Cast Iron Pans
Lasts anywhere from 75 to 100 years if well taken care of Requires more maintenance
Holds heat well after preheated Costs more 
Excellent pan for slow-cook foods Heavier than aluminum
Works with induction burners More prone to rust
Cast iron doesn’t require reheating Takes longer to heat up
Non-stick surface safer than aluminum  
Costs less in energy  
Helps you get your daily iron intake  

Final Thoughts – Aluminum vs Cast Iron Cookware

This article doesn’t set a goal to tell you which pan is better.

Instead, we try to highlight some of the advantages and disadvantages of each so that you can make a better decision.

Cast iron has the advantage of history on its side.

Aluminum pans didn’t show up until 1907 when Robert Victor Neher invented a method to make aluminum foil, which led to the invention of aluminum pans.

Cast iron maintains a strong following because it does have big advantages that are hard to beat.

One-Pot Cooking Rocks

Music – Ben Sound

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