If you’ve been surfing the vast wave of cookware materials to find a new set or individual piece, you’ve likely come across the term “hard-anodized”. If you’re wondering what this means and if it’s a good choice, you’ve come to the right place.

We’re going to figure out what hard-anodized cookware is, what the benefits are, the safety factor, the potential downfalls and the best brands to turn to for hard-anodized cookware.

If you are a regular reader, you already know that we take the health and safety features of cookware very seriously. But if you’re new and just starting to wonder what is the most functional and yet safe cookware option for you and your family, you’re not alone!

See also: Our Review of the Best Hard Anodized Cookware Sets

Although it seems like it should be a given that all cookware available in the market is 100% safe and easy to use, there is a lot more to the topic that you should know about. For example, different materials have different rates of heat conduction and therefore have an impact on the quality of your food. Similarly, different materials used to make cookware can have a different (and sometimes negative) impact on your body.

From stainless-steel to ceramic to glass to non-stick, there is a plethora of buying options available. Out of those options, it is best to study every single material and brand of cookware before you make your purchase. This can ensure a great cooking experience as well as guarantee the health of your family.

During your search for the best cookware available out there, you may come across the term ‘Hard Anodized Cookware’. In this article, we are going to explore the answer to the question: “What is hard anodized cookware?”, so that you can make an informed choice for yourself.

To understand what hard anodized aluminum is, you first need to understand what leaching from cookware means.

Let’s go!

See also: Hard Anodized vs Hard Enamel

Leaching from Cookware

The biggest risk factor is the leaching of the poisonous material from the cooking surface of the cookware into the food being prepared. Copper was once used in various types of cookware as well as on the cooking surface; however, it was later found that copper actually interacts with the acidic foods and can prove to be highly toxic. This is the reason why copper is only used on the outer parts of the cookware and is not used on the cooking surface itself.

However, other materials can also leach into the food when the surface is heated. What happens is that the heat alters the composition of certain materials, which may lead to the material interacting with the food. This means that a material which is quite safe to use at normal temperature may easily become toxic when heated.

Same is the case with aluminum. Leaching of aluminum from the cookware is more common than you think.

This is where anodized aluminum comes in.

What is Hard Anodized Cookware?

Ever since Canadian researchers found extremely high levels of aluminum inside the brains of Alzheimer’s disease patients, aluminum cookware has gone through a lot of investigation and research. Research led to cookware manufactures developing a process called “anodization”, which is a way of treating the aluminum. The process doesn’t affect the heat conductivity of aluminum in any way, but changes it many other ways.

The process involves giving the cookware a series of electrochemical baths that basically thicken the oxide film that naturally forms over the aluminum surface. The process of anodization also makes the metal harder, making the surface resistant to scratching. The hard and smooth coating of the electrochemical makes it impossible for the food to stick to them.

Is Hard Anodized Aluminum Cookware Safe Cookware?

One thing you should know about aluminum is that it is everywhere around us. In fact, it’s the 3rd most common element found in the earth’s crust. It is practically in the air that we breathe as well as in the water that we drink every day.

Because it is abundantly available, aluminum is quite inexpensive as well, which is why it is extensively used in making cookware. Along with cookware, aluminum is also used in making:

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Beverage cans
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Anti-caking agents
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Baking powder
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Antiperspirants
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Bleaching agents
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Cake mixes
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Commercial teas
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Sunscreens, toothpastes and cosmetics
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Infant formulas
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Vaccines
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Buffered aspirin and various other over the counter medications

This tells us that ingestion of aluminum may not be all that bad. However, it must be controlled and should only be ingested in concentrated doses. This is why leaching of aluminum from the cookware is a serious health hazard.

When aluminum is anodized, it is completely submerged in an acidic bath and is then given electrical charges. The result of this whole process is that the surface of the aluminum combines with the oxygen in the air and turns to aluminum oxide.

This process can also happen naturally and is referred to as oxidation. Therefore, hard-anodization can be considered as accelerated or controlled oxidation.

When aluminum is hard anodized, it gets the ability to resist abrasion and corrosion. Therefore, a hard anodized aluminum pan is one of the most durable pans that you can purchase from the market today.

Hard anodized pans also have longer lifespans as compared to the normal variants, which start chipping and peeling after few years of usage. As a matter of fact, anodized aluminum is also used in automotive parts to protect them from the friction and heat as well as in satellites to protect them from the external environment.

This is the reason why we can safely conclude that anodized aluminum is safe cookware. Due to its chemical stability, it does not decompose and become toxic for the food to be prepared in it. The high levels of heat do not affect the anodized finish in any way.

In fact, anodized aluminum can also withstand the melting point of the aluminum itself, which is roughly around 1,220°F.

Another factor that makes anodized aluminum safe is its ultra-smooth and nonporous surface. Pores in the cooking surface are one of the top reasons why food starts sticking on the cookware, leading to leaching. Therefore, using anodized aluminum is a good way to avoid this problem as well.

Hard Anodized Cookware compared to other Utensils

Even though hard anodized cookware is considered as a safer option, cooks that desire cooking in healthy utensils generally use cast iron, glass, ceramic, stoneware and stainless steel.

The main reason behind is that once the hard anodized aluminum scratches or chips, aluminum may still leach into the food and cause a health hazard. If you do invest in hard anodized aluminum cookware, make sure you take proper care of it and if the inner surface is scratched, replace your pan immediately.

What does “hard anodized mean?”

First of all, “hard-anodized” is almost always referring to aluminum when it comes to cookware. The hard-anodizing process is basically when the metal is added to a chemical solution with an electric current running through. This kicks off the oxidizing process, leaving a hard layer on the surface of the aluminum.

In short, simple words (in case anyone asks you!)? It’s a scientific process which creates a hard, scratch-free, safe surface on aluminum.

The reason why aluminum is anodized is that it creates a safer, healthier, harder, more durable cooking surface. More on that to come…

What are the benefits and pros?

Hard-anodized aluminum is a popular cookware material for a reason…or many. These are the key benefits:

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It’s non-reactive: the hard layer on the surface of the aluminum doesn’t react with acidic foods (i.e. tomatoes) and won’t leach metals into your food

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It’s healthy and safe: because there is no glaze or coating, (only an oxidized surface), there’s no risk of lead, cadmium or other chemicals such as PFOA and PTFE to be present. And because the surface is non-reactive, you won’t be consuming leached metals

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It’s rock hard: the hard-anodizing process creates a surface which won’t scratch, chip or peel. This is preferable to coated cookware (i.e. ceramic coated or non-stick coated) because there’s nothing to risk chipping or peeling away

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The harder the surface, the longer the cookware will last: hard-anodized cookware will last a long time if cleaned and maintained well, saving you money in the long run, as well as being environmentally friendly (fewer old pans being tossed into the landfills)

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Nonstick without the nasties: the hard-anodized surface is smooth and non-porous, creating a naturally nonstick surface without the addition of coatings or extra layers with potential added chemicals

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It conducts heat well: aluminum itself is a great conductor of heat, far better than other materials such as stainless steel. This helps to create an even and thorough cooking performance with sufficient heat and no annoying hotspots

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Simple clean up (hand wash): hard-anodized cookware has a super hard, smooth and non-porous surface which makes for easy clean up as food has a better chance of simply wiping away with some hot water and a soft dish brush.

Plus, the nonstick nature of the surface naturally helps with clean up as there’s far less food stuck and in need of a hard scrub or soak…there is a flipside to this but keep reading to find out…

Should I season hard-anodized aluminum cookware?

You certainly can season your hard-anodized cookware. Seasoning is when you heat your cookware with a layer of oil, creating a nonstick surface. Seasoning is most commonly used for cast iron to prevent rusting.

While your hard-anodized cookware won’t rust, it can corrode after time, and seasoning can help to prevent this. It will also enhance the nonstick quality of the hard-anodized surface.

A quick how-to:

  • Wash the hard-anodized cookware and thoroughly dry
  • Place onto a hot stove and rub oil all over the surface
  • Heat the oil until very hot then take off the heat and leave to cool
  • Take a paper towel and wipe away the excess oil

Are there any downfalls?

There aren’t exactly any downfalls, but there are certain aspects to be aware of…

Best to hand wash: while hard-anodized cookware is very durable and has a very hard surface, it should still be maintained with care.

The dishwasher can cause the surface to become damaged thanks to detergents and hard water. This can render the surface sticky (as in not nonstick) and stained. Use a gentle brush (i.e. a regular plastic dish brush) and avoid metal scrubbers.

Not for induction cooktops: induction cooktops require a special kind of cookware in order to work (i.e. magnetic metals), and hard-anodized aluminum is not one of them.

If you’ve got an induction cooktop you might need to opt for magnetic stainless steel or cast iron set. In saying that, there are some fantastic hard-anodized cookware sets which have special bases which are compatible with induction cooktops (check out Cuisinart and All-Clad for some great ones).

Not compatible with oil sprays: an interesting factor to note is that you should not use oil sprays/cooking sprays on hard-anodized cookware.

Cooking sprays might be handy and convenient at first, but over time they leave a sticky, stubborn layer of residue which ruins the non-stick ability.

You are far better off using a good old fashioned glug of olive oil, a knob of butter or a spritz with an oil spray bottle if you only want a tiny amount of fat.

Is it for me?

Hard-anodized aluminum is one of the best cookware materials in terms of health, safety, durability, natural nonstick ability and heat conduction.

Another fantastic bonus is that it’s generally a very affordable material, with many sets on the market boasting a low cost and super high quality.

Unless you have an induction cooktop or you want a super nonstick cookware surface, I think hard-anodized aluminum is the top choice for you.

What are the best hard-anodized cookware brands?

  • Calphalon (awesome sets, pretty expensive but great quality )
  • Anolon (affordable sets with added utensils)
  • All-Clad (check out the NS1 hard-anodized set with bonded base for induction cooktops)
  • Circulon (more affordable sets)
  • T-Fal (really affordable sets, with heat indicator spot and soft handles)
  • Cuisinart (they have a super attractive set with induction-friendly base)
  • Rachael Ray (affordable sets with bold colors)

Final thoughts

Hard-anodized cookware is made from aluminum which has been treated by an electrochemical process to create a mega-hard, durable and non-reactive cooking surface.

It’s great for people who want a durable cookware set with a nonstick surface without a coating or glaze. Look through the brands listed above and find a set or item which suits you.