When I worked in culinary retail, certain questions would come up time and again. One of those questions is the subject of this article, “What is Aluminized Steel?”
I assumed that over time, understanding about the subject would grow, but a friend and former colleague who is still working in culinary retail told me recently that both customers and sales people still seem confused. The reason this question comes up so often is that some of the best bakeware in the business uses aluminized steel and sales people in shops are told to use the term as a selling point. Of course when a sales person states emphatically, “This bakeware is made of aluminized steel…”, the customer naturally asks what that means and the truth is most sales people don’t really know.
Aside from curiosity, some customers ask about aluminized steel because they have heard that aluminum is the cause of health concern; thus they avoid it out of fear. Aluminum has been linked to Alzheimer’s, as well as an increased risk of developing estrogen based breast cancer mostly via antiperspirants or “excessive” use of certain antacids but none of these links have been universally accepted as scientifically proven fact.
Aluminum is the third most abundant element – after oxygen and silicon – and the most abundant metal in the Earth’s crust. Aluminum is the most widely used non-ferrous metal in the world with a documented history that dates back to the Greeks and Romans. It is prevalent in so many forms that it is impossible to escape its presence. It is one of the least toxic metals known, with a median lethal dose of 6207 mg/kg which corresponds to the consumption of 500 grams (17.7oz) of aluminum for a 175 pound person. Although there is little evidence that normal exposure to aluminum presents a risk to healthy adults, it has been famously stated by others, “While it’s very easy to scare people, it’s very hard to un-scare them.” A partner axiom would be that it’s impossible to prove a negative such as “aluminum does not cause [insert ailment here].”
The use of aluminum cookware or bakeware has NOT been shown to lead to aluminum toxicity in general, again most concerns come from the “excessive” consumption of antacids containing aluminum compounds and of aluminum-containing antiperspirants both of which allegedly provide increased exposure. The health concerns over aluminum seem exaggerated to me, however each person must decide for themselves the course of action to take.
For culinary applications, aluminum is the second most energy conductive metal after copper, measuring about 59% the conductive ability. It is this performance capability combined with its relative low cost that make aluminum a popular cookware medium.
What is aluminized steel?
I posed this question to the people at the non-profit Cookware Manufacturers Association and received this response:
Aluminized steel is steel that has been hot-dip coated on both sides with an aluminum-silicon alloy. The silicon provides adherence of the aluminum which then protects against corrosion, allowing for the use of the product without worrying about rust. It is also used for heat exchangers in furnaces, in fireplaces, ovens, and of course baking pans.
There is a type 2 aluminized which is coated with pure aluminum but it is usually for exterior applications or for wet areas (air conditioners).
The aluminum in the coating forms aluminum oxide, which is transparent and not noticed, but which protect the underlying surface from reactions with the atmospheric oxygen. The aluminum is also non-reactive to foods and is therefore favored for both barbecue and baking applications since these are typically below 1,400° F. You don’t typically see it on cookware in that the temperature of direct flame application potentially would melt the aluminum off, but some firms have produced aluminized steel cookware with a high temperature paint that does just fine and that is used in connection with outdoor cooking.
Aluminized steel is seen most commonly in bakeware such as baking sheets (also known as jelly roll pans), bread/loaf, cake, pie and muffin pans, although you can sometimes find cookware.
Aluminized steel pans are solidly built and most often come with rolled edges covering internal steel wires for extra support which prevents warping in high temperatures. The aluminized steel bakeware has a thick, solid feel to it and will cost more than value priced bakeware, but is worth the added cost. I love aluminized steel pans for their terrific performance and long life.
The most widely available consumer manufacturers are Chicago Metallic and NordicWare, but I am also now seeing a company called USA Pans. Since USA Pans manufacture on contract, you may see their product branded as King Arthur, Sur La Table and others, but their stand alone brand is increasingly available. Their pans have a very distinctive corrugated surface and once familiar with it, you will find yourself able to identify it easily.
Some Chicago Metallic and all USA Pans have a clear-coat silicone non-stick layer called Americoat™. The clear silicone non-stick layer is preferred to the more traditional dark non-stick coatings as it does not affect baking time or crust browning. The addition of this Americoat non-stick layer, which is free from PTFE’s or PFOA’s, increases the cost a bit, but can be very useful in the loaf, cake, pie and quick bread pans.
NordicWare sells an aluminized steel skillet that is 12″ across with high sides, resembling a saute pan, but having no lid.
In whatever form you desire, coated or uncoated, every person who bakes or cooks in the oven should own and use aluminized steel bakeware.