It can be quite troublesome to filter through all types and shapes of cookware to find the right one that could possibly suit your kitchen design and your daily needs.
Deciding on a specific pan or a pot, especially between hard-anodized aluminum and stainless steel categories can be overwhelming at first if you are not sure what to look for.
For that reason, I have made this in-depth stainless steel vs hard-anodized cookware comparison to cover the nitty-gritty of these two types.
By the end of this article, you will learn the pros and cons of each type; their differences and similarities in terms of performance, maintenance, design, price, and much more.
Stainless Steel Cookware
3-Ply, 5-Ply, and 7-Ply
Stainless steel / Aluminum / Copper
Can exceed 600 degrees
Up to 450 degrees
No (Unless they have a magnetic base)
Brushed or Polished stainless steel for the majority of brands
Nonstick (ceramic or PTFE coating)
Yes (but not preferably)
Replaceable after a few years
Comes in a variety of options
Requires a little bit of care to maintain
Easier to maintain
Yes (covers only defects)
Yes (covers only defects)
Introducing Stainless Steel Cookware
Stainless steel is basically an alloy that's been obtained by combining different types of metals together such as carbon, iron, and several other metals. It is one of the most durable materials used in various construction methods to produce high-quality cookware.
Stainless steel is often used for its resistance together with aluminum or copper as the core in 3-ply, 5-ply, or even 7-ply constructions.
Types of Stainless Steel
There are more than 150 types of stainless steel that differ in terms of properties and resistance level; however, there are 3 series, in particular, that are often used in manufacturing cookware: 304, 316, and 403 series.
The 304 series is used in producing the average cookware with high rust and corrosion resistance; however, it can’t endure salt and high acidic food.
The 316 series is used in crafting high-end pots and pans since it can provide superior resistance that can withstand even the corrosion caused by salt.
The 403 series is less used since it offers a lower level of rust and corrosion resistance compared to the 300 series; however, due to the fact that it is magnetic, it is often used to produce induction-ready cookware.
Pros of Stainless Steel Cookware
- High resistance. Stainless steel is probably the best material that can secure high rust and corrosion resistance.
- Long-lasting performance. High-quality stainless steel cookware is often built to last for a lifetime. It can deliver promising performance on any heat source if properly maintained.
- Shiny non-reactive surface. The pure stainless steel surface is designed with different types of finishes that give it that bright and attractive look. Besides the elegant appearance, the interior doesn’t contain any chemicals that can react with your food.
- Affordable. Most stainless steel pots and pans come at a reasonable price within the budget of home cooks. You can easily find complete cookware set under $200 that will cover all your needs.
- Dishwasher-safe. This type of cookware is designed to be suitable for dishwashers to save you time and effort in cleaning. That being said, depending on which brand you settle for, some cookware will require more maintenance work from you than the others.
Cons of Stainless Steel Cookware
- Difficult to clean. As bright as the surface may be, it is still pure stainless steel; thus, it can be quite tiresome and annoying sometimes to clean your cookware by hand.
- Discoloration. It is inevitable for stainless steel cookware to start seeing discoloration after a couple of uses. It is indeed hard to clean; however, it is only a matter of appearance since discoloration does not affect the overall performance at all.
- Heavy. Bonded or fully clad cookware is normally produced through 3-ply or 5-ply constructions; therefore, most of them will contain several layers of thick metals causing them to be heavier than other types of cookware.
Introducing Hard-Anodized Aluminum Cookware
Hard-anodized cookware is produced through an electrochemical process where aluminum undergoes 5 different steps (cleaning, etching, anodizing, coloring, and sealing) to generate a stronger version of aluminum with higher durability and corrosion-resistant.
The final form of aluminum is used as the main material to construct different types and shapes of pots and pans with a nonstick property.
Pros of Hard-Anodized Cookware
- Long-lasting exterior. Most hard-anodized pots and pans are crafted with a robust exterior to last for a lifetime with proper care; however, due to the nonstick coating, the surface will only last for a few years before it starts degrading.
- Amazing resistance. The anodized aluminum improves the durability of the cookware to a higher level while giving it the ability to resist rust and corrosion similar to stainless steel but better than cookware produced with other types of material.
- Smooth surface. The majority of hard-anodized aluminum cookware is designed with either ceramic or PTFE coated surfaces. The quality and the longevity of the nonstick surface depend entirely on the brand and how many layers are used during the construction. That being said, you can still expect great smooth performance from most of them.
- Great heat conductivity. The anodized aluminum offers quick even heating throughout the surface, giving you great heat control to cook any recipe on any heat setting with no hot spots. Considering how fast the heat distribution is, it is preferable to cook most of your dishes in low to medium settings.
- Induction-compatible. Normally hard-anodized aluminum pots and pans are not designed for induction ranges; however, most of them nowadays are equipped with a magnetic base that gives them the ability to conduct heat efficiently on induction cooktops.
Cons of Hard-Anodized Cookware
- Expensive. Hard-anodized products are considered to be pricier compared to carbon steel and nonstick cookware. However, not to an extent that you can’t afford a starter or a complete set for your kitchen.
- Limited options. Due to the anodizing process, the cookware will come with a long-lasting color that will not chip or peel; however, it is mostly in black or dark grey color. While these colors can fit almost every kitchen design, your options remain limited compared to other types of cookware that come in a variety of colors.
- Not dishwasher-safe. Hard-anodized aluminum cookware contains a surface that’s coated with multiple nonstick layers which makes it not suitable for dishwashers. You have to wash every piece by hand to maintain the quality and longevity of the nonstick coating.
Stainless Steel vs Hard-Anodized Cookware
Although hard-anodized and stainless steel share some common similarities, they differ in several elements which set them apart. Without further ado, here are the main differences between these two types that you should know.
Stainless steel is a poor heat conductor that’s why it is often used with aluminum or copper in different bonding constructions such as 3-ply, 5-ply, and 7-ply as a shield that provides great durability and resistance to withstand the heavy use of busy kitchens.
The aluminum or copper acts as the core of the build that can offer superb heat performance while the layers of stainless steel protect the whole cookware from rust, corrosion, etc.
Depending on which brand you choose, the thickness and quality of each material will differ; however, in general, you can expect great heat distribution in most stainless steel cookware that could last for a lifetime.
Hard-anodized aluminum on the other hand offers superior heat distribution than its counterpart stainless steel due to the thick anodized aluminum; it can heat and cool down quickly while securing even distribution throughout the surface.
Cookwares made from anodized aluminum are robust enough to handle most demanding tasks; however, most of them can not tolerate temperatures higher than 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
Performance-wise, hard-anodized cookware will offer better heat control, rapid heating, and even distribution compared to stainless steel ones.
The majority of stainless steel cookware is crafted with either a brushed or polished 18/10 stainless steel surface. The only difference between these two is that brushed finish shows less wear and tear making it more suitable for dishwashers, but has slightly less corrosion resistance. While, the polished finish looks more elegant and easier to clean by hand; however, it is not suited for dishwashers.
That being said, with either finishes the surface is still pure stainless steel; depending on what you usually cook, cleaning can be sometimes a bit annoying and difficult to do.
Hard-anodized cookware on the other side is constructed with a safe nonstick surface that’s coated either with ceramic or PTFE coating. The overall quality of the nonstick interior differs from one brand to another, the type of pretreatment process, and how many nonstick layers are used during the construction phase.
The nonstick surface will provide you with several benefits that will save you a lot of time and make your cooking and cleaning tasks much easier compared to stainless steel. You will be able to cook even the most delicate food with little oil, plus the smooth interior will help you to slide or toss your food easily. But, this type of surface is not meant to last for a lifetime; the longevity depends completely on the quality of the coating and how much care you show to your cookware.
Overall, hard-anodized cookware has better nonstick performance that requires less maintenance and less oil but will only last for a few years; while stainless steel cookware has a pure stainless steel surface that requires more oil to cook almost anything but will last for a long time.
Both types need less maintenance and time to manage; however, there are still some extra precautions that need to be taken for the stainless steel compared to hard-anodized aluminum cookware.
- Always cook on low to medium heat settings.
- Avoid soaking your cookware immediately if it is still hot; let it cool down a bit first.
- Soak the cookware once you feel it cooled down a bit (this will help you remove the hard sticking food when you start cleaning).
- Never leave your cookware soaked for a long time. 20 to 30 minutes is more than enough.
- Always use the right products to clean your stainless steel pans if you are planning to wash them manually.
- Avoid using steel brushes and wools since there is a chance you will damage the surface by causing scratches or leaving small particles that could lead to rust over time.
- Avoid storing your food inside the stainless steel cookware.
NOTE: since the hard-anodized pans are not dishwasher-safe; you can easily handwash them by using a sponge, dish soap, and warm water. You will be able to clean the surface this way effortlessly thanks to the nonstick surface, unlike stainless steel.
The anodized aluminum gives the whole cookware amazing durability that could rival stainless steel when it comes to rust and corrosion resistance. Both types are built with a tough body that could last for a lifetime while handling the most difficult cooking tasks. However, the only downside that makes hard-anodized fall short of its counterpart stainless steel is the nonstick interior.
As I have explained, the nonstick feature will present you with various benefits; yet, it cannot bear the use of metal utensils or dishwashers. On top of that, even with proper care, the surface will only last for a few years which will force you in the end to replace the whole cookware.
The price of each cookware type differs from one brand to another; cookware companies such as All-Clad and Viking use their unique technologies in different construction methods which makes the final price of every piece different.
Overall, stainless steel carries a heftier price tag than hard-anodized cookware due to the bonding process that may contain a copper core. For a better understanding of the cost, here are some examples from renowned brands of hard-anodized aluminum and stainless steel cookware prices:
- All-Clad D5 Brushed 8-inch Fry Pan: $135
- All-Clad D5 Polished 10-inch Fry Pan: $170
- All-Clad Copper Core 10-inch Fry Pan: $250
- All-Clad HA1 Hard-anodized 12-inch Fry Pan with Lid: $100
- Demeyere Stainless Steel 1.5-Quart Saucepan with Lid: $180
- Calphalon Hard-Anodized 1.5-Quart Saucepan with Lid: $45
- Calphalon Premier Stainless Steel 2.5-Quart Saucepan with Lid: $70
- Tramontina Hard-Anodized 5.5-Quart Deep Sauté Pan with Lid: $80
- Tramontina 3-Ply 6-Quart Deep Sauté Pan with Lid: $90
- Anolon 3-Ply 12.75-inch Frying Pan with Lid: $80
- Anolon Advanced Hard-Anodized 12-inch Pan with Lid: $40
- Viking Hard-Anodized 4-Quart Soup Pot with Glass Lid: $160
- Viking 5-Ply 6-Quart Stock Pot with Stainless Steel Lid: $400
Stainless Steel vs Hard-Anodized Aluminum: Cookware Comparison
Calphalon Premier Stainless Steel Cookware Set
Calphalon Hard-Anodized Cookware Set
All-Clad Ha1 Cookware Set
Hard anodized aluminum
All-Clad D5 Brushed Cookware Set
Brushed or polished
Bonded stainless steel and aluminum
Viking Hard-Anodized Cookware Set
Viking 5-ply Professional Cookware Set
Polished stainless steel
Cook N Home 3-Ply Cookware Set
Polished stainless steel
Cook N Home Hard-Anodized Cookware Set
Frequently Asked Questions
Is stainless steel cookware safe?
Pots and pans that are made from stainless steel despite which series, are considered to be non-toxic cookware. They are completely safe to cook with due to the pure stainless steel surface.
What utensils to use on stainless steel cookware?
Stainless steel surfaces are durable and offer high resistance. You can use almost any type of utensils (wood, silicone, nylon, bamboo, etc.) to cook and clean your cookware; however, I highly recommend you avoid using steel wools to not scratch the surface and to preserve the quality and the shiny appearance of your cookware.
What is hard-anodized cookware made of?
Hard-anodized cookware is produced mainly using anodized aluminum that’s generated via an electrochemical process. Unlike stainless clad that involves various materials; hard-anodized pots and pans are crafted entirely with thick anodized aluminum from interior to exterior.
Is hard-anodized cookware safe?
Hard-anodized cookware consists of anodized aluminum and layers of nonstick coating which is either PTFE or ceramic. In general, the coating is free from any harmful chemicals that could risk your health making every hard-anodized aluminum cookware safe to cook with.
When to replace hard-anodized cookware?
You should replace your hard-anodized cookware once you notice the surface is scratched or damaged. Having said that, with proper care, you could expect great nonstick performance from your cookware for around 5 years or even 7 years at max before replacing it.
Both hard-anodized aluminum and stainless steel cookware meet and differ in certain features. Both types are robust and versatile enough to be used on any heat source to cook any recipe.
The key difference between the two is that hard-anodized cookware is more affordable and has a nonstick property that could make your cooking fun and a lot easier to do; however they are replaceable over time.
Stainless steel on the other hand is designed to secure unmatched rust and corrosion resistance while delivering superb heat performance that could last for a lifetime; however, it is pricier than its counterpart hard-anodized cookware, and requires extra maintenance.