Aluminized steel is a type of metal used in lots of kitchenware these days.
You may or may not have heard of it. You might have some in your kitchen and not even know it. A lot of people simply think that aluminized steel is just another word for aluminum or aluminum coated metal, but it’s a little more complicated than that.
Aluminized steel is carbon steel that’s been dipped or coated in a aluminum-silicon alloy. This combination of metals provides rust protection for the carbon steel so the constant use and washing don’t cause the steel to rust. This mixture of metals provide a very convenient product that lasts longer and heats more evenly.
Don’t confuse aluminized steel with anodized aluminum or carbon steel though. They are all separate and different things.
Aluminized Steel vs Anodized Aluminum vs Carbon Steel
Anodized aluminum cookware is different than aluminized steel cookware. Most cookware that are called just “aluminum” are most likely anodized. An oxide layer is added to the aluminum to prevent corrosion or assist in sticking glues or paints onto the metal.
Anodized aluminum can crack at lower temperatures than, for example, carbon steel. And if the surface is scratched too hard, the coating will chip off into your food and the inner metal will rust.
Carbon steel is the steel used inside aluminized steel products, but you can buy kitchenware that is just carbon steel. In fact a lot of people swear by it. It’s generally compared to cast iron in terms of the the maintenance involved in caring for the item. Some similarities include:
- Nonstick (when properly seasoned)
- Oven safe
- Rusts easily
- Reactive cooking surface (don’t cook acidic dishes in cast iron or carbon steel)
- Heavy (while lighter than cast iron, it’s not going to be as light as aluminum)
Carbon steel is primarily used in restaurant kitchens, although they are becoming more popular in homes. When seasoned well, they are likened to machined cast iron and are very non stick.
To be honest I’m thinking about getting one now, but anyway…
Using Aluminized Steel Cookware in the Kitchen
No matter the source of aluminum product, you have to be careful to use it properly. Only cook non acidic foods in them so aluminum doesn’t break down over time leach into your food. And don’t use metal utensils so you don’t get scratches that cause the finish to come off.
Using metal on metal may be one of the top reasons any aluminum kitchenware becomes unsafe. If you use the proper non metal utensils and don’t cook too many acidic dishes in it, aluminized steel can be relatively safe.
But more often than not, that’s just not what ends up happening. A family member might unintentionally use a steak knife to cut up food in the pan. Or you’re in a hurry and the metal spatula is the only clean utensil you can find.
A scratch in the surface causes a couple things to happen.:
- First, the aluminum bits that came off from the scratch can get into your food – not good.
- Second, the inner metal (carbon steel) is now exposed. So now the steel is able to oxidize and rust, again, getting into your food.
Once the aluminized surface is scratched, that’s it. You should really stop using the pan for food going forward. You can put parchment paper over it so that no food comes into contact with the compromised surface. But I’d rather not worry about it coming near my food at all .
Hopefully you can find a way to re-purpose the cookware so you don’t completely waste it. I’ve used old scratched baking sheets to hold some small potted plants so I can carry around a few at a time. Get creative!
One other place you might not have thought would ruin your aluminized steel is the dishwasher. I love my dishwasher. It’s so easy to just throw all your dishes in there and have it do the work for you. But over the years I’ve become mindful of what is (and isn’t) allowed in the dishwasher.
I learned this one the hard way. Don’t put aluminized steel in the dishwasher.
I haven’t found many official studies on the subject. But according to a lot of anecdotal evidence and stories in online forums, it’s not necessarily the dishwasher that ruins the finish on the aluminized steel but the harsh detergents.
Think those powdery, dry, grainy ones. I’m not a fan of those. They smell just …chemically to me. And they really do a number aluminized steel.
Side note: I wouldn’t call most commercial dishwasher detergents “safe” by any means. Most if not all, are harsh chemicals that are thrown together to cut through foods and grease. Even brands considered “safe” and “green” aren’t always totally safe.
My experience with aluminized steel cookware in the dishwasher
I ruined my little toaster oven pan in the dishwasher. There wasn’t really an issue with it until we got some dishwasher pods that included dry powdery detergent.
I’d like to get in the habit of making my own dishwasher detergent. I just haven’t had the chance yet.
In the meantime, I make do with what’s available since I don’t always have time to hand wash EVERYTHING (who does?!) I usually go for the gel detergent pods.
One time I grabbed what I thought were gel pods only to find out the picture on the box tricked me! (Ahem.. Cascade Action Pacs) There’s a little bit of gel on the top of the pod but it’s 90% that white powdery detergent.
First, I noticed my pan color changed. It used to be a (somewhat) shiney silver and now it was dull gray. But what was most concerning to me was that when I touched the pan at all, gray powder would come of on my hands.
At first I thought maybe I didn’t clean it well enough – not sure what I was thinking because it had just come out of the dishwasher…
But after washing it again, the gray powder was still coming off. Now I knew something was up.
The harsh detergent reacted with the aluminized coating and more or less rusted it.
So lesson learned. Aluminized steel does not go in the dishwasher.
I haven’t tried this but I suppose you could put aluminized steel in the dishwasher without any detergent. But that’s no guarantee all the food will come off of it. You’re probably better off just hand washing it at that point.
Stainless steel makes it easier
I use my toaster oven a lot so I needed a replacement pan. I found a comparable stainless steel toaster oven pan by TeamFar on Amazon along with a little baking rack to go with it.
It’s 18/0 stainless steel and completely dishwasher safe. Now, remembering how to wash it is not something I have to worry about! It is a little smaller surface area-wise than my old one. But it has higher edges around the sides.
Safe alternatives to aluminized steel
- Cast iron or enameled cast iron – cast iron will require a little more care and maintenance then aluminized steel, but it’s a much safer overall
- Carbon steel – very similar to cast iron, you will need to maintain and season a carbon steel pan.
- Stainless steel – generally considered a safe choice. It requires less maintenance and is dishwasher safe. However there are some concerns about the chromium and nickel leaching into acidic foods.
- Safe non-sticks – These types of pan are relatively new to the scene but are safe to use, again, with proper maintenance and care. Similar to aluminum, the surface can scratch and cause bits to get into your food if you’re not careful.
- Ceramic – most baking sheets you’ll see that are ceramic are ceramic coated, so again you’ll need to maintain them to make sure the finish doesn’t scratch off.
- Glass – it’s difficult to find baking sheets that are all glass, but many Pyrex casseroles and baking dishes can do the trick for much of your baking needs.
- Baking rack – if you have a decent aluminum pan but don’t want to buy a new one just yet, a stainless steel baking rack will ensure your food doesn’t come into contact with the aluminum.
- Parchment paper – similar to a baking rack, this serves as a barrier to the aluminum sheet and is eco-friendly!
Aluminized steel can be safe to cook with under the right circumstances. But unless you can keep an eye on what utensils are used with it and how it’s washed, it may be a little more trouble than it’s worth if you don’t want aluminum in your food.