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The naked truth about bare aluminum cookware


Fat Guy
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I've never seen aluminum that's been seasoned in the manner of cast iron. In my opinion this would be a less versatile surface than bare aluminum, because it adds the idiosyncrasies of polymerized oil/carbon and is still somewhat reactive.

And the recommendation from the Lincoln site to season stainless steel is just bizarre. Good example of Steven's observation about cookware company credibility.

Notes from the underbelly

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Certainly if seasoning is defined as that stuff you get on cast-iron cookware, the aluminum depicted above is not seasoned. Nor have I ever seen any aluminum cookware that looks that way. If there's some other definition of seasoning specific to aluminum cookware, like "filling in the holes" or "forming a protective layer," I suppose that could mean something, but I don't know. I'm certainly reluctant to believe anything I read on cookware manufacturers' and retailers' websites. By the way I found another online reference to seasoning aluminum cookware, this time from Globe Equipment:

Seasoning Aluminum and Stainless Steel Cookware

Season cookware before its first use. Clean and dry cookware. Spray the inside of the pan lightly with vegetable oil or use a small amount of shortening. Place cookware on burner at medium for 5-10 minutes, until light smoke or heat waves appear. When the oil/shortening turns a deep amber color, turn the burner off and allow to cool. Pour out liquid oil/shortening and wipe down pan with paper towels until all oil/shortening is removed. Cleaning with a mild soapy solution after each use will not affect the “seasoning” of the pan. Ok to repeat this procedure as often as needed without doing damage to the cookware.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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In other news, look what I found on the Bowery today for $13.50:

gallery_1_295_12956.jpg

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It's a 10" aluminum fry pan, made by some Korean company called AMKO. I got it at Bowery Restaurant Supply, so presumably a heck of a lot of restaurants are using this product.

I now have 4 different types of fry pan in the roughly 10" size:

gallery_1_295_30027.jpg

Clockwise from top left that's 1- cast iron (Benjamin & Medwin), 2- stainless-lined copper (Mauviel), 3- bare aluminum (AMKO), and 4- anodized aluminum with a nonstick coating (Calphalon Commercial).

I'll try to do some comparisons.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I have seen pitting in aluminum pans. I don't own any personally, but since I scrounge around at flea markets and thrift stores, I have seen plenty of aluminum pans with fairly large (pencil-lead to lentil) sized hemispherical pits in old aluminum pans. Sorry, I have no idea how old, and how abused they were.

The pitting is why I originally never bought aluminum pans for my college kitchen, aluminum seemed too fragile and transitory.

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Steven: I think that "filling in the holes" and whatnot is pretty much exactly what you get. You do the same thing with carbon steel as well. And it's important to understand that you have to do this more or less every time you use the pan, if the pan was cleaned in between uses.

I have a heavy gauge carbon steel frypan at around that same size you could add to the frypan comparison matrix.

--

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I have a heavy gauge carbon steel frypan at around that same size you could add to the frypan comparison matrix.

On the subway ride home, while getting weird looks for carrying a fry pan, I was thinking about what comparisons to perform. Some comparisons -- measuring, weighing -- can be done with an unlimited number of specimens. Others are probably going to be more precise if I limit the size of the test group to 4, in other words to the number of identical burners that I can run simultaneously. For example, if I want to test how quickly each pan heats and cools, I can get fairly accurate comparative data by doing them all at once (with perhaps a 10-second interval between turning on each burner, to allow for measurement on a rotating basis). Whereas, if I put a fifth pan on after testing the first four, there are variables introduced: the burner grate is already hot, etc. Likewise, if I want to do a test with cooking meat or something, I can run it simultaneously with four pans but not with more. So for the moment I'm probably sticking with my "gang of 4" but if I later get access to a 6-, 8- or 12-burner environment I'll want to add your pan, All-Clad, et al.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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#1: Weight

The following are the weights of my 4 pans, weighted on my postal scale:

Bare aluminum: 1 lb. 13 oz.

Anodized aluminum nonstick: 3 lb. 11.25 oz.

Stainless-lined copper: 4 lb. 3.25 oz.

Cast iron: 5 lb. 5.7 oz.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Well, I thought #2 would be a list of diameter measurements but, in a flashback to my sucky performance in high-school chemistry, I've found that there's a lot more to measuring than meets the eye. Measuring from the inner lip to the inner lip, assuming I've accurately gauged the widest spot on each pan, they all ring in between 10" and 10.25". However, it's hard to get a ruler down into the pan to measure usable cooking space. The cast-iron skillet seems to have substantially more than the others, though, because of its very steep sides. I haven't measured the height of the sides, which should be easy, but I have no idea how to measure the side angles and curves.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If you want to do side angles you can probably get pretty close by measuring the depth of the pan and then measuring the distance the pan flares out and doing the trig. There will be some measurement slop, but it should get us close enough for whatever our purposes are. Curvature is trickier...

Chris Hennes
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chennes@egullet.org

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Paulrapheal,

What I do like to cook with is s/s with a "sandwich bottom", i.e a layer of aluminum sandwiched between the s/s pan and a s/s skin. True, s/s takes longer to heat up, and is not as good a heat conductor as aluminum, but it is far, far, far cleaner to work with, and doesn't warp. At work I cook almost exclusively bon-bon fillings and pastry fillings.. The though of whisking a pastry cream in an aluminum pot makes me shrink, as would making PDF's, nougats, or caramels in an aluminum pot.

For sauteing, I like carbon steel pans. Yes, these do warp--almost as badly as aluminum, but they conduct heat just about as good as aluminum, and the handles are welded on--no loosey-goosey handles and grease/sauce splatters down my wrist and arms.

I could never figure out Anodized cookware. It's quite pricey, almnost as much for a decent quality s/s pot/pan. The bottoms are almost always plain--no cast alum. bottoms or sandwich bottoms to prevent warping. So, what's the point?

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If you want to do side angles you can probably get pretty close by measuring the depth of the pan and then measuring the distance the pan flares out and doing the trig. There will be some measurement slop, but it should get us close enough for whatever our purposes are. Curvature is trickier...

Right, for the straight-sided pans we can use formulas if we can get the right numbers to use as variables. The trouble is that I'm having trouble even getting those numbers, especially on the pans where there's no hard line of demarcation between bottom and walls. I'm hoping these measurements don't matter anyway, but if they do I guess I can always circle back and get them later. It's not like the pans are going to shrink.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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They're all the same in that they're rated the same by the manufacturer and there are no discernible design differences. There's no special simmer burner or extra-power burner on my range (all four burners have a simmer setting; the DCS burner design uses two concentric rings of gas jets, and when you go to simmer only the inner ring, which is covered with a diffuser, stays lit). I've also never noticed one burner working better or worse than the others, though the spark-starter thing on one of them (front right, which I use the most) can be a little glitchy at times.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I'm now in the process of seasoning per the Globe Equipment instructions cited earlier.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If I may, just an observation on weight, I can't believe how much lighter the bare aluminum pan is than all the others. It's like nothing. I'm not sure this makes a difference for a big guy like me in a home-cooking environment, but I can definitely see how a more fragile person, or someone cooking scores of orders a day in a commercial setting, could benefit from a lighter pan. If it works well.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Right, for the straight-sided pans we can use formulas if we can get the right numbers to use as variables. The trouble is that I'm having trouble even getting those numbers, especially on the pans where there's no hard line of demarcation between bottom and walls. I'm hoping these measurements don't matter anyway, but if they do I guess I can always circle back and get them later. It's not like the pans are going to shrink.

If you want to know the volume of each pan, fill them with water and measure with a measuring cup. If it's too tricky to pour the water out, you could put each pan on a scale and fill it to weigh the water.

Edited by David A. Goldfarb (log)
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#3: Seasoning

I have no idea whether there's any legitimacy to the claim that bare aluminum cookware should be seasoned. And I have no idea what seasoning does in this context. Nonetheless, I seasoned my fry pan.

I washed it with soapy water.

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Poured in a little corn oil.

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Spread it around with a paper towel.

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Heated until colored and smoking.

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By the way you can see how soft aluminum is from this shot of the bottom of the pan. This is just from a little moving around on the burner grates.

gallery_1_295_26172.jpg

I washed thoroughly with soapy water and a scrubbing sponge, dried, and repeated two more times.

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Then I fried an egg.

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Then I ate the egg.

I have no idea what I learned from this, if anything.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I wouldn't say it looks nothing like them. It's just that the discoloration is much more pronounced. Probably if I scrub harder, or with the next level up of scrubbing sponge, it will look more like this, where the discoloration is less overt but the pan still looks quite different from a new one:

gallery_1_295_36719.jpg

Did it stick?

No, but I'm not sure what that demonstrates. I mean, I used butter, in the same amount as I'd have used in any other non-non-stick pan. Presumably the butter keeps it from sticking, not anything about the nature of the pan.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I scrubbed very well, but can still scrub with extreme elbow grease and probably accomplish more. Most likely, though, I'll need to escalate to a heavier duty scrubbing sponge. Right now I'm using the blue one:

http://www.3m.com/us/home_leisure/scotchbr...ng_sponges.html

I probably need to acquire green or purple. So that experiment will need to wait for my next shopping trip.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Good heavens, I've never seen this intentionally done to an aluminum pan.  It doesn't seem like a good idea.

It doesn't seem like a good idea to me either, but neither does reducing berry sauce all afternoon in an aluminum pot. I'm trying to take an open-minded, scientific approach here, and leave behind some of my preconceptions.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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