We've independently reviewed this article to make sure it's as accurate as we can make it.
To find out more about our article creation and review process, check out our editorial guidelines.
Are you having a hard time comparing cast iron vs cast aluminum?
Don’t worry, you’re not alone! It can be tough to tell the difference between them, especially if you’re not familiar with the properties of each material.
Luckily, you’ve come to the right place for answers.
When comparing cast iron vs aluminum, please consider your needs. Cast iron is heavier, more durable, and holds heat longer. Cast aluminum, on the other hand, is lighter, more affordable, and heats up faster.
Let’s dig a little deeper into the similarities and differences.
Cast Aluminum vs Cast Iron
Cast aluminum and cast iron are two of the most popular materials used for making cookware. While they may look similar, there are key differences between them, such as:
If you’re like me and love cooking, you need to consider the versatility of each material when choosing between them.
Cast iron is versatile and can withstand high heat, so this cookware can be used on your stovetop, in your oven, in your oven grill, and even on your BBQ. Cast iron skillets are also the perfect choice for searing meat.
Another plus for cast iron is the fact that it retains its heat. Of course, if you’re waiting to wash up, this could also be a minus! But if you’re the type that has several items cooking at once but never seems to time them all being done at the same time, food in cast iron will retain its heat.
If you use your cast iron often, it becomes “seasoned,” meaning it will add flavor to whatever you cook in it.
Cast aluminum, on the other hand, isn’t as versatile as iron. While aluminum conducts heat very well-meaning it gets hot fast and with ease—it’s lacking when it comes to even heat distribution.
Since it’s a very soft metal, aluminum pans can’t take the kind of beating cast iron can. Your cookware can scratch and dent easily, so caution is needed.
Cast iron is more durable than cast aluminum due to its strength and ability to withstand high temperatures without warping or melting.
In fact, I still use my grandparent’s cast iron skillet today, which has passed down through 3 generations now and has stood the test of time!
Unfortunately, cast aluminum isn’t as durable as cast iron. It can’t take a lot of wear and tear, so you will need to replace it long before that need would arise with its competition.
When it comes to safety, both materials are generally considered safe to use for cooking. However, there are some concerns about cast aluminum.
You see, aluminum doesn’t react well with acidic foods. The acid can cause the metal to leach into whatever you are cooking. So most cookware will have some sort of non-stick layer, or it will be anodized.
Anodization is an electrochemical process that forms a layer over naturally occurring aluminum oxide which happens when aluminum is exposed to the air.
Having said all that, even if aluminum is coated with a nonstick layer or anodized, it can still leach a small amount of aluminum content into your food. According to the NCBI (National Center for Biotechnology Information), “Cooking in aluminum utensils often results in statistically significant, but relatively small, increases in aluminum content of food.”
In September 1985, the then-current issue of the Journal of Food Protection estimated that food that had been in contact with either aluminum pots or foil added an average of 3.5 mg of aluminum to the diet. However, most adults are already ingesting 7 to 9 mg of aluminum from food daily, not including the 3.5 mentioned above.
The bottom line is that if you do choose aluminum, anodized is probably your best option, but don’t cook acidic foods in it. And if your pots and pans are damaged in any way, get rid of them. Acidity and damage will increase the amount of leaching.
At the end of the day, the choice is yours. Do whatever you feel comfortable with.
As you probably imagined, cast iron cookware is typically much more expensive than cast aluminum.
This is because of the points mentioned above (durability, versatility, and availability to retain heat). Cast aluminum, on the other hand, is more affordable, as it’s easier to manufacture and lighter.
However, it’s important to consider that although cast iron may come with a higher upfront cost, it can last for generations with proper care and maintenance.
No one wants to cook in something rusty, so whether one or the other is rustproof is a sensible question.
If you are properly maintaining both, neither will rust. Ever. However, that’s not the case if you aren’t keeping up with maintenance—seasoning.
Your cast iron pans can and will rust if you don’t season them and if you wash them in harsh soap and water. However, cast aluminum will not rust.
So if rust is your biggest concern, and you’re the type to follow care instructions, go ahead and choose either iron or aluminum.
The History of Cast Iron and Cast Aluminum Cookware
In this section, we’ll explore the history of both materials, from their early beginnings to their present-day popularity.
This way, you can better understand how they have been used over time.
Cast Iron History
The first known use of cast iron cookware dates back to about 220 CE during China’s Han Dynasty
To put it into perspective, that was over 1800 years ago.
During the 16th-century casting techniques became commonplace in Europe and that pretty much set the stage for the growing popularity of cast iron cookware.
In 1707 a man named Abraham Darby patented a casting method known as sand casting, which is very similar to how iron is cast today. Thanks to that, its popularity grew and boomed in the 18th and 19th centuries.
However, with the introduction of new cooking materials in the 20th century, its popularity started to wane.
But it’s still a favorite among cooks and despite its cost, more and more who left it are returning to it.
Cast Aluminum History
Aluminum doesn’t have the history that iron has. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that its first industrial production began.
This led to the production of cookware by the late 1800s. In fact, production of it became so widespread it nearly replaced the use of cast iron completely.
To help you choose between cast iron and cast aluminum, we’ve compiled a list of frequently asked questions about these materials that can provide you with more information.
#1 What is Seasoning?
You’ll often hear about seasoning when discussing or researching cast iron, but what does it mean? You need to season it before ever cooking on it. And how often you season after that will depend on how much acidic food you cook in it.
Steps to season your cast iron cookware:
- First, scrub it well in hot soapy water
- Dry completely
- Spread a thin layer of shortening or vegetable oil over the inner surface of your cookware
- Set your oven to 375 degrees F. Put down a sheet of foil and place your cookware upside down on the middle rack, overtop of it.
- Bake for 1 hour and then let cool
#2 How to Care for Cast Iron?
Cast iron cookware doesn’t take a lot of effort to maintain. Once it is seasoned—and then seasoned occasionally after that—all you need to do after use is wipe it off with a damp cloth and very mild soap because cast iron is naturally non-stick.
Without a coating, you need to worry about scratching and getting some dreaded disease from.
#3 How to Care for Cast Aluminum
Like cast iron, you need to season your cast aluminum. The steps are the same as outlined above. As for cleaning, here are some steps:
- Clean with warm water and mild detergent. Don’t use anything that you wouldn’t use on your skin
- Don’t leave food residue on them. Clean immediately as the acidity can degrade the nonstick coating
- Don’t put it in the dishwasher
- If your cookware becomes stained, you can use a mild aluminum cleaner
- Always refer to the manufacturer’s instructions since coatings may differ and have different cleaning requirements
And when storing your pots and pans keep in mind they are somewhat fragile and will scratch and dent. Don’t be forcing them into your messy, cramped pots and pans cupboard without care.
#4 Anything You Shouldn’t Cook?
As far as cast iron goes, assuming your cookware is kept well seasoned, you should be able to cook anything. But there are still lots of websites that say nope, you shouldn’t cook this or that. Then there is an equal number of sites that “debunk” these claims as silly and give reasons why.
Acidic food is strongly discouraged for cast aluminum, since this will cause even greater leaching and a breakdown of the nonstick or anodizing process.
So which is the right choice for you? Cast aluminum or cast iron?
You should choose cast iron if:
- You are diligent with upkeep and maintenance—meaning seasoning
- The potential health concerns of aluminum freak you out
- You want something that will last at least your lifetime
You should choose aluminum if:
- You don’t believe the potential health concerns are true
- You’re looking for something lightweight
- You’re looking for something cheaper
Thanks for reading. Hopefully the above will help you make a final decision. And while you’re here, why not check out the articles below to see if we can help you with something else?