Is Aluminum Cookware Safe?

There are conflicting reports that cooking in aluminum pots and pans is risky because aluminum can leach into the food. Should aluminum cookware be avoided?

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The long-term health effects of consuming aluminum are not entirely known, but according to the CDC, the levels found in foods cooked in aluminum pans are generally considered to be safe. But depending on the type of food you’re preparing, it can ruin the food–and the pan. 

Avoid Using Aluminum Cookware with Acidic Food

Lightweight aluminum is an excellent heat conductor, but it’s also highly reactive with acidic foods such as tomatoes, vinegar, and citrus juice. Such items can cause aluminum to leach into food, altering its flavor and appearance and leaving the cookware with a pitted surface. In our tests, we detected an unpleasant metallic taste in tomato sauce and lemon curd cooked in aluminum pans.

Simmering tomato sauce in an aluminum pot is a particular recipe for leaching aluminum, not only because it’s acidic, but also because it is salty (salt corrodes aluminum) and liquidy, and because it spends a long time in the vessel, all of which increase the reaction between the aluminum pot and the food. 

Baking cookies on an aluminum baking sheet, in comparison, extracts less aluminum because the food is drier, less acidic, less salty, makes less physical contact with the metal, and spends less time cooking.

What About Cooking in Anodized Aluminum?

Aluminum cookware that has been anodized (hardened through a process that renders it nonreactive) or clad in a nonreactive material, such as stainless steel or a nonstick coating, does not leach into or react with foods.

Bottom Line

Cooking in uncoated aluminum will cause the metal to leach into food—how much depends on the food and how long it spends in the pan. According to the CDC, such levels are generally considered to be safe. Even so, avoid cooking acidic foods in aluminum (anodized aluminum is fine) because doing so may ruin both the food and the cookware. 

Our favorite rimmed baking sheet is made out of aluminum and the mostly dry foods we cook on it will extract minimal amounts of the metal, but avoid cooking acidic foods on it. 

Our favorite traditional skillet is clad in a non-reactive material (stainless steel) that surrounds an aluminum core for even heating. You can cook anything in these pans without risk. 

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