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Stainless Steel vs. Aluminum Cookware


Which material heats faster - stainless steel, aluminum, or ceramic dishware/cookware? And do you have any legitimate data to back this up.


Janet Smith
- Plano, Texas

First of two simultaneous responses -- 2001

Aluminum, Janet -- it's not close.

Two legitimate pieces of data to back this up are: first, the thermal conductivity tables available in most engineering handbooks, which reveal that the thermal conductivity of aluminum is several times higher than stainless steel; second, the demonstrated impossibility of preparing a decent fried egg in a stainless steel pan :-)

Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

Second of two simultaneous responses -- 2001

Hello Janet!

I guess it depends on what you're doing. The thermal conductivity of aluminum is far better than that of stainless steel, which is far better than that of any ceramic. ANY grade of aluminum alloy, ANY grade of stainless steel, and ANY ceramic; there is that much difference on the materials that I can say that without caveats, which is a bit rare. You can find the thermal conductivity of these alloys at www.matweb.com, although it is a bit user-hostile. Figure on 3003 for the aluminum alloy, 304 for the stainless, and alumina or borosilicate glass for the ceramic. That's why a lot of good cookware is copper coated on the bottom, to smooth out the heating. Copper is even better than aluminum for conductivity. It's also why coffee mugs are rarely made out of aluminum. (Damn! Burned my hand AGAIN!)

The other property to consider is heat capacity, the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of the material a certain amount of temperature. Here most information is per pound of material, possibly not too useful, but the order would be aluminum then ceramic then stainless steel. If you multiply by the density, you get the number per the size of material, like per cubic inch. Then the order is aluminum and ceramic about equal, followed by stainless at half again as much. Again, Matweb has the information, although well hidden.

Hope this helps!

lee gearhart
Lee Gearhart
metallurgist - E. Aurora, New York

sidebar September 9, 2009

Years ago I made fire eating torches, I was told to make them out of aluminum because they conducted heat less than steel. But this seems to indicate the opposite. Is that correct.

Jonathan Root
- Orlando, Florida

September 10, 2009

Hi, Jonathan. Aluminum conducts heat much better than steel. I don't know anything about fire-eating, but perhaps the idea is that the flame will heat the metal and it's best to conduct away as much of that heat as possible to avoid hot spots.


Ted Mooney, finishing.com
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey

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