Clad aluminum cookware is a product of significant manufacturing and metallurgical advances within the past fifty years.  Three wonderful properties of metallic aluminum are the ability to transfer heat at an amazing rate, its extreme light weight and its ability to be easily formed and shaped.  These properties make aluminum an ideal metal from which to construct grill pans.  The major flaw with aluminum is that when heated it easily warps and deforms, obviously something you want to avoid with cookware.

In order to take advantage of the good while minimizing the bad, a process was developed in which aluminum was sandwiched between other metals (stainless, copper, etc.).  Once the aluminum was “clad” by other materials the sheets were rolled or pressed together, formed into desired shapes and coated with non-stick surfaces.

In the comparative grill pan study undertaken by Cook’s Illustrated in 2006 they believed that clad aluminum pans had a distinct advantage over cast iron pans.  They stated that clad aluminum pans were able to transfer heat from the grill to the food faster than could cast iron.  They found this to be especially true of clad aluminum pans that had been formed by stamping as this process made hollow grooves underneath the grill ridges which allowed better contact between the grill ridges and the heat source.

The Cook’s Illustrated logic was that faster heat transfer results in better grill marks.  Better grill marks result in food releasing easier.  Easy releasing food results in less food being stuck on the grill which results in easier clean up.

Most people will find the major benefit of clad aluminum over cast iron comes from the weight of the pan.  On average, a cast iron grill pan will weigh ten times that of one made of clad aluminum.  A second benefit of clad aluminum is that you can soak it in warm soapy water overnight, something you would never do with seasoned cast iron.