HOME > Chowhound > Cookware >

Discussion

Cast Iron vs Copper

  • f

I am about to restock my kitchen and the recent threads about cast iron got me thinking. Should I go cast iron or copper? Ease of use, cleaning, cost, etc. are not concerns. I simply want what's best for cooking.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
Delete
  1. It's not either/or but both/and.

    Cast iron (including enameled cast iron) is better for some things, and copper for others. (By copper, I mean professional-weight copper; you will find that post-sautee sauce-making in such copper pans is a pure joy, which would not be the case in cast iron.)

    11 Replies
    1. re: Karl S

      Agreeed. It's like comparing apples and oranges. While they are both known for good heat conduction, these properties are different. Copper pans respond alot to heat change, meaning they heat and cool very qickly, making variable heat cooking a much easier task. In contrast, cast iron doesn't change well. It takes a while to heat up, and then holds on to the heat for a long time, even when the temperature gets turned down.
      They surely each have a worthy spot if you're doing a kitchen revamp, but I personally would get the cast-iron before I invested in copper, as some other pans can fill in for coppper, where nothing takes the place of cast-iron.

      1. re: Aaron
        f
        Fred and Wilma

        OK - thanks for both responses. Mauviel (as a copper brand) gets lots of hits - is it considered professional grade or should I be looking at something else? FWIW, I have been seeing great results from "The Cook's Book" and want to upgrade my equipment.

        1. re: Fred and Wilma

          Mauviel tends to come in two thicknesses: 1.6mm and 2.5mm. I have both, and the latter is both more wonderful and more expensive (of course).

          1. re: Karl S

            2.5 mm is not really thick enough for heavy duty use. The copper found at DEHILLERIN in Paris is restaurant grade.

            If you are getting copper for the cooking properties, not just the aesthetics, you must get tin lined. Stainless steel lined gives you a pretty pot, but nothing like tin lined heavy guage copper.

            I recently bought some very heavy old copper pots for very little at a flea market in the South of France. They are huge, over a hundred years old, with iron handles and hand forged rivets. I am getting them retinned.

            1. re: Fleur

              Not so. The copper at Dehillerin is the same thickness you see everywhere for high quality copper of current manufacture - 2.5 mm for the stainless lined and 2 to 3.5 mm for the tin lined, depending on the particular piece. That's the same thickness as Mauviel and it's likely that Mauviel makes Dehillerin's house brand, as Pupster indicated above. You can Google up their web sites and see for yourself. And at 2.5 mm, a copper pan is virtually indestructible and plenty thick enough for commercial use, though I suspect it's a rare restaurant that stocks its kitchen with copper these days.

              The thermal conductivity of pure tin is indeed better than stainless steel, but the difference is not great, so while I personally prefer the tin lining, and all of my three dozen or so French copper pans are tin-lined, it's simply not true that stainless defeats the value of the copper - comments on my friend Jamie Gibbons retinning web site notwithstanding (he does have a vested interest, after all). It's the thick copper part of the pan that's doing all the work and the thin lining, whether steel or tin (or nickel in some rare cases) is just serving to keep the copper from reacting with the food.

              1. re: Fleur

                Oh wow, i did the same but am having a problem finding a place to re-tin. Where did you take your pots?

                1. re: patmag91

                  I believe you were addressing your question to Fleur, but perhaps you won't mind if I jump in briefly. As I indicated in my post above from last year, an old, if lately somewhat distant, friend of mine retins and restores copper in Newark (www.retinning.com) and I'd be remiss if I didn't recommend him. There are other places, some of them a bit cheaper, I believe, but I have no personal experience with them. I hear good things about Rocky Mountain Retinning, and both Bridge Kitchenware and Fantes can arrange for retinning.

            2. re: Fred and Wilma

              Mauviel makes four different lines of copper - heavy or light gauge, and copper or tin lined in either gauge. They also used to make an intermediate weight line of tin-lined iron-handled cookware, but that was discontinued some time ago.

              The heavy gauge will range from about 2.5 to 3 mm thick and have iron handles - that's what you want. The stainless lining is more durable and more expensive. Some claim that it defeats the heat-conductive properties of the copper, but that's really not the case, at least not noticeably. The tin lining is traditional, but it's more fragile than steel and will wear over time and need to be retinned, which is expensive.

              The light gauge ranges from about 1.5 to 2 mm. It will have brass handles and be less expensive, of course. It cooks quite well, but the heavy gauge is really preferable.

              I agree that you should also have some cast iron pans around, probably a couple of large skillets and a Dutch oven. Cast iron is actually a rather poor conductor of heat, but it's made very thick so it can heat more-or-less evenly (anyone who thinks it really heats evenly has obviously never cooked in a large 3.5-mm thick copper sautoir), and it does have a lot of thermal mass, so it retains heat very well - good for some applications, not so good for others.

              No one material is suitable for all cooking tasks, so the idea is to choose the right material for the right pieces, depending on how they're intended to be used.

              1. re: FlyFish

                "copper or tin lined in either gauge..."
                just a slight typo, flyfish meant steel or tin-lined

                Another quality brand is Bourgeat.

                For the OP, if you don't know the difference between cast iron and copper you really must do some serious research (besides posting on this board). Even if you are rolling in cash, copper pots and pans are a serious investment in time, effort and money. Learn more about the equipment, and whether you need them or not, before you start throwing your money around.

                1. re: Pupster

                  Yes, stainless steel lined. Thanks for catching that.

                  For those so inclined, there's an excellent highly technical discussion of the qualities of various common cookware materials at the link below.

                  Link: http://www.cookingforengineers.com/ar...

                  1. re: FlyFish

                    While that is an interesting link, the guy basically comes to all the wrong conclusions. He recommends All-Clad (vs. what other brands?) and he rates cladded as superior vs. sandwich disc bottoms. That basically undermines any credibility he has with me.

                    He may be a scientist, but he sure aint no cook!

        2. Copper pots, the real deal, from France, like DEHILLERIN are fabulous. They are tin lined and very heavy. If you are careful, they will last a lifetime. The less expensive copper pots are truly inferior.You would be better off with stainless.

          Cast iron is a wonderful cooking material. For frying chicken, baking corn bread, and other very high heat heavy duty jobs, there is nothing that beats it.

          Why not get both?

          7 Replies
          1. re: Fleur

            Dehillerin is a shop. I think their copper is made by Mauviel, but Dehillerin slaps their private label on it. Can't say for sure though. (The stainless set looks awfully like Sitrams. Same Inox name.)

            Bourgeat are all hand-made and hand hammered. Don't know if the Mauviels can say the same.

            Check out the offerings from this shop in Philly. Very good tutorial matching material to function.

            Link: http://fantes.com/cookware.htm

            1. re: Pupster

              Thank you for the tutorial. It is excellent. I will keep it on file.

              I checked some pots from DEHILLERIN. They just have "made in France" stamped on them.

              1. re: Pupster

                Fantes! - great place. I got the last of the flat Mauviel copper lids there - the ones with the long iron handles that were unfortunately discontinued some years ago.

                1. re: FlyFish

                  I just read the article about the copperware hand made by Cesare Mazzetti in Montepulciano in the latest issue of Saveur. Since I am going to Tuscany and Umbria this fall and love to cook, this caught my eye. The article says he even makes his sturdiest pots and pans with 3 mm Chilean copper. Has anyone had any experience with this cookware? The article doesn't mention what it is lined with. I take it, from what I have read in this thread, that my first investment in copper should be a saute pan--agreed?--and I can continue to make the dishes that take long slow cooking in my le creuset.

                  1. re: alixschwartz

                    I have been to Cesare's shop in Montepulciano, examined all the wares, and purchased a 26cm skillet in the 2mm range. The pan is very nice in size, shape and heft, and is plainly hand-hammered. Performance has been excellent, and the price (99 Euro) reasonable--for copper. Tinning is obviously wiped by hand. Their product line, while numerous, is less varied than Paderno or Mauviel, and omits most classical French shapes. Curiously, I saw no splayed/Windsor/fait tout shapes for polenta or risotto. On the plus side, Mazzetti makes three models of still (called Alembics), in which--they'll tell you with a wink--it is possible but not legal to distill spirits.

                    I use my Mazzetti every day and would never part with it. The only faults I have with it concern the brass handle--it is a little too narrow (so the pan wants to turn in your hand), and being brass, it heats to untouchably hot rather quickly. A wider, cast iron handle would be better, but a $5 silicone sleeve fixes both faults.

                    If you need a larger skillet, want their best 3mm foil, or are otherwise weak of wrist, the 3mm Mazzetti skillets come with a second loop "helper" handle and a lid.

                    Mazzetti is now selling their 3mm pans lined with pure SILVER ($$$$). These are ASTOUNDINGLY beautiful, but they do not line these pans in-house. They are sent out to a silversmith in Montepulciano, and I believe the silver is electroplated to the copper. It is therefore likely that the silver's micron thickness is less than the hand-wiped tin. The chemistry of using silver is sound, I just wonder about the upkeep and cost of re-lining in silver.

                    Finally, even if you think you'll never need a lid, buy it anyway WHILE YOU'RE THERE--it will cost you as much as the pan buy and ship the lid alone later.

                    Hope this helps. The Mazzettis are great people! Check them out at www.rameria.com/englhome.html

                2. re: Pupster

                  Mauviel is manufactured in Villedieu-les-Poeles near Mont St Michel and the Normandy Beaches. They have a factory store. The entire town is full of metal manufacturing and the main street is lined with shops selling cookware and other items, including many specialty pots and pans seen in catalogues in the US. The prices are less than at Dehillerin and much less than in the US, especially after the tax rebate which they can handle on your credit card if you buy enough at one store.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    I am going to be in France for a month. I want to go to the Mauviel factory, Le Creuset factory, Sabatier, Emil Henry. I can't find their addesses or a direct web link on the to any of the factories. I only seem to find their US reps. Your info about Mauviel is very helpful. Do you have any suggestions. Thank you SO much.

              2. I love love love my cast iron, if someone told me I could only keep one item to cook with it - hands down. It's so versitile, just keep seasoning it if u use it too much. One of my favorite mother's day gifts from my foodie son. :-) I keep looking for more at yard/flea market sales too.

                1 Reply
                1. re: lexpatti

                  I use both cast iron -- both Lodge and Le Creuset -- and copper lined with stainless steel AND tinned copper. You can't sear in tinned copper, but you can in SS lined copper. Versatility is the answer.

                2. I'm late to this thread, but here's my take. Over the years I've owned cast iron, enameled cast, clad, layered, disc'd, Swiss DIamond, etc. I always thought copper was the effete, Home Beautiful, snob's cookware.

                  Then I bought and used a nice piece of copper...

                  The result was an epiphany akin to trading in a Ford Fiesta for a Ferrari. In retrospect, if I had invested in good copper HALF of what I wasted on sets of other metal cookware over the years, I'd have been (along with my cooking) 'way ahead.

                  There is but one real caveat: cast iron is preferable at cooking temperatures of above 400 F, since tin linings melt at 437 F, and stainless linings will unbond from copper at about the same temperature. So..., if you must sear a steak or roast on a very hot hob or in a hot oven, or do a lot of Ebelskivver or Yorkshire puddings, keep some cast iron for those dishes. You'll be happiest if you throw everything else out and go with old-fashioned tinned copper. Just remember to throw away all your metal cooking utensils at the same time, and your copper will last longer than you will.

                  The best news? After a half century, EXCELLENT copperware is again being made by American craftsmen right HERE IN THE USA. Equal, if not superior qualkity, to Mauviel and Paderno, much better than Copral or Ruffoni. Go here: http://www.organic-cookware.com/ They even have a one-time retinning guarantee if your "helper" melts a lining!