All Clad: Stainless Steel vs Copper Core?
My old, mid-grade pans are starting to go, so I plan to start buying some good stuff. All my old stuff was non-stick, so I want something I can deglaze on, good even heat conduction and long-lasting. All Clad seems to be pretty universally respected. Is there a big difference between their stainless steel and copper core cookware? I know copper is supposed to be best for even heat conduction. Is the difference noticeable?
There are four lines and two types of AllClad ware. The Stainless and Cop-R-Chef lines have only 2 mm. cores and are not worth having. If you go with AllClad, get the MasterChef or LTD lines, which have a 4 mm. core and are good. http://cookwarenmore.com/home/index.cfm has full quality irregulars at great prices.
That said, you'll pay a LOT more for AllClad than for other brands that are just as good, and often better, such as Sitram or Paderno.
Copper Core is ~1.6mm of actual copper, from all accounts, which is basically table service. The prices are obscene and for about the same amount of money as any given All-Clad copper core piece, you could purchase a similar piece from Bourgeat, Falk, or Mauviel constructed of 2.5mm stainless-lined copper, which will offer a larger heat reservoir and more control. Of course, you can't expect it to look nice if you throw it in the dishwasher afterwards, but Jacques Pepin does not seem to mind this. Having switched to heavy copper (from eg. cast iron and aluminum) I would never go back and would never pay All-Clad prices for table service copper. (Cast iron is great for some things and I certainly would never part with my skillets -- however the response time leaves something to be desired, so it is not my idea of a versatile material.)
Regular All-Clad is expensive enough (and to my mind, a somewhat dubious value given that other manufacturers make stainless-clad aluminum with more comfortable handles). Copper Core is absurd and offers no marginal benefits compared to professional heavy copper. If you put a little thought into it and shop around, you can crush their value proposition flat.
If you love the look of All-Clad and the handles happen to be everything you ever dreamed of ergonomically, then by all means go for it. If you're looking for nearly ideal heat conduction and fine control, and Copper Core happens to be in your budget, then you would be well served by reading a little on the properties of various metals and pan shapes, then rendering a decision. The oft-referenced warhorse of a tutorial by Sam Kinsey is a good place to start:
You don't need to pay All-Clad (or Mauviel, or Calphalon) prices for a stockpot, whereas spending the extra money for heavy clad aluminum or stainless-lined heavy copper in a saucier actually will give you a huge benefit (because of the even heating and quick response to temperature changes while you are working on sauces or reductions).
As others have mentioned, if you have even the slightest inkling that you might want an induction burner at any point in your future, you should make sure that whatever pans you choose have a magnetic steel or iron layer (or, in the cast of cast iron and enameled cast iron, are entirely constructed of ferrous material). I didn't see that in your original post, but it's a valid concern.
I was in a similar situation not too long ago -- my pans that heated up fast did not heat up evenly, and the ones that heated evenly (cast iron) did not respond quickly when I turned down the flame. Eventually it dawned on me that you have to pick and choose if you want to get your money's worth. I hope that the above information will help you to choose satisfactorily, too.
All All-Clad is expensive, I've noticed that they use basic All-Clad MC2 aluminum in the Iron Chef America kitchen so the performance of all of their cookware is probably similar.
If you are willing to wash the pans by hand, which I do with most of my cookware anyway, I've always preferred the All-Clad LTD anodized for looks - My 3 qt.cooper core saute (a gift) is kind of ugly and dull after 5 years use, and the copper lid tarnishes badly.
The copper isn't just a ring, it's the exposed core and while it's OK to put them in the dishwasher, the exposed copper will darken to a dull gray if you do.
I think that any All-Clad you buy will be great.
Aluminum-core will work with induction. I do not believe the copper-core will - although I might be wrong. Definitely something to think about as you never know.
As for Consumer Reports - in my opinion, and based on my experience - that rag has totally lost its ability to consistenly produce sounds ratings. I wouldn't get too hung up on that.
Aluminum core or copper makes no difference as far as induction compatibility. Induction only acts on the ferrous (iron) material in the pan. In a pan designed with induction in mind, the steel disk on the bottom of the pan (or the outer layer, if it's fully clad) is magnetic, that layer reacts to the electromagnetic field generated by the induction element and generates heat. The core material (aluminum, copper, whatever) distributes that heat evenly to the interior surface of the pan.
I presume you mean copper core vs. aluminum core. I recently heard a supposed expert say that the home cook is unlikely to notice any difference.
FWIW, Consumer Reports ranked All-Clad in a middling category among stainless. KitchenAid, Calphalon Contemporaryand Emerilware were tops. Note that stainless steel interior fry pans (but not saucepans) are difficult to clean. I discarded my All-Clad.