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On Copper Cookware

I know there have been a couple of threads on cookware lately, but I wanted to get some feedback specifically about copper cookware. I've been looking at it lately, and it's all so beautiful -- and pricey. What is the advantage of copper over other things? I know it conducts heat well and evenly, but doesn't stainless steel also do that? So why spend the extra money (aside from how gorgeous it's going to look hanging in the kitchen)? Also, if I bought one or two copper pieces, what would you recommend that I buy? What is it best used for? And are there any brands to avoid?

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  1. As you said, the advantage of copper is that it conducts heat evenly - and also that it has low thermal mass, so it responds quickly to changes in heat. Stainless steel, by itself, is a terrible conductor of heat - probably the worst among the various metals used for pots and pans, which is why it's commonly combined with copper or aluminum. At first (and still, of course), the copper (e.g., Revere Ware) or aluminum (e.g. Farber Ware) was applied to the bottom on the outside, but more recent technology allows the heat-conducting layer to be inserted between SS layers (e.g., All-Clad). IMO, while All-Clad and its clones, and even Farber Ware, do a great job, there's nothing like cooking in a high-quality copper pan.

    If you want to invest in a couple of copper pieces, it makes sense to get pieces where the responsiveness of copper is an advantage, which means pieces that will be used for sauteeing and similar stovetop tasks. There's no particular advantage in a copper sauce pot and there's no advantage whatsoever (other than the enjoyment of simply owning and looking at it, which can be considerable) in a copper stock pot. I have about 3 dozen or so pieces of high-quality copper and the ones I use most regularly are the evasees (slope-sided, or Windsor, pans) and the sautoirs (deep, straight-sided "fry" pans). I'd recommend getting one of each in perhaps something like a 10" diameter, depending on your needs and budget. Make sure they're full commercial thickness, which will be about 2.5 to 3 or even 3.5 mm, with iron handles. They won't be cheap and they won't be light, either - my 12" sautoir weighs upwards of 7 lbs. empty. The 1.6-mm lines (usually brass handles) are better suited to serving rather than cooking. Spend the extra and get SS linings rather than tin - I like the tin for non-practical traditional reasons, but the SS is really the way to go if you don't want to worry about retinning and/or melting the lining. Mauviel is probably the best-known, and maybe the best, brand, but there are others.

    6 Replies
    1. re: FlyFish

      This is a great, and very thorough, answer. Thanks!

      1. re: FlyFish

        I thank you, too, FlyFish, for the straighforward guidance. I've been wanting to try copperware, also. I've spent a lot of time "window-shopping" for Mauviel, Bourgeat and Falk, but made no move because I couldn't figure out from what pieces I'd get the best value. I had been considering a stockpot, because I've never had one that completely satisfies...so thanks for saving me *that* expense. And I'm perfectly happy with my pedestrian saucepans.

        But...hubby and I combined two complete households a few years ago and, in sorting through some cartons recently, I found an old, tarnished, ratty copper Windsor pan, inherited from who knows which ancestor where--small, looks like 7-inches. I cleaned it up and used it for the first time last night, to sautee a couple of fresh chopped tomatoes, onions, oil and seasonings as a quick, lazy topping for tortelloni. First time ever with a copper pan, and I get the attraction! And the responsiveness, IMO, bears out your recommendation re a sautoir or evasee. Thanks for the info on the practical details.

        1. re: FlyFish

          I have 2 Bourget copper sauciers and a small copper sugar pot, but those are luxury pieces that I don't need.

          The use of a heavy walled pan(All-clad) and careful heat management will replace 99% of the need for copper

          1. re: Kelli2006

            "The use of a heavy walled pan(All-clad) and careful heat management will replace 99% of the need for copper"

            Absolutely - as will, frankly, any commercial grade aluminum pan that you can find in restaurant kitchens everywhere. But they replace 0% of the beauty, pride of ownership, link to the grand traditions of cooking, and added enjoyment that come with using quality hand-made copper. How boring is a life where everything is justifiable only on the basis of need? For those who understand, no explanation is necessary; for those who don't, no explanation is possible.

            1. re: FlyFish

              I'm a hard-headed New Englander who sprung from long lines of New Englanders on both sides, FlyFish. You've made an awful lot of sense to me in this thread, but I certainly hope you're not conceding tradition as a need. ;-D

            2. re: Kelli2006

              I think you're right, Kelli, but, whenever I can, I want to achieve that last one percent, you know? I think as cooks once we become proficient in the fundamentals of cooking, it's that quest for perfection (unattainable, admittedly) that keeps it interesting.

              My father never utilized a kitchen beyond making a killer vinaigrette, but the man used to tell me three rules again and again that I've come to realize apply to my cooking duties as much as any other enterprise he may have anticipated for his daughter's life.

              He said: Always use the right tool for the job at hand; always buy the best quality tools you can afford at the lowest price you can find and then take proper care of them; and, until you reach the point in life that you can afford better quality, make do cheerfully with whatever you're fortunate enough to have.

              So...when I was starting out, I cooked happily using cheap, dented vessels in claustophobic kitchenettes in studio apartments and nearly condemnable kitchens in fix-up starter houses. There were some pretty good meals, despite the physical and technical obstacles, but there were many frustrations, too, as I tried to advance my cooking skills. The tasks got easier as the houses, appliances and vessels improved. It was an ephipany to discover what I could do with an All-Clad, Atlantis or carbon steel Sabatier once I could purchase them. It's been equally enlightening that, for other jobs, the Farberware I got thirty years ago does just fine, and the beat-up, two-dollar aluminum pan my former MIL bought from a Piraeus street vendor moments before she boarded the ship for America half a century ago still roasts lamb perfectly.

              Last night when I fired up that burner, that found copper pan did that particular job--which *was*, after all, heat management--better than any other pan I've ever used for it. I learned something all over again that I've learned before many times through the years: Those French know what they're talking about, when it comes to cooking. Technically, yes, but also of the beauty and tradition FlyFish touched upon. If I've worked hard all my life toward being able to afford some of those things, plus that last one percent...then I'm going for it. But as you rightly indicate, with the knowledge that it truly is a luxury--not something to be considered a necessity--and with a proper gratitude for that.

              But nobody had better ever get between me and my cheap Greek roasting pan.

              ;-)

          2. Just be aware that the gleaming copper pans you see in glossy magazines are mostly there for decoration, not cooking. And you probably know that copper is toxic and should not be used for cooking unless it's lined.

            1 Reply
            1. re: mpalmer6c

              Doesn't have to be lined for sugar syrups or egg whites.

            2. Advice from experience:

              Buy the thickest copper you can. There is a HUGE performance difference between 1.5mm and 3mm thick when it comes to spreading heat evenly.

              Stainless steel lining. Aside from being easier to maintain than tin (won't scratch, can use metal implements and can be scrubbed with steel wool) I've found it actually performs *better* than a tin lining. I'll catch flak for that statement, but hear me out. While tin definitely conducts heat better than stainless, the tin linings are generally much thicker (at least to start off with) due to the fact that the tin slowly wears away. When you multiply the conductivity by the thickness, you wind up with results that only slightly favor tin. Additionally, the stainless lined pans spread the heat better! The extra 'resistance' to heat transfer that stainless has compared to tin means that more of the heat will go 'sideways' and saturate the copper sides. You'll get less of a 'hotspot' with stainless linings than tin linings.

              Aside from thickness and lining, there's one very important aspect of copper pans that rarely gets addressed, and needs to be. The handle. Brass conducts heat well, and when a brass handle is mated to a copper pot you'll find the handle gets HOT. As in too hot to hold without a towel or mitt. Cast iron handles are better, but stainless is better yet, and a phenolic (plastic) handle would be even better at staying cool. Also, good thick copper pans are HEAVY. A good medium sized copper pot weighs as much empty as a cheap stainless dimestore pot weighs when it's full of liquid. I have never found a copper pot whose handles I've liked. Almost all of them are too thin and edgy, which makes pouring things out of them difficult and, in some cases, painful. Pick up a few and make sure the ergonomics of the handle fits you.

              20 Replies
              1. re: ThreeGigs

                TY for posting some practical guidelines, ThreeGigs. Very helpful.

                1. re: ThreeGigs

                  I endorse all of the recommendations for ss lining instead of tinning. The problem with tinning is not just that it eventually wears away and you loose using the pan for as long as it takes to find a tin smith and have it done, but even worse is that you cannot braise with tin on high heat. You run the danger of melting the tin and contaminating the food.

                  The ONLY major problem with copper is that if/when you buy a new stove or cooktop and would seriously like to go with induction cooking for the energy saving and responsive benefits, you CANNOT cook on an induction burner because neither copper nor the lining is ferrous. ONLY metals that a magnet will stick to will work with induction cooking. So when you go with copper, you're limiting your future cooking options. Unless someone makes a damned trivet you can use! <sigh> I couldn't get any answers on this one, so I had to abandon the induction dream.

                  Despite the warnings about copper being heavy, compared to Le Creuset (or any cast iron), it's a feather! I converted from an all Le Creuset kitchen to all copper nearly forty years ago and got rid of those damned bulging Popeye muscles! YAAAAY! '-)

                  1. re: Caroline1

                    Oh... One more thing! Since time adds to the charm of copper, don't overlook buying on eBay. You can save a fortune and it still cooks the same. But most eBay copper is (unfortunately for me) tinned. But no problem with keeping an eye out!

                    And I DO like my smallish copper soup and stock pots.

                    1. re: Caroline1

                      LOL, Caroline. Here's to less ripped women ;-). I agree, the one pan I have seems light to me, compared to most of cookware. I've preferred the way my heavier materials cook, but if there were something that achieved that with less avoirdupois...I'm all for it. Some of my dutch ovens are brutal on my slightly herniated disk!

                      No...I would only go with the SS lining. I'm far too hard on things and absent-minded to go with the tin. Thanks for letting me know about the induction. It's not in my plans right now, but you never know... It's good to be forewarned.

                      1. re: Caroline1

                        I have never owned a induction cook top, but, I think it would be very possible (and relatively easy) to braze a thin steel disk to the bottom of a copper pot. It would ruin the look,but you could use it on a induction "burner".

                        If this is a problem, I would think that any welder, machine shop or many "full service" hardware store might be able to help.

                        1. re: Kelli2006

                          No no no,...! I wouldn't want to ruin my copper pots and pans by doing that! I wanted a trivet to sit on the burner (removable for a ferrous pan) that I could sit a copper pan on and cook. I asked several dealers and even called a couple of induction manufacturers, but as far as I know, those dumb asses are still scratching their heads. If they ever ffigure out what i was talking about, I suspect the answer will be "yes," and then they'll introduce a new "super convenient amenity" that will make ALL pots and pans work with THEIR induction cook top. <sigh> And no royalties for me.

                          1. re: Caroline1

                            Caroline, It would also be possible to place a thin disk of steel under the pan, w/o brazing it on. That would provide the necessary intermediary connection, but it may scratch the polished cooktop surface.

                            The sheet of steel would only need to be 1/16" or so thick, and could be obtained at almost any hardware store.

                            1. re: Kelli2006

                              Yes, that's all pretty obvious, isn't it? What I was trying to find out form the manufacturers is whether it would in any way harm or discolor the ceramic top since the trivet would be absorbing all of the heat and then basically serving as a hot plate for the pan resting on it. Manufacturers didn't know... I wasn't interested in a voided warranty.

                              It seems logical, to me at least, that if the trivet was a valid answer with no ensuing problems, then all manufacturers of induction cook tops -- both U.S. and European -- would include a trivet with the cooktop. After all, it would increase their market appeal. But since none have... Well. C'est la vie.

                        2. re: Caroline1

                          I'm curious about your comment concerning the weight of copper - is the copper you're referring to the lighter 1.5 or 1.6-mm thickness with the thin brass handles?? The heavier grades are quite a bit heavier than cast iron for equivalent sizes.

                          I just now took out my trusty kitchen scale, and this is what I found:

                          Wagner 10.5" iron skillet: 4 lb, 6.5 oz
                          9.5 " 2.5-mm thick copper sautoir (iron handle): 6 lb, 1.5 oz
                          10.5" 3-mm thick copper sautoir (iron handle): 8 lb, 4 oz

                          In an earlier post, I referred to my 12" 3.5-mm thick sautoir as being "upwards of 7 lbs." I was doing that from memory, and while strictly speaking I was correct, that was a bit misleading - it's well "upwards" of 7 lbs, and in fact exceeds the capacity of my 10 lb scale. For comparison, although they have much higher sides, a LC 9" (5 qt, I think) French Oven, without the cover, is 5 lb, 12 oz, and the 9" by 11" oval oven (7 qt, I think) is 7 lb exactly.

                          1. re: FlyFish

                            I suspect it's your iron handles and not the copper. All of my copper has brass handles, which are much lighter than iron. And they don't rust.

                            1. re: FlyFish

                              Well, I lied! I just looked up the weight of a cubic foot of copper, iron, and brass. They're all very heavy, but to my great amazement, a cubic foot of cast iron is less weight than a cubic foot of copper! Who knew? Anyway, sounds like your copper must be much heavier weight than mine based on the simple fact that I'm still cooking. I'm reaching an age (actually I reached it at around 30 years ago) where I need a sous chef to help juggle the heavy stuff in the kitchen!

                              1. re: Caroline1

                                Yes, copper is pretty dense material, and of course brass is mostly copper so it's very dense as well. I figured the difference was likely due to the thickness of the copper - brass handles and 1.6 mm thickness usually go together. I have a number of those pieces as well - my friend Jamie Gibbons, who's in the copper restoration and retinning business (shameless plug for Jamie's business here: www.retinning.com), refers to them as "Presentation Grade" vs. the thicker "Hotel Grade." They cook just about as well as the heavier ones; the added thickness is more for increased durability than enhanced performance. I actually prefer them when I'm doing something that requires the ultimate in responsiveness because the smaller mass allows them to respond much more quickly than the thicker pans.

                                1. re: FlyFish

                                  Since I was replacing cast iron when I bought the copper, I wasn't about to touch anything with cast iron handles since I erroneously thought the iron was heavier than the copper. My god, my matalurgist father must be spinning in his grave! I also wanted the copper/stainless since I had already destroyed a tinned frying pan trying to get it hot enough to sear a steak. Not a pretty sight! The copper/ss has all served me well for lo, these thirty years, but I very rarely use the tinned copper, with the exception of my ibrik, because I couldn't find a place to have things retinned. Thanks for your friend's URL!

                                  1. re: Caroline1

                                    I don't understand copper replacing a set of LC, or copper for pan grilling steak, or the need for a trivet on induction. I understand copper for sauces, braises, and salamander or broiler finishes.
                                    Copper reacts quickly to heat applied or removed. But the heat source should be even, and a trivet is not nearly as even as a flame.

                                    1. re: jayt90

                                      Well, maybe if you had arthritis of the hands, you would better understand replacing the La Creuset?

                                      The need for a trivet with induction? Well, my copper pans are lighter weight than the LC was, and they are stainless steel lined. Neither copper nor this stainless steel are ferrous, though some mfrs are now making ss that will hold a magnet. Since my copper pans will not heat on an induction burner because they are non-ferrous, I considered trying to use a ferrous metal trivet that WOULD heat up to place my copper pans on. But first I wanted to find out whether that would in any way compromise the advantages of induction cooking or do damage to the cooktop. I could not get a difinitive answer anywhere, including the manufacturers I contacted and this board. NOW do you understand?

                                      Oh, and induction does not use a flame, however it reportedly (according to all test comparisons I've read) is more responsive and heats more uniformly, economically, and quickly than either gas or electric.

                                      And then there is the added factor that nearly thirty years ago the builder chose to make my house all electric, and based on the closest proximity of a gas line in the City of Plano, Texas, it would cost me upwards of eighty thousand dollars to have natural gas piped to my house, a cost I can neither afford nor am willing to pay. So my available choices for my kitchen remodel were some form of electric. Induction did not work out,

                                      As for steaks, I use one of my several copper fry/saute pans for pan grilling steak because they can finish in the oven. With the arthritis of my hands, there is no way I can do that with any of my other frying pans or grills, since they are either cast iron or my one aluminun/teflon omlett pan that is entirely inappropriate for an oven environment.

                                      I hope this clarifies things to your satisfaction. If you have any more questions, please feel free to ask.

                                      1. re: Caroline1

                                        OK, I'm beginning to get it. I don't have gas, either, but I like using a 3 burner (Italian) propane-fired patio stove, with copper pans. When the weather is bad, I roll it into the kitchen and use it with a CO monitor. I wish I had a salamander or a good broiler for finishing.

                                        When I googled trivet I found a cast iron one from Lodge that might work. Steel trivets would likely warp. The Lodge, or any other trivet could be easily tested in a store with an induction display.

                                        1. re: jayt90

                                          Well, "trivet" simply means any disk to cover a burner OR an elevated trivet on small legs to set hot dishes on to protect a table top. Doesn't even have to be "store bought."

                                          The three burner patio stove can be pretty dangerous indoors, however there are one burner propane "stoves" made for table top cooking that are probably safer. You can also buy a one burner induction hot plate for a hundred or two bucks.

                                          Whether the trivet would work on an induction cook top is a moot point for me right now. I decided I didn't want to give up my copper, so I went with an electronic touch pad smooth cook top from GE. And now I'm so angry at GE I could spit! I carefully checked out both GE's website and the company's website I bought it from, and they BOTH said it is three inches deep, a size that would fit just fine over the two cutlery drawers in my island. My granite people made the cutout in my gorgeous new black island counter top exactly to GE's specifications. I called my electrician to come hook up the new cook top.

                                          When he took it out of the carton, it is only three inches deep in front! In back, it has an add-on electronics housing that brings it up to over six inches, and the two cutlery drawers AND their supports had to be removed...!!! And now it is going to cost me at least an additional thousand bucks to modify the newly remodeled island to recover the "at hand" cutlery storage I need when I'm cooking!

                                          I'm going to call GE and cry my eyes out, but I don't know if it will do any good... On their web page with my cooktop on it, when you download the .pdf installation manual, it has an asterisk on page two or three with a very fine print foot note that says my model and one other cook top are not just three inches deep. I think I have a good argument that that's corporate obfuscation! They should say so out in plane view so someone knows BEFORE they've popped a thousand bucks plus electrician only to get a SECOND island remodel as a bonus. <sigh>

                                          I think we may end up with Thanksgiving pizza. The tile guys are now two weeks past due on finishing my kitchen counters, and have the tumbled marble backsplash almost ready to grout. But they didn't show up at 8 o'clock this morning as promised, and now tell me they will "try" to finish it tomorrow morning. Meanwhile those countertops, INCLUDING the kitchen sink, are shrouded in plastic to protect the granite from the grout, should they ever get around to doing it. Which means I can't even run water! Not a happy camper.

                                          Kitchen remodels are hell to go through. The good news is that once you make it through to the other side, they do last a long time. Which does nothing about the fact that I have a four year old grandson arriving tomorrow expecting Grandma's home made cookies...! Can we say, "Oreo?" <sigh> Over the river and through the woods indeed.

                                          Christmas.... It's gotta be better.

                                    2. re: Caroline1

                                      Just a thought from one of "une certain age" to another; I dropped the height of my cooktop 3" when building this house mostly because I love/adore/cherish my heavy copper cookware and can no longer easily toss the pans. It has been a boon!

                                      1. re: Sherri

                                        hmmmm.... NOW you tell me! '-)

                                        Ya know, it doesn't matter how much planning aforethought you put into a place, there's always something you wish you'd done differently once you live in it. It's a law of nature.

                                        Meanwhile the guys still aren't here grouting my backsplashes, so I'm about to set out on a phone quest looking for some place that will deliver turkey-sweetpotato-cranberry pizza on Thanksgiving Day!

                            2. re: ThreeGigs

                              Oh yes, the brass handles get really hot -- even on the thickest and most expensive Mauviel! I was shocked at how hot they can get the first time I used the pans, and nearly burned myself.

                              Go for at least 2.5 mm or it is not worth it. Thinner is not nearly as good. I notice no difference really between steel and tin lined, but the steel is supposed to last much longer. And go for cast iron handles. Falk and some Mauviel and others are made with cast iron handles. A world of difference. Keep in mind that copper NEVER goes in the dishwasher. It will ruin the finish. If you think you will be lazy one day and not want to wash the pan by hand, don't do it. You will be out a few hundred bucks.

                              Finally, I do see the need for a copper sauce pan. I love the way copper COOLS down really fast when I accidentally overheat the sauce. You can't get that responsiveness with other materials.

                            3. Ahh, here's the thread :-)

                              My cousin has an induction cooktop in his apartment, so I took a couple of my pots over there for a test.

                              In a nutshell, forget about using an iron or steel 'trivet' with a copper pot on top, unless it's for something low temperature.

                              Best results came from my 9 inch saute on his 11 inch cast iron griddle, with a small amount of cooking oil between the two. There simply wasn't enough heat transfer from the ferrous pieces that we used into the copper to do much more than melt butter otherwise. Also, the 'trivet' I used was a rectangular piece of mild steel about 5 by 7 inches. The parts of the steel that weren't under the pot got *very* hot. You'd really need to have a 'trivet' that was exactly the size of the bottom of the pot.

                              Interesting experiment though.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: ThreeGigs

                                You are fantastic! Thank you! Isn't it amazing that the manufacturers couldn't do what you've done?

                                Besides the trivet not working very well, what did you think of induction? Did I make a huge mistake by not going with it? Well, I don't have to buy all new pots and pans this way, but other than that... What did you think of induction overall?

                                Again, thank you so very much!

                                1. re: Caroline1

                                  I used induction AGES ago (early 90's) and liked it. Didn't need super flat pot bottoms like other smoothtop stoves, keeping the stove clean was easy ('cept for the one normal 'hot' burner), and it was definitely faster at getting water to boil. The lack of visual clues as to how 'hot' a burner was definitely took some getting used to though. Many times I turned up the wrong element and didn't realize it until it was too late. My cousin's has small lights next to each burner showing the level, definitely a featue to look for.

                              2. I live in Hong Kong. I just bought a copper cooking pan from a traditional Chinese cooking-ware store in Mongkok. It is not lined. The store keeper said this type of cooking pan is usually preferred for cooking Japanese tempura, but I, however, want to use it for cooking tofu and vegetables. I am aware of the fact that unlined brass and cooper pans can be dangerous if allowed to oxidize, but if it remains clean, it should be okay, yes? I would appreciate any suggestions you may have.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: LaCucaracha

                                  NEVER use an unlined copper pan for anything that might cause it to leach its toxins into the food. That would include tofu and vegetables that are being sauteed.

                                  It is, from all reports, only safe for whipping egg whites and cooking sugars because of the high temperatures (candy making). I don't know about deep frying, but that seems possible given the high temperature of the oil needed for tempura. I wouldn't risk it. Poison is, well ... poison. There is no way to make this pan safe for general cooking. Please be careful.