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Jan 25, 2008 09:36 AM

French Copper Pots = lined with TIN or STEEL?

I've heard that it's pointless to line a copper pot with stainless as it just takes away it's heat conductivity, and that although it's more pernsnickty to use tin is the better choice. People are a fan of stainless because it's easier to clean and use (doesn't need re-tinning ever, etc) but that it doesn't really bring out the best in a copper pan.


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  1. There are three, somewhat unrelated issues involved in answering your question. First is the question of even heat diffusion, i.e. lateral transfer of heat from the point where it's applied to the rest of the pan, so you don't get hot spots. That is largely a function of the primary material the pan is made of (copper) and the thickness of the copper. The lining really doesn't matter. Second is responsiveness, the ability of the pan to heat up and cool off quickly as the heat source is adjusted. That's a function of which metal is contributing the bulk of the thermal mass, which again is the copper - the mass of the lining is minor. Finally, there's the issue of heat transfer vertically through the pan and into the food, which is probably less important than the first two. Here, the lining material does matter and tin does have a better coefficient of thermal transfer than stainless, but one of the terms in the heat transfer equation is the distance that the heat has to travel through the material. Because the lining is so thin, the difference between tin and stainless, while real, is minimal and probably can't be noticed in practice. All of my few dozen copper pieces are tin-lined because I'm an unapologetic traditionalist, but if I were interested solely in maintenance-free cooking I'd opt for stainless, no question.

    10 Replies
    1. re: FlyFish

      ^^Thank you for your thoughtful response. May I ask how long you've had your tin-lined copper cookware and if you've had it re-tinned yet? I know not to used tin-lined for searing and such (I'd use my Griswold for that), mainly to sauté in - if it were used correctly how long would tin-lined copper cookware last before it would need a re-tinning? I prefer the look of the tinned if preformance isn't a huge factor.

      1. re: beauxgoris

        I don't know about FlyFish (a few DOZEN?!?) but I have three pieces of tin lined copper. The oldest piece is about 20 years old. It is a really large skillet. On average it gets used about weekly, (often in the oven) -- lining shows very little wear -- maybe it'll need a reline by whoever inherits it.

        I have a medium-large (3qt?) windsor pan than get used a bit less, it has a slightly more "used" interior, but still ought to be good for a decade or more.

        Finally I have a stock pot. During the cooler months it gets used probably 6-8 times a month, the warmer months far less. It looks like new, though it is over a decade old.

        Mind you these were bought new and are quality pans, really built to commercial use standards. I suspect that in a commercial kitchen even these might need to be retinned annually, but I don't cook out of these exclusively. They are hammered copper, very HEAVY, almost to the point of being unwieldy, but when I am making something for a crowd (or showing off) I do use them. They are handwashed and stored well...

        The tinned lined hammered stuff looks wonderful. I think there is a wee bit of performance edge, but that may just be shear density. I have multi-ply pans with copper cores surrounded by SS and they work very very well too. They don't make nearly as impressive a visual, though they are a lot more forgiving of less than perfect care...

        1. re: beauxgoris

          Sorry for not getting back to you sooner - I was away for the weekend, and as it turns out renov8r has already told you just about exactly the same thing I would have. Given even modest care, the tin linings on good-quality copper (most of my pieces are Mauviel) are not nearly as fragile as some would have you believe. My oldest pieces are 20+ years old and have been in steady, but certainly not daily, use. I haven't had to have any retinned yet, but there are a couple that are just about ready for it.

        2. re: FlyFish

          Can I just say, one cook to another, that was an amazing amount of information. I really appreciate it. I worked with a set of copper pans for the first time this Fall, when I was teaching in France and I fell head over heels for them.

          1. re: FlyFish

            stainless steel sticks! i don't have as much of a problem with that when i use my heavy french copper- not sure if that is tin or nickel lined. it is maybe 35 years old and just got to where the lining has worn off in spots.

            1. re: FlyFish

              Tin is also inert and will not react with foods,unlike stainless, of chrome and nickel origin, one can become concerned when heat is applied ? Further, when the stainless steel cladding separates
              from the copper due to uneven/unequal amounts of heat ,the pan is ruined Can,t be repaired. Tin on the other hand can be relined to cook another day.
              copper cookware with tin lining is tradition, don,t apologize . copper cookware has been serving us well for the last several centuries. Other cookware materials can,t say that.

              In this disposable world we live in, how many products that we spend money for are functional,
              ever wearing ,long lasting ,consistently do what there supposed to do day in and day out,look good ,energy efficient and bring a smile to our face?

              We tin in Brooklyn everyday both new and old. The copper with stainless , we send back with apologies and regrets.

              cook on!

              1. re: jherkes

                I would not say that tin is inert, rather it is not poisonous to humans. Tin reacts to oxygen resulting in the darkening of tin lined pots. I have seen more than a few that have required retinning due to someone trying to make the interior shiny..

                1. re: jherkes

                  I would not say tin is inert either. My mother told me when I was a kid that tin will react with acid foods cooked in it, so she never cooked tomatoes or made vinegar reductions in her heavy-duty hammered copper/tin pots. My chemistry teacher in high school also told me the same thing when I had his class junior year, as did my brother the metallurgist. Tin is also softer than steel, which is why it won't take quite the same kind of abuse. You'll remove some of the metal easily of you have to scrub a tin pot hard.

                  1. re: laguna_greg

                    I don't think cooking acid foods in tin lined copper is dangerous. I was just making the point that is not inert, just does not form poisons when mixed with food. It does react with some elements.

                    If tin lined pots posed a danger, I a dead and do not know it. It is about all I have used for 30 years.

                    1. re: Bigjim68

                      Jim, you are not dead. I have not even met you and I can attest that you, indeed, are alive. I was agreeing with you in an interesting way.


              2. Tin is more conductive, so it'll get the heat from the flame to your food 'faster' and more efficiently than stainless steel *of the same thickness*.

                As mentioned above, since stainless doesn't conduct as well as tin, the heat will spread through the copper more evenly before making its way to the food, which is one of the main reasons one buys copper. It's much easier to control the heat in a stainless lined pan.

                Overall, because stainless linings are generally much thinner than tin linings, there is very little difference in actual use. Tin conducts heat about 4 times as well as stainless (although still only one-sixth as well as copper), but is also usually applied in a layer two to three times as thick as a stainless layer. End result is heat transfer to the food that's only marginally better, with the tradeoff of a more concentrated hotspot.

                Personally, I prefer stainless because it doesn't require special treatment. The first time your wife/husband/child overheats a pot you'll appreciate stainless. Being able to use a green scrubbie is a bonus, too.

                That much said, tin would still be preferable in thinner pans used for boiling, especially stockpots. Otherwise, it really doesn't make as much of a difference as you may have been led to believe.

                2 Replies
                1. re: ThreeGigs

                  I have to agree on stainless - especially if you do not have total control of your kitchen and others may harm it unknowingly. One of my favorite pots is a copper Mauviel that I use daily to boil eggs. The water boils in record time - faster than any other cookware I've experienced - a testament to heat conduction for sure. I have been tempted often to buy a tin-lined pan...convenience and worry-free upkeep makes me happy I stayed with the stainless. Mine has the heavy handles - commercial grade and my only complaint is in the rusting...anyone know how to avoid this?

                  1. re: ellequint

                    Hi, ellequint:

                    Most cooks just wipe on a bit of cooking oil. If you want to get fancy, you can resort to an old blacksmith trick: heat and then wipe or brush a coat of carnauba wax on the iron.


                2. Get the stainless; inherit the tin.

                  1. You have to re-tin every so often since tin is softer, which is expensive and a pain in the ass.

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: takadi

                      ^^^Doesn't depend on how you treat it? I'd be interested to hear how many times a decade pans need re-tinning from someone that's used theirs for a while.

                      1. re: beauxgoris

                        I have a set of stainless lined pans by Falk and they are great pans, with some reservations. They are Heavy. They state in the instructions not to use salt in your cooking because it wears away the lining. Try cooking without salt some time. Does not work. Once the stainless goes (if it goes) that is it. You have to chuck them away. Handles are 19th century style cast iron. They tend to rust a little which is no big deal, the major problem being that they get very hot when cooking. Potholders are essential, unless you have VERY calloused hands. This is a pain in the neck. I have had them for a year and am not unhappy, but wish they could of used a lighter/less conductive metal for the handles. Oh yeah...they are also expensive as hell. Maybe buy one or two first.

                        1. re: mythomane

                          Every piece of stainless steel cookware I own came with a tag saying not to expose the pan to salt. It hardly "wears away" linings so you should use salt as you normally would and don't lose sleep over it. Don't add salt exclusively to an otherwise empty pan; if adding salt to a liquid, heat the liquid first, then stir in the salt rather than letting salt sit in the bottom until dissolved by boiling. Don't leave large amounts of salt in an otherwise empty pan and you're fine!

                          If you don't want to use salt at all, then get rid of that pan; is it really worth using a pan that prevents you from cooking things to your best capabilities? What's the point?

                          1. re: Zedeff

                            I've had one ss lined copper saucepan (Mauviel) for going on 15 years and salt notwithstanding, it's in fine shape. It might not be as responsive tin, I wouldn't know, but it's a great pot. IMHO, iron handles are presumably longer lasting and while not quite as pretty to look at, not a big issue. I don't think the handle on mine has ever gotten hot enough to be seriously uncomfortable, but I guess it depends how long you usually leave it over heat.

                            As to the salt thing, I think the biggest thing to avoid is a lot of salt + moisture. It's probably unecessary, but if I'm adding salt to water, I do stir it around so it doesn't just sit on the bottom while it comes to a boil or whatever...

                            1. re: ThreeGigs

                              Thanks, I don't have a regular habit of adding after/before boiling and pitting hasn't been a problem with any of my (now rather aging SS pots, in general), but it's worth knowing about.

                            2. re: mythomane

                              I think the salt pitting thing is mostly cosmetic anyway. Stainless cookware makers warn about it, because they don't want you to try and return the pot later when it's "damaged" in this way.

                              1. re: will47

                                My Falk instructions don't say not to use salt, and they certainly don't say it will "wear away" the stainless. Virtually nothing will wear away .2mm of stainless steel.

                                What they do say is to avoid adding salt until liquid has come to a boil, the same good advice that applies to every stainless pan. And, as will47 says, if salt pits do develop they are more of a cosmetic effect than anything that affects the function of the pan.

                                I find the cast iron handles stay significantly cooler than bronze handles (as on the Mauviel line made for Williams-Sonoma). The champion of coolness, both in terms of temperature and looks, is the long, curved cast stainless handle on Mauviel's Cuprinox Style line [now discontinued in 2mm copper, sadly].

                            3. re: beauxgoris

                              I might qualify. I have used mostly tin lined copper for 30 years. In a home kitchen, assuming no one uses metal in the pots, and everyday usage, I send about one out every couple of years. Mine do not get abused.

                              Care is simple. Stay away from BKF and the green scrubbies on the tin. Only wooden or plastic utensils. I use Wrights for the outside as it is cheap and available where I live. Overnight soaking with a little soap will generally clean the interior is it gets too bad. Do not try to keep the tin shiny.. I will admit to using salt as a cleaner if the interior has been abused. You can keep them spotless, never clean the outside, or somewhere in between. I am an in between guy.

                          2. At last count there were 18 copper pots and pans in our professional home kitchen. Some new, others dating back to the '60s (Paris). All three hand-hammered stock pots are tin lined and have held up well. They will never need retinning. So, if cheaper, buy tin lined stock pots. The 9" tin-lined sautuese has been retired after one retinning and in need of another. Two tin lined sauce pots are less used for the same reason. Over the last 25 years, we've retined three pans, the sautuese and one sauce pot at about $75 each and one huge handled high top at $90. I will have to retin the high top again in a year or so since I can't be without it. So, I'm one with Karl S: "buy stainless inherit tin." To that end, I have found the Bourgeat stainless lined copper pans to be the best on the planet. Not surprisingly, they're also the most expensive.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: GeezerGourmet

                              I'm sorry for being nosy, but how many people are you cooking for? I just can't imagine needing 18 copper pots in a home kitchen. Or do you collect copper for pleasure rather than constant daily use?

                              1. re: Gooseberry

                                Just as Julia Childs says you can make do with three knives, so too with pots and pans. Or in the workshop, why buy power tools when a hammer, hand saw and brace and bit will do? It's all about the job and tools: Can a whole salmon fillet be sauteed in a 9" frying pan? Sure. It will hang over the sides a bit if not first cut in half to fit the pan. Can it be done better, with less trauma to the fish resulting in a better presentation, if prepared in a 14" oval frying pan designed for the job?. Yah! And more fun too.
                                And so on, for flared and straight sided pans, big and small stock pots, evasees with one handle, casseroles with two. Or maybe the chef wants to present a dish in the pan it was made in...chicken pot pies in individual copper ramekins, for example. Awesome! Go overboard a little for pleasure and display: sure--that too (see photo);.

                                1. re: GeezerGourmet

                                  GeezerG, that's the most superb answer to that question I've ever heard.

                                  1. re: GeezerGourmet

                                    Thanks for the detailed reply, geezergourmet. While I might not be at your stage yet, I certainly don't have three pots either (your post prompted me to count: 3 frying pans, 1 stock pot, 2 saucepans, 1 pasta pot, 6 LC-type enamel cast iron pots/dishes)! Maybe one day when I have space and money, I'll go your route. For now, I'm planning on buying my first entry-level copper pan (SS-lined), so the copper bug may very well bite!

                                    1. re: GeezerGourmet

                                      Did forget to emphasize that they are really beautiful pans. Nice whites there, geezer!