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Jan 6, 2010 04:51 PM

Cooking without worry: care of tin in copper cookware

Hi all,
My first post here.....
I've been researching copper cookware and its care because I came across a few copper pans at TJ Maxx. They are Baumalu pans, at least 2 mm thick, and are hand-tinned. I got a 2 quart and 5 quart pot for $60 total.
I'm no expert chef, but I did know copper pans were good, so I picked them up on a whim. The Baumalu pans seem to be positively reviewed on this site, but thats another story. This topic has been discussed before here, but I still have questions. I know tin melts around 450 degrees F. I know not to preheat these pans. I know not to use metal utensils. I know to keep the heat around or below medium. What I DO NOT know, is how to use them to their fullest advantages without worrying about damaging the tin. I'd like some solid advice on how to use these pans.

1. If boiling water, can I crank up the heat because the water is absorbing much of the energy? Or will the high heat still damage the pan? I've read about boiling water in a paper cup, so I don't need too many anecdotes on that....

2. Should I avoid tin lined saute pans? These pans are usually used in higher heat cooking, correct? For example, if I have a tin lined copper saute pan, and want to fry a chicken breast, will covering the bottom in oil and adding the chicken be enough to help prevent damage to the tin? Especially since I read here that the sides of pans like these will be almost just as hot as the bottom because of copper's excellent heat distribution.

3. Are electric coil stoves (ah, I hate them, but its all i have right now!) any more dangerous to the copper and tin than flame? Does anyone have general temperature guidelines for electric stoves? Low is about X degrees, Medium is about X degrees, and High is about X degrees? It takes quite some time to boil water in these copper pans on medium heat on my electric stove...

4. Am I over-analyzing and worrying too much? I want these pans to last, but also want to be able to use them for real!

Thanks in advance for your answers!

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  1. Travis,

    I am not copper cookware expert. In fact, I have never used a copper cookware. However, I believe the followings are truthful.

    When you are boiling water in a pot, it is nearly impossible for the interior surface (tin) to go up to 450F (231oC) for the reason you mentioned. Unless you superheat water, which you really have to try to achieve that. If you manage to superheat your water, then damaging your pan is probably the last thing you need to worry. However, getting copper pan or pot for boiling water is a waste of copper. Water can move around on its own (especially by convection) and you cannot "burn" water, so there is no point of having a very even heating pot for water.

    I would not use a tin lined pan for saute or stir fry. Saute or stir fry can get near 450oF (231oC). However, this depends on your cooking style and what you consider as saute.

    I do not think electric coil is more dangerous. Unfortunately, there is no "low = X degree." This is because different electric stove range has different power and the cookware temperature also depends on the cookware, not just the heating element. You put a thick cast iron pan and a thin aluminum pan and they will reach different temperature on the same heating element. In general, electric range is less powerful than gas range.

    I don't think you are analyzing too much.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

      I agree, copper just for boiling water is a waste, but that was mainly to illustrate some of my concerns. I've been leaning toward a SS lined saute pan just to be safe. I also never really thought about the fact that different metals, when placed on a heat source of constant temperature, would reach different temperatures. I knew that it would take different times to reach said temperature, but never considered the metals would produce different temps.

      1. re: travisL

        Actually, I may have been confusing if not misleading. What I really want to say is that when a pan is being heated up, it is also constantly losing heat to the environment. Put your hand 2-inch above a heated pan, and you can feel the heat -- which means the pan is constantly absorbing heat from the heating element and giving off heat to the environment. Now, two pans made from exactly the same metal can reach different terminal temperature if they have different shapes because they will lose heat at different rate.

        By the way, many people love to use copper based saute pans, so I may be in minority on this one. Hopefully, someone will give an opposite view here to neutralize my baise here. All I know is that many people bring the pan very close to smoke point for sauting and many oils actually smoke very close to 450F. On top of that, what you need to be concern is not when tin "melts", but when tin become very "malleable". Metals becomes soft before it melts. Think butter. Butter does not melt at the usual room temperature, but it is very soft in room temperature. Once your tin lining becomes very malleable, you are in trouble.

    2. You've got the basics--no metal utensils, no coarse abrasive cleaners, no high heat.

      Heavy tin lined copper (2.5mm+ for saute pans, rondeaux and saucepans; 2mm+ for frypans; soup pots and stockpots can be thinner) is great for saute and frypans because it reacts so quickly to changes in the heat. This may be difficult to appreciate with an electric range, because the coil does not react quickly to changes in the heat setting, but on gas, if you like that kind of sensitivity, it's an attraction. It also distributes heat very evenly, so if you have, say, a heavy saute pan filled with onions, you can set it on medium and walk away from it for five minutes and your onions should be cooking evenly without burning. Of course you shouldn't walk away from the pan for five minutes, but if you did, you wouldn't find a disaster waiting for you.

      Note that this is not the case with thinner pans, and I don't know how thick the Baumalu pans really are, so you should experiment. My impression is that they are not as thick as Mauviel's professional lines, Bourgeat, or Falk. A heavy 2 quart saucepan should weigh around 5 lbs.

      As for how high you can set the heat, it depends on how much heat the burner puts out, the size and weight of the pan, and how much food you have in the pan and how much water there is to keep the overall temperature down. Don't try to deep fry in tin lined copperware--you'll likely go over the limit. Boiling water you can do on high, but on a gas stove one should adjust the flame to the size of the pot and use a larger pot if more heat is desired. I wouldn't recommend roasting vegetables in tin lined copper unless you plan to toss them frequently.

      If you do get some tin melting, it's not the end of the world. A little puddling is okay, as long as the copper is still covered. You'll just need to retin sooner, and for good copperware, the cost isn't unreasonable.

      If you have lighter copperware, you can cook in it. You just have to watch it more carefully or use it for things that don't require high heat and be aware that there's a functional difference between lighter copperware and the heavy stuff, so if you were paying full retail, the cost is going more toward appearance than practical usefulness in the kitchen. A 2 quart and a 5 quart pot aren't a bad deal for $60, even for lightweight copperware.

      3 Replies
      1. re: David A. Goldfarb

        Thanks for the good info David. They are 2mm--i measured with a caliper. I'm sure the Mauviel, Bourgeat, and Falk professional pans are a bit better, but for the amateur casual home chef I am, I'm pretty sure these will be plenty fine for me! Now, do I get the All-Clad Copper Core 10" fry pan for $100, or wait for a good deal on a saute pan....decisions, decisions....

        1. re: travisL

          All-Clad copper core has a very thin copper layer. It's not really worth it.

          If you want stainless with a heavy 2.5mm copper bottom, look at Sitram Catering line. It's very solid cookware, and you can find it at J. B. Prince and Dvorson's. Bridge Cookware used to carry it, but it doesn't seem to stock it regularly lately. They've also recently renamed all their lines, but the U.S. outlets still seem to be using the familiar names (Catering for the copper disk bottoms, Profiserie for aluminum disk bottoms).

          1. re: David A. Goldfarb

            I actually ended up getting an All-Clad stainless saute pan because it was pretty cheap.

      2. In terms of your Baumalu 2mm pans....

        You can crank up the heat as high as you want provided there is a non-viscous water-based liquid in it. The heat transfers to the water. Copper is good at that. The other major difference is you get fewer hot spots. On a non-ply stainless steel pan, if you turn crank up the heat with a viscous food (stews etc) you often get a burned ring of blackened food where gas / coils meet the pan. This is alleviated by the copper which spreads the heat more evenly. This allows you to burn the food across the whole of the bottom :-) Note that even a hard-crack sugar solution is below 350F

        In a pan of boiling water a meat thermometer resting on the bottom of the pan will not register over 220F. You're safe.

        I saute in a copper frying pan. The smoke points of most common household oils are well below this. So don't let the oil smoke. Here is a list of smoke points for oils. It looks reasonably accurate to me. Copper is good for sauteing on a very low heat. Garlic and spices are a good example of this.

        The proper Baumalu cooking pans (ie not the 1mm decorative ones) are normally 2mm. The weights of the pans if they are 2mm are:

        8.5"(ID) x 3"H = 4lb-7oz + lid 1lb 0oz
        9.5"(ID) x 3"H = 5lb-2oz + lid 1lb 2oz

        ID = inside diameter, H = height. The lids are tinned copper and the handles are iron.

        If you can superheat water to 450F then you are an amazing engineer and I want to be in the next street rather than in your house when the explosion takes place.

        So my set of rules to you would be use it anyway you wish except....

        Don't put in on a ring on high if it is empty.
        You can saute away to you heart's desire, but don't let the oil smoke. It's not good for the flavour anyway.
        If you want something smoking hot for a stir-fry then use a thin iron wok.
        It's easy to accidentally bend the lip of the lid, but it's easy to bend back again.
        Decide if you want them pristine shiny (PITA) or patinated.
        Use 'soft' utensils. If you do get a scratch or two in the tin it's nothing to worry about.
        Keep well meaning friends and relatives away from them. They know about teflonic non-stick surfaces but not copper.
        You can deep fry in copper pots if you use a thermometer. But it's pointless. Hot oil convects so well you can cook in any stove-top pot. I don't like hot oil in copper pots for a totally different reason. The pots are heavy and have very long handles. Long handles and hot oil are not a good combination. Additionally you may want to use a metal straining basket, and that's probably not good for the tin.

        That's my 2 cents.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Paulustrious

          Some very good info, and some allaying of my fears! Thanks!

          1. re: travisL

            I bought a bunch of copper from TJ Maxx, Marshall's others when they dumped all the tin lined stuff. It is the best. I have many skillets and saute pans, both copper with tin lining and copper with stainless linings (very expensive). I gave away all the stainless lined copper ones and kept the tin. Tin gives the right amount of sticking. Stainless sticks too much, non-stick not make sauces. I have not yet melted any tin except once I walked away and everything boiled away and the whole pot got roasted...but that just needs a nice loud timer. I would not want to saute, fry or brown things in anything but either tin for most of it, and for some meats like steaks, use Staub caste iron with honeycomb bottoms (new thing from Staub, only, don't use some other brand). If you find anymore tin lined copper, get it, and get yourself a nice 10 inch Staub fry pan one with the wooden handle for your steaks, chops, sausages, etc. It is worth the money, the Staub is about 150-200 shipped. Just do it, quality of your food will quickly wipe the memory of what you paid and it will last forever. :) Bob