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Apr 8, 2011 03:40 PM

Jonathan Waxman on tin-lined copper pans

Hello everyone,

I was avidly reading Jonathan Waxman's new book 'Italian, My Way' and was brought up short by the following line, when discussing his preference for copper pans:

"Please, don't by copper pans that are tin-lined; the "tin" is al lead, which is bad"

I was shocked. I have a dozen Dehillerin tin-lined copper pans, and one Ruffoni risotto pan, again tin-lined, and I use them every day.

Can some expert hounds enlighten us on this? Are even the best tin-lined copper pans, such as Dehillerin and Ruffoni, really lined with some alloy involving lead?

I would be devastated if this were true. But I have to assume that, prima facie, Jonathan Waxman knows what he is talking about.

So? What do we think?

Sean Dell

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  1. Hi, aguy239:

    Don't worry, Waxman is wrong. No reputable manufacturer would use any tinning alloy that contains lead; most use 100% *food grade* tin, some 100% silver, some a combination of the two.

    Chefs are not always right about all things culinary. Obviously.


    10 Replies
    1. re: kaleokahu

      Kaleo, the man's an expert. Obviously not a metalurgest, but an expert none the less. How long ago did the Romans remove the lead plumbing? Given Europe is more phobic than California, I'm sure you couldn't find lead in a cooking utnesile that was made in the past 40 years in Europe. China, on the other hand, still hasn't figured out how to keep deadly chemicals out of milk!

      1. re: mikie

        "Kaleo, the man's an expert"

        Yes but why listen to an actual expert in the field with years of professional experience when you can listen to an unknown entity on the Internet?
        As far as lead free goes I'm getting a major chuckle considering how many suggestions I've seen right here on CH to buy old tin lined copper from suspect sources on eBay.
        The bottom line is that tin can and does melt and blister. That means it can leach into your food if abused and we've seen a lot of blistered tin on this forum even to the point of showing copper with the guru of copper claiming ...It's all good! LOL
        Amazing that people find this a non issue and then worry about plastic wrap, plastic bottles, non-stick pans, aluminum etc etc etc

        1. re: TraderJoe

          Hi, TJ:

          LOL, I think you misread mikie's comma.

          Anyway, I buy ingots for retinning. They come with a lab assay of the material. Whereas Waxman is quoted as saying tin copperware's linings are "all lead", my latest ingot *did* show lead--at a whopping 0.002%.

          Lots of people have years of professional experience--in their profession. Waxman's experience cooking isn't germane to the materials and health science aspect he was pronouncing on.

          Now then, I'd be interested in any links or citations you might have quantifying (or even showing) tin or lead toxicity resulting from tinned copperware. Waxman doesn't have any facts to back his BS. Do you?


          1. re: kaleokahu

            Waxman's experience cooking isn't germane to the materials and health science aspect he was pronouncing on.
            I'll trust Jonathan Waxman Vs the overtly verbose any day.
            I think it's clear that Mr. Waxman was misquoted or there's a typographical error. Quite obviously he did not mean to say all tin is...lead.
            That's just absurd.
            I'm sure he meant to say all tin used in copper pots contains lead. Which is a statement that I think has a LOT of truth to it.
            The most valid post in this thread comes downstream from Will Owen. Don't abuse the cookware and it's probably a non-issue. However Older tin lined copper can have a much higher % of lead.
            Besides Waxman uses a Viking range so clearly he is an expert in equipment.

            1. re: TraderJoe

              Hi again, TJ:

              Trust whomever you want, but until you present some facts to support your (and Waxman's ) thesis, I'll stick with the EPA, the EU, and the State of California, and the State Kitchens of France as to the safety of tin linings.

              At the risk of irritating you with facts and verbosity, with electrolytic refining techniques, tin is 99.99% pure, and the great majority of what is in that trace 0.01% is bismuth and antimony. Even with the original skimming purification method--which is >1000 years old--tin is purified to about 99.85%. There are higher trace levels of toxic elements in cast iron and steel than than 0.15%. See, e.g., Quick, call Waxman--cast iron is dangerous!

              "However Older tin lined copper can have a much higher % of lead."


              Since the vast majority of my cooking is done in and on tin-lined copper (including hotel-grade pieces from what you call "suspect sources"), and since my annual physical is coming up, I'll have my blood lead level checked. Perhaps all that "lead" has caused my verbosity.


              1. re: TraderJoe

                <I'll trust Jonathan Waxman Vs the overtly verbose any day.
                I think it's clear that Mr. Waxman was misquoted or there's a typographical error. Quite obviously he did not mean to say all tin is...lead.>

                Let me get this straight . . . you don't trust what Waxman actually says. You trust what you think he meant to say? With that approach, I could trust anyone, saying anything, so long as I assume they misspoke!

                1. re: jljohn

                  You trust what you think he meant to say?
                  I trust common sense prevails. Kinda like there's no lead in tin but BTW my tin has .002% lead in it. LOL
                  Lead is lead. Melt the tin, you eat lead. I'm pretty sure that was the message.


                  1. re: TraderJoe

                    Hey, TJ:

                    Well, your *toothpaste* (and your water pipes, potting soil, mini-blinds, and innumerable other things) probably has more than 2 one-thousandths of 1% of lead in it, too.

                    MY common sense tells me that when Waxman wrote "all" he meant all. Regardless, in this area, he doesn't know what he's talking about. But he's a great chef. Almost as good as he is famous.

                    The question is not whether there is an insignificant trace amount of lead in refined tin, but whether there are significant (non-GRAS) levels in all tin-lined copper cookware.

                    If you trust Waxman's single, misguided sentence of dicta over the combined weight of current scientific evidence and the regulatory agencies informed by it, and yet can present zero contrary empirical evidence, great. But don't complain when the limb you share with Waxman gets sawn off. Have faith--that's all you have.


                    1. re: TraderJoe

                      You come, and we will cook together. The pay will be your voice.

                    2. re: jljohn

                      <you don't trust what Waxman actually says>

                      I agree with TraderJoe here. Sometime you do have to think of the "most likely" scenario. Waxman most likely did mean tin containing lead as opposed to tin is lead. I don't know anyone who really thinks tin is the same thing as lead. If you ask Waxman in person, he will deny that he meant tin is the same as lead. However, there are some concerns about some tinning containing lead, so he most likely meant this.

                      <You trust what you think he meant to say? >

                      Yes, you have to read the context, and see what is the most likely situation. This is no different than people here saying: Chinese manufacturers use paint with lead. What they really mean is that paint with A LOT of lead. Almost all paint has trace of lead anyway. Also when someone here say Teflon cookware, they really mean PTFE cookware. Teflon is DuPont tradename, so legally speaking, only the PTFE coating from DuPont is Teflon, only PTFE cannot be called Teflon.

                      I know dozens and dozens of people here ask for suggestions for cookware with no Teflon due to their fear of Teflon's health hazard. Now, if you literally read it, that means they are against DuPont made PTFE, but they would be ok with other PTFE cookware. Yet, I am 100% sure that is not what they really mean (with some interpretations), and I know you understand this as well.

                      Sometime you do have to translate what people say because people get lazy and they don't spell out everything.

                      Now, back to the tin with high concentration of lead, that is pretty much nonexistance in modern day especially if the tinning is done in US. However, if you were to dig up some 1800's tinned copper pan... there may be lead in it.

          2. Nonsense. Some chef puts one sentence in a cook book, apparently citing no evidence whatsoever (I bet he read something on the internet), and we're supposed to panic? If you want to accept, prima facie, the opinion of someone who knows how to cook but has no expertise in environmental health, toxicology, epidemiology or metalurgy (why would one add lead -- it's not as if tin were a precious metal), send me your copper. I'll pay the shipping.

            ps - Since you've been cooking with those copper pans every day for some time and can still write a coherent post, I'd say the pans, and you, are lead free.

            1. Tin is tin. Chemical symbol Sn.

              1. all the reputable modern-day manufacturers use lead-free tin. the more i hear about this book, the more annoyed i'm becoming with Waxman. first the recipes don't work, now he's making these baseless alarmist claims? boo, Jonathan.

                6 Replies
                1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                  I can't help but wonder whether he prefers microplanes or box graters.

                  Seriously, though, I had never heard about tin linings hosting servings of lead before. Was this true in the bad old days?

                  1. re: Jay F

                    Was this true in the bad old days?
                    yep. the old tin alloys contained lead...but these days it's all lead-free.

                    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                      Hi, goodhealthgourmet:

                      "...bad old days..." You mean prior to 600 BC? Since about then tin has been refined to 99.5% purity.

                      Waxman is just nuts. The ores are different, their locations worldwide are different. The smelting temperatures are very different. There have been no recalls of "all lead" tin-lined pans. I can find no instance of lead poisoning being even seriously *speculated* as coming from tin-lined copper cookware. Even the Romans could (and did) distinguish between dark plumbum (lead) and bright plumbum (tin).

                      I have an old, giant saucepan that appeared to have lead solder at its riveted seams. It had to be tested before attempting retinning because--if lead--the process would have turned it into a colander. Nope--it was white brass covered with 100% pure tin.

                      I have yet to find any pan--of any age--lined with lead that hadn't been rededicated to melting shot for making sinkers or bullets.


                      1. re: kaleokahu

                        I make copper cookware in Brooklyn with tin lining ,and I assure everyone that my tin is pure and of food grade quality.purchased from USA tin smelters.

                        cook with pride, taste with confidence.! copper cookware saves energy and is renewable-----forever

                      2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                        I was browsing through SLT's online antique store. I was surprised to see that there are CA prop 65 lead warnings in most of the copper items.


                        Google brought me back to CH, ha!

                        Considering almost all lead crystal stemware sold today has the CA lead warning attached while none for the modern day tin-lined copper cookware, it's probably safe then.

                        1. re: cutipie721

                          Considering almost all lead crystal stemware sold today has the CA lead warning attached while none for the modern day tin-lined copper cookware, it's probably safe then.
                          yes. note that those copper items in the link you provided were *antiques* - the Prop 65 warnings on any modern-day cookware only apply to handles or other parts of the item besides the cooking surface.

                          an old friend from NJ moved out here a couple of years ago, and JUST noticed a Prop 65 warning sign for the first time last month. i had to laugh at his reaction - he was so concerned/disturbed until i explained it to him :)

                  2. Adding my voice: your cookbook author is full of sh*t.
                    The modern lining of copper pans are 100% tin. Period. Trust me: I have a BS degree in chemistry from UC Berkeley.
                    Even more, tin-lined copper pans cook better than copper pans that are lined with SS, because tin conducts heat much better. Course, tin requires re-lining once in a while, whereas SS lining will last for a lifetime. I have both in my collection and use both happily, but I fear the day when I will have to have my tin-pans re-coated.
                    I suggest you take that book and use if for kindling at your next BBQ this summer. Just my $0.02

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: jerry i h

                      Go Bears ! Like your answer. I too am in CA. I am looking for a place to use for re-tinning. I am in San Diego so if anyone knows of a place in So Cal I would appreciate it.