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Care and feeding of copper pans

I have a copper bottomed steel top frying pan. I see many cookbooks saying that I should keep it very clean and shiny. I'm not sure I'm willing to put in the effort. My question is, if you're ok having a "patina" on your pan, do you really need to clean the copper part? I'd assume that it still conducts heat so is there some reason other than cosmetic why it would be important to keep very clean?

I've several instructions online about how to clean them, but feel free to add your advice on that front too.

Thx.

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  1. I love my copper sauté pans....they're old and very well used. I wouldn't trade them for anything else. I also have my large copper bowl I use, only, to beat egg white.
    I use Bar Keeper's Friend by the truckload to keep everything, including my pans, shiny. It's easy to use, a slight scrub, and they're perfect again. The great thing about this product is it doesn't scratch. I'm not sure if there's any reason not to keep them clean and shiny but that's my personal choice.

    25 Replies
    1. re: latindancer

      I thought barkeepers friend was pretty harsh. I know that I have to use it very sparingly on my cooktop. Perhaps it's not as big a deal on a pan since the copper is thicker. BTW, for folks who don't want to get a copper pan for egg whites, a pinch of cream of tartar helps them achieve the same result.

      1. re: lcw_nc

        I've never found it harsh....but it's got an acid in it that doesn't require alot of scrubbing.
        I've got a farmhouse sink in my kitchen made from fire clay and it's the only product on the market that keeps it looking clean and sparkling.

        1. re: latindancer

          Hi, latindancer:

          I'm with lcw_nc on this one. BKF is not non-scratch. You might want to try Bon Ami, see how you like it.

          Aloha,
          Kaleo

          1. re: kaleokahu

            Bar Keeper's Friend works for me...

            Bon Ami's fine but I like mine better :).
            Aloha.

            1. re: latindancer

              Hi, latindancer:

              Glad you like BKF. If you like it, you will also probably like Comet, Ajax, and the others, too.

              My point was that BKF is more abrasive than Bon Ami. If, as the OP said, one is scouring a "copper bottomed steel top pan" like Revereware, that copper layer is pretty thin--I would be keeping the abrasive use as low as you can so that you don't wear through that layer any faster than you have to. It might take you years to wear through a thick copper pan, but if you have one that's already been scoured thousands of times before you got it, well, you can wear away a lot of copper.

              Aloha,
              Kaleo

              1. re: kaleokahu

                Bar Keeper's Friend is nothing like Comet, Ajax.

                I've been using this product on pottery for years and there's been nothing even remotely close to a scratch on any of it.
                I make it into a paste....highly advisable.

                1. re: latindancer

                  Actually, in grit size BKF is *something* like Comet and Ajax. Those three differ insofar as only BKF contains oxalic acid. All work well on glass and hard ceramics, but I would avoid them all on softer metals if you want low wear and high polish.

                  Glad it works for you.

                  1. re: kaleokahu

                    Actually, in grit size BKF is *something* like Comet and Ajax. Those three differ insofar as only BKF contains oxalic acid.
                    ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                    Gosh I don't know about that. BKF works very well on copper and I wouldn't even dream of using comet or ajax which IMO are much more abrasive.

                    TJ

                    1. re: TraderJoe

                      Hi, TraderJoe:

                      FYI http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/632512

                      All of them "work"; the question is what's best for the copper. I called the maker of BKF this morning and asked about the particle size. What I was told surprised me: the particle size of BKF is the *coarsest* of BA, Comet, BKF and Ajax. FWIW.

                      Aloha,
                      Kaleo

                      1. re: kaleokahu

                        The Bon Ami people got back to me today on particle size. Said they:

                        "In regards to particle size, the feldspar and calcite in Bon Ami are both rated 200 mesh (75µm). This means 99% or more of each material is smaller than 75 micrometers and will pass through a 200 mesh screen. Naturally, some particles in each are even smaller than the guaranteed mesh size. Approximately 93.0% of the Feldspar material will pass through on a 45µm (325 mesh) screen, and approximately 82.0% of the Calcite material will be pass through on a 45µm (325 mesh) screen. The larger the mesh number, the smaller the particle need to be to pass through the mesh openings."

                        I'll leave it for others to ferret out the particle sizes for BA's competitors for comparison, although I note again that the manufacturer of BKF admits BKF is the coarsest among it, BA, Comet, and Ajax.

                        Aloha,
                        Kaleo

                        1. re: kaleokahu

                          I called the maker of BKF this morning and asked about the particle size. What I was told surprised me: the particle size of BKF is the *coarsest* of BA, Comet, BKF and Ajax.
                          ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                          That's odd because I just did the same and they told me just the opposite. In fact BKF lists cleaning copper while Comet does not suggest using their product on copper.

                          http://www.barkeepersfriend.com/kitch...

                          http://cometcleanser.com/faqs.htm

                          1. re: TraderJoe

                            I think that's because of the bleach in Comet, not the grit size.

                            But (as always) I could be wrong...

                            1. re: Eiron

                              But in this case at least, you're right.

                              In the minimal literature that came with a Mauviel frying pan, they issued only one strong warning: don't use any chlorine products on copper.

                            2. re: TraderJoe

                              Hi, TJ:

                              Yes, that is odd that they gave us contradictory information. What sieve/micron size did they give you for BKF? The lady I talked to tried avoiding my question by saying that BKF is less harsh than Comet or Ajax (which I think is common knowledge), but when pressed on particle size finally made her admission.

                              My understanding of these four cleansers is that, while they all contain some detergent as a surfactant, all except Bon Ami also contain chlorine or acids.

                              Don't think I bear a grudge toward BKF--it's a good product. I just find it coarser and harsher than BA, and so use the latter on my copper. It probably takes more elbow grease, but that's a price I don't mind paying for a little gentler action.

                              Aloha,
                              Kaleo

                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                I've never tried Bon Ami. I really hate it when companies give conflicting information. (arrggh)
                                Either way I'd never ever use Comet on Copper. Noooooooooooo
                                There is no chlorine in BKF.
                                BKF can scratch but you really have to put some elbow grease in to do that. Really no reason for that with Copper.
                                I'll watch for Bon Ami and give it a try!

                                TJ

                                1. re: TraderJoe

                                  I've NEVER had BKF scratch anything...I make it into a paste and the acid in it is what makes it different from the rest.

                                  1. re: latindancer

                                    I've NEVER had BKF scratch anything
                                    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                    I'm sorry to say I have. I still use BKF and it's my first choice bacause it's so easy to use and find. However if you use BKF on a shiny Mauviel copper and rub hard it will scratch. I use comet as well but my SS sink and my copper pots do not get treated the same. ;)

                                    TJ

                                    1. re: TraderJoe

                                      Sorry to hear that....

                                      We must be doing something different :).

                                      1. re: latindancer

                                        I really had to RUB-A-DUB hard to scratch with BKF. I blame myself for that. I hope it helps others to know that BKF is still my go to product for copper. I just use a gentle hand and let BKF do the work. :)

                                        TJ

                                      2. re: TraderJoe

                                        I think the 'rubbing hard' is the key....

                                        The way I use it precludes the necessity. I've been using it the same way for over 20 years and there's nothing in my home that's scratched. A good product like Bar Keeper's Friend, when used the way it should be, will not scratch anything.

                                        1. re: latindancer

                                          A good product like Bar Keeper's Friend, when used the way it should be, will not scratch anything
                                          ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
                                          I totally agree!

                                          TJ

                                          1. re: latindancer

                                            Hi, latindancer:

                                            BKF, being a coarser abrasive, will do a "better" job of cleaning (and a quicker job of "polishing"), but at the cost of wearing away more material faster. Just like a cutting rouge on a buffer will do a quicker clean and basic polish than will a coloring rouge. IMO/E, in neither case will you get a bright mirror finish.

                                            There's nothing wrong with BKF, but IMO it would be incorrect to state categorically that it doesn't scratch soft metals like copper. Glad it does the job for you, though.

                                            Aloha,
                                            Kaleo

                                            1. re: kaleokahu

                                              interesting analysis.

                                              Years and years ago (I'm old) I learned about the many uses of BKF, even though I'd been using it on ceramics for a long time) from the creator and founder of Sur La Table at her original shop in Seattle.
                                              She was the one who told me about using BKF on her beautiful copper she sold.
                                              I trusted her and, of course, she was right.
                                              Bar Keeper's Friend is not designed to scrub away at anything it's recommended for. AS a matter of fact, I don't scrub, I've never needed to scrub. it does its work on its own. I've had my copper pots/pans, the majority of them, for at least 35 years. They've all been cleansed with BKF. They look and perform like new.

                                              1. re: latindancer

                                                Hi, latindancer: "Bar Keeper's Friend is not designed to scrub away at anything it's recommended for. AS a matter of fact, I don't scrub, I've never needed to scrub. it does its work on its own."

                                                Let me get this straight. For at least 35 years, you've simply been making a paste of BKF and spreading it on your pans, leaving it there for awhile and rinsing it off. And your pans look like new. Is that right? If so, I can see why you like it.

                                                For heavily-carbonized pan bottoms, how long do you leave the paste on before it does its work, and the pan is completely clean and new-looking?

                                                If this is your method, you are relying solely on the effect of the oxalic acid in the product. According to the Dictionary of Chemistry and Mineralology, the authors say of oxalic acid: "This acid dissolves copper both metallic and oxidated... Most of the other solutions of this metal are decomposed by the oxalic acid, and an insoluble oxalat falls down."

                                                Without researching it, I cannot tell you how fast oxalic acid dissolves copper pans, but it's a safe bet that BKF provides a a weak concentration. If you like this method of cleaning, you should also try Red Bear, which is even faster. My experience with acid-based cleansers on copper is that, if you don't also polish well afterward, the tarnish returns wikiwicki.

                                                With respect, I think the overwhelming majority of BKF buyers and users consider it to be a scouring powder, not an acidulous-dip-style solution, and *do* "scrub away" at everything.

                                                I will try your no-scrub method.

                                                Aloha,
                                                Kaleo

                                  2. re: TraderJoe

                                    Exactly.

                                    Bar Keeper's Friend has been my choice for many, many years and it's been nothing but excellent....
                                    I like Comet also but for different things.

              2. Catsup and mustard works, too. I use mine all the time, but no, they are not kept shiny. On the other hand, my sisters and mom have the same stuff (gifts from my brother) and theirs look shiny. Is it because they clean them? No, it's because they don't use them for fear of having them look less than perfect.

                1. My 25 year old copper clad pots & pans rarely ever get shined up.
                  The few times they do, Bar Keeper's Friend as mentioned by Latindancer above does the trick.

                  Alas, They're now semi-retired as our new house has an induction hob & they don't work on it. I hate regular electric hobs & installing a gas hob would be difficult so they're in a drawer & only get used very occasionally on the BBQ.

                  1. <I have a copper bottomed steel top frying pan. I see many cookbooks saying that I should keep it very clean and shiny.>

                    No, not really. If anything, a darker/coated copper pan performs better inside an oven for sure.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      I've never had a problem with the way my pots/pans perform...

                      I like to keep them shiny because they hang, like art, in my kitchen.

                      1. re: latindancer

                        Understand, understand.

                        It is just that a very shiny copper pan takes longer to heat up in an oven, but if you don't use it in an oven too much, or you don't mind waiting a bit longer, then it is all fine.

                        :)

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Thanks for the information, Chemicalkinetics....:).

                          I really didn't know that and I'll remember it next time I use it in the oven.

                    2. Hi, lcw_nc:

                      No, you do not need to keep the copper very shiny. All that does is increase the reflection of radiant heat back away from the pan. But if you are cooking on a radiant glasstop or in the oven, this can lengthen heating times, which is not necessarily good. Less so with gas and electric coils.

                      On the other hand, keeping all your pans at about the same level of patina/discoloration might help avoid inconsistent results with radiant heating.

                      Aloha,
                      Kaleo