Copper is the fancy sports car of the culinary world. It’s flashy, sleek, racy, and beautiful. As a home chef cooking on a professional quality stove, I appreciate my copper cookware and use it often. I love the weight of it, the even cooking ability, and the balance of the piece. Every dish I prepare in copper feels special. But is copper cookware worth the formidable investment for the home cook? Let’s review its strengths and weaknesses to help you decide whether you want to go deeper by investing in copper.
Copper is famed for its ability to conduct heat and electricity—it’s no accident that it’s copper and not iron that runs through the electrical wires in our walls—and it’s this quality that makes it such a wonderful metal for cooking.
Copper heats rapidly and evenly, and it loses heat just as fast. This responsiveness gives it nimbleness and agility that can be very useful for delicate proteins like fish and seafood and sauces, caramel, and chocolate. Remove a copper saucepan holding a delicate sauce from the heat, and its temperature will drop rapidly, reducing the chances the sauce overcooks or breaks from exposure to the retained heat in the metal.
Copper is the best conductor of heat with thermal conductivity of 223, far surpassing steel, aluminum, or cast iron. Thermal conductivity is essential to even cooking at moderate temperatures.
Copper cookware is stunningly beautiful, and that aesthetic quality can have value in and of itself. Its beauty and quality can remind you to pay more attention as you cook and, consequently, can help you cook better. At least, it does if you find meaning in the form of an object and not just its ability to accomplish a task. Well-maintained copper cookware is durable and can last a lifetime. I frequently use pieces that are over 40 years old.
Copper is reactive. Acids like vinegar and tomatoes can leach copper into the food; over time, the ingestion of copper can be toxic. For this reason, most copper cookware is lined. What it’s lined with is one of the primary considerations to keep in mind when buying copper pots and pans. Copper cookware is traditionally lined with tin, and tin is inert—it will not react with acids or anything else you would cook in it. Another benefit of a tin lining is that tin is non-stick without any seasoning or coating. Very high-end handmade European vessels are generally tin lined.
Unfortunately, tin linings can wear out over time and may need to be retinned. These days most copper cookware is lined with stainless steel, which increases durability, but compromises the non-stick factor. Foods love to stick to stainless.
Maintaining the look of your cookware can be daunting. Some copper pieces will have a protective coating you will need to remove upon purchasing. Removing the coating requires an intense application and rubbing of acetone over the surface multiple times, followed by a soap and water wash. Copper’s initial bright color will develop a darker patina over time and with use. I personally love the patina, but if you are thrilled by the light, intensely shiny color of new copper, you will spend a great deal of time polishing your pieces.
I’ve purchased my cookware from a famous, wildly expensive Italian cookware company where everything is handmade; to purchasing at the local Marshall’s. My copper cookware provides the perfect compliment to my range and cooking abilities.
– Janis Merrill-Gipson,
Janis is a self-proclaimed domestic diva, living in her hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Janis is a chef, who loves to cook, an interior decorator, art collector, jazz fan, and avid reader. She believes there are many layers and components that comprise living an enriched life. And Janis is here to share tips.