Copper cookware is arguably the most attractive and stylish cookware of all time, especially if you favor an antique, old-world aesthetic. In fact, copper has been used for many millennia for cookware, storage and fine goods. The gleaming warm tones, often hammered and rustic look fantastic in all kitchens.
However, it’s not as easy as simply choosing any old copper cookware set or item. There are things to remember when buying copper cookware in order to keep you safe and healthy.
So…here’s how to choose the best copper cookware!
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Benefits of copper cookware
First of all, let’s look at the reasons why copper cookware has lasted for so long as a favorite kitchen material.
Conducts heat really well: copper is a fantastic heat conductor. This is why copper is often used as a core or hidden layer in stainless steel cookware, to quickly attract and hold onto the heat.
Heats and cools quickly: not only does copper absorb heat easily, but it does it quickly too! Copper heats up and cools down quickly, cutting down on waiting around time when cooking food and cleaning dishes.
It doesn’t rust: while copper does tarnish, it won’t rust like cast iron. Even when it does tarnish or develop a green-tinged patina, you can remove it and get that lustrous shine back again.
It has an aesthetic edge: you’ve got to admit, a rustic-looking copper pot is so much more stylish and interesting than an aluminum or ceramic pot or pan. If you take the overall style and aesthetic of your interiors seriously, the concern reaches as far as your cookware. Copper cookware looks amazing in any kitchen, good enough to be hung in the open as a feature.
Is copper cookware safe?
In two words? It depends. It all comes down to what your food is coming into contact with.
“Back in the day”, copper cookware was unlined, leaving the food exposed to the copper itself. This isn’t safe, as copper is very reactive with acidic foods.
If you cook lemon, vinegar or tomato-based foods in an unlined copper pot or pan, you could be looking at a nasty bout of excess copper in your system. For this reason, copper cookware is now lined with safe, non-reactive metals such as tin or stainless steel.
This is a great compromise because it means you get the aesthetic appeal of copper as well as the speedy heat conduction. At the same time, you are kept safe and healthy and free from ingesting a meal full of copper.
Key features to look out for
Thickness and weight: thickness is important when choosing copper cookware. A thin copper pot or pan will be more likely to warp and is unlikely to be a high-quality product.
A thick construction will sit firmly and flatly on your stove top and will last longer with fewer dents. When buying copper cookware online, make sure the metal thickness is stated. Look for a thickness of around 2.5 mm to 3mm.
Lining: you absolutely must choose a copper cookware set or item with a solid lining, either tin or stainless steel. It’s unlikely that you will come across unlined modern copper cookware…but it pays to be sure.
Stainless steel lining: stainless steel is a great liner material because it’s durable and non-toxic (there are very trace amounts of nickel and chromium found in very acidic foods cooked over long periods of time, but nothing to stress about unless you’re highly allergic to nickel).
However, stainless steel is not an effective heat conductor, meaning it takes a little while for the cooking surface to reach temperature. Aside from that, stainless steel is a great liner because it’s easy to clean, hardy and safe (no metallic taste, no dangerous chemicals).
Tin lining: tin is a fantastic liner for copper because it’s far less “sticky” than other metals, and actually releases food pretty effectively.
Another great feature of tin is the non-reactive, non-toxic nature, it won’t seep metals and chemicals into your meal.
Tin heats up quickly, cutting down your preheating time. Because tin heats up quickly, there is less risk of the tin lining separating from the copper (delaminating). What’s more, if your tin lining does look a little rough after years of use, it’s reasonably easy to have it re-tinned. Do bear in mind that tin is a delicate metal and needs to be maintained with soft brushes and gentle detergents.
Handles: look for handles which have been designed for a cool-touch, easy-to-wield functionality. Contoured stainless steel handles with a slight angle are great because they offer a strong control, a pretty aesthetic and cool-touch safety when designed with heat-barring features.
Cooktop compatible: if you have an induction cooktop, you need to make sure your copper cookware has a magnetic steel bottom layer designed for induction cooktops. Otherwise, copper cookware is safe for all cooktops…for the most part. An overheated copper pot or pan can leave stains and marks on flat top stoves. The trick is simply not to allow the pan to boil dry and become smoky or “angry-hot” (you know the one…spitting, smoking, crackling hot).
Finish: there are a few different finishes to choose from. This is a purely aesthetic aspect but it’s important if you’re spending a decent chunk of cash. You want something which you like the look of now, and will still like many years or decades into the future. There are high-shine, hammered finishes or flat, matte or shiny finishes.
A few brands to check out for great copper cookware (lined, of course)
- Mauviel (expensive, high-end, stainless steel lined)
- Demmex (tin lined, gorgeous hammered copper pieces)
- Cuisinart (mid-range prices, awesome hammered 9-piece set, stainless steel lined)
- Matfer Bourgeat (super high-end prices, stainless steel lined, flat shiny finishes)
Copper cookware is timelessly functional and attractive. Luckily, modern copper cookware is lined with either tin or stainless steel for health and safety.
Regardless, always make sure you are buying a lined copper cookware set or item, and don’t be tempted to use vintage, unlined copper you might find in antique stores or in your Grandparents’ closet.
Look for a nice, thick construction with a heavy bottom, functional handle and a finish which you’d love to see in your kitchen for decades to come.