Shopping for cookware can be a daunting task. There are so many options – enameled, cast iron, stainless steel, carbon steel, aluminum, nonstick, copper – and they all have vastly different uses and price points. When it comes to copper cookware, the cost can be intimidating, especially if you don’t understand how to use copper in the kitchen.
If you’re thinking of investing in copper cookware and adding these gorgeous and useful pieces to your collection, here are some things you need to know and consider.
Because its easy to control its temperature, copper pots are perfect for melting chocolate and candy making — Photo courtesy of Getty Images / VieCreative
Copper heats up quickly
In the world of metals, copper is one of the best heat conductors. It heats up very quickly, so unlike cast iron, there’s no need to preheat copper cookware. In fact, it’s recommended that you do not heat up an empty pan. Copper is the only metal where you should actually have something in it ready to go before you start cooking.
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Copper heats up evenly
Because of its heat conducting properties, copper also heats up evenly. So you don’t have to worry about hot spots. Copper cookware is great for when you need to control and maintain consistent temperatures.
But don’t use too much heat!
Since copper heats up quickly and evenly distributes the heat, it means you don’t have to use as much heat to get it cooking. If a recipe calls for medium-high heat with your regular cookware, use medium-low for your copper pieces.
Yes, copper is quite efficient, but you don’t want to use too much heat because, depending on if the cookware is using a soft metal lining, you could actually melt the lining!
Copper cools down quickly
Just as it heats up quickly, copper also cools down quickly. This is why so many candy makers and chocolatiers use copper pots and pans. It’s the perfect material to use when making sweets (where you need to control the temperature), as well as for delicate proteins such as fish and sauces.
Because copper is a reactive material, most copper cookware is lined with a non-reactive metal — Photo courtesy of Getty Images / FabrikaCr
Copper cookware is lined
Copper is a reactive metal. In most cases, that means it will have a chemical reaction to what you're cooking, causing a metallic flavor to leach into your food. Except for jam pans and egg white whipping bowls, which rely on copper’s reactiveness, most copper pots and pans are lined with a non-reactive metal.
Know what your copper cookware is lined with
Before you start cooking, you should get an understanding of what your copper cookware is lined with. If you’re working with newer pieces, it will likely be lined with stainless steel, which is sturdy and can withstand more abrasive utensils and cleaning materials.
But if you’re purchasing older, used copper pieces from a yard sale or thrift shop, you might be dealing with a softer metal lining like tin. Tin gives your copper a great, non-stick surface to work with, but it has a few drawbacks. It has a melting point of around 450 °F, which is another reason why you shouldn’t use too much heat.
Tin is also easily scratched and chipped with metal utensils and harsh scrub brushes. This not only reveals the copper beneath the lining, but also could lead to small pieces of tin ending up in your food. It’s best to use wooden spoons and softer utensils when working with tin-lined copper cookware.
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A little bit of acidity helps keep the shine
If you’re buying older copper cookware, or need to spruce up your collection, you can get your copper looking good as new with a little acidity. A bit of lemon juice or vinegar can revive your copper’s shine.
They’re very durable
Caring for copper is as simple as using wooden utensils when cooking, so as not to scratch the lining; not using too much heat when cooking; and rubbing it down with a little acid every now and again.
Though despite the required gentle care, copper can be very durable. As long as it doesn’t have any holes in it, it’s relatively easy to return your copper cookware to its former glory.
Copper pots and pans are statement pieces in the kitchen — Photo courtesy of Getty Images / therry
They’re easy to revive
For the most part, the metals used to line copper cookware are very strong and corrosion-resistant. But if you have tin-lined copper, no matter how well you take care of it, it will wear off over time. If you do see damage to the tin lining, you can always get your copper pots and pans re-tinned when necessary.
They’re beautifully designed works of art
Not only are copper pots and pans very useful in the kitchen, they’re absolutely gorgeous. Don’t hide your pans away in the cupboard. Hang them up with pride and show off your copper cookware collection. They bring your kitchen to life, but are also excellent conversation pieces.