Is your Pinterest “kitchen” board full of images of copper pots floating elegantly over marble-topped islands, like mine is? What is it about copper cookware that is just so alluring? And why is it the top choice of so many professional chefs?
In this article, I’ll discuss some of the specifics of cooking with copper, and I’ll compare some of the options of copper cookware that’s easily available to purchase. If you want to get right to the shopping, feel free to click the links in the table below to see the latest reviews and prices on Amazon for my selections.
Cooking with Copper
Copper is the cookware you choose when you want the best of the best. It has practically become a status symbol, but it’s not just about impressing your friends. Copper cookware is high-performance cookware.
1. Why Choose Copper?
Copper cookware makes for excellent cooking because of copper’s superior heat conductivity. What this means is that the pans heat up very quickly and evenly, hold their heat well even when you add in the food, and as a result, food cooks quickly.
Also due to this heat conductivity, copper pots respond quickly to any adjustments you make to the temperature. This is especially useful for complex sauces, for example, that require quick temperature fluctuations.
Just watch how quickly this Mauviel sauce pan responds to temperature adjustments:
Why else do we love copper? It’s beautiful! And while that may sound frivolous, I believe there is value in really loving your kitchen tools—you’ll cook more often, take better care of your equipment, and get more joy out of the process.
2. More on Copper Cookware
Copper cookware requires some special attention. It should be hand washed and polished regularly to keep it looking shiny (although you might like a bit of patina, which is fine as long as you avoid rust and corrosion). This article has some nice tips for maintaining your copper cookware, including a recipe for a homemade scouring solution.
Because copper is a reactive metal, copper cookware is usually lined with another metal such as tin or stainless steel. Tin was traditionally used but has become less common. It is soft, so you must avoid using metal utensils with it, and it can begin to melt at very high temperatures (above 450ºF), so it’s not the best choice for high-temp searing, for example. Stainless steel has become more popular and is a great option because it is fairly low-maintenance and durable.
The thickness of the copper exterior varies, but for maximum performance, it really should be at least 2.5mm thick. This will provide excellent heat conductivity and hold the heat, too. Anything less than that, and you’re really not reaping the true benefit of copper.
But because of the popularity of copper, a number of well-known, widely-available manufacturers make cookware with a thin layer of copper on the exterior. In these cases, the copper is mostly aesthetic and does little for the performance of the cookware. But they do give you the look without the price tag…
However, copper cookware does have some drawbacks. First, it is expensive. While there’s value in buying something that’ll last a lifetime, that initial investment is out of reach for many people. Another important point to consider about copper is that it does not work on most portable induction cooktops.
Copper Cookware Options
While copper cookware does require some special care and an investment, I believe it’s still worth it if you’re a serious home cook and plan to use it for a lifetime (and maybe pass it down to some lucky family members). So let’s take a look at some of the options. For the sake of price comparison, I tried to find comparably-sized sets.
Mauviel is one of the brands that is regularly declared The Best on cooking forums and reviews of copper cookware. Mauviel has been around since 1830!
This set features 2.5 mm thick copper with a stainless steel lining and bronze handles. It’s really quite beautiful.
The set includes:
- 9-qt. saucepan with lid
- 7-qt. saucepan with lid
- 2-qt. sauté pan with lid
- 4-qt. stock pot with lid
- 10-inch skillet
People who’ve invested in Mauviel pots and pans tend to rave about it. They find it heats up quickly and evenly, as copper cookware should, and it looks great.
The primary drawback with these is that the handles heat up quickly. The pans are also heavy, which is typical with copper but something to consider.
Matfer Bourgeat is another well-known brand of cookware that is also made in France and is regularly recommended by serious chefs. Like Mauviel, it has a long history.
These pots and pans are 2.5 mm thick and are lined with a highly polished stainless steel. The handles are a solid cast iron to provide a counterweight to the pans.
The set includes:
- 5 3/4 qt. (9 1/2”) casserole with lid
- 2 5/8 qt. (7 1/8”) sauce pan with lid
- 2 3/4 qt. (9 1/2”) flared sauté pan with lid
- 5 1/4 qt. (11”) brazier with lid
A larger, 13-piece set includes the above as well as:
- 1 5/8 qt. (9 1/2”) frying pan
- 2 3/8 qt. (11”) frying pan
- 8 5/16 qt. (14 1/4”) oval frying pan
- 1 5/8 qt. (7 7/8”) flared sauté pan and lid
Owners of this set really love it. Of note is that the highly polished stainless interior makes the pans less sticky, which is especially helpful if you’re used to cooking on non-stick surfaces. It is also easier to clean.
One drawback I see is that this particular set lacks a good small fry pan. But I like the 11” brazier over a smaller sauté pan—I find a good, wide brazier like that is very useful for saucy, one-pot dishes.
This Cuisinart set is one of those more-aesthetic-than-functional copper cookware sets, but it does seem to be a decent option if you want the look without the huge investment.
Instead of a thick copper exterior for heat conductivity, this cookware features a tri-ply construction, sandwiching an aluminum core between the copper on the outside and stainless steel on the inside. It’s a common sort of construction and will provide decent results, although it won’t perform exactly the same as true copper cookware.
This set includes:
- 1 qt. saucepan with lid
- 2 1/2 qt. saucepan with lid
- 5 qt. sauté pan with lid
- 8 qt. stockpot with lid
- 18 cm steamer insert
- 8” skillet
- 10” skillet
Cuisinart does offer a lifetime warranty, although do note that this set is currently discontinued, so it may be difficult to find replacements or additional pieces.
Many owners of this set are very happy with these pans and pots. They note the good value, and find that they heat evenly and perform well.
However, some people note that there is a quality disparity between the pan bottoms and the lids. Others also found that the copper plating can wear easily.
Choosing the Best Copper Cookware
Personally, if I’m going to invest in copper cookware, I want the real thing. So that eliminates the Cuisinart for me, but this would be a decent budget option if you’re really just after the look of copper.
So then it comes down to two heritage brands of excellent quality. Personally, I like the rustic and simple look of the Matfer Bourgeat’s cast iron handles. The highly polished stainless steel interior may also give it a slight edge over the Mauviel M’Heritage set.
But with either, you’d be investing in top-quality cookware that will last at least one lifetime, and possibly more!
Are you familiar with cooking on copper? What’s your experience?