There's a huge range of options when it comes to the best copper cookware. All of the choices and labels can be daunting.
Copper pots and pans can be made with cast iron, stainless steel, and aluminum. And there dozens of options when it comes to nonstick cookware.
In this guide we will go over the benefits of copper, how it differs from other materials, and what your options are when it comes to purchasing the best copper cookware through our top pick and reviews.
Kitchen Sanity’s Top Pick: All-Clad Copper Core
Before we get to the nitty gritty, there is a copper cookware set that we believe deserves an upfront mention in the following copper cookware review.
There are a few things that are most important when buying a copper cookware set such as quality, price, and overall value.
We feel that the All-Clad Copper Core set is a serious cookware contender and meets or exceeds those 3 important criteria. So what makes it so great?
This is a high quality set made in the U.S.A. Each piece is noticeably heavier than cheaper cookware of a similar caliber. The handles are reinforced with cast-iron and All-Clad incorporates 5 layers of metal which is designed to help heat food faster and more evenly.
That being said, the quality is reflected in the price. But don’t let the price be a deal breaker. After all, this cookware is primed to last a very long time.
To make the deal sweeter, All-Clad includes a lifetime warranty against manufacturer defects.
In terms of value, there are 3 options for purchasing a set. It comes in 7, 10, and 14 piece sets.
What’s in the 7 piece set?
- 2 x Frying Pans (8”, 10”)
- 2 X Sauce Pans with lid (2qt, 3qt)
- Saute Pan with lid (3qt)
- Stock Pot with lid (8qt)
What’s in the 14 piece set?
- 2 x Frying Pans (10”, 12”)
- 2 X Sauce Pans with lids (2qt, 3qt)
- 2 X Saute Pans with lids (3qt, 6qt)
- Chef’s Pan with lid (4qt)
- Stock Pot with lid (8qt)
SEE OUR FULL REVIEW: All-Clad Copper Core Cookware
The Big Draw For Copper
All metals are good conductors of heat. That's why we use them in cooking -- we can make a pot or pan out of metal, put it on a cooktop, and it will get hot.
However, all metals aren't created equal. Every element and alloy has unique properties that make it more or less suited for various uses.
Iron, for example, is magnetic, very strong, and a poor conductor of heat. You might have a decades old cast iron pan sitting around your house that you use for searing a steak occasionally.
You probably have to turn the heat up pretty high and leave the pan on the cooktop for a while in order to get it hot enough, but once it gets hot it stays that way for a while. Many cooks prefer iron pans for cooking jobs that require a very hot pan for this reason.
Copper, by contrast, conducts heat very well. About four times as well -- it boasts a thermal conductivity of 400 watts per meter kelvin difference versus iron's 80.
Let's imagine that heat is a sauce for a minute. When we pour heat into our cast iron pan, it's a thick tomato sauce. If we pour it into the center, it'll spread out to the edges eventually, but it'll take a little while.
When we try to pour the sauce out of the pan, it will flow slowly and leave a lot of residue.
By contrast, when we pour our heat sauce into our copper pan, it's a lot closer to milk. It will spread quickly over the entire working surface, and when we pour it out, it will flow out easily and leave very little residue.
Keep in mind we don’t recommend putting tomatoes or acidic foods in a copper cookware, more on this in a minute.
This analogy describes the primary draw of copper cookware. It's one of the absolute best conductors of heat, beating aluminum (200 W/mK) and steel (15 to 50 W/mK).
What does that mean? It means copper heats up very quickly to match the temperature of your cooktop.
Heat flows very freely throughout it, meaning that every spot in your cookware will be the same temperature. It's also very quick to respond when you turn down the heat.
Copper Candy Pots
This makes it great for making candy and other foods that require very exact temperatures. French copper pots such as the 1.9 quart Mauviel M'Passion is the type of pot that works well for candy and making caramel.
The base, handle, and rivets are made from 100% copper. This leads to a heavy pot and excellent heat distribution while cooking. But because of this, it will become extremely hot so it’s best to use proper heat resistant gloves when handling.
Remember what I mentioned earlier about copper being expensive? This pot is definitely for someone who is serious about making candy.
It might also be the perfect gift for those who aren’t so willing to purchase expensive cookware for themselves.
Keep in mind, this is more of a lifetime purchase and not something that is going to need to be replaced in a year or two.
What's The Catch?
Copper is reactive and difficult to clean. This means that cooking things like tomatoes, vinegar and onions in a pure copper pan can not only discolor your cookware, it can also produce chemical reactions that make your food taste bad.
Copper also loses its luster easily and requires special cleaner if you want to make it shine. To combat this, most copper pans are lined with stainless steel or nickel. These materials provide a safer, easy to clean cooking surface.
Since it's a thin coating of metal, it's easy for the copper core of the pan to heat the cooking surface quickly and evenly.
Different Styles Of Copper Cookware
Copper is very expensive and rather heavy. Rather than making pots and pans entirely out of copper and lining them with steel, some manufacturers choose to make their cookware out of aluminum or steel and use a layer of copper on the bottom to make the cookware heat faster.
- 100% Copper
- Copper Core
- Copper Bottom
Others, like All-Clad, offer a line of cookware with copper sandwiched between layers of aluminum and steel to combine the benefits of each material -- aluminum is cost effective, light, and heats reasonably well, steel is strong and easy to clean, and copper helps conduct heat throughout the entire piece.
It's important to understand how much of what material is used where in the cookware you're considering.
Copper Bottom Cookware
A very thin layer of copper on the bottom of a pan might help a little bit in keeping the temperature even, but it won't help with the sides of your pan and it probably won't make your pan heat up faster.
If a pan is constructed around a reasonably thick core of copper, heat will flow more freely throughout (even up the sides!) and it will heat faster than a similar pan made entirely of aluminum.
Don't just look for words like 'copper core' and 'copper bottom;' find exact measurements (thickness, weight) and locations (bottom of cookware, core, etc).
Ideally you would want a thicker layer of copper for general use and a thinner layer for oven use, 2.5 mm being on the lower end.
Initially we wanted to recommend Cuisinart's Try-Ply copper bottom set but we decided that the Anolon Nouvelle copper cookware set fit better with our criteria of quality, price and value.
You might consider this set as a hybrid between copper bottom and copper core since the copper is actually sandwiched between two other metals. The inside cooking surface is stainless steel.
One of the first things that stood out was its compatibility with glass and induction cooktops. Finding induction cookware can be a challenge, especially when nonmagnetic metals such as copper are being used.
Price is of course something to consider and we’re surprised that this set doesn’t cost more than it does. It’s very affordable to get in to copper especially when compared to full stainless steel cookware sets.
Which Lining Is Best?
All metals perform differently when used as the lining to your cookware. If you have a favorite pot or pan at home, do some research and see what it's made out of. You can probably get a copper cookware set with that metal as a cooking surface.
If you're not sure, stainless steel is a safe bet -- it's easy to clean, very non-stick if seasoned properly, and extremely durable and non-reactive.
Other options (like nickel) can be delicate and difficult to clean without damaging your pan.
Who Are Copper Pots and Pans For?
Copper is expensive and heavy. The more of it is in your pots and pans, the more expensive and heavy they are. This means that it's not the best choice for budget conscious home cooks.
Copper excels at giving you control over your cooking. If that's the kind of thing you're into, you probably want to make sure that you have a set of cookware with a lot of copper in it in order to put you in the driver's seat when it comes to temperature.
You definitely want a copper pot if you make a lot of candy or complicated sauces or if you're impatient and want to boil water very quickly.
Even if you don't, if you feel like your cooking could benefit from more precise control of your cookware's temperature, copper is worth considering.
Copper Skillets & Pans
Perhaps you live alone or just want to test what copper cookware can do for you. There’s the option of buying individual pots and pans.
It’s safe to use metal utensils in the Lagostina skillet because it’s lined with stainless steel. This also means that you don’t have to worry about food reactions. That said, you still need to treat the inside as you would with any other SS product.
The hammered finish is supposedly for better heat retention and heat control. Without the technical tools to test for this, there may or may not be any benefit. We’re satisfied that copper is already better for heat conductivity than straight stainless.
The pan is completely oven safe up to 500F so you can go right from a gas range cooktop to the oven to finish or keep your meals warm. This is a great way to make “one pot” meals.
The price of the skillet let’s most people enter into the world of copper cookware without breaking the bank.
Care and Cleaning of Copper
Copper is best washed by hand with a gentle detergent. While this keeps it clean and sanitary, it will lose its shine over time through even the gentlest use.
You can purchase special copper cleaner to restore the luster of your cookware. You can also use a mild acid like vinegar or even ketchup to assist in cleaning tough spots and stuck foods.
It's especially important to clean your copper well if it develops any green spots -- we suggest using salt and vinegar.
Is Copper Cookware Safe?
Copper dissolves in weak acids and is slightly toxic. If you have exposed copper in your cookware, be cautious when cooking and make sure you understand the acidity of what you're putting in your pans.
Eating foods with too much copper dissolved in them can result in nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. See more at University of Maryland Medical Center
The lining of your copper cookware is likely to be something non-reactive, like stainless steel. If this is the case, you can freely cook with acids and other reactive foods as long as the lining is intact.
If it's scratched, cracked or damaged, however, you probably want to go to a local shop and have your cookware repaired before you cook with it.
Final Thoughts In Review
Copper helps your cookware heat quickly and maintains an even temperature.
You can purchase cookware with varying degrees of copper in it, from aluminum or steel pots with a thin copper bottom to pans with a thick layer of copper sandwiched between aluminum and steel to cookware made entirely of copper with a thin stainless cooking surface.
With the information in this guide, you'll be able to choose between these and harness the power of copper in order to ensure that your cookware meets your unique needs and budget.
Did you find this guide helpful? Let us know in the comments with your thoughts and experiences with copper cookware.