The Choice of Professionals
Copper is the best practical conductor of heat for cooking. Professionals love it because of its quick reaction time. It cooks faster, and it also cooks better with uniform conductivity as it surrounds your food with the heat. Copper has about ten times the heat conductivity of stainless and glass, and twice that of aluminum, and requires only low to moderate heat to obtain the best results.
Artisans like to use copper to make fancy molds for baking and cold molding. Copper is easily malleable, and allows them to make intricate shapes that are not only beautiful enough for display, but also practical for regular use.
Tips on using Copper Pans
· Put liquids in the pan before turning on the burner.
· Use lower heat settings
· Monitor what’s cooking and adjust the heat as necessary.
· Use wood and other non-metal spoons and spatulas.
· Are you considering your first copper pan? We recommend starting with a sauce pan. There’s nothing like it for performance, it’s easy to use, and with a little care it will last many lifetimes.
Gauge of Copper
Because copper is a soft metal, a heavy gauge is desirable for better results and greater durability. Some copper pans have very evident “hammered” surfaces that make the metal stronger and able to withstand many more years of use.
For oven baking you won’t need as heavy a gauge as for cooking on top of the stove. A medium gauge copper baking pan will generally give you excellent results. However a heavier gauge will keep the food hot longer after removing it from the oven.
For cold molding in copper, a thin gauge is all you need. However the more beautiful and intricate artisanal molds are usually fashioned in heavier copper.
Linings for Copper
Copper is reactive to acidic foods, and is usually lined with a non-reactive metal like stainless steel, nickel, or tin.
Tin is the most common and practical lining metal in professional kitchens, because it is readily refurbishable. Stainless and nickel linings are very durable, not refurbishable, and more expensive.
In general, we recommend tin for all copper pans. However, because tin melts at about 450°F we often recommend the more durable stainless steel for frying (and maybe sauté) pans. (Empty pans can easily reach 600°F and more.) Pans that only use a small amount of liquid are more apt to overheat if not watched, since there is too little liquid to help disperse some of the heat. The larger volume of liquid in sauce pans, dutch ovens, and stock pots more easily disperses accidental overheating that might otherwise damage the lining. Most of our tin lined pans are lined by hand, and will display some brush strokes as a result. Lining by hand insures thicker coats of tin, that will last much longer than pans that are thinly electroplated.
Unlined copper works best for egg whites, which it helps to make thicker and peak longer. Zabaglione is one of the recipes most commonly made in an unlined copper pan. Unlined copper is also widely used in the candy industry. Confectionery prepared in unlined copper doesn’t react with copper, and takes advantage of the quick, high heat that the confectioner needs.
Use solid copper molds for baking and also for cold molding. When lined with a non-reactive material, they can be used with acidic foods in your recipe.
Molds with a lacquer coating require no special care if you’re just hanging them for decoration. However, the lacquer coating must be removed from molds before using for the preparation and serving of food. (Laquer Removal Instructions)
Caring for Copper
Use wooden or other ‘soft’ non-scratching utensils, and moderate the heat under your tin lined copper, the lining will last for years and years before it needs refurbishing.
Wash pans and molds by hand, using hot water, dish soap, and dishcloth or sponge. Use a nylon scrubbing brush for fancy molds.
For stubborn sticking, soak in sudsy water before washing. Or heat water in the pan on top of the stove or in the oven, maybe with a bit of baking soda stirred in, then let it soak for a while, and let it cool before washing.
Read more on Care of Tinned Metals.
It’s not really necessary to keep the copper exterior bright and shiny, as long as you keep it clean. However if you want it to shine, choose a commercial copper cleaner (like Wenol, Red Bear, or Cape Cod Polishing Cloths) that are less abrasive. You can also make a scouring paste with equal portions of flour, salt and white vinegar, like our great great grandmother Assunta taught us.
Your Health and Copper
You’ll find copper listed on vitamin bottles for its benefits to our health. We have not found enough research to indicate how much copper you would have to absorb for it to be damaging to your health, but we do know that a lot of it will leach into acidic foods, causing an unpleasant taste and usually a change in coloration. That’s should be good enough to discourage anyone from cooking acidic foods in copper that is not coated; the stainless, nickel and tin linings will keep the food looking and tasting the way it should.
Tin coating is not reactive and we couldn’t find studies that indicated it poses any health threats. See our Stainless Steel tutorial for additional health information that relates to its primary composition of iron, chromium and nickel.
Here’s a simple method for determining if your copper pan has lost its lining. Lightly rub a bit of cleanser on a spot in the lining with a wet paper or cloth towel. If you see silver, your pan is ok. If you see copper showing through, then you might want to consider retinning. How much shows through can help you determine whether or not to pursue retinning. If it’s just scratches, and you generally don’t use the pan filled with highly acidic foods, then you can wait. If you do cook highly acidic foods regularly (like making sauce with plum tomatoes) and more copper than just scratches is obvious, we recommend retinning. If you notice discoloration of food as you cook, then we also recommend retinning.
Lining on lids is useful when it’s shaped to baste, especially when you’re cooking acidic foods for long periods of time. However in most cases the lid doesn’t come in contact with food, so might want to put off retinning.