How to Find the Best Copper Cookware Set

Cuisinart Copper Cookware SetI love the warm glow that copper cookware brings into a kitchen when it is displayed on a pot rack. To me, it also says something about the person who cooks in that kitchen. He or she has taken the time to research and learn something about cooking and cookware. He or she cares enough to spend a little extra money and time on having the cookware best suited to different cooking needs, and I would expect to see a set of cast iron cookware in the same kitchen.

Why Have Multiple Sets of Cookware?

Copper, cast iron, stainless steel, and aluminum cookware have different properties, which makes sets made of one material better for some uses than sets made of the other materials.

If I was starting out and needed an affordable, versatile set of cookware, I would choose aluminum or anodized aluminum. Aluminum conducts heat well, is lightweight, and is easy to handle. However, it also dents and scratches easily and warps when exposed to high heat. The scratches are a health concern because they make aluminum cookware difficult to clean and bacteria can grow on any food left in the scratches. Aluminum cookware also reacts to both alkaline and acidic foods. If I could afford to pay more, I would choose anodized aluminum cookware over plain aluminum because the anodizing hardens the aluminum. The cookware remains lightweight, but it is stronger and more resistant to scratching. Anodized aluminum takes longer to heat than plain aluminum, but, like plain aluminum, it still conducts heat well. In fact, anodized aluminum is a better heat conductor than stainless steel.

Cuisinart Copper Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 11-Piece SetCuisinart Copper Tri-Ply Stainless SteelCuisinart11Copper/Stainless Steel4.2$$
Mauviel M’Heritage Copper 5-Piece Copper SetMauviel M'Heritage Copper SetMauviel5Copper/Stainless Steel/Cast Iron4.1$$$$
Calphalon Tri-Ply Copper 10 Piece SetCalphalon Tri-Ply Copper 10 Piece SetCalphalon10Copper/Stainless Steel/Aluminum4.0$$

While stainless steel cookware does not conduct heat as well as aluminum, cast iron, or copper, it has one advantage over the other three. It does not react to either alkaline or acidic foods, which makes it versatile. Stainless steel cookware is heavier and more durable than aluminum, and it is dishwasher safe, which makes it easier to care for than either cast iron or copper. To solve the problem with conducting heat, I would choose stainless steel cookware with an inner core of copper or aluminum. That would give me a versatile set of cookware that conducts heat well. I could wait to add the copper and cast iron sets.

Cast iron is durable, and once it has been seasoned, it has a naturally non-stick surface. Even when it is seasoned, foods can absorb some iron from the cookware, which can be a good thing. On the other hand, retaining the seasoning requires more time for cleaning and maintenance. Even when it is seasoned, cast iron still reacts to acidic foods, but enameled cast iron eliminates that problem. Cast iron takes time to heat up, but it conducts heat well. In fact, because it is heavier than the other cookware materials, it retains heat better. The heat retention makes it my choice, and the choice of many, for browning meats or cooking foods that need to simmer at low temperatures for long periods of time. However, the weight can also make it difficult for some to handle, especially when you add the weight of the food to the weight of the cookware. The heat retention can also be a problem when you need better control of the temperature so that you can bring up the heat quickly and reduce it just as quickly. Copper pots at pans offer more control over applying and removing heat.

Copper cookware conducts heat well, cooks food evenly, and as I’ve just mentioned, allows for excellent control over applying and removing heat. However, copper, like aluminum, reacts to both alkaline and acidic foods. Furthermore, just as some foods pick up iron from cast iron cookware, some foods pick up copper compounds from copper surfaces. This may cause gray streaks on light-colored foods, but more importantly, while copper in small amounts is an important nutritional mineral, absorbing too much copper leads to toxicity. Copper is also the most expensive of all cookware materials, and it requires regular maintenance and polishing. For these reasons, pure copper cookware would not be my choice for everyday use. However, copper pots and pans with a stainless steel or tin lining offers the conductivity and heat control of copper with a safe, versatile, non-reactive cooking surface.

The Tin versus Stainless Steel Controversy

Tin is not as delicate as it is being made to sound in some discussions, and the thin layer of either tin or stainless steel used to coat copper sets is not sufficient to interfere with copper’s ability to conduct heat. In fact, tin is such an excellent conductor of heat that I highly recommend turning the heat down when cooking with tin-lined copper cookware.

Tin has natural non-stick and antibacterial properties. However, it does scratch and wear out. The tin lining can be repaired and replaced, but it is increasingly difficult to find someone who offers that service. With average home use, though, it’s likely the tin lining will last from 15 to 30 years as long as you use wood or plastic utensils and avoid putting an empty, tin-lined pan on the burner; using a tin-lined pan at temperatures of 450 degrees or higher; and scouring your tin-lined pan with steel wool or any other abrasives.

Stainless steel does not rust, tarnish, or otherwise discolor, nor does it easily scratch or dent. It can pit, however, especially when used to cook foods with high concentrations of salt. If, as happens only rarely, the pits grow and deepen, the liner can separate from the copper pan. The separation can also result from the repeated use of very high heat. It cannot be stopped or repaired. If it happens, you will have to replace the pan.

Ignore the controversy. Make the choice among plain copper or copper with either a tin or stainless steel lining based on your preferences and how you will use your cookware.

How to Choose the Best Copper Cookware Set

While a hammered finish used to be an indicator of high-quality, hand-made copper cookware, most copper sets are now machine-made, and manufacturers can and do duplicate the hammered look in all price ranges. A sleek, smooth finish has become the more common one, reflecting current tastes in design.

The one quality that now separates the best copper cookware from that of lesser quality is the thickness of the copper. Some manufacturers’ product descriptions and specifications can be obscure on this point, so do your research and ask sales representatives about the overall weight of each piece and the thickness of the copper on it. Look for cookware made from copper that is at least two millimeters thick. Research suggests that cookware made of copper that is two and one-half millimeters thick offers the best trade off between quality and price.

Avoid cookware with less than one and one-half millimeters of copper. Rolled edges are a sure sign that the copper is too thin. In most cases, bronze handles also indicate lower quality cookware while cast iron or stainless steel handles indicate higher quality. However, you will find that older, handmade copper sets from Villedieu, France will have a variety of materials used as handles.

Copper Cookware Reviews

Cuisinart CTP-11AM Copper Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 11-Piece Set

Cuisinart has discontinued the CTP-11AM Copper Tri-Ply Stainless Steel 11-Piece Set, which means that the price is substantially discounted. It also means that you would not be able to add to the set or replace pieces as you would open stock sets. Still, with proper care, copper cookware sets last for decades.

The 11-piece set includes a one-quart and a two and one-half quart saucepan, a five quart sauté pan with helper handle, an eight quart stockpot, lids for these pieces, an 18 centimeter steamer, an eight inch skillet, and a 10 inch skillet. The set is lined with stainless steel and has stainless steel handles and lids that stay cool to the touch when cooking. The edges are flared, not rolled, for durability and easy pouring. This set is safe at temperature up to 500 degrees.

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Calphalon Tri-Ply Copper 10 Piece Set

The Calphalon Tri-Ply Copper 10 Piece Set, has a copper exterior, an aluminum core, and an 18/10 stainless steel liner. It comes with a one and one-half quart covered sauce pan, a two and one-half quart covered saucepan, a six quart covered sauce pot, a three quart covered sauté pan, an eight inch omelet pan, and a 10 inch omelet pan.

As with the Cuisinart set, the edges are flared for durability and easy pouring. The Calphalon set is safe at temperature up to 450 degrees.

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Mauviel M’Heritage Copper M250C 6501.00 5-Piece Copper Set

The Mauviel M’Heritage seven piece set is more expensive than either the Cuisinart or the Calphalon set, however the Mauviel seven piece set and the Mauviel M’Heritage Copper M250C 6501.00 5-Piece Cookware Set. Both state that the copper exteriors measure two and one-half centimeters. Both the cookware and the lids are lined with stainless steel, but 90 percent of the material contained in the cookware is copper. The cast iron handles are attached with three stainless steel rivets. Mauviel remains a family-owned business with over 170 years of experience, and the cookware is made in Villedieu-les-Poeles, France.

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These tips and copper cookware reviews should help you find your perfect copper cookware set.

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