Copper Best Practices

Cookware Tips
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Sara, here

Sara with copper cookwareEver go on Ebay and think how marvelous it would be to have all that vintage copper available to you if only you could get it in working order again? You know, clean off that green verdigris, take out the blackened interior, line it fresh and make the whole pot like new once more?

Well, that’s possible with the right mindset, tinning services, or even your own tools, but cooking in that tin-lined copper cookware is going to require more than a glossy new coat of tin.

I’ve become aware, through the re-tinning of copper cookware, that many people don’t understand the properties of hand-wiped tin, let alone the proper way on how to cook in copper cookware, especially how to cook in tin lined copper cookware.

That’s ok! It’s kind of a lost art in itself, and I know I was guilty of needing to re-learn how to cook if I’m using tin-lined copper.

First, if you’re using tin-lined copper, be aware that the temperature you’re used to using on the stove will likely be too hot for the copper. This is natural – we’re used to stainless steel, cast iron, aluminum, and even ceramic cookware. We are used to putting the heat on high and cooking that way once the pans are hot. This method is pretty energy inefficient, but hey, we are all pretty accustomed to it.

Copper is the opposite. Unlike cast iron or carbon steel, which can withstand insanely high heat and will retain it, plus you heat it dry, copper (and especially tin-lined copper), is meant for low to low/medium heat.

Also, copper has even, fast heat, and if you don’t have oil, butter, or liquid covering the entire surface bottom of your pan, you run the risk of the tin getting soft, runny, or drippy. This means searing or cooking something like a steak is really not recommended as best use of your tin-lined copper (many will say it is a no-no: read here, here, here, and here…the list goes on hahaha!).

So, do not sear steak in tin-lined copper. Do not boil it dry or heat it empty. Do not heat or cook in tin-lined copper without a solid base of oil, liquid or butter covering the bottom of the pan. Definitely do not use sharp knives or metal. Why? Tin’s melting point of under 450F doesn’t react well to high temps – anything that needs searing, or is a thick slab of meat, or you want broiled – that is best served in cast iron. Copper’s good for just about anything else, though, provided the tool is used properly in the kitchen.

If you forget some of these cooking tips and tricks, and you end up wrecking your tin lining by using a metal whisk or heating the pan too hot while cooking, and you wreck not only your meal but the tin, that’s OK. It’s a pretty simple fix, even in your own kitchen. Simply take the pot off the heat. You’ll see the tin cool in seconds. The pan is still usable – just put in more food and cook on a lower temperature. (There are ways to fix up the wrinkled tin a bit on your stove, but that’s another post and for adventurous types!)

As for that tin lining itself? Well, it’s glistening and lovely, but it will always change with time and cooking, too. So don’t worry – be happy – it means you’re cooking often and with joy! (For details on tin lining and the aging of pure metal copper pots, check out BCC’s article here).

Anyway, have fun! Just like my own journey in slowly learning to refurbish and re-line copper cookware, building an arsenal of tools and figuring it out without anyone to watch over my shoulder every day . . . it’s a learning experience, a challenge, and wonderful when it comes out right! The same for cooking in tin-lined copper. But hey, isn’t that what life is about?


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