COPPER COOKWARE: PRECIOUS OR PRECISE?
As a maker of pure copper cookware, I often get to read, hear, or contest differing opinions and myths about copperware. This usually stems from a misconception on the delicateness of copper or confusion between copper and cast iron. Also, probably because most people today have never used traditional copper in the kitchen.
I should preface this by admitting that until I started to make copper cookware, I had absolutely never cooked with any copperware varieties – tin or stainless lined – nor owned it. Now I have a drawer full and a garage covered with copperware in varying stages of repair. But prior to becoming a coppersmith, I knew about zero when it came to copper cookware. I wouldn’t have even had a concerned question or myth to mention in conversation!
But now I get to propagate my hard-earned knowledge and hands-on experience as a maker and fixer of all things copper, from 1700s wares to modern equivalents. So here we go:
Myth: You cannot cook anything acidic, like tomatoes, in copper.
Truth: You definitely can cook acidic things like tomatoes in copper. That’s precisely why copper cookware is typically lined with tin or stainless steel (and, far more rarely, nickel or silver), as these surfaces are far less reactive to the acidity and guard against copper leaching into your cooking food! It’s cast iron that usually leaves a metallic taste if used to cook things like tomatoes. I do warn against cooking in unlined copper (unless you’re making jam in an unlined copper jam pot, but that’s all fine and a topic for another post) or in copper cookware where over 30% of the copper is showing, but if the inner surface is intact, cook away anything you wish!
Myth: Copper is fussy and hard to clean.
Truth: Copper is no more difficult to keep up than cast iron. So if you have a cast iron skillet, and you manage to keep that piece in good standing, then you can definitely handle a piece of copper cookware. Just like cast iron, you don’t put copper in the dishwasher, and have to hand wash it. And just like cast iron, which occasionally needs a little extra TLC to stay seasoned and glossy black, copper can do with a bit of a polish now and then (using ketchup or chemical pastes, whichever you prefer) to stay looking shiny.
Myth: Cast iron has more even heat than copper, so why have copper?
Truth: Cast iron has even heat *after* it’s been fully heated. While it’s in the process of being warmed up, there are uneven hot spots. Once cast iron is hot all over, it *stays* hot a long time. Copper has even heat at once, immediately, heating completely all over, all at the same time. It stops cooking/heating when removed from flame all at once, immediately, evenly. So that’s the difference. Make sense?
Myth: Tin-lined copper is really tricky because the tin scratches and melts easily
Truth: Stainless steel scratches, too. ☺ But actually, the interior tin of copper cookware doesn’t melt unless you heat the pot empty at over 500 degrees F for a while. And what, exactly, requires anyone to cook something that hot? (Maybe I haven’t found that recipe yet!) As long as you have something in the pan – even if it’s just butter – before you start heating the copper up, you won’t see any melting tin.