There’s the ongoing debate (which I suspect will never die) about what interior is better for copper cookware: stainless vs tin vs nickel vs silver. American brand copper cookware is generally made either overseas (ironically) or by small boutique artisans these days, and anyone who cooks in copper has opinions about what they prefer their copper to be lined with. This is my take on it and why, but as always, it’s just my two cents!
First of all, I am completely in the camp that lining a non-ferrous metal (copper) with a ferrous metal (iron) goes against the point of using copper. Copper (and the tin bonded with it) has a thermal conductive speed of over 380W/m K, whereas stainless is around 25W/m K. Plus, if you want something made to last, and won’t slowly rust away, having metals that don’t contain iron is where to place your bets. Copper and bronze ewers used by the Egyptians thousands of years ago and stuck in Nile mud are still found in relatively the same shape and in good condition. Meanwhile, iron cooking pots in Viking digs that date back a mere 900 years are crumbled up and nearly gone to oxidation. Granted, stainless might not oxidize quite that fast (there’s no way to know yet, considering stainless steel has only been around for about 100 years) but you get the picture. I’m all about making something that should last for millennia. (why not?)
Anyway, regardless of my opinion, there are four generally used and/or viable metals for lining copper cookware.
The first is silver. This stuff is amazing. It’s the fastest (that means its thermal conductivity is superb, better than copper’s (406 W/m K), and is highly efficient in heating and safe for cooking food. It bonds molecularly with the copper, and lasts a long time if you use wooden or silicon utensils. There’s mainly one problem with silver, and that’s price. Since I know my cookware is already pretty pricey for some people, could you imagine if I coated it with silver? They’d be crazy awesome and super beautiful, but probably not practical. Bloomberg’s luxury list recently popped a silver saucepan, and it’s only you know…few thousand bucks.
The second interior option is nickel. In fact, many old and vintage pieces are wiped with or plated with nickel. Many times they can be refurbished with some good cleaning and a new coat of tin, and this is probably best due to the amount of nickel allergies out there. The nickel doesn’t leach into food the way, say, lead would, but it still would be touching the food and having a slight chemical reaction with it, so if you (or your dinner guests) had any type of nickel aversion, you probably don’t want to be cooking with it. And who wants to be on the line for that type of issue? No maker I know…
Then there’s stainless, which many people like because they say it’s easier to work with. I have yet to receive an answer on why exactly that is. If you’ve got a copper sauce pan that’s 2.5mm but lined with stainless, my guess is you’re still probably hand washing (correct me if I’m wrong and you have a magical dish soap for your washer that doesn’t result in pitting your copper?!) There is some ease in that stainless doesn’t scratch like tin, so you can scrape away at the stainless lining with wire and metal. Bear in mind that stainless is sticky (so clean up is harder) instead of non-stick like tin, and eventually it may pop apart due to the huge range in thermal coefficients between stainless and copper. Or your cookware isn’t pure copper, so it may stick to the stainless without much issue.
Clearly, I’m in love with tin lining. For me, molecularly, thermally, and purely – tin-lined copper takes the cake. Because of the electron exchange that happens when tin and copper are heated together (we’re talking over 500F), the molecular bond allows the thermal conductivity properties (ie: fast!) of the copper to transfer seamlessly through the crystal structure of the tin, allowing the copper to actually work the way it is supposed to when used as copper cookware. Plus, it’s non-stick and you need far lower temperatures to achieve the same thing, so it’s green/energy efficient plus always can be re-tinned over the decades, meaning it’s renewable and sustainable and won’t end up in a landfill. Tin has its downsides, of course. With daily use and proper care, it can slowly wear down. After about 12 -15 years your copper cookware may need re-tinning, which has to be done by hand.
Ok, it’s nuts to even ask, but your take on the linings has me really going. So, … Let’s just for a minute play around here. Using your fry pan (3mm thick, right) and with a healthy dose of a tin coating … how much we talking here?
Next, the same pan with the same health dose of a coating, using silver. Again how much?
Note: when I say dose, I’m guessing on multiple layers of the lining to say .5mm thick?! Wouldn’t something as .5mm be plenty for a long lasting interior coating? Silver or tin.
I’m really intesested and look forward to your take on my idea.
Hahaha, I’m glad the linings are piquing your interest! Good! Anyway, I am not 100% sure I understand your question, but let me take a stab. If you’re talking “how much” in terms of cost, it’s pretty substantial. Part of it is because of the labor – you’re not only paying for the pure tin or pure silver, but the expertise and time and talent of applying it. And just on basic metal costs in the market right now, tin is like $10/lb. Whereas silver is $198/lb. Clearly a substantial difference in the raw metal right there. And no, you don’t do multiple layers of lining. You apply it once, and it’s maybe between .01 – .03mm thick. Too thick and it congeals and doesn’t leave a smooth finish. You can’t go back over the top of the first coat because it won’t bond – it’ll just flake off (that’s why we always remove the old tin before retinning old pots – leaving the old tin on will mean the new tin layer won’t stick). And yes…either way you cut it, if you don’t use metal instruments and stick to wood and silicon, you can get your tin (or silver) interior lining to last a few decades, even with daily use. Does any of this help? 🙂
Yes it does. I was unsure of the process. Thank you for answering my question.
Ok, I’ll start saving for one fry pan, … probably with a good silver lining.
I really want something made that well with your skill and materials to pass on to my only daughter.
Thanks so much,
Of course! Glad it helped! I’ll have to get some raw silver when you get there. 🙂 I’m not going anywhere, and I so appreciate your support and belief in heirloom pieces!!