Copper cookware has been in use for centuries and comes in a great variety of sizes for pots, pans, casseroles and utensils. The element of copper, when used in cookware, has several important characteristics that are extremely useful for cooks, especially for those working in professional kitchens. Although it is one of the more expensive cooking materials, copper is also durable--many well-made copper pots have been used for generations.
Copper is an excellent conductor of heat. When placed over an open flame, a copper pan or pot will distribute the heat to the food evenly and rapidly. A low or moderate flame is sufficient, which saves on energy costs. All parts of the cooking space have uniform temperature, which makes cooking much easier and more efficient. Copper cookware never requires high temperatures or maximum flames.
Although it is a relatively soft metal, copper is extremely durable. Among professional cooks, hammered, heavy-gauge copper is the preferred material for cooking pots and pans. Copper equipment can be lined or unlined. An unlined pot shows the customary coppery orange colour on exterior and interior spaces but should only be used for mixing dry ingredients or whipping egg whites.The bare copper can create a chemical reaction with foods when heated, especially acids, that can be poisonous.
Copper pots and pans used for high-temperature cooking can be lined with a tin, stainless steel or nickel coating that prevents the copper from reacting with the food. Stainless steel is best for fry pans, as it has the highest melting point and will resist any damage in case of overheating. Tin is preferred for pots, as it can be repaired and renewed in case of nicks, scratches and wear. The materials used for lining a copper pot can be electroplated by machine or applied by hand--a more expensive but more durable alternative.
Copper is easy to care for and easy to clean. When cooking with copper pans, however, you should always use wooden or rubber spoons and utensils. Metal utensils will scratch away the lining and eventually ruin the pot. The pot should be regularly cleaned with a copper cleaner, available at cookware stores, or with a flour paste.
Copper's distinctive metallic-orange hue lends an attractive and professional appearance to any kitchen. Nickel and stainless-steel linings provide a bright and shiny contrasting surface. If a tin lining has begun to wear, it can be returned to a like-new appearance through professional re-tinning. If this is not done, the underlying copper will begin reacting with food, lending it a copper colour as well as a metallic and unpleasant taste.