Why is copper used for pots & pans?

Photo by Gina Jones, Flickr

If you like to cook or watch cooking shows on TV, you've probably seen pots and pans with copper bottoms. Copper can even be used for the entire outside of a pot. Copper is a shiny metal that's the colour of a penny. Beyond its attractiveness, copper offers several benefits to cooks.

Knowing why copper is used in pots and pans will help you decide if you need this type of cookware.

Purpose of Copper Cookware

Copper is a popular metal used in cookware because it is highly conductive, evenly transferring heat through foods. Copper will prevent hot spots that can burn food on one side of the pan. Copper cookware is also very attractive and stands out in a kitchen. Some people use copper pots for decoration and not for cooking.

Types of Copper Cookware

Copper cookware is made of copper on the outside with an inside liner made of stainless steel or tin. This keeps the copper from being absorbed into the food. Copper is also used in the base of stainless steel and aluminium pots and pans to improve heat conductivity. The colour of this cookware is silver, but you will see a layer of copper on the outside of the pan near the bottom. It will be advertised using phrases like "copper core," "copper clad" or "copper bottom."

Benefits of Using Copper Cookware

"Copper conducts heat twice as fast as aluminium, and five times faster than cast iron," said New York Times reporter Harold McGee in a 2008 article reviewing various types of pots and pans. Copper's superior conductivity allows cooks to precisely control the cooking temperature of foods. McGee also found that copper evenly distributed heat across the bottom of the pan, preventing hot spots that can scorch one side of the food.

Drawbacks to Copper Cookware

One of the biggest drawbacks to copper pots and pans is price. High quality copper cookware sets retail from about £260 to over £650 on Amazon.com's shopping website. Copper may darken over time, making it less attractive. High heat and food spills can stain the metal, too. Although you can clean and polish your copper pots and pans, they will not look brand new after being used for a long time.

Health Warnings about Copper Cookware

Unlined copper pans pose a health hazard. The food comes into direct contact with the copper which can seep into the food and cause poisoning. This is why silver-coloured stainless steel or tin is used to line copper pots and pans. Look inside your copper pans. If the inside is silver, that means your cookware is lined. If the interior is copper-coloured, then you have unlined pans. Keep any unlined copper pots and pans on the walls as decoration, not on the stove for cooking. Also, periodically check your copper cookware to make sure the lining has not worn out.