The positive benefits of thin-walled copper pans and pots

The positive benefits of thin-walled copper pots and pans

It is often posted here on Hungry Onion, and before that on Chow Hounds, that tin-lined copper cookware, if under 2 or 2.5 mm thick, is too thin to be worth buying or using. I think that this is a hasty pronouncement.

For regular household cooking, and not restaurant cooking, I think that the thinner-walled pots and pans will do very well, even on a glass topped electric stove. They certainly have some benefits:

  1. Less expensive so affordable by more people – like me.
  2. Less weight so easier for smaller, older, and arthritic people – like me! – to use.
  3. The thinner copper walls have no bearing on the thickness of the tin lining. The tin lining, applied the same way, will last the same amount of usage. I have some 10 year old cookware, used several times a week, but not quite every day, in which the tin lining has lasted so far. One pan (2.2 mm copper) and one pot (1.5 mm copper) used almost every day, have been sent in for retinning.
  4. The tin lining certainly is much easier to clean than stainless steel.
  5. The tin lined copper pots cook more evenly and quickly than stainless steel, ECI, or cast iron.

These thinner-walled pots and pans do not develop hot spots when I use a glass topped electric range. Maybe they would develop spots if used with the older electric coil ranges. I don’t know.

I have hefted some antique copper cookware with 3-4 mm thick walls, and they are too heavy for me to manipulate safely when filled with food. This holds true even for 9 inch diameter pots.

The only benefit I can see for the very thick pans is that they will survive multiple droppings and bangings better than the thin cookware. Think of frenzied restaurant rushes. But I don’t drop or bang my cookware, so this doesn’t matter to me. Also, at 4 mm or more, the famed conductivity of the copper has to work against the thickness of the copper walls.

I encourage everyone to buy an inexpensive tin lined copper piece and see for themselves how well they like cooking in it.

I love my inexpensive, low status copperware. I cook in it. I do not collect it.

2 Likes

cannot agree with any number of your points -

  • tin linings are not ‘easier’ to clean. done wrong, they get gouged/worn thru.
  • done right or wrong, tin oxides into dark colors a lot of people consider undesirable.
  • thin copper, tinned or other, does not cook more evenly than thick copper - it is infact the entire point behind thicker copper - even cooking without hot spots.
  • where are you finding 4mm thick copper cookware?
  • the fame of copper conductivity is not related to vertical thickness. it relates to how evenly copy spreads the input heat over the entire bottom of the pot/pan.

I’m glad you like your pans. Some people actually prefer copper in the 2-2.5mm range (fort) over extra fort.

Let’s take these in your order:

  1. Of course they’re less expensive; they’re thinner and the handles are less massive. But IME, every dollar a serious cook spends on table service copper is a dollar better saved to buy fort or extra fort.

  2. Yes, they’re lighter. But if you struggle to lift thicker copper, IME, you’d be better off performance-wise going with thicker aluminum.

  3. Well, it depends. It’s in the art of the tinner how thick the linings end up. Top rate pans usually get more attention at that stage.

  4. I don’t consider SS difficult to clean, do you? In fact some people think tin is more difficult because you need to take care not to scratch through it.

  5. Copper pans are indeed the champs for quick heating (and cooling), and thin ones even more so. But when it comes to evenness, they’re not great, IMO. Despite your good experience on a glass-top electric, table service copper on a less than even hob makes matters worse, not better. I bet you are running your thin copper on perfectly matched hobs–little to no overhang.

If I were to list the virtues of thinner copper, I would say that smaller pans, and those used mostly in the oven don’t absolutely need to be thicker, so why spend full retail for a greatly diminished return?

{Edit} Let me add that copper pans are beautiful no matter their thickness.

I have two thin copper pans, a fish pan and a large fry pan… I use them for lots of things including smaller, thinner proteins (fish, pork, chicken, etc.), asparagus, and dishes like cacio e pepe. They work quite well.

I do not mind the look of oxidized tin. I do find it cleans up much more easily than stainless. Just soak and rub off the gunk with a soft natural fiber pad or brush. Stainless seems prone to creating things that require more scrubbing.

3 Likes

I own two De Buyer Inocuivre 2.0 bimetal copper frying pans (24 cm and 28 cm) and have now used them at least weekly for 3 years.

I sold my two thicker Mauviel M250c copper frying pans, because I preferred my two De Buyer 2.0 copper pans for speed sautéing vegetables and mushrooms, which is what I use them for 95% of the time.
They are extremely fast up and down in response time.
They heat up in literally seconds and cool down almost as fast.

I’d say these two 2.0 copper pans (1.8 mm copper and 0.2 stainless steel) are now mainstays in my cookware collection and I’ll never get rid of them. They perform fantastically well on my gas stovetop.

However I still say that for sauces, braising and meat searing I prefer my 2.5 copper pans and would even prefer 3.0 or thicker copper, if it was available from new.

2 Likes

I think I agree, although SS is durable bordering on bulletproof, so a scrubbing with BKF is easy-peasy.

When I was in Paris, I made a pilgrimage to the Musee Nissim de Camando to see the grand home’s kitchen and copper. Off the staff dining room, there’s a pantry with curious scullery sinks. Visitors are told that the sinks were plumbed to run hot water continuously overnight to soak loose food from the copper. The sinks can be seen to the left.

Kaleokahu – thank you for the interesting discussion.

Lets take these in your order:

  1. When you write that a “serious” cook would be better served by not buying thin-walled copper, this is using an ad hominem argument. I could just as easily write that a “serious” cook would not spend more than needed to achieve goals.

To use the term “table service” to describe the thinner copper is, perhaps unintentionally, dismissive. It implies that cooking with it is somehow not effective. Also, this term comes from a manufacturer of thick-walled copper. It certainly is self-serving for them (notice the pun? :blush: ).

  1. Performance-wise, I prefer tin-lined copper, not aluminum. And certainly not stainless steel. Cleaning up is part of the kitchen performance, and the tin cleans much easier for me, and also for others who post here.

  2. Yes, I agree that the tinning quality can be variable. However, in all my inexpensive, thin-walled cookware, the tinning has lasted 10 years of near constant use in a home kitchen, not restaurant kitchen. A professional retinner has told me that 10 years of near daily home use is about the upper end of what can be expected before retinning should be done. The same tinner told me that most commercially produced cookware he has retinned had the same original thickness of tin: Ruffoni, Baumalu, Mauviel, etc. He did warn about copper made in Eastern Europe.

  3. I do think that SS is more difficult to clean. Of course, one can damage any type of cookware with poor practices, including SS. I have never scratched through the tin, and I am not exceptionally careful with my tools. As I have gotten older, and have arthritis in my hands, not having to scrub cookware is much better, and my hands don’t hurt for hours afterwards.

  4. There’s that pesky term again: “table service” copper! I have used the same thin-walled copper on four different glass-topped electric ranges; not all the ranges were good, and I have noticed NO hot spots on anything. You will lose your bet because I have cooked on burners bigger than the bottom of the pot, evenly matching the pot, and smaller than the pot.

I have neither the budget nor the inclination to pay retail for anything I can easily obtain at remainder shops or second hand. I never said someone should pay retail. Also, although it is your opinion that thin copper gives a “greatly diminished return,” you have given no evidence which matches my ten years of experience.

Kaleo, why do you call the heating areas of a range hobs? I am from the US, and everyone I know calls them burners – including restaurant workers. Are you from UK?

@HappyOnion: I have hefted 4 mm copper cookware in the homes of friends (who, BTW, did not cook in it as it was too heavy for them, but were proud of owning the expensive copper). 3-4 mm copper is available in the US from private dealers.

1 Like

Sorry you’re feeling personally attacked–not my intention.

However, “table service” is the traditional way to refer to and classify thin copper. And for a good reason: it was not really sold to cook in.

You may believe sub-2mm copper is the performance equal of extra fort, but if so, you’re in a small minority of informed and experienced cooks.

With regard to the longevity of tin linings, I’m not sure we actually disagree. Many of us here get decades of service from these linings. Still, I have had oafs scratch through pans and gratins with knives and serving utensils. And if I had the choice between machine-wiped (like your Baumalu), and hand-wiped, I would take hand-wiped every time.

I use ‘hob’ because IMO it’s a better, more general, term to use, rather than ‘burner’, ‘coil’, ‘plaque’, ‘eye’, ‘element’, etc. It’s a very common term among cooking and cookware pros. What do you call what you put your pan on to cook?

1 Like

Since most of the HO members seem to cook in their homes and not in restaurants, the terms used by pan sellers may not matter to them. I do not have an opinion and have not expressed an opinion about 2 mm or less copper performing the same way heavier copper does. I carefully stated that it is good enough for me. :slight_smile:

I suspect but have no conclusive evidence that the peoples of the world who cook in tin lined copper do so in thicknesses of 2 mm or less. Turkey, the Middle East, and Africa: I have had meals prepared by people from these areas, and their cookware was traditional and thin copper. NOT just serving ware, but was cooked in it.

I also know many (maybe more than 25) professionals in the restaurant industry. None call the range top heating areas “hobs” but I am in the US and so maybe this is a regional reflection. They all call it a burner.

Please don’t respond to my observations with the comment that “real” professionals would disagree. I hope you are not feeling attacked as well. It has been a good discussion.

Thinner tin lined copper performs a lot like thicker copper but not the same. They both heat and cool quickly. They both distribute heat quite well, but the thicker has an edge. Often thinner copper has pretty brass handles that get hot quickly. The thicket copper often has cast iron handles that are a bit thicker and heat up much more slowly. If offered a choice between thin copper and a high end clad, I personally would take the copper.

I used to call them burners and picked up hobs here, although I had heard it used.

2 Likes

I’m glad that you like your thinner copper cookware, and that you posted about your positive experience.

I cannot fault most of what you are saying. Yes, it’s cheap (how cheap though?), but so is the excellent Paderno Grand Gourmet stainless steel with aluminum sandwich bottom. But then the Paderno is a bit heavy.

The only thing I take issue with is your last point on even heating: the cheap Paderno will heat more evenly than even my 2.3mm copper. But then again, even heating isn’t the only thing one should consider. For reference, a 28 cm Paderno GG frying pan will cost around 55 euro.

And for what it’s worth, for me the sweet spot for copper is 2.3mm with a stainless steel lining.

3 Likes

Most real professionals would not agree. JK.

‘Burner’ is just fine if you’re talking about gas hobs. Otherwise it’s not a very accurate use.

I’m in USA.

ah, well, that is a bit of a problem with the facts.

1 Like

? I don’t know what you mean. I have examined and hefted 4 mm copper cookware personally, and it is too heavy for me. I am in the US. I am not an expert in cookware, but my impression is that these were authentic. Different brands. Old stuff. Interestingly, all of them with no exception were built like work horses - no fancy trim, no artichokes on the lids. No hammered hardening.

Have you encountered fakes somehow?

Kaleo: again, I request that you “Please don’t respond to my observations with the comment that “real” professionals would disagree.” Are your “real” professionals more real than my “real” professionals? :slight_smile:

Almost all my inexpensive copper ware have cast iron handles. The Ruffoni stock pot has brass. Most pieces cost between $15-25 US dollars about 10 years ago. All on the remainder market or used. I am very happy with my modest home-use copper.

I can only relate my experience: The professionals I know who use copper cookware do not like to cook in table service grade pans. If that triggers you, sorry.

I have encountered fakes. I’ve even encountered table service pans by top makers, e.g., Gaillard, that were misleadingly advertised as being thicker. I cooked in them, hoping they would measure up, but no. I quickly resold them–with honest descriptions.

It’s good that your pans have cast iron handles, and that you’ve found bargains. A cast iron handle is one feature that indicates a good maker, but it’s obviously a subsidiary one. My experience with thinner pans is that, even if they use cast iron, the handles are also thinner and “turnier”, as befits their light weight.

I have to ask: Have you used fort or extra fort pans in comparison to yours? The most sensible reason I’ve heard for preferring sub-3mm copper pans is improved downward responsiveness for specialty sauce work. If that informs your choices, great, reasonable minds can differ. But all my trade and cooking experience have convinced me that copper in the 2.8mm to 3.5mm range strikes the best overall performance balance, and is therefore the best use of anyone’s cookware purchasing dollar.

Again, I’m happy you like your cookware.

It’s been a really long time since I have been so happy about copper cookware thread.

The subject of the merits of thin copper is long overdue for discussion.

I have two thin copper pans (1.5 mm) that I occasionally use. One is a 10 inch fry pan and the other is a large oval fish pan that’s very similar in shape to a gratin except that it has a long brass handle instead of a pair of loop handles.

I’ve used the oval pan for asparagus, other vegetables, and thin boneless fish portions cooked on modest level heat.

I’ve used the fry pan for everything from eggs to thick steaks and chops. When I first tried the thin fry pan for a thick steak or pork chop I remember being amazed at how well it performed to get a great sear, though I used a lot of oil and not so hot temperature and “fried” the steak for a while. A thinner steak would not have turned out as well as I think it would be prone to overcooking on thin copper for longer times.

Table service (1.5 mm) copper pans can definitely be used for excellent cooking. It’s in many ways almost as good as extra fort copper, and if I had arthritic hands and not so much upper body strength, I might choose the thinner copper too.

However, tested side by side, the extra fort wins in every shape I’ve tested, except for saute of veggies which I might give thin copper a slight advantage.

4 Likes

Simply incredible, that you agree with me on precisely my single only point where I also personally feel a slightly thinner copper pan excels over a thicker copper pan and incidentally - or perhaps not so incidentally - I sold my two Mauviel M250c frying pans a couple of years ago, because I preferred the performance of my two De Buyer Inocuivre bimetal 2.0 copper frying pans for exactly what you point out thinner copper excels at:
High speed sautéing of vegetables & mushrooms !!!

I pretty much only use my two De Buyer Inocuivre 2.0 copper frying pans (24 cm & 28 cm) for (jump)sautéing of vegetables & mushrooms and not much else.
They are simply terrific pans.

1 Like

You’re cooking, not the pan. Use your senses and everything will be fine.

I know people desperately want to believe otherwise, but cooking in a very high-end professional kitchen, and what you do at home, is about as similar as the Thanksgiving Day family touch football game is to an NFL playoff game.

Yes, you can own some of the same equipment that an extremely accomplished chef and his or her team uses. And that’s exactly where all the similarities end.

You can go to Dick’s and buy the same football the NFL uses. That doesn’t make you a pro wide receiver with 4.3 speed in the 40 with the ability to make acrobatic catches in the corner of the end zone with five seconds left on the clock with two Pro Bowl defensive backs draped all over you.

If you can see, smell, taste, and feel then you can be a very creditable home chef with whatever cookware you can afford and/or delights you to own. If you think an extra millimeter of thickness has set your cuisine apart, then you’re frankly delusional. It’s absurd on its face. If you can’t cook in something thinner without ruining the dish, you were never a cook in the first place.

8 Likes

Yes!

1 Like

Thanks, JustCharlie. I agree. What has gotten lost in this discussion is that I did not want to spend the money on one extremely expensive pot. It would have been very difficult financially. For the cost of 1 pot 4 mm thick, I got ALL my thin copper cookware.

I think many readers are in the same position. In reading the many detailed discussions here on HO, it seemed to me that most posters are making the magic in their home’s kitchens. Not as professionals in an expensive restaurant.

I tried to minimize the quantity and expense of my kitchen’s outfitting. I succeeded. I never have enough counterspace, so very few gadgets, etc. My goal is to cook and bake well with what I got.

I hope this discussion has been useful to those readers who, like me, do not have the thick copper cookware, but did not want to incur the criticism (to state it politely) of those who do advocate for the thicker copper.

4 Likes