David Burke Kitchen is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

Copper vs Stainless Steel Cookware

Copper vs Stainless Steel Cookware

By David Burke

Are you struggling to decide between copper vs stainless steel cookware? With so many options out there, it can be difficult to know which one is right for your kitchen. Copper and stainless steel are both great options with a variety of advantages and disadvantages that should be considered when making your purchase.

Copper vs Stainless Steel Cookware

In this blog post, we’ll compare the two types of cookware in regards to durability, price point, care requirements, and more — helping you make an informed decision about which one is the right choice for you!

The Basics of Copper and Stainless Steel

Defining Copper Cookware

Copper cookware, as the name suggests, is primarily made of copper, a metal known for its distinctive reddish-brown hue. The cookware often features a lining of stainless steel or tin on the cooking surface to prevent potential reactions with acidic foods. Copper is renowned for its exceptional heat conductivity, which allows for rapid, even heating and precise temperature control. This makes copper cookware highly sought after among professional chefs and cooking enthusiasts. Despite the metal’s softness, copper pots and pans are usually thick and heavy, contributing to their durability. Aesthetically, the warm glow of copper adds a touch of elegance to any kitchen setting.

Defining Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel cookware, on the other hand, is made from a blend of iron and chromium. This combination of metals gives stainless steel its characteristic strength and resistance to rust and staining, hence the name ‘stainless.’ This type of cookware often features an aluminum or copper core to improve heat distribution, as stainless steel on its own is not a good heat conductor. Stainless steel cookware is known for its durability, often lasting for decades with proper care and its sleek, modern appearance that fits seamlessly into virtually any kitchen decor. Despite its toughness, stainless steel is also non-reactive, making it safe to cook any type of food.

Copper and Stainless Steel Cookware: Pros and Cons

Pros of Copper Cookware

I have clarified the pros and cons of copper cookware in a separate article, which you can read to know more.

Copper cookware is highly valued in the culinary world for its unparalleled heat conductivity, which allows for precision in cooking. The exceptional thermal conductivity of copper ensures that heat is evenly distributed along the surface of the cookware, reducing hot spots and preventing food from sticking or burning. This makes copper cookware ideal for preparing delicate dishes that require exact temperature control, such as sauces, soufflés, and custards.

Furthermore, copper cookware is known for its durability and longevity, often lasting for generations with proper care. The material is resistant to corrosion and wear, ensuring that it remains functional and aesthetically pleasing for many years. Additionally, copper cookware is a beautiful addition to any kitchen, with its rich, warm tones and lustrous finish.

Pros of Copper Cookware

Copper cookware is also reasonably lightweight, making it easy to handle and maneuver during cooking. Its balance and heft provide more control during stirring and flipping, resulting in a more precise cooking experience. Furthermore, copper cookware is effortless to clean, allowing for quick and easy maintenance after use.

In summary, copper cookware offers a range of unique benefits, including superior heat conductivity, durability and longevity, aesthetic appeal, reasonable weight, and easy cleaning. These advantages make copper cookware an excellent investment for any culinary enthusiast, whether experienced or just starting in the kitchen.

Cons of Copper Cookware

While copper cookware is known for its exquisite and shiny appearance, it certainly has its drawbacks. One significant disadvantage of copper cookware is its reactivity. Copper is a highly reactive metal, meaning that it can react with acidic foods, such as tomato sauce, vinegar, and citrus fruits.

Another drawback of copper cookware is its limited heat retention. While copper is an excellent conductor of heat and can quickly heat up, it also cools down quickly, which can lead to uneven cooking and burnt food. This means that copper cookware may not be suitable for slow-cooked meals or dishes that require precise temperature control.

Furthermore, copper cookware can be costly, making it a luxury item for many households. This cost is due to the high-quality craftsmanship and copper’s exclusive properties. Additionally, copper cookware requires considerable maintenance, which can add up to its overall cost. Copper is prone to tarnishing and needs regular polishing to maintain its luster. It’s also susceptible to scratches, which can cause the cookware to lose its non-stick properties.

Finally, copper cookware is incompatible with induction cooktops, which require magnetic materials to generate heat. The conductivity of copper inductors is low, making them inefficient for induction cooking.

In summary, while copper cookware may be visually appealing and a good conductor of heat, it poses significant drawbacks in terms of reactivity, limited heat retention, costliness, high maintenance, and incompatibility with induction cooktops.

Pros of Stainless Steel Cookware

When it comes to stainless steel cookware, there are several advantages that make it a popular choice among both home cooks and professional chefs.

First and foremost, stainless steel is incredibly durable. It is resistant to dents, and corrosion, which means that it can withstand heavy use and abuse in even the busiest of kitchens. This is particularly important for cookware that sees a lot of action, such as pots and pans that are used for searing, sautéing, and frying.

Stainless steel cookware is also great at heat retention. It has the ability to hold heat for a long time, which is particularly useful when cooking dishes that require long, slow simmering. Stainless steel cookware is great for making stocks, stews, and braises that require a consistent and even temperature over a long period of time.

In addition to its functional benefits, stainless steel cookware also looks great in the kitchen. It has a sleek and modern appearance that can add a touch of elegance and sophistication to any cooking space. Stainless steel cookware also comes in a wide range of styles and finishes, from polished to brushed, so you can choose the look that best matches your personal taste.

Finally, stainless steel cookware is easy to maintain. It doesn’t rust or stain, and it is non-reactive, which means that it won’t react with acidic or alkaline foods. This makes it a versatile choice for cooking all kinds of dishes, from acidic tomato sauces to creamy dairy-based recipes.

Taken together, these advantages make stainless steel cookware a top choice for home cooks and professional chefs alike. Whether you’re looking for durability, even cooking, heat retention, aesthetic appeal, or easy maintenance, stainless steel cookware delivers on all fronts.

In conclusion, stainless steel cookware sets itself apart with a multitude of benefits that cater to both home cooks and seasoned chefs.

Read more: what is tri ply stainless steel?

Cons of Stainless Steel Cookware

One of the biggest drawbacks of using stainless steel cookware is that food has a tendency to stick to the surface of the pots and pans. This is especially true if you’re not using a sufficient amount of oil or butter to coat the surface of the cookware. What this means is that cooking with stainless steel cookware requires a certain level of skill and finesse that not everyone possesses.

Even with the most skilled cook, stainless steel cookware requires a bit of extra effort and attention during the cooking process. Food can easily burn and become stuck to the surface, which can be difficult to remove and can ruin the overall taste and presentation of the dish. And because stainless steel doesn’t have the same heat distribution properties as other materials, such as copper, it can be challenging to achieve evenly cooked food without hot spots or cold spots.

Furthermore, stainless steel cookware is often heavier and bulkier than other types of cookware, which can make it challenging to handle and maneuver around the kitchen. And although it’s not a direct con of stainless steel cookware, it’s worth noting that it can often be more expensive than other materials, which can be a consideration for budget-conscious cooks.

In sum, while there are certainly benefits to using stainless steel cookware – such as its durability and resistance to corrosion – there are also some significant cons that should be taken into consideration before making a purchase. Cooking with stainless steel requires skillful handling, a good understanding of heat distribution, and an extra level of attention and effort. And while some chefs swear by stainless steel, many home cooks may find it to be more trouble than it’s worth.

Copper vs Stainless Steel Cookware: Comparison

Heat Conductivity

When it comes to heat conduction, copper outshines stainless steel. Heat conduction refers to the ability of a material to distribute heat evenly throughout its surface. Copper, being a superior conductor, heats up quickly and adjusts to changes in temperature swiftly, offering precise control over the cooking process. This property allows for a more evenly cooked meal, reducing the chance of hot spots which can cause some parts to cook faster than others.

On the other hand, stainless steel lacks the same degree of heat conduction. It takes longer to heat up and does not distribute heat evenly. This may lead to uneven cooking, with some parts of the food being overcooked, while others remain undercooked. However, a workaround to this issue is often found in high-quality stainless steel cookware, where the base is layered with copper or aluminum to enhance the heat distribution.

Overall, if heat conductivity is a vital factor in your cooking, copper might be the superior choice. However, if you’re looking for overall durability and longevity, stainless steel cookware, particularly models with a copper or aluminum base, would be a more practical choice.

Heat Retention

The ability of a material to maintain heat over a long period is a critical attribute in cookware, influencing the overall quality of cooking. Stainless steel excels in heat retention, which is particularly beneficial when preparing dishes that require slow and steady heat, such as stews and braises. Once heated, stainless steel stays warm for a considerable duration, aiding in more uniform cooking.

On the other hand, while copper is an exceptional heat conductor, it falls short when it comes to heat retention. It cools off rapidly once the heat source is removed, which may not be ideal for certain types of cooking. This characteristic of copper may require constant heat adjustment during cooking, which could pose a challenge for some cooks.

In conclusion, if heat retention is a crucial factor in your cooking, stainless steel cookware may be the better option. However, if rapid and even heat distribution is more important to you, then you might want to consider copper.

Another material known for its ability to retain heat very well is cast iron, so will cast iron defeat stainless steel in the heat retention battle, read here:

Durability

The durability of your cookware is an essential aspect to consider. Stainless steel is renowned for its toughness and longevity. It resists dents and scratches, and its non-reactive nature means it won’t corrode or tarnish over time, no matter what types of foods or cooking methods you use. This makes stainless steel cookware a valuable investment that can serve you for many years.

On the contrary, copper cookware, while beautiful and efficient, tends to be more delicate. It can warp or dent under high heat or if dropped, and its shiny exterior can tarnish over time, needing regular polishing to maintain its lustrous appeal. Moreover, copper is reactive, so it’s typically lined with tin or stainless steel to make it safe for cooking, but these linings can wear down over time, requiring re-tinning.

In conclusion, if durability and longevity are high on your list of priorities, stainless steel might be the better choice. While copper cookware is aesthetically pleasing and offers superior heat conduction, it requires more care and maintenance and may not last as long as high-quality stainless steel.

Versatility (Type of Cooking)

In terms of versatility and the range of cooking methods suitable for each material, both copper and stainless steel cookware have their strengths.

Copper cookware, thanks to its excellent heat conductivity, is ideally suited for precise temperature control. It is perfect for searing, sautéing, and other cooktop methods where swift heat adjustments are crucial. However, due to its reactivity and the delicacy of its common linings (tin or stainless steel), it’s not recommended for high-heat oven cooking or use with highly acidic or alkaline foods.

Versatility (Type of Cooking)

On the other hand, stainless steel cookware, known for its robustness and heat retention, is versatile enough to handle everything from frying and sautéing on the stovetop to roasting and baking in the oven. Its non-reactive nature makes it suitable for cooking all types of foods, including those with high acidity. The weight and heat retention of stainless steel makes it a particularly good choice for slow-cooking methods like simmering and braising.

In conclusion, if you need cookware for a wide range of cooking methods, stainless steel is a versatile and durable choice. However, for chef-level precision and quick heat adjustments, copper cookware stands out. Weigh your cooking style and needs when deciding between the two materials.

Maintenance

Maintenance and care for your cookware significantly impact its lifespan and performance. Stainless steel pans are relatively hassle-free when it comes to maintenance. They can withstand dishwasher cleaning, although hand washing is recommended to maintain the shine. Stainless steel does not react with food, so you can cook any ingredient without worrying about accelerating the wear and tear.

On the other hand, copper cookware requires a bit more attention for maintenance. To preserve its beautiful appearance and performance, copper pans usually require hand washing. Besides, due to its reactive nature, copper is often lined with a non-reactive metal like tin or stainless steel, which can wear down over time and may need re-lining. Copper cookware also tends to tarnish and discolor over time, requiring regular polishing with a special copper cleaner to maintain its shiny appearance.

In conclusion, if low maintenance and easy care are a priority for you, stainless steel cookware is the clear winner. However, if you don’t mind a bit of extra care to maintain a show-stopping kitchen aesthetic, copper cookware may be your preferred choice.

Appearance

The aesthetic appeal of your cookware can add a touch of elegance to your kitchen and may even influence your choice of cookware material. Copper cookware is undeniably attractive, with its bright, shiny, and warm hue that can add a professional and sophisticated look to your kitchen. However, it requires regular polishing to maintain its lustrous appearance, as it tends to discolor and tarnish over time.

Stainless steel, on the other hand, boasts a sleek, modern, and shiny look that complements any kitchen style. One of the benefits of stainless steel is that its exterior remains shiny and new-looking with minimal care, even after several years of use. Unlike copper, it requires no regular polishing and does not discolor or tarnish.

In conclusion, when it comes to appearance, the choice between copper and stainless steel cookware boils down to personal preference and willingness to maintain the aesthetics. If you prefer a warm, professional, and vintage look and don’t mind the maintenance, copper cookware is a beautiful choice. However, if you’re after a modern, sleek appearance with low maintenance, stainless steel is a durable and attractive option.

Cooktop Compatibility

When choosing between copper and stainless steel cookware, it’s essential to consider their compatibility with different types of cooktops. Copper pans are compatible with gas, electric, and halogen cooktops but not with induction cooktops due to the non-magnetic nature of copper. If you have an induction cooktop, you would need to opt for copper pans with a magnetic bottom layer or use an induction interface disk.

In contrast, stainless steel cookware is compatible with all types of cooktops, including induction. This is because stainless steel is magnetic and can effectively conduct the heat generated by the induction cooktop. However, for the best performance on induction cooktops, look for stainless steel cookware with a flat bottom and a magnetic grade of stainless steel.

To sum up, if you use a variety of cooktops or particularly favor induction cooking, stainless steel cookware offers you the greatest flexibility. However, if you particularly favor gas, electric, or halogen cooktops and value the rapid and even heat distribution copper provides, then copper cookware might be the best for your cooking needs.

Heaviness & Weight

The weight and heftiness of your cookware is another critical factor to consider as it can influence your cooking comfort and ease of handling.

Copper cookware is relatively heavy and gives a feel of sturdiness when handled. The weight can be an advantage when it comes to stability on the cooktop. However, the heaviness may not be suitable for all, especially those who prefer lightweight cookware for easy handling and maneuverability.

On the other side, stainless steel cookware comes in a range of weights, depending on the quality and construction. High-quality stainless steel pans often have a thick base for improved heat distribution, which can add to the weight. However, most stainless steel cookware is generally lighter than copper and therefore easier to handle and move around, particularly for those with strength or mobility issues.

In conclusion, if you prefer a robust, sturdy feel and don’t mind the heaviness, copper cookware might be the right choice for you. But if you value lightness for easy handling and maneuverability in your cooking routines, stainless steel cookware would be a more suitable option.

Affordability

When considering the affordability of copper and stainless steel cookware, it’s important to note that copper cookware tends to be more expensive due to the high cost of copper. The superior heat conductivity and the aesthetic appeal of copper also contribute to its higher price point. Some high-end brands even offer copper cookware with a lifetime warranty, which can justify the initial investment.

Stainless steel cookware, on the other hand, is generally more affordable and provides excellent value for money. This type of cookware is durable, versatile, and requires less maintenance, making it a cost-effective choice in the long run. High-quality stainless steel cookware can also come with a lifetime warranty, ensuring you get the most out of your investment.

In conclusion, if your budget is tight or you’re just starting to equip your kitchen, stainless steel cookware might be the best option due to its affordability and durability. However, if budget is not a constraint and you value aesthetics and superior heat conductivity, investing in copper cookware can bring you long-term benefits and satisfaction.

Usage and Care for These Cookware

To use your copper and stainless steel cookware properly, there are certain steps you need to follow:

For copper cookware, avoid high temperatures. Using moderate heat is usually sufficient due to copper’s excellent heat conductivity. Always use wooden or silicone utensils to prevent scratching the tin lining. After use, allow the pan to cool before washing it in warm soapy water, and avoid using abrasive materials that could damage the surface.

Read more: how to clean a burnt copper pan?

With stainless steel cookware, preheating the pan before adding oil or food can prevent sticking. Like with copper, use wooden or silicone utensils to protect the surface. After use, clean it with warm soapy water. For stubborn stains, a paste of baking soda and water can be used. Always dry your stainless steel cookware thoroughly after washing to prevent water spots.

Remember, proper use and care can significantly extend the life of your cookware, whether it’s copper or stainless steel.

Maintenance and Cleaning Tips

Maintaining and cleaning your copper and stainless steel cookware is vital to ensuring they last for many years. Here are some tips to keep your cookware in optimal condition:

Copper Cookware

  • Regular Polishing: Copper cookware requires regular polishing to keep its shiny and warm appearance. You can use a commercial copper cleaner or make a homemade solution with vinegar and salt.
  • Avoid Dishwashers: Copper cookware should not be cleaned in a dishwasher as harsh detergents can damage the surface. Always opt for hand washing with mild soap and water.
  • Dry Immediately: After washing, dry your copper pots and pans immediately with a soft, clean towel to prevent water spots and tarnishing.

Stainless Steel Cookware

  • Dealing with Stains: For stubborn stains on your stainless steel cookware, create a paste with baking soda and water. Apply the paste to the stain, let it sit for 15-20 minutes, then gently scrub and rinse.
  • Prevent Scratch Marks: Do not use steel wool or scouring pads to clean stainless steel cookware as they can scratch the surface. Instead, use a soft sponge or cloth.
  • Utilize Vinegar for Shine: If your stainless steel cookware has lost its shine, wipe it with a small amount of vinegar, then rinse with warm water.

Remember, the longevity of your cookware greatly depends on how well you take care of it. With these tips, you can keep both your copper and stainless steel cookware looking and performing their best for years to come.

Read more: does stainless steel pan need to be seasoned?

Conclusion

In conclusion, both copper and stainless steel cookware have their distinct advantages. Choosing between the two ultimately comes down to your personal cooking style, maintenance capacity, aesthetic preference, and budget.

For heat conductivity, copper stands out, and if heat retention is crucial for you, stainless steel is the better choice. Stainless steel offers superior durability and longevity, while copper requires more maintenance but offers aesthetic appeal.

For versatile cooking needs, stainless steel is a worthy choice, but for quick heat adjustments, consider copper. For low maintenance, stainless steel wins yet again, but for those preferring a vintage look and willing to maintain it, copper is suitable.

Lastly, if budget is a concern, stainless steel is a cost-effective choice, but for those who value aesthetics and superior heat conductivity, investing in copper might bring more satisfaction. In essence, consider your cooking style, maintenance preferences, aesthetic tastes, and budget before making your decision.

We hope this comparison has helped you understand the unique characteristics of both copper and stainless steel cookware. We want to express our gratitude for your time spent reading this guide. Remember, the choice between copper and stainless steel should reflect your cooking needs, aesthetic preferences, and budget. Happy cooking, and thank you for your interest in our content.

FAQs

What are the main differences between copper and stainless steel cookware?

Copper cookware tends to heat up faster and cool down quicker than stainless steel, providing superior temperature control. However, stainless steel is more durable and less reactive with food, ensuring longevity and safety in your cooking.

Is copper cookware safe to use?

Yes, most copper cookware is safe to use. However, pure copper can react with acidic foods, which can lead to ingestion of too much copper. To prevent this, most copper pots and pans are lined with a non-reactive metal like stainless steel.

Why is stainless steel cookware widely used?

Stainless steel is prized for its durability, versatility, and low reactivity with food. It’s also dishwasher-safe and can withstand high temperatures, making it a popular choice for many home cooks and professional chefs.

Which cookware conducts heat better, copper or stainless steel?

Copper is a better heat conductor than stainless steel. This allows for quicker and more even heating, making copper cookware preferable for precision cooking.

Why are some chefs preferential to copper cookware?

Many chefs prefer copper cookware due to its exceptional heat conductivity. It provides precise temperature control, which is critical for delicate dishes like sauces or chocolate.

Are there any downsides to using stainless steel cookware?

Stainless steel cookware is durable and versatile, but it doesn’t conduct heat as evenly as copper. This can lead to hot spots and uneven cooking, particularly on lower-quality stainless steel pans.

Is copper cookware harder to maintain than stainless steel?

Yes, copper cookware requires more maintenance than stainless steel. It needs to be polished regularly to prevent tarnishing and cannot be cleaned in a dishwasher.

Can stainless steel cookware be used on any cooktop?

Yes, stainless steel is compatible with all types of cooktops, including induction, gas, and electric. However, not all copper cookware can be used on induction cooktops.

Which type of cookware is more cost-effective, copper or stainless steel?

Generally, stainless steel cookware is more cost-effective. Copper cookware tends to be more expensive due to its superior heat conductivity and the cost of the additional materials used to line the cookware.

Which cookware should I choose, copper or stainless steel?

The choice between copper and stainless steel depends on your cooking needs and budget. If you require precise temperature control and don’t mind the extra maintenance, copper may be the choice for you. If durability, versatility, and cost-effectiveness are your primary concerns, stainless steel would be a better choice.

Rate this post