Copper vs Stainless Steel Cookware

making beef steak in pans

Buying high-quality cookware can be hard due to the many options that you are likely to find in the market.

The basic features that every cook considers include how quickly the utensils heat up and how effectively heat is transferred across the cooking surface. Price, durability and ease of cleaning are also important factors.

Copper and stainless steel materials are used in many high-end cookware sets because of their high heat conductivity and effective heat distribution. We pit the two materials against each other in the sections below to help you understand how they differ in construction and performance.

If you are having trouble picking between cookware made of copper and cookware made of stainless steel, reading this article is a great start to help you make the right decision.

Copper Cookware Features 

Copper is famed for its heat conductivity properties and has been used to make cookware since ancient times. Pure copper heats up quickly and loses heat just as fast. This high conductivity makes copper utensils great for cooking because they heat up without creating any hotspots. 

Besides being a good conductor, copper is also highly reactive. As a result, copper utensils are not made with pure copper; rather, manufacturers use lined copper.

cooking food on gas stove

In simpler terms, the copper material is covered with a non-reactive material to prevent food from coming into contact with the copper. Tin and stainless steel are among the common metals used to line copper cookware.

The lining, however, comes with temperature restrictions. When heated to very high temperatures, for instance, the lining might crack leaving the copper core exposed. This leads to contamination of food.

Copper cookware comes in bright colors that add nice aesthetics to your kitchen. High quality copper cookware, however, is very expensive.

Advantages of Copper Cookware 

  • Fast heating – Copper is one of the best materials for heat conductivity. This makes copper utensils heat up quickly without developing hotspots. Quick heating also helps you to save time in the kitchen because you don't have to preheat the cookware before you start cooking.
  • Copper cookware comes in nice shiny finishes that add a touch of luxury to your kitchen
  • Temperature control- copper heats up and cools down quickly. For this reason, you can easily control how food cooks and prevent food from being burnt by turning off the stove or reducing the intensity of the heat source.

Disadvantages of Copper Cookware 

  • Highly priced- Copper is very expensive and requires lining with a non-reactive layer for it to be used safely in the kitchen for cooking. As a result, copper utensils are out of reach for most cooks.
  • Delicate – Copper utensils are delicate and can easily get damaged exposing the core and leading to food contamination.
  • You cannot use metal utensils on the cooking surface of copper utensils
  • Copper utensils are not safe for dishwasher cleaning
  • Copper is not magnetic, which means that you cannot used it directly on an induction cooker. Some copper pots have a magnetic plate attached to the bottom to make them compatible with induction cookers. The metal plate, however, interferes with heat transfer causing the utensils to take longer to heat up.

Stainless Steel Features 

Stainless steel cookware is made from a blend of steel and Chromium. The chromium content gives stainless steel a shiny appearance and makes the steel safe for cooking.

There are different grades of stainless steel used for making different products such as water pipes, surgical instruments, construction products, and cookware.

Food standard stainless steel usually has chromium and steel content in the ratio of 18 to 10.

frying vegetables in a pan

Stainless steel is not as good in conducting and transferring heat as copper. As a result, manufactures make stainless steel cookware very thin to improve heat conduction and transfer.

Stainless steel is also used together with other materials to improve heating and heat transfer capabilities. The design is known as all clad stainless steel and features a layer of stainless steel on the interior, an aluminum or copper middle layer, and an exterior layer of magnetic stainless steel.

All grades of stainless steel are corrosion and rust resistant to some extent. Moreover, the cookware is non-reactive to food. This makes stainless steel cookware good for the kitchen because less care and maintenance is required.

Advantages of Stainless Steel Cookware 

  • Durability- Stainless steel cookware is durable and easy to care for.
  • The stainless steel utensils withstand high heat and can be used for a variety of cooking methods.
  • You can use any type of cooking utensils when cooking food, including metallic cooking spoons and spatulas.
  • The shiny appearance of stainless steel utensils adds a nice touch to your kitchen
  • Stainless steel is resistant to corrosion and rust. Many types of foods can also be prepared on the stainless steel cooking surface without causing stains or contamination.
  • Compared to copper, stainless steel utensils are moderately priced.
  • All clad stainless steel utensils support cooking over all types of cooking stoves without an additional induction plate.

Disadvantages of Stainless Steel Cookware 

  • Not a good heat conductor – compared to copper, the heat conductivity of pure stainless steel utensils is not good. All clad utensils that have a metal with high conductivity at the center, however, are known to heat up better and faster even though they cost more.
  • Food sticks on stainless steel- the utensils don't have non-stick capabilities, which causes food items to stick. Cleaning the utensils requires lots of effort if you clean them by hand.
  • Staining- The shiny surface of stainless steel cookware stains easily when the utensils are submerged in water for a long time. Staining also occurs when water droplets are left on the surface after cleaning.

Copper vs Stainless Steel: Health Concerns 

Copper utensils might cause serious health issues when the food comes into contact with the copper core. In most cases, the lining that shields the food from contact is thin and might wear off with time.

Chefs who use copper cookware should always inspect the cooking surface and dispose the utensils once the lining begins to show signs of wear.

cooking pot on induction stove

Stainless steel, on the other hand, is safe for cooking and has no major health issues. As such, cooks should always check out the grade of steel used to make utensils before buying.

Unlike copper utensils, food grade stainless steel is easy to care for and supports a wide variety of cooking methods.

Copper vs Stainless Steel: Cooking Methods 

Copper cookware is delicate because of the protective lining on its cooking surface. To keep the lining intact, be sure to cook food only on low and moderate heat. Extreme heat could damage the lining leaving the copper core exposed. 

Metal utensils that can easily scratch the cooking surface should also be avoided. Instead, consider using non-abrasive cooking spoons and spatulas to turn food.

Food grade stainless steel is not a very good conductor of heat on its own but when combined with other materials, it provides cooks with a great culinary experience. 

You can heat the utensils up to extremely high temperatures and cook using a variety of cooking methods. From braising, frying, sautéing and boiling, stainless steel handles it all and it's a popular cookware material choice for both induction and gas stove tops.

Copper vs Stainless Steel: Cleaning and Durability 

Copper cookware should only be cleaned by handwashing with soap and water. Never place the cookware in the dishwasher where the likely collisions with other utensils can damage the lining. The exterior is also prone to staining.

These stains, however, can be removed by polishing the cooper cookware after some time. To polish the exterior, use a mixture of salt and vinegar to rub the stained surface and leave it on for a while. Then rinse and dry the utensils and apply a layer of ketchup to finish polishing.

Stainless steel cookware is easy to clean. For instance, you can hand wash the utensils if they are not too dirty. Moreover, you can toss the stainless steel cookware in the dishwasher if you want rapid cleaning.

Both copper and stainless utensils are durable with proper care and maintenance. Copper utensils, however, are more delicate and require careful maintenance than stainless steel utensils do.

Copper vs Stainless Steel: Which is best? 

Copper utensils have superior heat conduction and are durable. They, however, come at a very high cost implying that most cooks cannot afford to use copper cookware in their kitchens.

Another factor that limits use of copper cookware is the risk of food contamination when the lining on the cooking surface is damaged and food is exposed to the copper core.

Stainless steel cookware usually provides better value than copper but it's had to compete with the elegance of a copper set. Stainless steel pots are not as delicate as copper pots because they have no linings. They can handle high temperatures and a variety of cooking methods.

Cleaning stainless steel utensils can be done in the dishwasher as well as by handwashing. Furthermore, magnetic stainless steel used on the base and exterior of some utensils makes them viable for use on induction heaters. All these advantages make stainless steel utensils better for most chefs when compared to copper utensils.

Sean Bennett
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