Students attending Austin culinary arts schools and across the country may be intrigued by the recent attention paid to copper pots and pans. Ads featuring popular chefs and personalities – at least in the world of infomercials – abound, and they’re popular with some home cooks as well.
Are copper pots and pans really worth the money? Do they perform better than other options, like cast iron and standard, nonstick pots and pans?
Copper’s benefits …
“There’s no doubt copper is different than other metals used to make cookware.”
There’s no doubt copper is different than other metals used to make cookware. This metal efficiently conducts energy, which means it heats more evenly than some other materials. Additionally, the appearance of copper is visually pleasing and unique in a world dominated by hues of black, gray and nonstick coatings. A well-made copper pan can stand out both in terms of appearance and the quality of the dishes it produces.
Finely crafted copper – including a tin lining and cast-iron handle – also has superior nonstick abilities, as Bon Appetit pointed out. The efficient transmission of heat that’s part of copper’s unique qualities as a metal means both even heating and and a low likelihood of overheating.
… And its drawbacks
Copper is seen by some as an extravagance, in the sense that it can provide some mild or situationally specific benefits compared to other cookware but at an unreasonably higher cost.
Nathan Myhrvold, former Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft, chef and cookbook author, told Bon Appetit the even-heating properties of copper are overstated. Myhrvold said even heating has more to do with the relative sizes of the burners and pans used. Additionally, unless a copper pan is exceptionally thick, it will do little to distribute significantly more heat to the sides of the cookware – one of the supposed benefits of its use.
Kitchn highlighted a practical drawback to copper pans that can cause a number of potentially serious problems related to cooking – especially in a professional setting. Unless properly secured with a tin or other nonstick coating, alkaline and acidic foods can leach trace amounts of copper from the pan. If consumed, the residue can negatively affect the appearance and taste of meals and, in extreme cases where food from the pans is consumed on a frequent basis, cause copper poisoning.
Copper also requires additional maintenance as compared to other types of cookware, with polishing and other tasks involved. Finally, it’s more expensive than many of the other options available to both professional chefs and home cooks.
Making the right choice
Ultimately, whether to use copper pots and pans is a decision for culinary students to make individually. There are benefits, like more even heating and its nonstick abilities. Choosing the type of cookware that provides the most consistency and best results is in the interests of students and chefs, whether those pans are made of copper, aluminum, cast iron or something else.
Students at culinary schools in Texas should take this guidance to heart and discover the cookware they enjoy working with the most before making a major purchase.