Copper Pans vs. Stainless Steel Pans – Which Cookware to Choose?

Copper vs. Stainless Steel - Which Cookware to Choose

Standing in front of an endless collection of cookware in a department store can be all too overwhelming.

If you’ve caught yourself in a similar experience, you’re not alone. The greater the variety of metal pots and pans there is, the longer your indecision lasts.

With so many cookware brands laid out in front of you, the confusion surges when in addition to single-metal pans, there is also the clad style cookware made from a combo of different metals.

At the end of the day, which cookware wins will depend on a number of factors.

The quality of the metal, its durability, and cooking purpose essentially dictates a homeowner’s decision.

And, the case is no different when it comes to copper and stainless steel pots and pans. Both are culinary favorites, but choosing between the two can be especially hard if you’re unaware of their pros and cons.

Well, it’s certainly time to put an end to this debate, and let you decide for yourself which of the two deserves to win a spot in your kitchen cabinet.

Choosing Copper Cookware

Copper is a classic cookware choice, given its amazing heat conduction and workability. It may be a tad bit expensive and require high-maintenance, but for most world-class chefs, copper is the closest option to reliable cookware.

If you’re a first time user, you may find its heat conductivity way too efficient – perhaps far greater than other cookware. Copper was originally constructed with a tin interior to stop food from reacting with the metal.

However, now, the cookware is usually layered with stainless steel for easy cleaning and greater durability.

In all, there are three types of copper cookware – bare, tin-lined, and stainless lined. No doubt, stainless steel copper cookware is the most popular among the three because it doesn’t tarnish or discolor.

The Good things about Copper Cookware

Here are some reasons that are good enough for you to consider getting more copper pans/cookware in your kitchen

Even Distribution of Heat

There are hard and chunky foods that can be recklessly tossed around in a thick skillet and still retain their flavors.

Then there are those exquisite delicacies like a béchamel sauce or poached eggs that need extreme temperature control to reach the desired consistency.

Undoubtedly, it’s only copper cookware that can do justice to the latter.

As a brilliant metal, copper heats up quickly and tends to stay warm. It is known for its even distribution of heat across the surface of the pan, which makes temperature control super-easy.

Foods that require uniform cooking like a white sauce of sautéed vegetables can be quickly rustled up in a copper pan.

Entrees that need delicate temperature control or tend to burn easily are the perfect recipes to make in copper pans.

If you’re steaming dairy products or cooking steak sauces, an unequal temperature distribution can lead to hot spots or even scald the ingredients. In order to avoid, gooey curdles sticking on the surface, using copper cookware is the best solution.

As a highly sensitive element to heat, you will not have to worry about food sticking to a non-Teflon coated pan. Food primarily sticks because of uneven hot spots over the surface of the pan.

Copper, however, eliminates this altogether by eliminating temperature hikes. This also makes the metal highly efficient and ensures a long product life.

Also read: How to Season a Copper Pan

You’ll Hardly Ever Burn Food

If you tend to quicken things up in the kitchen, you run the risk of burning food.

It can be quite tempting to increase the burner flame to tenderize the food quickly. However, the results are often anything but that.

Copper cookware is designed to create equal heat dispersion, even if sometimes the flame is too high.

For example, if you’re sautéing garlic or frying onions in some oil, raising the temperature won’t burn the condiments as compared to cranking up the flame under a stainless steel pan.

In fact, with other cookware, you will additionally have to be mindful of the food not burning or sticking as a result of hot spots once the heat is raised.

However, a high-grade copper pan makes it really hard to burn food, as long as you refrain from turning up the temperature ridiculously high.

So, if you fancy a quick stir-fry or dry beef chili, a copper pan should be your go-to cookware.

But, if you tend to fix your meals one dish at a time while continuously stirring food over the pan, using stainless steel is just as good.

Copper is Naturally Anti-Microbial

Another reason why they’re great is that they possess anti-microbial activity.

As compared to steel, food that comes in contact with copper is less likely to trap bacteria or even allow it to survive over the metal’s surface.

The NOT so Good things about Copper Cookware

Copper has amazing longevity and durability to offer.

Perfect for braising sauces and cooking delicate foods, this precious metal still has its share of cons.

Highly Reactive

The reason copper is layered with tin or stainless steel is that it is highly reactive and corrodes very quickly.

It can also leave gray streaks on delicate foods like eggs or a milk sauce, indicating the presence of copper compounds.


Copper cookware can leave a metallic after-taste in your food, especially if not properly washed and polished.

This is why it must be frequently polished to protect the layer that covers it.

However, if you’ve set your mind on copper cookware, you can always get one with a brushed finish that develops a thick platinum layer over time.


Copper cookware’s temperature precision comes with a daunting price.

It is certainly one of the more expensive metals in the market.

The cost further increases because copper needs regular polishing or may even need to be re-tinned every two years.

Tips When Buying Copper Cookware

Here are some tips to heed when investing in durable copper cookware.

  • Thickness is an extremely important feature that can make or break copper cookware. Buy pots and pans that are 2.55 mm or thicker for the best heat conductivity. The thicker the material of the cookware, the greater its longevity and durability.
  • Choose copper cookware with a smooth finish as it is more aesthetically pleasing and easy to clean. (Also read: How to Clean Copper Pans)
  • Use stainless steel-lined copper cookware to avoid sticking, rusting, and discoloring. In any case, invest in durable, thick, and PFOA-free interior copper cookware for minimal oil usage.
  • Avoid the dishwasher, as the metal tends to corrode easily. Wash the copper cookware manually with a gentle soap.

Choosing Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel is a universal cookware metal.

Being a kind on its own, it’s also used to layer copper cookware to protect it from reacting with food.

However, if you’re cooking with it for the first time, you can expect lots of stove-top adventures.

While copper is a fast conductor, stainless steel is on the other end of the spectrum.

It is free of any PFOA toxic chemicals and inert in nature, which makes it safe for all types of cooking purposes.

Stainless steel also tends to remain shiny for a long time and is not likely to chip or rust.

The Good things about Stainless Steel Cookware

Let’s explore why most homeowners prefer stainless steel for high-heat cooking.

Amazing Durability

Stainless steel cookware can be put in a dishwasher, tucked away in your refrigerator, and can even be used for baking.

It will retain its luster and shine regardless of how you use it.

As long as you look after it properly, your cookware won’t ever bend, crack, or chip.


Stainless steel is a non-reactive metal, which makes it suitable for cooking acidic foods like tomatoes and alcohol-infused sauces.

Unlike reactive copper compounds, your food will never take on a metallic taste with stainless steel.

Aesthetic and Inexpensive

Basic stainless steel cookware models tend to be less costly and have a beautiful finish.

You can choose from either a polished or brush finish, depending on your aesthetic appeal.

The fact that stainless steel is dishwasher safe makes it convenient for homeowners over different price points.

However, there are always expensive varieties like high-grade stainless steel cookware with a copper inner.

The NOT so Good things about Stainless Steel Cookware

However, stainless steel isn’t the perfect alternative to copper cookware as the former, too, has a few disadvantages.

Uneven Distribution of Heat

While copper is an efficient heat conductor, stainless steel doesn’t deliver an equal distribution of heat, and this can often lead to hot spots on the pan’s surface.

Your food is more likely to burn or scald over stainless steel if you don’t supervise it properly.

Prone to Rust

Stainless steel may not be as reactive as copper; however, it is vulnerable to rust and corrosion if constantly kept in the presence of moisture.

However, these rust spots can always be sloughed off in a dishwasher.

Food Tends to Stick Often

As a non-Teflon coated pan, cooking in stainless steel at extremely high temperatures can result in losing half your chicken or egg to the skillet.

This can lead to additional elbow grease in order to remove the stubborn grease and residue. Nonetheless, with proper use and care, this issue can be significantly avoided.

Tips When Buying Stainless Steel Cookware

When investing in stainless steel cookware, here’s what you should know.

  • Keep your eyes on 18/10 stainless steel cookware, which means that the product should comprise 10% nickel and 18% chromium for a durable combination. Higher chromium content offers greater protection against metal corrosion and maintains the shine.
  • Look for cookware with an aluminum core, as it offers even heat distribution and lasts longer. On the other hand, cookware lined with copper is better for temperature control. Depending on the food you’re cooking, choose either.
  • Always buy cookware with easy-to-grip and cool-to-touch handles and lids if you’re exclusively investing in stainless steel pots and pans. This will protect you from burns when cooking complicated recipes.

The Final Verdict

You’ve probably realized by now that neither stainless steel nor copper is an inexpensive choice.

When choosing suitable cookware, always look at how well it conducts and distributes heat for uniform cooking.

Pair that up with its aesthetic qualities, long-term durability, and easy maintenance, and you’ll know exactly which cookware to choose.

Both copper and stainless steel have their pros and cons, and a good solution is to use a combination of both.

For low-heat, delicate foods, try using copper cookware and make sure to clean and store it with care. In the meanwhile, reserve stainless steel for other main course meals and high-heat cooking.

In the end, the right care and maintenance will enhance the longevity and quality of both types of cookware.

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