Copper cookware is a rarity in American kitchens, often passed over in favor of do-it-all stainless steel. Yet for the home cook who values efficiency, there’s no better material than copper. It may not retain heat in the way that cast iron or stainless steel do, but that’s fine. Copper cookware serves a different purpose: it heats and cools rapidly and evenly, lessening the chance that something will burn, while also allowing for more precise temperature control.
Copper is 20 times more conductive than stainless steel, meaning that it heats up 20 times faster. So while the material’s resistance to hot spots makes it ideal for warming delicate liquids and assembling sauces, it also reduces the time it takes to boil water for pasta, to poach eggs and to heat soup. For the hurried cook, copper is king.
At the same time, copper is highly sensitive to acidic materials like tomato sauce. For this reason, copper cookware is often lined with another metal — typically tin or stainless steel. The primary difference between the two lies in their durability. Tin, while more authentic to copper cookware, is subject to blistering and requires occasional retinning, whereas stainless steel is more hard-wearing. And despite the fact that tin is more conductive than stainless, the difference in heat transfer between copper and the two materials is negligible, in part because tin linings are thicker than stainless platings.
Deciding between tin and stainless steel, then, comes down to maintenance. For ease of use and durability, stainless is the wiser option, and none do stainless better than Mauviel, the leading French manufacturer of copper cookware for nearly 200 years. Traditionalists — those who seek authentic, tin-lined cookware — will favor Navarini, which adheres to long-established coppersmithing techniques and offers retinning services. While both options are pricey, all good copper cookware is. Yet its benefits — and the fact that quality copper will last for centuries — outweigh its cost. Professionals swear by copper. It’s been used in cookware since 9,000 BC, and yet it frequently remains overlooked by home cooks. That should change.
Best Overall Copper Cookware
Founded in Villedieu-les-Poêles, a village with an 800-year history of copper manufacturing, Mauviel has been France’s leading purveyor of handcrafted, highly conductive cookware since 1830.
Body: 1.5mm copper
Lining: 18/10 stainless steel
Handle: stainless steel
Best for the Traditionalist
Having learned the art of coppersmithing from a master craftsman, Pierino Navarini founded his namesake cookware company in Ravina, Italy in 1959. Three generations later, Navarini still adheres to traditional manufacturing styles: hand-hammered bodies crafted from single sheets of copper, with linings applied using traditional, fire-tinning methods.
Body: 2.5 or 3mm copper (depending on size of pan)
Lining: 100 percent pure non-reactive tin