Copper Cookware: How to Use, Cook and Care for Copper Pots and Pans

If you’re considering switching to copper cookware, you know that the material offers plenty of advantages. But, you might’ve also heard that the material can require some time-intensive care.

While not difficult, copper takes a little extra effort. Like with cast iron, the key to unlocking this material’s potential is understanding why it works and what its weaknesses are.

We’ve dug deep into the pros and cons of copper cookware in part one. Now, here’s how to put that knowledge to practical use.

Seasoning Copper Cookware

Taking the time to season cookware is most often associated with cast iron. Other materials, like non-stick coatings, need to be seasoned too.

What about copper cookware? Seasoning requirements depend on if and how it’s lined.

Unlined copper pots and pans are rarely used outside of making candies and jams due to the risk of copper poisoning. In short, it’s unlikely that you’d purchase one of these or have plans to use them for weekly cooking.

Tin-lined copper doesn’t require seasoning thanks to tin’s inherent non-stick properties. Granted, a tin lining will never give your ingredients the slip of a PTFE/ Teflon coated pan. However, the smooth surface of this material doesn’t require additional curing.

In short, if you have unlined or tin-lined copper cookware, you can safely skip seasoning.

Stainless steel is the only lining that requires seasoning. At a molecular level, stainless steel is rough and uneven, which causes foods to stick much more easily than the smooth, orderly surface of tin. To help reduce the risk of food sticking to your stainless steel lined copper, you’ll need to season the interior before using it for the first time.

Here’s how to season a stainless steel lined copper pan:

  1. Wash the inside of the pan with warm soapy water and dry it thoroughly.
  2. Put the pan on medium to high heat to warm it for about two minutes.
  3. Add 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil and roll the pan so that the oil coats the bottom and the lower part of the sides.
  4. Allow the oil to heat until it shimmers and starts to smoke.
  5. Remove the pan from the heat and wait for this to cool.
  6. Once the pan has cooled, pour away any excess oil, and wipe the inside dry with kitchen paper.

Seasoning transforms fats in a process called “polymerization,” which releases the radicals in the oil. The free radicals then crosslink to form a smooth, hard film that offers far more slip than the rough texture of a naked stainless steel.

However, seasoning isn’t permanent and it needs to be protected from detergents. That’s why once seasoned, your stainless steel-lined copper cookware should be rinsed with water after cooking (once it cools down) to prevent food from sticking.

If you must use soap, just follow the above steps to re-season your pan.

Even with proper use, you’ll still need to re-season your copper cookware on occasion. How often is up for debate—some say every three months, while others claim re-seasoning can wait until once a year.

Of course, how often you should re-season really depends on how frequently you use your copper cookware. You’ll know when it’s time to re-season food starts sticking to the bottom, or when the taste of a previous dish starts to transfer into the next meal.

How to Cook with Copper Pots and Pans

Copper cookware conducts heat supremely well and can do almost anything you ask of it. (What it can’t do is work on an induction range, but we’ll share potential workarounds in another article.)

Because it conducts heat so well, those switching to copper cookware often need to relearn how they approach cooking and what temperatures to cook different foods at.

To start, be sure to have all your ingredients washed and prepped before turning on your range. Copper cookware should never be charged (heated-up) empty. This can permanently discolor the exterior and, in the case of tin-lined copper cookware, can melt the lining if left unattended for even just a minute.

We’ve mentioned this before, but if you’re using tin-lined copper, stick to wooden or silicone utensils to prevent damaging the soft metal interior.

Now that you’re all set to cook, look at your range dials and forget that high heat even exists—at least to start.

According to ApartmentTherapy, a good rule of thumb is to use half the heat (or flame) that you would on a non-copper pan. For example, if you’d saute your vegetables on medium-high in a stainless steel skillet, use medium-low when cooking with copper.

If you’re completely new to copper, plan on staying below medium-high heat for at least a few cooking sessions. This will give you the chance to learn the ins and outs of your new cookware without worry of ruining a meal.

Be Careful of Heat When Cooking with Tin-Lined Copper Cookware

Want to sear a steak? If you’re working with stainless steel-lined copper, feel free. However, tin lining begins to melt at 450 degrees, which is 100-150 degrees shy of what’s needed to sear, so plan on reaching for another pan.

Because of tin’s temperature restrictions, we wouldn't recommend using copper pans in an oven above 325 degrees, since most ovens fluctuate 50 degrees or more in both directions while maintaining a single temperature.

Note that stainless steel lined copper cookware is oven safe up to 500 degrees. However, we recommend checking your cookware’s instructions for any temperature limitations before cranking it up.

How to Clean Copper Pots and Pans

Thanks in part to the wizardry of copper’s phenomenal heat conduction, you’ve just made a perfect meal. How to clean up your copper after cooking?

Right off the bat, know that copper can’t go in the dishwasher—no matter what it’s lined with. Instead, this cookware demands hand-washing.

To clean tin-lined copper cookware, you can use dish soap as you would normally. Just remember that tin is a soft metal, so be sure to clean with the softest possible sponge to avoid scratching.

Also, if you notice that your tin lining has started to darken, resist the urge to scrub it away. Tin will shift in color as it ages. This won’t affect your food, but aggressive scrubbing can ruin the lining.

If you’re working with a seasoned stainless steel-lined copper, protecting your seasoning should be a high priority. Rinse your cookware soon after the pan has cooled down. (If you subject your copper cookware to cold water while it’s still hot, the material could warp.)

Whether you’re using tin or stainless steel-lined copper, occasionally food bits remain will stick to the bottom. Instead of scouring with a scrub brush, just boil a bit of water in your pot or pan to help loosen debris. Again, remember to let your cookware cool before rinsing with cold water.

Note that you will want to wash your stainless steel-lined copper cookware with soap every few months or after cooking certain foods, such as fish. Just be prepared to repeat the seasoning process before firing up your range to start another meal.

Once washed, hand dry your copper cookware immediately. Allowing moisture to stick around will accelerate tarnishing, and never allow your copper cookware to soak overnight.

Different Ways to Polish Your Copper Cookware: How to Keep Copper Pots Shiny

With time and use, copper cookware will naturally develop a patina, which can easily be removed with copper cleaner.

Whether or not you choose to polish your copper is really a personal preference—know that doing so isn’t necessary. If you don't polish it, the tarnish will actually protect the copper underneath from wear.

If you prefer the look of polished copper, plan on performing the chore once every three months. Depending on the look you want to achieve, there are several methods of doing so.

The old fashioned way to remove the patina from copper cookware is to use anything that’s slightly acidic. This can be a lemon, vinegar, tomato juice, or even a little ketchup. Just make sure to clean the pan with soap and water after.

If you choose to use a professional copper polish, you can do so as frequently as after every use to keep your copper cookware sparkling and bright. If you like a more patinaed appearance, you can polish less frequently.

Numerous copper polishes are available and, while we don’t have personal experience using each, reviews indicate that different formulas produce variations in your copper’s natural glow.

For example, Martha Stewart claims that copper pieces polish up rosier with Red Bear. (Though, it should be noted that Red Bear is available only through specialty suppliers.)

We’ve read that more widely-available solutions such as Twinkle, Noxon, and Brasso make the metal go gold. And, in our experience, Copperbrill also does wonders in cleaning and restoring the original shine.

Finally, if a piece suffers a burned spot, Martha suggests that Copper Brite can restore it to its original luster.

Each solution will specify directions. However, polishing your copper cookware is as simple as applying a small amount of the paste to a sponge or soft cloth to polish the item, then rinsing with water before thoroughly drying.

Do I Polish the Inside of Copper Cookware?

If you have unlined copper pieces that are normally used for decoration, it’s perfectly alright to allow its greenish patina to develop over time. However, should you decide to use unlined pieces for serving food, be sure to polish the interior as well, or the verdigris can rub off on the contents of your dish.

However, as we’ve mentioned, because copper reacts with acidic ingredients, it’s most likely that your copper cookware will be lined with tin, stainless steel, or another nonreactive metal.

Regardless of the material, the linings of your copper cookware should be polished. Instead, wash the interior of stainless steel-lined cookware with soap and water. Tin-lined cookware can be simply rinsed until you’re ready to re-season.

Caring for Tin-Lined Copper Cookware

Tin-lined If your copper cookware is tin-lined, it will likely need to be re-tinned at some point.

How can you tell? When you start seeing some copper showing through the lining. How long will this take? Depending on how frequently your cookware is used and the types of foods you cook with it, this can happen over the course of just of few years, or sometimes not for many years.

This may happen after a few years or may not happen for many years, depending on how often you use your cookware and what you cook in it.

Caring for Copper Plate & Utensils

Copper cookware is seeing a surge in popularity, not just for its performance, but the material's gleaming good looks. To complement a kitchen outfitted with copper cookware, kitchen brands have started to offer kitchen utensils that appear to be copper.

Instead, they’re often made from zinc or stainless steel, with only a copper-plated exterior that’s coated with a corrosion-resistant finish to prevent tarnishing.

Polishing can remove this protective coating, so it’s best to wash these pieces with mild soap and water and then dried thoroughly.

How to Store Your Copper Cookware

To show off your copper cookware’s beautiful glow, you might be inclined to hang pots and pans on a display rack. Not only does doing so offer easy access but allows copper pieces to beautifully accent your kitchen.

Just one tip: Don’t hang copper cookware directly over your stove! Oily particulates that are released into the air while cooking will cling to your cookware, making it more difficult to keep clean and polished.

Copper Invites You to Cook With Style

In researching this article, we read countless queries to chefs asking just how hard is it to care for copper cookware. Hopefully, the information we’ve shared has proven that it’s nothing more than passing up the dishwasher and taking the time for a few occasional swipes with a polishing cloth.

But all that concern for how to maintain copper misses the point: Cooking with copper isn’t only an enjoyable experience for any home chef looking to expand their repertoire, it’s a mark of skill.

With all that heat conductivity, your ingredients are cooked faster. Meaning that this isn’t a cookware that allows you to turn away to take care of another task.

Cooking with copper means paying attention to the process because there isn’t much wiggle room for messing up. Instead, in the compressed amount of time that your meal is cooking, you have to be actively involved.

Switching to these pots and pans is like trading out a Volvo for a Maserati—sure, maintenance takes some extra thought, but the real fun in copper cookware is how it handles.

Ready to shop around for some copper cookware of your very own? Join us for part three, where we’ll share what to look for, what to avoid, and compare top copper cookware brands.

Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience by objectively investigating topics and products in the kitchenware industry and shopping to provide you with takeaway advice.

Copper Cookware: How to Use, Cook and Care for Copper Pots and Pans