In the world of cookware, copper and stainless steel represent two of the most premium materials.
Though expensive, both are high-performing and attractive, but which one is the better choice for your kitchen?
In this comparison of copper vs. stainless steel cookware, you’ll learn the major differences between the two.
I break down how they compare in terms of appearance, construction, performance, maintenance, price, and more.
So, if you’re in the market for new cookware but can’t decide between copper and stainless steel, keep reading.
Use the links below to navigate this comparison:
- Copper vs. Stainless Steel Cookware: Comparison Chart
- Heat Conduction
- Oven-Safe Temperatures
- Cleaning and Maintenance
- Where It Is Made
- Bottom Line: Should You Buy Copper or Stainless Steel Cookware?
Copper vs. Stainless Steel Cookware: Comparison Chart
If you only have a minute and want a quick comparison of copper vs. stainless steel cookware, check out the chart below. I dive deeper into each category in the sections that follow.
|Copper Cookware||Stainless Steel Cookware|
|Appearance||Reddish-brown exterior with a silvery interior||Polished or matte silvery interior and exterior|
|Construction||Copper exterior, tin or stainless steel interior||Stainless steel interior and exterior with an aluminum or copper core layer or base plate|
|Durability||Soft and ductile, prone to tarnish and scratches||Resistant to scratches, dents, and warping|
|Heat Conduction||Higher thermal conductivity, heats faster||Steel has low conductivity, but the aluminum core or base plate heats quickly (not as quick as copper)|
|Responsiveness||Heats and cools quickly||Slower to respond to temperature changes|
|Oven-Safe Temperatures||Between 400 and 800°F||Between 400 and 800°F|
|Cleaning and Maintenance||Hand-wash, requires polishing||Hand-wash or dishwasher, lower maintenance|
|Where It’s Made||France is the hub of copper cookware, but it’s made globally||Globally|
|Price||$$$$ to $$$$$ (view on Amazon)||$$ to $$$$ (view on Amazon)|
|Main Advantages||Rustic look, superior heat conduction and responsiveness||Ultra-durable, can last a lifetime, low maintenance|
|Main Disadvantages||Expensive, high maintenance||Quality varies by brand, can be expensive, food sticks|
Both copper and stainless steel cookware tend to have a polished exterior, but you can also find matte, brushed finishes if that’s your preference.
Stainless steel is the more common material and generally has a modern, sleek aesthetic that compliments a variety of kitchen designs and styles.
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Copper features a distinct and rustic look and can really stand out in your kitchen.
The reddish-brown exterior of copper cookware makes excellent conversation pieces, and if you enjoy the farmhouse or farmhouse-chic design style, these pots and pans are a perfect complement.
Both copper and stainless steel cookware can double as serveware, depending on aesthetic preferences.
Generally, copper cookware usually features a copper exterior and an interior lining of less reactive metals, like tin or stainless steel, to increase the versatility of the cookware.
Cookware with a copper exterior and interior is rare because copper reacts with acidic foods and can release tiny atoms of metal, which causes a metallic taste. Ingesting these tiny amounts of copper isn’t harmful, but it will make your food unappealing.
Copper is expensive, so some brands add a copper plate to the bottom of steel or aluminum cookware to lessen production costs while preserving the power of copper as an effective heat conductor. Anolon Nouvelle Copper is a good example of this cookware type.
Stainless steel cookware is considered fully-clad when the exterior and interior steel layers are bonded to a core layer of aluminum that extends throughout.
Stainless steel cookware is considered impact-bonded when the core layer is only present at the cookware’s base, not up the sides. Impact-bonded stainless steel cookware is less expensive than fully-clad but doesn’t distribute heat as evenly.
Stainless steel is not an efficient conductor of heat, so other, more conductive metals, such as aluminum, must be used in its construction.
Some cladded stainless steel cookware is made with a copper core, such as the All-Clad Copper Core collection. That type of construction provides you with the heat conductivity of copper without the hassle of maintaining it — a major bonus.
When shopping for stainless steel cookware, you’ll come across terms such as tri-ply, 3-ply, or 5-ply. The ply refers to the number of bonded layers. Three layers, or 3-ply, is the standard, but 5-ply is gaining popularity because it generally means the cookware is thicker, more durable, and heats more evenly.
Stainless steel is more durable than copper. It’s a hard, corrosion-resistant alloy that keeps its shape even after rough or frequent use.
Though stainless steel cookware can be dented, scratched, or dinged if you regularly mistreat it, a quality set can last a lifetime when it’s used properly and well maintained.
Copper is a softer metal prone to tarnishing, scratching, and other cosmetic damage. Because of this, the copper exterior can get dulled with frequent use. However, you can restore its beauty by polishing.
The durability of the cooking surface varies by material. Stainless steel is incredibly durable and low maintenance. However, copper cookware featuring a tin cooking surface is much less durable.
Tin is non-reactive and naturally stick-resistant, but it’s a soft metal with a low melting point and can be damaged by metal utensils.
Although the tin lining can last for many years, you may eventually need to have your pans re-tinned — something to consider when you’re evaluating the lifetime cost of your cookware.
Copper is more conductive than stainless steel (and aluminum), meaning copper cookware heats up quicker and distributes heat more evenly.
It’s one of the reasons many professional chefs love copper cookware. But it also means that less experienced cooks often have to relearn certain techniques when they switch to copper, as cooking with it requires more attention and skill.
Aluminum or copper added as the core layer within stainless steel cookware improves its heat conductivity.
However, a single layer of conductive metal wrapped in stainless steel doesn’t result in the same level of heat conduction as pure copper making direct contact with the heat source.
To determine how much quicker copper cookware heats than stainless steel cookware, I conducted a simple test.
I filled 6-quart copper and stainless steel (3-ply) pots with 32 ounces of cold water and placed each on the stove on the same-sized burners.
At the same time, I turned the heat to the highest setting. My goal was to see which pot boiled the water faster.
Not surprisingly, the test results validated the fact that copper cookware heats faster than stainless steel.
The water in the copper pot started to show bubbles after 3 minutes and 17 seconds and brought the water to a full boil after 4 minutes and 5 seconds.
Bubbles started to show in the stainless steel pot after 3 minutes and 35 seconds, and the water came to a full boil after 4 minutes and 45 seconds.
Copper cookware is not only more conductive than stainless steel, but it’s also more responsive.
That means it reacts to changes in temperature quicker than stainless steel (i.e., heats and cools faster), making it perfect for recipes that require precise temperature control like sauces, caramel, or fish.
To observe this responsiveness in action, I conducted another test. I let the pots cool off completely and then poured another 32 ounces of cool water in each. The starting temperature of the water in both pots was 63.3°F.
I put the pots on the stove, placed a thermometer in each, turned the heat to high, and set a stopwatch. My goal was to see how quickly each pot could bring the water temperature to 150°F.
It took only 2 minutes and 2 seconds for the Copper pot to increase the water temperature to 150°F, and it took the stainless steel pot 2 minutes and 43 seconds.
When the water reached 150°F, I took the pots off the stove and placed them on a counter to see which cooled faster.
After five minutes, the water temperature in the copper pan was 124.5°F.
The water in the stainless steel pan was 131.9°F.
Bottom line — copper cookware heats up quicker and gives you significantly more control than stainless steel cookware. The downside of copper is that you have to pay close attention when cooking with it. It’s not very forgiving, and you can quickly burn your food if the heat is too high.
Since copper cookware can be lined with several different materials, its oven safety varies. Copper pots and pans lined with tin have a much lower oven-safe temperature because tin can start to melt at just 450°F.
On the other end of the spectrum, copper cookware lined with stainless steel can be oven-safe at temperatures up to 800°F. Made In’s copper collection is a good example.
Stainless steel cookware is usually safe at oven temperatures anywhere from 500 to 800°F. It varies by manufacturer and collection, so make sure you read the instructions for your specific cookware before you cook in the oven at high temperatures.
Unlike stainless steel, copper cookware is not induction compatible because copper is not a ferromagnetic metal, meaning it can’t be magnetized.
Induction cooktops work by sending electric currents directly to the cookware, heating it via magnetic induction. If the cookware isn’t magnetic, it won’t work on an induction cooktop.
Not all stainless steel cookware is created equal. Since it’s an alloy made up of different metals and elements (primarily iron, carbon, nickel, and chromium), some stainless steel pans are magnetic (i.e., induction-compatible), while others aren’t.
In general, stainless steel with high nickel content is not compatible with induction. Cookware with an 18/10 stainless steel exterior is induction-compatible because it doesn’t contain any nickel. All-Clad is an example of a brand that utilizes 18/0 stainless steel for the exterior of its cookware.
Cleaning and Maintenance
Copper requires more care and maintenance than stainless steel.
Cleaning copper cookware has to be done carefully to avoid damaging the softer metal, and it needs to be totally dry before you put it away.
Use a soft, non-abrasive cloth and mild detergents when cleaning copper cookware, or you risk discoloration. Never wash copper cookware in a dishwasher. The high water temperature and harsh detergents will tarnish the exterior.
Copper is prone to corrosion and oxidation. If you’ve ever seen a greenish-brown on copper statues or cookware, that’s what I’m talking about. The best example is the Statue of Liberty. Most people don’t know it’s actually made of copper because it has turned green from years of oxidation.
To prevent your cookware from oxidizing, regularly polish it. There are many ways to do this, but the most common is to make a paste using Bar Keepers Friend or Bon Ami (check out my comparison of the two) and water and gently rub it on the copper in a circular motion. If you don’t have Bar Keepers Friend handy, you can do the same with vinegar and salt.
Stainless steel should also be hand-washed, but some brands and collections label their stainless pieces as “dishwasher-safe.” You risk scratching the surface if you trust stainless cookware to a dishwasher, regardless of the label.
You don’t need to towel dry stainless steel cookware, but it may show some water spots or blue/rainbow tint over time. It can also lose its shine if you don’t properly wash and maintain it, so it’s worth a little extra effort to preserve stainless steel cookware’s desirable sheen.
Where It Is Made
Stainless steel and copper pots and pans are made worldwide, but copper cookware, in particular, is a French specialty.
Many copper collections are produced and manufactured in France — and this has been the case for centuries. In fact, one of the most renowned copper cookware makers, Mauviel, launched in Villedieu-les-Poêles (the “City of Copper”), France, in 1830.
Matfer Bourgeat is another French company known for its copper cookware, and it has been producing french cookware since the 1800s.
More recently, Made In, whose business is built off partnering with the best cookware manufacturers globally, turned to French factories to produce its stunning copper collection.
Still, copper cookware is commonly produced in many countries besides France, and stainless steel cookware is also made worldwide.
The following chart shows where several popular brands are made:
|Cookware||Type||Where It’s Made|
|Made In||Stainless Steel||USA|
Copper is significantly more expensive than stainless steel cookware, though exact prices will vary by brand, location, and retailer.
The type of construction can also impact prices. For example, copper-core stainless steel cookware such as All-Clad’s Copper Core collection is much pricier than stainless steel pieces with an aluminum core.
The pricing chart below offers a general idea of what you can expect to pay for various copper and stainless steel cookware collections:
Note: The prices are pulled in real-time from Amazon. Click each item to learn more.
|Mauviel M'heritage 9-Piece Copper Cookware Set||Amazon|
|Mauviel M'Heritage 12-Inch Copper Frying Pan||Amazon|
|Lagostina Martellata 11-Piece Copper Cookware Set||Amazon|
|De Buyer Prima Matera 8-inch Saucepan||Amazon|
|Hestan CopperBond 10-Piece Copper Cookware Set||Amazon|
|All-Clad D3 10-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set||Amazon|
|All-Clad D3 12-Inch Stainless Cookware Frying Pan||Amazon|
|Calphalon Premier 8-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set||Amazon|
|Cuisinart Multiclad Pro 12-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set||Amazon|
|T-fal Pro Performa 12-Piece Stainless Steel Cookware Set||Amazon|
Bottom Line: Should You Buy Copper or Stainless Steel Cookware?
Now that you know the differences between copper and stainless steel cookware, it’s time to decide which is best for your kitchen.
Before I give you my recommendation, let’s quickly recap:
Appearance: Copper cookware has a rustic reddish-brown appearance, whereas stainless steel is silver with either a polished or brushed finish.
Construction: Copper cookware is made with a copper exterior and either a stainless steel or tin interior. Stainless steel cookware is made with a stainless steel exterior and interior and an aluminum or copper core.
Durability: Stainless steel cookware is a harder material and significantly more durable than copper.
Heat Conduction and Responsiveness: Copper cookware heats faster and responds to changes in temperature quicker than stainless steel.
Oven-Safe Temperatures: Both can tolerate high temperatures in the oven, but copper cookware with a tin interior can only handle up to 450°F.
Induction-Compatibility: Stainless steel cookware is compatible with induction cooktops; copper cookware is not (unless its base is another material).
Cleaning and Maintenance: Copper cookware requires hand-washing and polishing. Stainless steel should be hand-washed, but many brands permit using the dishwasher.
Where It’s Made: France is the hub of copper cookware, but both types are made worldwide.
Price: Copper cookware is usually much more expensive than stainless steel.
Ultimately there are plenty of people who would prefer copper cookware but don’t have room in their budget for the high prices. For most home cooks, stainless steel is the way to go. It’s durable, easy to maintain, and simple to use.
If you have a more generous cookware budget and value the rustic elegance and responsive performance of copper cookware, you shouldn’t hesitate to purchase a few copper pots or pans. They can really take your cooking to the next level.
If you’re ready to buy, check out my guide to the best cookware, where I break down the best brands across all categories, including copper and stainless steel. Similarly, check out this guide that reviews the five best copper cookware brands.
Spoiler: I recommend All-Clad and Made In for stainless steel and Mauviel and Made In for copper. Check these options out at the links below:
- All-Clad stainless steel cookware on Amazon and All-Clad.com
- Made In stainless steel cookware on MadeInCookware.com
- Mauviel copper cookware on Amazon
- Made In copper cookware on MadeInCookware.com
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