Stainless Steel vs Copper Cookware: A Clash of Culinary Titans

Stainless Steel vs Copper Cookware: A Clash of Culinary Titans

Stainless Steel vs Copper Cookware: Choosing the Right One

I’m going to say one thing here, at risk of sounding like a broken record. The cookware you use will make or break your cooking experience. And since you’re here, you probably think the same - hello friend! We’re going on a new adventure to shed light on the age-old debate of stainless steel vs copper cookware. 

I dare say these two are the most stunning types of cookware you can have in the kitchen when it comes to metal cookware. But when you can only get one, you’ll want to make a fully informed choice to keep the dreaded buyer’s remorse at bay. Life is always full of choices ain’t it?

So whether you’re a seasoned home cook, a casual one who enjoys the occasional therapeutic cooking hour, or a curious beginner in the kitchen, this one's for you!

Just so we’re on the same page, let’s begin by getting to know the heroes of our story today.

Stainless steel pot with a glass lid on an induction cooktop.

Stainless Steel Cookware

Walk into almost any kitchen and I’ll guarantee there’s at least one piece of stainless steel cookware in there. Its shiny and polished silvery grey appearance grants a touch of timeless sophistication to any culinary place.

It is constructed from a blend of metals that include iron, carbon, chromium, and nickel. All of which gives it a natural resistance to corrosion and the ability to withstand high temperatures. Combined with its functional characteristics, it’s no wonder why many modern homeowners consider it a top choice for cookware.

Because of how it is closely tied to everyday cooking, entering a kitchen without a hint of stainless steel cookware can sometimes bring up a feeling that something’s missing.

While stainless steel comes in three different kinds; single-ply stainless steel, bottom-clad stainless steel, and multi-ply stainless steel, I’ll be focusing on the most commonly used ones which are the cladded stainless steel (includes both bottom-clad and multi-ply stainless steel).

A copper pan utilized as serving ware.

Copper Cookware

Copper cookware is undoubtedly an absolute beauty in the culinary world. The rich, warm, and inviting appearance of copper cookware’s reddish-gold hue is certainly eye-catching, giving almost any kitchen a distinctive touch of elegance. It also sometimes comes with a layer of stainless steel lining its metal surface.

Copper is not only beautiful, but it’s an excellent heat conductor. This makes it a favourite amongst seasoned home cooks and professional chefs who enjoy the intricacies of cooking with precise temperature control.

Avid entertainers who enjoy curating themed dinners also love how its versatility allows it to perform admirably in the kitchen and serve as a stunning centrepiece.

And there’s your introduction to our main heroes here! Let’s get started on their key differences so you can make an informed choice before you shop your next new cookware piece!

11 Key Differences of Stainless Steel vs Copper Cookware You Need To Know Before Deciding On One

1. Heat Conductivity and Responsiveness

Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel on its own offers relatively lower heat conductivity over other metals. Not saying that it doesn’t do it well, it just doesn’t conduct heat as well as other metals like copper and aluminium.

That said, manufacturers these days combat stainless steel cookware’s lower heat conductivity by constructing it with an aluminum or copper core. Those are often found with the labels “3-ply stainless steel” or “5-ply stainless steel”, even going up to 7-ply as of late! 

While stainless steel pans and pots of that calibre is pricier, it does effectively enhance stainless steel’s overall heat conduction capabilities.

Copper Cookware

Copper is an excellent heat conductor, so it’s no surprise that the cookware’s exceptional heat conductivity is one of its defining features. It conducts heat quickly and evenly so you can enjoy precise temperature adjustments and intricate cooking techniques.

As the better heat conductor, copper cookware is a top choice when it comes to cooking delicate recipes that demand precise cooking like sauces, tempering chocolate, and searing steaks. That’s because it responds rapidly to adjustments in heat levels.

Which is why you’ll find copper pots and pans as prized residents in professional kitchens and kitchens of seasoned home cooks.

2. Heat Distribution

Stainless Steel Cookware

Remember how our discussion on heat conduction earlier? Great! Because stainless steel’s heat conductivity affects how well it distributes heat across its cooking surface.

Multi-ply stainless steel cookware enjoys even albeit slow heat distribution because of its overall thicker build. So while it can distribute heat evenly, you’ll find that it does so slowly compared to copper cookware and may lead to potential hot spots in the interim.

Copper Cookware

When it comes to heat distribution, copper cookware definitely outshines stainless steel cookware. It distributes heat quickly and evenly across the entire cooking surface, leaving no hot spots.

This ensures that your food cooks quickly and consistently with little to no risk of overcooked and undercooked parts. If you enjoy searing or browning your dishes, copper cookware will be your ideal workhorse in the kitchen!

3. Heat Retention

Stainless Steel Cookware

Coming only second to cast iron cookware, stainless steel cookware boasts amazing heat retention. This means that it’s able to maintain a steady temperature through heat fluctuations or even when new ingredients of varying temperatures are added in.

It’s particularly advantageous for recipes that require long and slow cooking like certain stews, soups, and roasts. Stainless steel cookware’s heat retention also makes it great in the energy saving department because you can keep freshly cooked food warm for a longer duration even after removing it from the cooktop.

Copper Cookware

While copper cookware is excellent in terms of heat conductivity and responsiveness, that very same trait makes it fall short in retaining heat.

Copper cookware reacts quickly to changes in temperature, so removing it from its heat source will cause it to cool down quickly. The only way to maintain a consistent heat is by leaving it on the heat source.

So if you’re looking to reduce energy use when it comes to keeping freshly cooked food warm for a longer period of time, I definitely wouldn’t recommend copper cookware.

Stainless steel pans and pots are non-reactive, making it ideal to cook acidic foods like tomato-based sauces.

4. Reactivity and Taste

Stainless Steel Cookware

If you regularly enjoy cooking with acidic foods like tomato sauce or citrus-based ingredients, you will adore stainless steel cookware.

Stainless steel is a stable and inert material that won’t react with food, making it absolutely non-reactive. You’ll get the assurance that the natural flavours and integrity of your dishes will be preserved while also being able to cook a wide range of dishes without concern for flavour alterations.

Copper Cookware

Copper is a reactive metal, so pure copper cookware suffers in terms of cookware reactivity. If you attempt cooking acidic foods like lemon curd, you’ll find that it will have a subtle metallic taste to it.

Most cookware manufacturers produce copper pots and pans lined with a layer of non-reactive metal like stainless steel to create a barrier between the copper and the food. Even though it comes with a heftier price tag, it does help preserve the natural flavours of your dishes. You’ll often find stainless steel-lined copper pans in professional kitchens because of how pricey it is for home use.

5. Durability

Stainless Steel Cookware

The durability offered by stainless steel is like none other. It is resistant to scratches, stains, and dents, making it an incredibly long lasting workhorse in your kitchen.

It’s also known for its corrosion resistance, which prevents it from rusting and tarnishing over the years. You can put it through daily vigorous cooking tasks everyday and it will still work as well as it did on the day you got it.

Most families have even passed down their high quality stainless steel cookware as an heirloom piece to the next generation because of its immense durability.

Copper Cookware

Copper cookware is as delicate as it is beautiful. While copper is typically a sturdy material, it is softer than stainless steel which makes it more prone to scratches and dents.

Minor scratches and dents won’t affect the cookware’s cooking performance, but because of its colour, these imperfections can be rather obvious.

You’ll also have to polish it regularly to maintain its shine and prevent it from tarnishing. Do note to keep away harsh chemicals and abrasive cleaning tools like steel wools as it will scratch and damage the outer layer of copper cookware.

Stainless steel pan and pot and a copper pan in a commercial kitchen.

6. Compatibility with Various Heat Sources

Stainless Steel Cookware

When it comes to compatibility towards cooktops, stainless steel cookware easily takes the trophy. Its natural magnetic properties makes it usable on an induction stove, which are often found in most modern homes these days.

Stainless steel pots and pans are often oven safe these days, so there's also that much appreciated versatility!

Copper Cookware

Great on the gas stove and oven safe, but not on induction. Copper is not a ferromagnetic material which makes it incompatible with induction cooktops.

Even so, these days manufacturers have developed copper cookware with a magnetic stainless steel base or core to make it compatible with induction cooktops. Just remember to check the packaging or product description to be sure on whether it’s induction compatible before making your purchase!

Vintage copper pans hanging in a kitchen. Photo by Ron Lach.

7. Aesthetics

Stainless Steel Cookware

You simply can’t go wrong with the aesthetics offered by stainless steel cookware. It’s sleek, silvery grey appearance allows it to blend beautifully in both traditional and modern kitchen settings.

Whether displayed on your countertop or open shelves, stainless steel cookware delivers the appeal of a clean, polished look that you’ll often find in beautiful kitchen design catalogues.

Copper Cookware

The reddish-gold hue of copper cookware certainly exudes an extraordinary beauty. It radiates a warm and inviting ambiance, both of which are amazing qualities for cookware and serving ware to have in my honest opinion.

In addition to that, copper cookware develops a beautiful patina over time which adds charm and elevates its beauty further. It’ll appear either in a deep brown or greenish hue which some may or may not fancy.

Both stainless steel and copper cookware are stunning in their own right and it’s certainly tough to decide between both when it comes to appearances!

8. Weight Differences

Stainless Steel Cookware

Stainless steel is typically heavier than copper, even more so for multi-ply stainless steel cookware. That’s because it typically features an aluminum core or copper core sandwiched between layers of stainless steel.

These added layers contribute to the weight of the cookware, granting it superior heat retention in turn. While it’s great that the weight gives it fantastic heat retention, it may not be the ideal choice for those who don’t enjoy using heavy cookware or prefer to manually maneuver their fry pan while sautéing.

Copper Cookware

Copper is generally lighter compared to steel, but it’s not entirely lightweight. It does have a good balance between sturdiness and manageability, but it’s good to keep in mind that those with an added layer of stainless steel may be heavier than those made of pure copper.

Stunning copper pans spotted in the market. Photo by Beyza Yalcin.

9. Maintenance

Stainless Steel Cookware

Sure you need to polish stainless steel every now and then if you want to maintain its pristine appearance. But these maintenance sessions are few and far in between, making stainless steel a relatively low maintenance type of cookware.

This is great if you don’t fancy the fuss of regular cookware maintenance!

Copper Cookware

The delicate nature of copper cookware makes regular maintenance a requirement to keep it looking its best. You’ll need to polish it every now and then to maintain its shine and to prevent it from getting tarnished.

Regularly season your stainless steel pan for easy cleaning sessions. Photo by cottonbro studios.

10. Cleaning

Stainless Steel Cookware

Dishwasher fans rejoice! Cleaning up is always the dreaded part of every cooking spree, so the fact that stainless steel cookware can be cleaned in the dishwasher will come as great news to many. Stainless steel is also more forgiving to clean when it comes to scrubbing stubborn stains and burnt food bits.

Bonus if you regularly season your stainless steel pans as a well seasoned one almost always guarantees an easy cleaning session because of the slightly non-stick characteristic it offers.

Copper Cookware

Copper needs a little more delicate care when it comes to cleaning. It’s not recommended to pop it into the dishwasher because the harsh chemicals may dull its surface.

And when it comes to stubborn stains and burnt bits? You’ll need to clean it gently by hand washing it with natural solutions like vinegar or lemon juice to remove stains and restore its shine.

11. Price

Stainless Steel Cookware

Between copper and stainless steel, stainless steel cookware is the more affordable choice. Yes, that includes high quality multi-ply stainless steel pots and pans!

So if you’re on a budget and you’d still like to invest in a piece of quality cookware that will almost last a lifetime, stainless steel cookware would be your best bet after taking into account its general characteristics.

Copper Cookware

Copper tends to be the pricier option between the two because of the higher material costs and craftsmanship. Additional factors such as its thickness, the quality of its cooking surface lining, and the brand will influence the price even further.

The fact that quality copper cookware is often made in France also makes its price soar compared to stainless steel.

Is stainless steel or copper cookware better?

Both copper and stainless steel are different metals that have distinct differences so it really depends on what you are after when it comes to cooking. Naturally I’d recommend investing in stainless steel pots and pans between the two for beginner home cooks and those who cook as part of a daily routine.

If you’re a veteran home cook and you’re familiar with the intricacies of cooking with precise temperature control, are completely fine with the regular upkeep that copper cookware needs, and you have the budget to get a quality piece, then it’s definitely worth considering whether to invest in copper pots and pans.

But ultimately, it’s important to remember that both copper and stainless steel cookware don’t come with non-stick properties.

So if you enjoy zero fat cooking with (little to) no cooking oil needed, do check out Cosmic Cookware’s range of beautifully crafted non-stick ceramic cookware in assorted colours as the best cookware alternative to stainless steel and copper cookware.

You won't find food sticking on Cosmic Cookware's ceramic non-stick pan!

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