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Ceramic vs Copper Cookware: Which One Should You Buy?

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Copper has advantages that I can’t dismiss when it comes to cooking. But how does it compare with ceramic cookware? Let’s dive in…

Copper has its potential health concerns around its toxicity.

It is especially reactive and the main concern is leaching of metals into the food. But it is beautiful!

Ceramic as cookware

In my article on how ceramic cookware is made, I explain that ceramic nonstick coating is made from silica (sand) that’s combined and applied with a sol-gel to coat the pan, while pure ceramic cookware starts as clay that is molded and then fired in very hot furnaces.

Examples of 100% ceramic cookware brands:

It’s worth mentioning that some ceramic non-stick have a copper base and some have copper infused in the coating itself.

About Copper in cookware

Copper (Cu) has an atomic number of 29 with a relative atomic mass of 63.546. It is one of the ‘transition metals’ in the periodic table (Gray, 2012). Like aluminum, copper is known as a reactive metal.

copper-cu-element

History: It is thought that copper in cookware started way back sometime in the Neolithic period (~ 10000 BC to 2000 BC) in the middle east.

Bronze, a copper and zinc alloy, is thought to have been used in cooking pots and bowls of the affluent during the Bronze Age (3300 BC to 1200 BC).

And, brass, a copper and zinc alloy, comprised the early Dutch cooking pots in the 17th century… This is where the idea of today’s dutch ovens originated.

In Europe, copper bowls were traditionally used to beat egg whites (see video below for why in detail).

Apart from straight out copper, cookware made of this material include these designs:

  • Cladded versions where copper is the core, which offers the performance of copper but the convenience of easy maintenance of a stainless steel exterior
  • Cladded versions where the beauty of copper is on the exterior, but the cooking surface is stainless steel
  • Nonstick versions, either with a Teflon or ceramic coating, that have a beautiful copper exterior.

Mauviel M200B 12 Piece Copper Cookware Set - 2mm Copper with Bronze Handles

How ceramic and copper cookware differ

Cost

You can go on Amazon and get a copper frying pan that’s less expensive than a 100% ceramic skillet but then there are the designs of copper cookware that can be quite expensive.

Usually, if folk are going to invest in copper cookware, they’ll want the look and performance but also the confidence in the safety offered by the high end range.

Generally, a high-end copper set will be in the thousands and will set you back more than what you might pay for a similar one in ceramic.

Performance

You’re probably not surprised by the fact that copper cookware responds far better for heating than pure ceramic.

While, ceramic is much better at retaining the heat, its ability to conduct heat is low compared to that of copper.

Care

You’ll notice with copper cookware that blackish-brown or green marks appear. This is due to copper oxide forming, a natural process when copper is exposed to oxygen.

copper green statue of liberty

Exposed copper will require polishing to retain its beautiful shine and color. If you don’t polish your copper pan or pot, the tarnishing (AKA patina) will develop into a coating of ‘green’, similar to that of the Statue of Liberty.

Non-stick coated copper, like all nonstick ware, requires particular care as I explain in my guide on how to prolong the life of the coating

Single layer copper may dint or warp but will stay intact, versus ceramic, which can crack if dropped or mishandled, including thermal shock.

How they are similar

Both copper and ceramic are non-compatible with induction cooking. Copper is nonferrous and nonmagnetic.

Both materials can be disposed at facilities for recycling cookwares.

Ceramic won’t rust. Similarly, copper doesn’t rust, but it does tarnish with exposure to air.

It’s a good idea to hand wash both types using non-abrasive methods and then hand dry.

You can get a similar variety of cookware pieces in both ranges.

Both will last for ever with care.

How ceramic cookware is better

For me ceramic, adds a natural wholesome feel to the kitchen. And, you don’t have to polish it!

Ceramic is non-reactive. It doesn’t taint the food. There are no metals in 100% ceramic cookware that can leach into your food. And there’s no polishing needed in caring for this product, unlike copper.

See also: My article on nickel-free stainless steel.

Pure ceramic cookware can also be used in the microwave, a regular hot oven, and for storing left-overs in the refrigerator. As well it can be used to serve food at the table. A ceramic pot is more versatile than a copper pot, in which you should never store food due to the reactive nature of copper.

What’s better about Copper cookware

The biggest advantage of using copper in cookware, apart from the shine it exudes when polished, is its thermal conductivity …higher than aluminum. It transfers heat extremely well!

The higher the thermal conductivity of the material, the faster it will heat up and also, the faster the heated area will spread to unheated areas of the same piece of material

Michael Chu in Cooking for Engineers
MaterialWatts per metre-kelvin
Copper (pure)385
Aluminum205
Stainless Steel (100%)45
Ceramic (100%)3.8*
*based on ceramic mug test. Source: Thermtest

A copper layer in sautéing and frying pans makes sense because of copper’s high thermal conductivity. It also makes sense as the core layer in cladded cookware of the stainless steel designs.

Why Choose Copper

When cladded with stainless steel, copper cookware makes for excellent use on all stovetops, apart from induction, unless it specifically states it is cookware suitable for induction. In which case, it will have a layer of magnetic material bonded in the base.

Examples of brands of beautiful copper cookware for your kitchen:

  • Mauviel Cuprinox (Copper with inner stainless steel lining)
  • All-Clad Copper Core (Stainless steel clad copper)
  • Made In Copper (Stainless steel clad interior, crafted in France)

You can choose ceramic-coated copper pans if you’re wanting nonstick cookware that heats up fast, for frying especially. The ceramic coating stops food coming in contact with the copper. See my article for options when the nonstick coating shows signs of wear.

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