Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

For many cooks, copper cookware is an aspirational purchase. It’s incredibly reactive, which means it’s quick to heat up and just as fast to cool down: a real boon for cooking delicate proteins, sauces, caramel, or chocolate. Copper cookware isn’t recommended for beginner cooks, because the rapid temperature changes can result in unevenly cooked food. It’s also much easier to burn things in copper pans. However, once you gain confidence and skills in the kitchen a set of real copper cookware may entice you. There’s one more hurdle to clear after leveling up your skills: Copper pots and pans cost a lot of money.

The price of copper cookware isn’t just about aesthetics (although copper pots are eye-catching, especially when hammered): Copper is much more costly than other common materials, like aluminum, stainless steel, and most cast iron. Although we’d written a primer on the pros and cons of copper cookware, we hadn’t tested it. However, because buying copper cookware requires a substantial financial commitment, we decided to rigorously evaluate nine copper cookware sets ranging in price from $299 to $2,000. For our winners, we also noted which pieces from each set are available for individual purchase, in case you want one pan and not six. 

The Winners, at a Glance

A handsome set of cookware with a classic profile, these pots and pans outperformed the competition. They had impressive even heat distribution with no hot spots, and speedy—but not uncontrollable—reactivity. The 10-piece set includes just about every type of pan you’d need, although we did note the handles on the skillet and sauté pan, while long and narrow, were heavy.

Although we had some quibbles with the domed surface of the skillets which caused oil to pool, chicken released from the pan effortlessly. We loved the responsive copper core and overall look of this set. It comes with 10 highly useful pieces, and it’s oven-safe up to 600˚F.

The least expensive on our list by a wide margin, Cuisinart’s copper cookware set was also one of the most consistent. It had moderate responsiveness compared to other sets we tested, making it a nice choice for a copper novice. At eight pieces, it’s a modestly sized set, but you really can’t beat the value.

It’s impossible to ignore this eye-catching set with elegant cast iron handles. Apart from lending aesthetics, the cast iron makes maneuvering the cookware easier because it’s slower to heat up. This pricey set is made up of almost entirely copper, with no aluminum filler. The pans are well-balanced, pleasantly hefty, and excellent at browning and searing.

User-friendly thick walls (3.6mm) make mastering this set easy for cooks of all abilities. The skillets sear nicely and are very easy to clean. Although we didn’t like the steeper angle at which the handles were attached to the pans, overall we feel this set is better suited for daily cooking than some of the other fussier options on this list. If you can snap these up on sale, even better.

The Tests

Serious Eats / Russell KilgoreRecording Key Specs: First, we used calipers to measure the thickness of the cookware’s walls. We measured each skillet, sauté pan, and pot from each set, and recorded the values. We favored cookware within the 2.5- to 3-millimeter range.Responsiveness Test: We conducted two related tests that measured how long it took for water to boil in each pot, as well as how quickly the temperature dropped. First, we filled each pot with four cups of 72°F water and centered it on the burner. With the burner set to high, we recorded how long it took each pot to reach a rolling boil, registering at 212°F. We then turned off the burner and timed how long it took the water to lower to 180°F. Once we recorded the data, we carried the pot to the sink and dumped it out, paying particular attention to the ease of maneuverability and weight/heft of the pot.Ease of Use Test: To evaluate how comfortable and efficient the cookware’s handles and overall design were, we filled each skillet with dried beans and mimicked the actions of sautéeing. We lifted the skillet to observe weight and balance, tossed the beans to consider the ergonomics of the skillets, and maneuvered the pans using their handles; this allowed us to consider the overall design. Browning and Hot Spots Test: We evaluated each skillet in terms of how well it handled shallow-frying, how evenly (or not) heat was distributed, how efficiently it could brown ingredients, and how easy it was to clean up. To prepare for this test, we pounded boneless chicken breasts to 1/4-inch thick. We heated the pan over medium-high for two minutes, then added two tablespoons of vegetable oil and swirled the pan to coat it evenly with fat. We added the chicken to the center of the pan, reduced the heat to medium, and cooked for three minutes per side. We removed the chicken from the pan and set it on a wire rack so we could evaluate the evenness and degree of browning, as well as any burnt spots or pooling oil. We repeated this one more time, for a total of two chicken breasts per skillet. Cleaning Test: After cooking both of the chicken breasts, we let the pan cool to a comfortable temperature and washed it according to the manufacturer’s instructions. We paid particular notice to the amount of scrubbing required, and how easy it was to remove scorched portions, or crusted-on fond from the chicken.

What We Learned

Even “Average” Copper Cookware Had Great Responsiveness 

Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

If you value speed and efficiency during cooking, copper pots and skillets will serve you well. During testing, we noted that even the worst-performing pots heated water to a boil very quickly. (The fastest to boil water was the Hestan CopperBond 10-Piece Cookware Set at 4 minutes and 48 seconds. The slowest was the Mauviel Copper Triply M’3 S 7-Piece Cookware Set, at 7 minutes, 31 seconds…still speedy!) A few other factors will affect a copper pan’s reactivity; we noted that thicker skillets had better heat retention, which could be a benefit for a copper novice. In some instances, the size and shape of the pots affected their reaction time. For example, the Made In set’s largest pot was a rondeau rather than a stockpot, which increased the time taken to boil.

Stainless Steel Linings Had Pros and Cons

Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Copper will gradually leach metal into food when heated, so most copper cookware is lined with stainless steel—all but one set we tested was made this way (the outlier was tin). Most cooks have experience cooking with stainless steel, and it is a highly durable material. The downside: it’s quite prone to sticking. Tin has the benefit of being less sticky than stainless steel, although it’s more prone to scratching and can’t handle high temperatures. It’s worth noting here that many of the sets we tested were actually made from three materials: a copper bottom and sides, an aluminum core, and a stainless steel surface. The pricier models were made with just copper and stainless steel.

Have Towels or Pot Holders Close By—The Handles Got Hot!

Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Unlike stainless steel, copper cookware gets ripping hot all the way to the handles. Because copper heats up quicker than other materials, a bare handle becomes unusable quicker than you may expect. Most of the sets we tested were considerably heavier than stainless steel cookware, which could also make maneuvering the pots and pans around the kitchen tricky without proper heat protection. Lengthier handles have the benefit of taking longer to heat, although that’s a bit of a moot point because skillets are easier to move around when gripped closer to the pot. One set we tested, Mauviel’s 10-piece set, had glazed cast iron handles that stayed cooler longer.

Generally Speaking, There Wasn’t a Benefit to Hammered Copper Cookware

Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

As mentioned in this copper cookware primer, hammering metal used to be practiced to strengthen and reinforce the material. But these days, it’s largely decorative; think of it as the equivalent of an embellished paint job or some gorgeous wallpaper. To hammer (sorry) home this point, consider one of our contenders, the Ruffoni Historia. Although it’s hand-hammered and looks highly attractive, we measured the skillet thickness at just 1.5 millimeters—considerably less than the advised 2.5- to 3-millimeter thickness, which is more effective at imbuing copper cookware with strength and durability. 

Extreme Reactivity Makes Copper Cookware Ideal for Experienced Cooks

Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

In our tests, we noted time and again how quickly each skillet gained and lost heat when the burner was adjusted or turned off. In the browning test in particular, the first piece of chicken was often cooked beautifully, while the second experienced a degree of burning. These extreme temperature swings are a boon to advanced cooks, but if you’re just starting out, a pan with more moderate reactivity will be easier to use: Stainless steel is a good halfway point between ultra-reactive copper and slow-and-steady cast iron.

No Way Around It: Copper Cookware Was Expensive

Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

Copper pots and pans cost a lot more than steel or iron cookware. The average price of the sets we tested was over $1,000. That said, you usually do get a lot for your investment. Most of the sets we tested had 10 pieces. (Some sets had inflated numbers: high counts, but two or three pieces were wooden utensils or steel accessories. This was not true of our winners.) We definitely recommend taking advantage of sales when available, but one of the most impressive sets we tested, the Cuisinart 8-piece set, retails for around $300 and was a consistently high performer across all metrics.

The Criteria: What to Look for in a Copper Cookware Set

Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

For the ideal combination of responsiveness and durability, look for a copper pot that’s lined with stainless steel. Tin is another good option—and more nonstick—although it’s prone to scratching and less heat-resistant than stainless steel. The walls of copper skillets and sauté pans should be 2.5 to 3 millimeters thick. Thinner pans aren’t as durable, and thicker ones won’t be as nimble when heat is adjusted. Because copper pot handles get hot, look for generously large ones that are easy to grip further away from the pan. Copper cookware sets should include at least seven to eight pieces to be truly useful, although you’ll want to watch out for options that exaggerate their value with accessories.

The Best Copper Cookware Sets

What we liked: This cookware set, more than any other set we tested, bridged the gap between professional chefs and home cooks. It has attractive (but not hyperactive) responsiveness, with the stockpot taking just shy of five minutes and 25 seconds to come to a rolling boil. During our ease-of-use test, we appreciated how well-balanced the pans were, and how pleasant they were to maneuver. The sloped sides of the skillets made moving the chicken around easy, and we noted that the larger of the two was substantial enough to hold three chicken breasts. The meat browned beautifully, and the pans were easy to clean with minimal scrubbing.

Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: The handles on the skillets, saucepot, and sauté pan were all substantially heavy, and may be difficult for cooks with limited mobility to maneuver. At eight quarts, the stockpot is smaller than we typically recommend, and the handles were a touch too narrow as well—although we were still able to carry it relatively comfortably. This set can’t handle temperatures over 450°F, and unless you catch a sale, it’s almost $2,000.

Key Specs

Number of pieces: 10Pieces included: 10- and 12-inch skillets, 1 1/2- and 4-quart saucepans with lids, 4 1/2-quart sauté pan with lid, 8-quart stockpot with lidPieces available for individual purchase: Either size skillet, 4-quart saucepan, sauté pan, stockpotCookware surface: Stainless steelOven-safe?: Yes, up to 450°F
Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: This Italian-made set has a copper core surrounded by aluminum, and a stainless steel cooking surface, making it the best of all worlds when it comes to metals. We appreciated how easy it was to pour water from the stockpot, thanks to a gently flared lip. Every piece in this set is oven-safe up to 600°F. While the pans had a learning curve because of their enthusiastic responsiveness, we feel they’d be prized by serious cooks for both their reactivity and eye-catching aesthetic.

Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: The handles on the fry pans and sauté pan are slightly awkward to use, and only ergonomic when gripped at the bottom, right next to the cooking surface. Because they get uncomfortably hot, they’re hard to hold and maneuver with one hand. A few hot spots and a domed surface caused oil to pool and burn at the edges during our browning test. The stockpot, at six quarts, is even smaller than Williams Sonoma’s, our other top pick.

Key Specs

Number of pieces: 10Pieces included: 8 1/2- and 11-inch skillets, 1 1/2- and 3-quart saucepans with lids, 3 1/2-quart sauté pan with lid, 6-quart stockpot with lidPieces available for individual purchase: Either size skillet, either size saucepan, sauté pan, stockpotCookware surface: Stainless steelOven-safe?: Yes, up to 600°FSerious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: Of course, the under-$300 price tag was a huge appeal of this set. We also liked that each pan measured 2.8 millimeters, right in the ideal range of thickness for reactivity. The curved lip of the stockpot made pouring water easy. These pieces were middle-of-the-road in terms of time to boil and reduce temperature, which makes them good for people just starting out with copper cookware. 

Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: At eight pieces, this set is smaller than our top picks. The outer edges of the skillets have some hot spots, and we noticed the chicken browned better there than in the center of the pan. Like the Hestan set, the stockpot is just six quarts. The raised rivets in the pans made scrubbing around that area a little tedious, although that’s by no means a deal breaker.

Key Specs

Number of pieces: 8Pieces included: 8- and 10-inch skillets, 4-quart sauté pan with lid, 2 1/2-quart saucepan with lid, 6-quart stockpot with lidPieces available for individual purchase: None at the time of publishCookware surface: Stainless steelOven-safe?: Yes; however, no maximum temperature is indicatedSerious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: This set spared no expenses in the construction: the pans are made entirely from copper and stainless steel (no cheaper aluminum core), and the handles are cast iron. It’s a stunning visual contrast that’s also easier to handle owing to cast iron’s relatively slower reactivity. The stockpot, while small, is well-designed and easy to carry. We didn’t detect any hot spots at all during cooking, and the first piece of chicken we cooked was one of the most attractive (the second was a bit burnt, owing to the extreme heat building in the pan). This cookware is oven-safe up to 600°F and every piece in this set is well-balanced with a medium-high heft that’s a true pleasure to cook with.

Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: This was the most expensive set we tested, making it a substantial investment for even very serious cooks. The stockpot is a paltry five quarts, and is branded instead as a “stewpot.” This was one of the more taxing sets to hand-wash, with rivets that got gunked up.

Key Specs

Number of pieces: 10Pieces included: 10 1/4- and 11 3/4-inch skillets, 3-quart sauté pan with lid, 2-quart saucepan with lid, 3 ½ quart saucepan with lid, 5-quart stockpot with lidPieces available for individual purchase: Skillets (in slightly different sizes), larger (6-quart) sauté pan, saucepan, stockpotCookware surface: Stainless steelOven-safe?: Yes, up to 600°FSerious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we liked: This set is quick to heat up but slower to lose heat, which makes it ideal for everyday cooking and anyone nervous about using copper. The skillets gave a beautiful sear to the chicken during our browning test, and the meat released easily with virtually no sticking. They’re refreshingly easy to clean, thanks to the high-quality stainless steel surface. This set contains an 8-quart stockpot (which is branded as a Dutch oven) and a steamer basket is included, and although it’s not copper it enhances the overall usability of this set.

Serious Eats / Russell Kilgore

What we didn’t like: The extreme angle of the handles makes the skillets and pots difficult to hold and move during cooking, although the pans themselves are well-balanced. At 3.6 millimeters, the sides are slightly thicker than ideal to maximize the copper’s reactivity. At the time of publish, the sale price was $800; the regular price of $1,500 seems a bit steep, especially considering not every piece is made from copper.

Key Specs

Number of pieces: 9Pieces included: 10 and 12-inch skillets, 4.8-quart sauté pan, 3.4-quart saucepan, 6-quart stockpot, 3.4-quart steamer panPieces available for individual purchase: None at the time of publishCookware surface: Stainless steelOven-safe?: Yes, up to 600°FSerious Eats / Russell Kilgore

The Competition

BergHOFF Vintage Copper Tri-Ply 10Pc Cookware Set, Hammered: This handsome set looks sharp but feels lighter and flimsier than the others we tested. The skillets are straight-walled, which makes flipping and sautéeing trickier. Burnt oil was extremely difficult to wash off. Performance and reactivity varied from test to test, ultimately making this a fussier option than we felt was worth the cost.Mauviel Copper Triply M’3 S 7-Piece Cookware Set: The limited size range in this set meant the cooking surface area was lacking. The straight sides made pouring and sautéing trickier. That said, we did like that the angle of the handles helped them stay relatively cool when cooking.Ruffoni Historia Hammered Copper 11-Piece Cookware Set with Olivewood Tools: This tin-lined set is certainly whimsical, with acorn-shaped knobs on the lids and a hand-hammered copper coating. But with an average 1.6-millimeter thickness, they’re a little too reactive. We also noted that the acorn shape of the pots themselves invited high flames to lap up the sides, leading to burning and scorching. It’s pricey, and three of the included 11 pieces are just wooden spoons.Made In The Copper Set – 7-Piece Set: We were impressed by this set’s oven-safe limit (up to 800°F), but felt the weight distribution was lacking. The limited size range makes this set less useful than the others we tested. Considering only seven pieces are included, this is the priciest set-per-piece on our list.

FAQs

Is copper cookware safe?

Yes, copper cookware is safe to use. With heat and the addition of acidic ingredients, copper will gradually leach away from the pan. However, most copper pots are lined with an inert metal (usually stainless steel or tin), so the surface that comes in contact with ingredients is food-safe. The exception is jam pots, which are made entirely of copper but are safe to use because the amount of sugar added to the pot acts as a buffer between the acidic fruit and the metal.

Is copper cookware good?

Copper cookware is good at a very specific thing: reactivity. It’s prized among advanced cooks for its ability to gain and lose heat quickly—something you need for greater control over the food you’re cooking. But it’s not necessarily better than other types of cookware. It must be hand-washed and may be too reactive for some cooks.  

Can copper cookware go in the oven?

Most copper cookware sets today are oven-safe, although you’ll need to be mindful of the temperature. Most sets we tested could withstand temperatures up to 450°F, although a few outliers could go up to 600°F and 800°F. A couple didn’t give a maximum range, simply noting to avoid “extreme heat.” Stainless steel-lined copper can handle higher temperatures than tin-lined pots, although tin is less common.

How do you season copper cookware?

Unlike bare cast iron, you don’t need to season copper cookware. Your pans will likely be lined with stainless steel, which needs a layer of fat applied to avoid sticking, but other than that, it’s ready to use straight out of the box. The copper exterior of your pans will develop a patina over time; this is natural (and to some, beautiful). However, if you’d prefer them gleaming and untarnished, you can polish them back to their original state. For more on the care and maintenance of copper cookware, check out this article.

Why We’re the Experts

For this review, we tested nine copper cookware sets, evaluating them across a variety of metrics (design, performance, heating ability, and ease of cleaning).In researching copper cookware, we consulted with Bernadette Machard de Gramont, a writer and cookware expert.Rochelle Bilow is Serious Eat’s commerce editor. She’s a professional writer, former line cook, and graduate of the French Culinary Institute.She has been writing about food professionally for over a decade, and reviewing kitchen equipment since 2021.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *