How thick a copper cookware should be, is really dependent on the task you are doing. There is a lot of misinformed blanket statement that says it should be as thick as possible. But really, what does that mean? Often time you hear recommendations about this and that but they don’t give any reasoning for it. Hopefully this article on Copper Cookware Thickness will help answer some of the questions. We will start off with an overview on how thin copper cookware affects cooking. By thin I usually mean 1.8 mm and thinner.
Issue with a thin copper cookware
Food is Steaming
There are three main issues come from a very thin pan. A thin copper pan usually does not have a lot of weight in it. In turn, it does not have the ability to store a considerable amount of heat. Food that is seared initially on this type of pan will tend to steam, especially when you add a substantial amount of food.
The reason for this is that once you add a lot of food, all the heat will be sucked up. You need the pan to be able to store enough heat to keep searing the food. If not, liquid will start to leak and the food will start to steam instead of caramelizing.
Second issue is structural rigidity, a thin copper pan will often time warp. It does not help that copper is a soft metal. Traditional copper worker will often time hammer it to improve structural rigidity of the pan. You often time see this with Ruffoni’s copper cookware. A lot of their historia line cookware is hammered so that it retains it shape.
Heat Regulation with thicker copper cookware
Scorching is another issue that you will face with thin copper cookware. Thicker heavy cookware can regulate heat better. What do I mean by heat regulation? With a thin copper pan, temperature can rise very rapidly. If you are not careful when cooking, the rapid rise in temperature will burn the food exterior and the inside will be undercooked.
Thicker copper cookware can regulate the heat better because it takes a while for it to heat up. Once it reaches a certain temperature threshold, it becomes increasingly difficult to raise it higher. The reason for this is due to convection. Since the heat source on the bottom can only output a certain amount of energy. Eventually, your pan will reach a equilibrium point where the temperature cannot be raised past the point of where it cools via convection.
How heat is lost via convection
To understand how heat is lost via convection, think of a heat sink or a radiator that is used to regulate temperature. The fins in the heat sinks/radiator are there to maximize the surface area so that more heat can escape. If you have a solid piece of metal instead an object with fins, there is a reduced amount of surface area so that less heat can escape. In essence, the more surface area that an object has, the more significant the loss of heat/energy is.
You might ask the question, since a thicker copper is more solid, shouldn’t it reach a higher temperature? The answer is that it is dependent on the btu outputted by the burner. If the btu outputted by the burner is higher than the amount of energy required to heat up the pan and overtake the loss of temperature via convection. The pan should be able to reach a higher temperature. Since the thinner pan has less mass, heat will be transferred more rapidly than a thicker gauge pan.
An easy way to visualize this is with a lighter and a piece of paper. If your hand is over a piece of paper and a lighter below, assuming that the paper does not burn, it should burn your hand. If your hand is over a stack of paper, the likely hood that your hand will burn is greatly reduced. Assuming that the paper does not burn.
Benefits of Thin Copper Cookware
Fastest Heating Time
The purpose of any cookware is to be a vessel for cooking food. Without the vessel, you would be cooking with fire, which is the most efficient way of transferring heat. With that in mind, the thinner and more heat conductive a material is, the better the heat transfer.
The general idea is that the heavier the pan, the longer it takes to heat up. For an object like a frying pan, where some heat regulation is important, this might not be helpful. However, in situation where you need to heat up liquid, the only thing you would need a copper cookware to do is to contain the liquid. So to heat up/boil soups, water or liquid, a thin copper pot is actually the best choice.
If you are steaming then sautéing vegetables, thin gauge copper will actually cook food faster than thicker gauge copper cookware. The water will convert to steam faster and it will also warm up food faster.
The same is true for food that is meant to be cooked in the oven. There is no need for a really thick copper cookware in those situations. Heat is radiating all throughout the oven and a thicker cookware will actually draw more heat instead of transferring heat. It is wrong to look down on a piece of copper cookware just because its thin. Besides, it just makes it heavier.
Superior Heat Control
Since a thin copper cookware can heat up quickly, it would make sense that it can also drop in temperature just as easily. In situation where sauce making is important, the heat control that you get from a thin copper pot is best. A thicker copper pot means that it is more resistant to heat change. If you heat up a thicker copper pot, there is simply too much heat stored in it. It won’t be able to change temperature as well as a thinner gauge copper cookware.
1.8 to 2.5 mm Thickness Copper Cookware
At this thickness, we are getting to the sweet spot that most copper manufacturer prefer to make these days. 2.5 mm thick copper seems to be a very popular among manufacturers such as Falk, Matfer Bourgeat and Mauviel. It seems to give the best balance out of all the thickness. The benefits and cons is the opposite of what thin copper cookware provides.
Issues with thicker copper cookware
Thicker Copper Cookware is Heavy
I personally believe that weight is the main reason why copper cookware of this thickness is less prevalent. Most people do not like how heavy copper cookware are. They would prefer light pans like you would get from T-Fal.
Although copper is one of the most responsiveness metal out there, it will not change temperature quickly if the copper is really thick. The higher you go in thickness, the lower the responsiveness will be.
Manufacturer of copper cookware knows about this, which is why their cookware comes in various thicknesses. It is made in accordance to what they believe is best for that type of cookware.
Benefit of thick copper cookware
So what exactly are the benefits of thick copper cookware?
-The main benefit if the ability to store more heat, the thicker and heavier you go, the more heat it can store. If you heat up the pan to the right temperature you should be able to sear food without worrying about a massive drop in temperature. Food will be less likely to release its juice and steam.
-Secondly the benefit is even heat distribution. I have done test in the pass where the thinner gauge copper cookware was tested to see if there was any heat spots. Although the results were good, it was still not as clean and uniform as a copper frying pan that was 2.5 mm thick.
-Larger diameter pans can be used. The further away from the burner you go, the ability for heat to reach the far end of the pan is diminished. You would need a thicker gauge pan to store the heat so that it can properly carry the heat to the edge of the pan. The reason why expensive pots and pans exist is to smooth out the unevenness of our home range burner.
3mm copper cookware thickness
Julia Child said that to get the full benefit of copper cookware is to buy the 3mm thick copper cookware. The benefit that you get from copper cookware of this thickness is basically what was iterated before but to the next level. The negative that was associated with thicker copper cookware will also be enhanced such as slow responsiveness and weight. On the other hand, it will sear better and these type of cookware are usually more suited for pans that around 10 inches in diameter and above.
Best Thickness for Copper Cookware
What should be the best thickness for copper cookware is really dependent on what you are making. For a frying pan, the thicker the better, they are usually used to sear food. For a saucepan or saucier where sauce and soups are important, a thinner gauge copper cookware will provide the most benefit. It will both heat up quickly and be extremely heat responsive when you are making sauces.
For a gratin pan, those can be thin. You are mostly using those type of pans in the oven. They are not usually meant to cook food on the stove top. In fact, any oven based cookware/bake ware does not have to overly thick. The only benefit from having a heavy base cookware in this situation is to keep the food warm. When you are serving, it should retain the heat better.
Finally the best thickness for copper cookware is dependent on the btu of your stovetop burner. If your stovetop does not output the necessary btu to properly heat a very thick copper pan, the benefit that comes from the pan is gone. It will never reach the optimal temperature for cooking. In that case, buy a thinner gauge copper cookware that is more suitable for that pan. This is probably the reason most copper cookware manufacture these day focuses more on a 2.5 mm thick copper cookware. Home range stove top simply cannot output enough heat. Restaurant and grand hotel will have commercial grade burner that can accommodate 3 mm and thicker copper cookware.