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Cooking in and Caring for Copper

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Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. Today, a careful look at the prettiest kitchen metal there is. Want to add to your collection? Head over to the Food52 Shop!  


Set the stage for your dream kitchen. 

In all likelihood, there is an island, or at the very least, counters that go on for miles, on which you chop, dice, and mix. (You set up separate stations for each, just because you can.) There are appliances and tools ready for you at your every mixing and churning whimsy, places to bake, and then to cool, all of your latest creations. And somewhere -- maybe above the stove, maybe beside it -- there are likely copper pots, beautiful and shining and ready to simmer. 

But copper pots and pans are for more than just daydreams, for mind movies of cooking alongside Julia Child and flipping your own perfect omelette. There’s a reason these, to some, are the creme de le creme of cookware. For those of you who are lucky enough to own them -- or those who’d just like to treat them properly in the kitchens of their dreams -- we’re talking copper. 


Why Copper Makes You Look Like a Pro
Copper doesn’t just make your stove stylish, it lends you a helping hand while you cook. What we mean is this: as a metal, copper is one of the best conductors of heat. It warms quickly and stays warm, making for an even distribution of heat, and -- here’s the best part -- uniform cooking of your food. This means no more burnt spots, no more scalding. You have greater control over everything. See? Helping hand.

Be Nice to Your Copper. Trust Your Copper.
Copper is the decathlete of metals -- it’s ready to do anything you ask of it, and it will do it effortlessly. Since it’s extremely efficient with heat, there is generally no need to use a high flame, or to preheat before cooking. Keep your heat to moderate, and let the pan do the rest of the work.

If you accidentally got a little impatient with the heat and cranked the flame, discoloration could occur. If this happens, not to worry, there’ll just be a Wright’s Copper Cleaner (or Brasso) and a bit of elbow grease in your future. 

You heard a rumor about cleaning copper and it is:
Not true. One of the great myths of copper cookware is that it is difficult to care for. We are dispelling that, right here and now. These pots are built to last -- built to boil, sauté, and braise with the best of them -- and come out the other side alive. Most importantly, the majority of battle scars gleaned along the way can be successfully healed with just a pantry and a little patience. When you think of it that way, these beauties are actually quite low maintenance. Low maintenance? Copper? Yes, you’re reading this right. Follow these simple tips and home remedies, and yours is bound to last, too.

Heavy gauge copper -- like this pie pan -- will make sure your food cooks perfectly and uniformly.

And while we have you, we'll dispell another rumor, too: copper is 100% safe to cook in, so long as it is lined with another, non-reactive metal (and most copper cookware is). Most commonly, you'll find linings made of nickel, tin, or stainless steel. Throw anything and everything into these pans; the metal lining will keep you -- and your food -- safe.

Getting Your Copper to Shine as Brightly as the Day You Took it Home
After cleaning with warm soap and water, be sure to dry your pots thoroughly. Any residual water could lead to a quicker tarnishing of the copper.

Salt and Lemon
Cut a lemon in half, and sprinkle table salt on the cut side of one half. Now rub! Salt saves the day, acting as a mild abrasive. To up the ante, you can add cornstarch to the mix -- mix equal parts salt and non-iodized cornstarch with enough lemon juice to make a paste. Rub on pot with a soft cloth, rinse with warm water, and voila! Good as new. 

We don’t recommend using your best balsamic, but a little white vinegar goes a long way with copper. Simply soak a cloth and rub the surface of your pot, periodically changing to a new area of your cloth, and then smile -- the pot lid, now shiny beyond belief, doubles as a mirror in a pinch.

Channel Julia Child while you flip your omelettes in this late 19th century French sauté pan.

Tomato-like Things
The acid in tomatoes works wonders on copper. Cover the surface of your pot with tomato paste, let sit for a few minutes, and then wash it off with soap and water. Or, if you don’t have tomato paste, ketchup plays pinch hitter. Rub a small amount over your pot with a rag and rinse.

Baking Soda
After it makes your quickbreads rise, baking soda will polish up your best pots. Make a potion of equal parts baking soda and lemon juice, and rub away the tarnished spots with a soft cloth. Just watch -- this one is kind of like magic.

Want to start (or add to) a copper pot kitchen fleet of your own? Pick out your favorite pots and bakeware here

Tags: kitchen confidence, copper, cooking, cleaning, caring for, how-to & diy