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Ways Clean Copper Pots and Pans

Copper cookware has a long association with world-class cooking (think Julia Child). And as copper experiences a renaissance in design right now, people are snapping up copper pots and pans to bring warmth and a gorgeous sheen to the kitchen. But while copper, which is considered a soft metal, is prized for its ability to conduct heat, it requires a little more TLC than other materials. “Depending on the lining of one’s copper cookware, it’s possible to make mistakes when cleaning,” says Mac Kohler, of Brooklyn Copper Cookware. But when your pots are well cared for, they pay off in decades of use and beauty in the kitchen. Here, Kohler and Tara Steffen, marketing manager at French copper-cookware manufacturer Mauviel, share their best practices.

Handle with care.
Copper pots are generally lined with stainless steel or tin. Either way, use a soft sponge to wash them with a gentle dish soap and warm water. Steffen warns against putting copper in the dishwasher or picking up a stronger cleaner that contains bleach. In fact, avoid abrasive products altogether—even if they advertise themselves as safe, they can score stainless steel and tin, says Kohler. Notice some damage? “In the case of a tinned pan, the solution is to re-tin the pan,” he says. Stainless-steel pans, however, cannot be brought back to life.

Never heat a dry pan.
This rings true for almost every type of pot: When heated empty, without food or a fat like olive oil, the lining can degrade. “Generally speaking, one uses copper cookware low and slow, meaning it’s the metal of choice for delicate preparations,” says Kohler.

Keep them gleaming . . .
Left alone, copper naturally tarnishes over time. To polish it, Steffen recommends regularly applying either a specialty copper cleaner or a homemade mix of lemon juice and baking soda (or vinegar and salt). Buff the surface with a soft cloth, rinse, and dry. While Kohler says the salt trick works well, he warns against scouring pans with it. “In the case of stainless-steel-lined copper, the most frequent mistake is scrubbing cooked-on residues with salt. If rinsed thoroughly, this can be harmless, but often salt is ground micro-finely by being worked aggressively,” he says. “These stranded micro-crystals then pit the stainless steel irreparably.”

. . . or embrace patina.
For practical or aesthetic reasons, you may want to skip polishing and let your copper cookware age naturally. “In the case of copper, a patinated surface is becoming harder and more thermally efficient,” says Kohler. “Professional chefs cultivate a good, dark patina as one does bloom on wine grapes; it improves what the thing is supposed to do.”