Baa, Baa Copper Sheep. Have You Any SENSE?
Gordon Ramsay has adopted a new catchphrase lately; “Let's get that right!” And it applies when I tell you that copper cooking vessels are the crème de la crème of cookware. Let's get that right!
Professional cooks the world over have used copper for generations. It's an excellent conductor of heat, it warms up quickly and stays warm longer, and it allows for gentle, even heat distribution. Much more so than any other material, even cast iron. Hot spots are all but unheard of with copper. This results in more uniform, more controlled cooking with practically no burnt spots or scalding. Copper cookware is generally a perfect weight. It's heavy enough to sit securely on your stove but not so heavy you can't lift it with one hand. Copper is reactive but when lined with a non-reactive material such as tin or stainless steel, it is one hundred percent safe and two hundred percent effective. Bowls made of pure copper are the industry standard for whipping up fluffy egg whites. In short, copper is great stuff. Let's get that right!
Something else to get right, copper is also expensive and somewhat temperamental to maintain. You can't crank the heat up to OMG hot under a copper pot and then just toss it in the dishwasher before stuffing it into your overfilled pots and pans drawer. Well......I guess you can if you don't give a rip about what it's gonna like like or how long it's gonna last. Copper tarnishes easily and requires frequent if not constant polishing and it's a fairly soft metal prone to scratches and dents. Some cosmetic denting and pitting is okay – gives it that “cooked in” look, I suppose – but if it gets too warped and battered, it's useless.
Bring your banker and an appraiser to the store when you go to buy the stuff. I can get you a nice deal on a twelve-piece set of Mauviel copper at Williams-Sonoma; a steal at just $1,900.
Or you can go out and buy the latest fad in “As Seen on TV” cookware. Yep. Copper. “$19.95 and if you act now, we'll double your order. Just pay extra for shipping and handling.” Uffa! As P.T. Barnum famously never said, “There's a sucker born every minute.” I can assure you there's more copper in a Lincoln penny – which is 97.5% zinc these days – than there is in any and all of those cheap, overly-hyped “copper” pots, pans, cookie sheets, fry baskets, grill mats, knives, and I don't know what all else. I saw a plastic slotted spoon with a “copper” handle in a store the other day. WTF is a so-called “copper” handle supposed to do to improve the performance of a spoon?
It's a scam, folks, pure and simple. A gimmick designed to separate you from your money. It's a con worthy of “The Sting.” A flimflam. A fraud. A racket. A rip-off. A double-dealing shell game. A fast one. A hosing of epic proportions. Get the idea yet? It all started out with one product and now it's spread to the point where every blessed thing you see is “copper.” And you know what? It's all paint, people; copper-colored paint. Like the kind you buy for household and craft use only on an industrial scale.
These hucksters take cheap aluminum pans, pots, spoon handles and what have you and spray them with a tissue paper thin ceramic coating that has been infused with copper-colored paint. They could just as easily have made the stuff green – oh, wait. They already do that, don't they? Anyway, copper-colored crap cookware has exactly the same non-stick abilities as any other cheap aluminum junk but with absolutely none of the desirable properties of real copper – because there ain't any real copper in any of it! It's paint. Pigment. Useless coloration. The equivalent of covering rabbit droppings in red food coloring and calling them berries. Let me drag out my Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony album here and play you a chorus of “The Hustle” while I reiterate; it's a gyp designed to hoodwink gullible rubes. Of which, apparently, there is an endless supply.
Whenever you put a “non-stick” surface, be it Teflon or a ceramic coating or whatever, on any pan, you usually do it by spraying or dipping the pan in a gel solution which is then hardened by a high heat firing process known as curing. Decent quality stuff usually gets at least three or more layers of this coating. Colors are absolutely immaterial; they can make the finished color anything they want it to be. Most are silver or gray, some are black, some are white. And when they're trying to bamboozle somebody into following the latest “As Seen on TV” trend, they make it copper.
Most people know – don't you? – that the most durable materials for making cookware are cast iron or stainless steel. Aluminum is a close second, but only if it's hard anodized aluminum. Anodization subjects the surface of aluminum pots and pans to an electrochemical process that builds up the metal’s natural coating of oxide, yielding a hard, nonreactive substance that forms a tougher coating. Hard anodized aluminum gets, like, a double dose of the process, making it useable in even tough professional kitchens, the place for which it was originally designed when Calphalon came up with it back in 1968. The most utilitarian hard anodized aluminum cooking vessels are usually coated with a non-stick surface of some sort. Even so, aluminum – even anodized aluminum – is pretty soft and can be warped and beaten out of shape through hard use. I've been in a few restaurant kitchens and know whereof I speak.
Now, you take ordinary cheap aluminum. It's light weight, a good heat conductor, and relatively corrosion resistant. It's great for a lot of things, especially bakeware. But if you bang it with a foam rubber mallet or drop it on a firm mattress, it's gonna dent or bend out of shape. And if you spray paint it with a thin coating of copper-colored paint, within a fairly short span of time that paint is going to scratch up and flake off like nobody's business.
Real copper is ridiculously expensive. A single Mauviel twelve-inch 1.5 mm copper fry pan with a stainless-steel interior is going to set you back to the tune of about $295. For one pan. A good quality twelve-inch stainless-steel pan – say, something by Calphalon – goes for about $110. An enameled cast iron twelve-inch pan from Tramontina will cost you around $70. And even a plain old Lodge cast iron workhorse sells for twenty to thirty bucks, depending on where you get it. So do you really – I mean really – think you're getting anything resembling real copper or real quality for $19.95 – two if you order now? Really?
Baa, baa, copper sheep. Have you any sense?
It all evolved from a single snake oil salesman – er, I mean “marketer” – who conceived the original concept a few years ago. The stuff they were pushing then may or may not have actually been worth what you paid for it, I don't know. What I do know is that it's not just cheap gimmicky pots and pans anymore. It took about a week for all the copper-colored crap that's out there now to start flooding the market. Like the frickin' “copper” handled spoon! Really? A “copper” knife that “never needs sharpening”? C'mon! At best, it's an inexpensive ceramic knife with a coat of paint. “Copper” fry baskets? Why? “Copper” crispers to “turn your oven into an air fryer.” Riiiight! “Copper” grill mats, “copper” roasters, “copper” baking pans and muffin tins? What's next? “Copper” oven mitts? (If I see one of those in the store next week, I swear I'm gonna scream.) There must be enough soft-headed suckers with no sales resistance out there who keep buying this garbage or they wouldn't be able to keep selling it.
I don't know why but that great old 1968 comedy routine that Johnny Carson and Jack Webb did on “The Tonight Show” just jumped into my head.
Webb (As Sgt. Joe Friday): This is the city. Los Angeles California. Some people rob for pleasure. Some rob because its there. You never know. My name's Friday, I’m a cop. I was working the day watch out of robbery when I got a call from the Acme School Bell Company. There’d been a robbery.
Carson: There’s been a robbery.
Webb: Yes Sir, what was it?
Carson: My clappers.
Webb: Your clappers?
Carson: Yeah, you know those things inside a bell that makes them clang.
Webb: The clangers.
Carson: That’s right, but we call them clappers in the business.
Webb: A clapper caper.
Carson: What’s that?
Webb: Nothing Sir. Now can I have the facts? What kind of clappers were stolen on this caper?
Carson: They were copper clappers.
Webb: And where were they kept?
Carson: In the closet.
Webb: Uh huh. You have any ideas who might have taken the copper clappers from the closet?
Carson: Well, just one. I fired a man. He swore he’d get even.
Webb: What was his name?
Carson: Claude Cooper.
Webb: You think he…….
Carson: That’s right ! That’s right! I think Claude Cooper copped my copper clappers, kept in a closet.
Webb: Do you know where this Claude Cooper is from?
Carson: Yeah, Cleveland.
Webb: That figures, that figures.
Carson: What make it worse, they were clean.
Webb: Clean copper clappers?
Carson: That’s right.
Webb: Why do you think Cleveland’s Claude Cooper would cop your clean copper clappers kept in your closet?
Carson: Only one reason.
Webb: What’s that?
Carson: He’s a kleptomaniac.
Webb: Who first discovered that the copper clappers were copped?
Carson: My cleaning woman, Clara Clifford.
Webb: That figures. Now let me see if I got the facts straight here. Cleaning woman Clara Clifford discovered your clean copper clappers, kept in a closet, were copped by Claude Cooper the kleptomaniac from Cleveland. Now is that about it?
Carson: One other thing.
Webb: What’s that?
Carson: If ever I catch kleptomaniac Claude Cooper from Cleveland who copped my clean copper clappers that were kept in a closet....
Carson: I’ll clobber him.
Hey, at least that's funny. Countless cadres of consumers committing copious quantities of cash to acquire colossal collections of crappy counterfeit copper cookware with which to clutter their kitchens is not.
Remember, folks, all that glitters is not copper. Especially not at $19.95 plus shipping and handling. If you really want copper cookware, save your money and buy some of the real thing. And don't forget to pick up a gallon jug or two of Wright's Copper Cleaner or Brasso while you're at it.