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Old 05-24-2006, 03:26 PM   #1
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Question Aluminum vs Copper Core - which is best?

I've just renovated my kitchen and now have an electric, glass-top stove - all my life I've cooked with gas. My original motive for buying new cookware was to find something that works well on the electric stove and that wont scratch the glass top. But this has evolved into wanting something that is also durable, cooks well, and is dishwasher safe. I've done some research and found that flat-bottom, stainless steel cookware with a heat-conducting core like aluminum or copper is probably what I need. But which is best - copper or aluminum? Is one better over the other for certain types of cooking? I was considering Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless Steel (w/ Aluminum core) - without the non-stick finish. Does anyone have any thoughts/advice/experience that can help me out?


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Old 05-24-2006, 08:56 PM   #2
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Welcome Aboard!

Your choice of stainless with aluminum or copper core is a good choice. While copper is a much better conductor of electricity and heat than aluminum, the practical differences in cookware of this type are probably not significant. There are a lot of variables. Both work well.

I would recommend focusing on the overall quality of the cookware and selecting a quality product.

The chef's classic is a SS pan with a layered disk on the bottom that contains the alum. core.

Another option is the Cuisinart Multi-clad product, which is a triple layer product, having two layers of SS with a layer of alum. between. This 3 layer material is used to make the entire body of the pan, not just in a disk on the bottom.

The difference can come with items like the 10" skillet which has a smaller disk due to the curved sides. High heat can reach beyond the edge of the disk to the single layer SS and cause scorching of the food in the pan. With careful use of burners, this may never be a problem, but it's a factor to consider.

Good luck with your selection and enjoy the new stove.

"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." -Carl Sagan
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Old 05-24-2006, 10:13 PM   #3
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Andy...thanks for the explanation. I'm glad I was on the right track. I saw the Multi-clad on the Cuisinart web site but couldn't decifer the difference between that product and the Chef's Classic. So, when it comes to conducting heat, it seems either copper or alum should be fine. What about cooling down? I read something about alum cooling more quickly than copper. Again, the difference may be negligible but am not sure if it's an issue when it comes to placing hot pots in the sink or on the countertop (not that I plan on placing hot cookware on the countertop but...). I spent all this time making over my kitchen and I don't want to accidentally destroy my new sink because the pot was too hot. Am I overthinking this or are these realistic concerns?

all the reviews I read of Cuisinart SS cookware on epinions were very favorable. Do you feel Cuisinart is a quality product? If you didn't have access to all the high-quality items you must use as an exec chef, which brand(s) would you consider?

the new stove will be hooked up next week and I hope to start using it ASAP! I'm so tired of microwave dinners and take out!

Thanks again! John.
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Old 05-25-2006, 08:07 AM   #4
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First of all, I'm not an executive chef. Those titles are assigned by the site based on how many posts you've made.

Alum. does not cool down faster than copper. Since copper is the better conductor, it would cool faster.

Cuisinart is a good quality brand. I had a set of Cuisinart Everyday for a while but found it didn't work well on my gas stove so I switched. My daughter has them now and likes them (electric stove).

Cuisinart is one of many quality brands. Once you settle on the type of cookware you want, you can shop among several brands to find the best deals. For example, Sam's Club's Members Mark brand has a tri-ply set that has been favorably reviewed and is reasonably priced.
"If you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." -Carl Sagan
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Old 05-25-2006, 02:30 PM   #5
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Thanks Andy. I thought that "exec chef" was pulled from your profile. sorry, new to this forum!
Thanks again. I'll be shopping over the weekend.
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Old 06-01-2006, 11:53 PM   #6
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Here's a bit of physics that will help you make a good choice. Metals are all conductors of both electricity and heat. Glass and ceramics are insulators against both electricity and heat (and yes there are exceptions). Metals, glass and ceramics, and all cooking vessels also have a property called thermal mass.

Here's how it works. Some metals are better conductors of heat than others. That is, when heat is applied to the metal, a good heat conducting metal will be able to absorb more of that heat in a given period of time, and transfer it to other objects touching it through a property called conduction. So, a good heat conductor is also a good heat radiator or source.

Steel and iron are relatively poor heat conductors as far as metals go. And because of this, they tend to get hot where the heat source touches them. That heat energy will spread to the surounding metal, but slowly. This creates uneven temperatures accross the cooking surface, usually reffered to as hot and cold or cool spots. Of course this makes food preperation difficult as some portions of the food will cook faster than other portions.

This property can actually be an advantage in certain types of cooking. A good example is with stir-fries, and is especially evident in a carbon-steel wok. Typically, the surface touched by the flame is where the cooking takes place. And because of the wok shape, it allows food that is done to be moved from the hot bottom to the cooler sides. This makes room on the bottom for the cook to prepare more food. When all of the ingredients are cooked for the dish, everything is combined. Because the sides are warm, even hot, that food located on teh wok sides is already realitively warm and is readily mixed into the hotter food.

Cast iron is another pan that conducts heat poorly. But it is also thick, massive. It takes substantial energy to get it hot. That energy is stored in the molecular vibrations of the metal. When foods are added to the hot pan, it transfers that stored energy to the food in a continuous manner. This makes cast iron great for cooking things like meat that has to be seared and browned. The pan will transfer sufficient energy, and in a controlled manner, to keep oils hot for frying, or pancakes browning evenly. Though the pan has hot spots, over time (called preheating), the cooking surface temperature will even out, creating a great cooking surface. And believe it or not, that black color that develops over time, helps the metal absorb heat faster.

Stainless steel pans are made of thinner metal and develop fairly dramatic hot spots. As all materials expand and contract in physical size when heated and cooled, this can even cause permanent warping of the cooking surface as some areas of the cooking surface expand more than others. Rapid expansion and contractions of cast-iron can cause it to crack or even explode. This is why you never place a hot cast iron pan into very cold water. Teh iron is brittle and the great pressures cause by the rapidly cooling outer metal skin can cause catastrophic failure of the metal.

In stainless steel cookware, to help eliminate the hot spots and provide a uniformly heated cooking surface, more conductive metals, such as aluminum and copper are used to distribute the heat evenly to all parts of the steel cooking surface. This is accomplished by the heat source raising the temperature of the steel where the heat concentration is greatest. This heat is quickly absorbed by the highly conductive aluminum or copper that touches the steel. That heat rapidly spreads in the more conductive sandwiched metal, which in turn transfers the energy, by conduction, evenly to all of the cooking surface. In effect, it takes the high conentration of the heat at the source and distributes it accross the pan surface.

So you can see that with stainless steel pans using the multy-ply disks on the bottom, or a direct layer of copper or aluminum on the bottom, the pan will heat evenly accross the bottom cooking surface while the less condutive stainless steel on the pan sides will be more resistant to heat absorption. In some of my stainless pans, I have seen the bottom bow upward slightly as the pan bottom expanded faster than did the side, which had no highly conductive metal touching it. When that pan later cooled to a uniform temperature, the bottom again became flat as it contracted.

With pans like All Clad, where the aluminum or copper is sandwiched throughout the pan, the sides will be heated by the heat jsut as the bottom is. This is useful for boiling liquids, making stews or soups, or any other cooking chore where you might want heat to come at the food from all sides. It's not very helpful if you want to saute mushrooms, or fry an egg.

I mentioned glass and ceramics. The question you might ask is; if they are heat insulators, why do we cook with them? The answer is simple. They are not perfect insulators and do heat up as energy is applied to them, albeit more slowly than do metals. But they have enormous thermal mass per unit volume, and tend to distribute heat very evenly to foods. They are usually used where slow and moist cooking techniques are required, or when you want to present heat evely from all directions to a food, such as with baked beans, casseroles, stuffings, pot roasts, etc. But even they have limitations. They don't heat quickly and so require more energy and time to get up to temperature. And square or rectangular casserole dishes tend to concentrate heat at the corners, creating hot spots that can burn foods before the entire dish is completely done.

So what do we get from all of this? Simply that the many pans, pots, and cooking vessles vary in performance characteristics. Some are better for one thing, while others are more suited to something else. To say that one type of pan is best, is at best, ludricous, and at worst, just plain wrong. Figure out what kind of cooking you do most, that is, what techniques you prefer. Then you will be ready to choose the proper cookware for you.

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Old 06-06-2006, 02:56 PM   #7
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Thanks SO MUCH for the thorough explaination. It was very, very helpful. While I am not a chef and do not cook 7 days a week, I do like to prepare quick meals some weeknights and often prepare a few days' worth of lunches on sunday. Additionally, my interest in cooking continues to grow so I'd like to find cookware that I can "grow" into. I'd also like to find something that performs well; looks great - and will continue to look great; is durable; dishwasher safe and easy to clean. I don't mind spending a little extra on some good cookware if I can get most of my wishlist crossed off. Probably sounds like I want it all!

Thank you again for your help!

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Old 06-06-2006, 03:06 PM   #8
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Sorry for oftopic, but why in the world would yuo get an electric stove after renovation, sorry just don't understand this
You are what you eat.
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Old 11-20-2006, 12:24 PM   #9
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burnt edges

Very helpful comments on this string - thanks!

I have a gas stove and am looking for new cookware. With my current cookware, I find that the sides tend to burn (where the disk ends and it's just SS). Do I need to look for cookware with copper that wraps up the sides slightly or is it just that the cookware I'm using is substandard? (i.e., does that generally tend to happen with the disk-based cookware? Should I be looking for something else?) Really appreciate your help with this.
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Old 11-20-2006, 12:30 PM   #10
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Yes that is the downfall of disk based cookware. What you want to get so that you do not have that problem is clad cookware. All Clad is the most popular (and quite expensive), but there are many other brands of clad cookware to choose from.

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