Tin-Lined Copper Cookware: What, Why & How

The Mauviel factory is located in Villedieu-les-Poêles, which translates to ‘city of frying pans’. Though it is not in the name, the implication is copper pans, evident in the French commune’s copper monuments, antique shops specialising in copper, and, of course, Mauviel. The company, headed by the seventh-generation heir of founder Ernest Mauviel, has manufactured cookware there since 1830.

Our team visited the Mauviel factory in October to learn more about why their pans are so special – and there are just too many reasons to fit into one article. So we are breaking it down into different topics. Here, we focus on tin-lined copper.

Why Does Copper Need to Be Lined with Another Metal?

Copper is a reactive metal, which means that when it comes into contact with acidic ingredients (wine, citrus juice, and tomatoes, for example), the metal ‘leeches’ onto food. This doesn’t mean you can’t cook with an unlined copper pan, but it does mean you are limited in what you can cook. If you do cook acidic ingredients, you need to offset it with sugar, which acts as a buffer. 
Copper pans waiting to be tinned.

Why Tin? And How Is It Applied?

Non-reactive tin has been used to line copper pans since the 1600s, because tin and copper bond together naturally. According to the website Vintage French Copper, when the atoms of these two metals come together, a rigid, lattice-like barrier forms between them that keeps copper away from whatever you are cooking.
In the video below, you’ll see what we mean when we say copper and tin bond together naturally. The coppersmith scoops pieces of tin into the copper saucepan and swirls it around so the tin melts and bonds to every inch of the pan’s interior. (The sides of the saucepan are covered in a white polish to prevent burn marks in the area where it is being gripped by the metal holder.)

Though the coppersmith makes the process look effortless, it is most certainly not, and takes a level of specialised skill that’s extremely rare. Because of Mauviel’s long heritage of making functional copper cookware (not ornamental copper), this technique has been preserved, practised, and perfected. It is done by hand to ensure quality.
Tinning this extra-large pan took a bit more time.

Pros & Cons of Tin-Lined Copper Pans

The transfer of energy between copper and tin is almost seamless, like two best friends having an animated conversation. That’s why a tin-lined copper pan caramelises food so beautifully, and it’s the top choice for chefs and copper purists. Tin-lined copper pans are also easier to clean than copper lined with stainless steel.

The downside? A tin lining will wear down eventually, requiring the owner of a copper pan to send it to a specialist for re-tinning. (There are a few in the UK.) Depending on how often you cook with a copper pan, it will need to be re-tinned every 10 to 20 years.

We do not recommend using metal utensils or metal scourers on tin-lined copper, as they can wear down or scratch the lining.
In this close-up, you'll notice the trace left behind by the movement of the tin—a mark of authentic craftsmanship.

Tin vs. Stainless Steel

Stainless steel is a relatively new invention, and did not become a common feature in cookware until the 1970s. While copper and tin bond naturally, copper must be bonded to stainless steel mechanically. It cannot be done entirely by hand, as it can with tin.

This lack of natural bonding extends to the way these metals transfer heat. The transfer is not as quick or seamless as tin. This is not to say stainless steel-lined copper pans won’t conduct heat well – you will still experience the unparalleled quick, even heating of copper. But compared to tin-lined copper, it is not as effective.

Stainless steel-lined copper has one major advantage: durability. It will never need to be ‘re-tinned’, and you can use any utensils you’d like without risk of scratching.