A stock pot (sometimes spelled stockpot) is a very large and deep pan with straight sides. They are used for simmering large amounts of liquids and their size allows you to fit all the stock ingredients you will need to make a stock. You can use a stock pot any time you need a large capacity pot for holding a lot of liquid, such as boiling pasta. Some stock pots come with spigots near the bottom so that liquids can be drained off safely without the contents of the pot coming out with the liquid.
What is the Best Stock Pot?
The best stock pot is the one that fits your needs, but the design of a stockpot is actually quite specific. It is not just meant to be big so that it can hold a large amount of liquid and solid ingredients. Its tall and narrow design crowds in the meats, bones, vegetables, and so forth so that the bubbling liquid can make the most of them, extracting their flavor and keeping the liquid hot throughout, rather than it being hottest in the center of the pan. As well, the narrow design helps reduce evaporation so that the liquid does not boil off as quickly. There is also one other practical reason for stockpots being very large: Stock is a lot of trouble to make, and it really isn’t worth making in small amounts.
Recommendation: Cuisinart Chef’s Classic 12-Quart Stockpot with Cover
However, not all pots called ‘stockpots’ adhere to this design. Also available are wider designs with more narrow sizes, which can be thought of simply as large pots for all-around use.
All stock pots, of course, can be used for any large job, such as boiling pasta, corn on the cob, etc. However, you must keep in mind the use you intend for your pot. If you want a stockpot just because you need a very large pot, but you don’t intend to make a lot of stock, you may want to choose a stockpot with a wider design, instead of a tall and narrow one. For example, if your intention is to make huge pots of soup, pasta sauce, chili, etc., a tall narrow design will make it difficult to stir and manipulate the ingredients. So, here, think ‘wide and large’ rather than ‘tall and narrow.’ At the same time, if this is the kind of cooking you intend to do, a thicker pot with a better design, such as a clad or encapsulated base, or just a good thick metal overall, will be better, as this will minimize burning and sticking.
Despite the good design, stockpots are bulky, heavy, and can be expensive. They will take up a lot of room in storage so unless you plan to make a lot of stock, or very large batches of soup or sauces, or boil large amounts of pasta, you probably do not need one. You can still make a good stock in almost any large pot.
What Material for Stock Pots?
If you do need one, it is worth getting a sturdy one, as it must hold a large amount of liquid. Cheap stock pots may not be so cheap in the end, as they will be made of thinner gage metal which will not hold heat as well and will not stand up to use.
Aluminum Stock Pots
Aluminum stock pots are great for heat conductivity, but aluminum reacts with acidic liquids, which can cause both the liquid and the pot to discolor and result in off flavors. Aluminum is also quite soft so an aluminum stockpot will not hold up for a lifetime. Since the kind of cooking you will be doing in your stock pot does not require perfect heat conduction, aluminum, despite its superiority in this area, is not the best choice.
Stainless Steel Stock Pots
The best choices for the home cook is a pure stainless steel pot, a stainless steel ‘clad’ pot, or stainless steel with a steel encapsulated (clad) aluminum base.
Stainless steel has poor heat conductivity compared to aluminum, so a pure steel base will make your pot slow to heat up (water will take much longer to boil). Stainless steel does have good heat retention, however, meaning that once it heats up, it will stay hot (this has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the type of cooking you’re doing).
Stainless steel clad pots, or steel encapsulated aluminum base posts take care of this issue by using aluminum sandwhiched in between (clad) with stainless steel. This gives you the better cooking qualities of the aluminum, on the inside, with the non-reactivity of the stainless-steel on the outside. Some pots are entirely made of clad aluminum, while others have a layer of stainless steel clad layer of aluminum only on the bottom, the most critical area. Both can be good choices.
Anodized aluminum or aluminum alloy might also be good choices, reducing the weight of the pot significantly while giving great heat conductivity and minimizing reactivity. Clad pots with anodized aluminum or aluminum alloy, with an inner layer of regular aluminum, are also available. Clad stockpots can be tremendously expensive, but there are medium to low priced offerings that will perform quite well for the home cook. Don’t by a plain aluminum pot of any kind.
A heavy base is important, regardless of material, in order for the pot to heat up well and stay hot. A stainless steel pot with an encapsulated base can be a cost-effective option but since there are affordable clad pots available, that are much cheaper than higher-end brands such as All-Clad, which can cost more than $300, a little more money may go a long way. However, an encapsulated base is a good compromise. The thick base will have an aluminum core to help speed up heating and spread the heat evenly, without the added expensive of a completely “clad” pot.
What Size Stock Pot do I Need?
If you do want a stock pot, the largest available is probably not a good choice for the home cook. Stock pot sizes for the home cook range from 8 to 22 quarts, a monster of a pot! For restaurant and industrial use, stockpots come in sizes as large as 200 quarts, a pot that most of us would consider a vat. Large stock pots sometimes come with a spigot at the bottom for draining off the liquid. This may be an essential feature in stock pots too large to lift and drain by pouring.
A good rule of thumb is to estimate the largest size you might need, then double it for safety. If you plan to use huge bones then you will need a huge stockpot. Also, if you plan on cooking a lot of lobster, you’ll need to go big. In Maine, a huge stockpot is a necessity! For the casual cook, 12 quarts is a good size to have. Make sure it has a tight-fitting lid, preferable metal, and two large handles on each side for carrying when full. The handles should be riveted in place!
Taking into consideration all these factors, and keeping the prices reasonable, the Cuisinart Chef’s Classic Stockpot, as recommended above, is a good choice. These are stainless steel clad pots with riveted handles and will perform very well for most home cooks. They come in 8, 10, and 12-quart sizes.
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