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If you have even just a little experience cooking at home, you probably have a few items that would be deal breakers if you were suddenly without them. For me, one of these items is a stock pot. Everyone needs a big pot in which they can boil enough pasta to feed an army, make large batches of jam or tomato sauce to make it through the winter, or make a monthly gargantuan batch of stock, and a good stock pot covers these bases perfectly. Size and shape play an important role in deciding which pot to purchase, but the biggest factor in performance and in price will be the material from which your pot is made. so let’s start with a few of the more common ones.
Stock pots come in a dizzying array of options, some of which don’t fit into most budgets. The priciest and most beautiful pots are usually copper, but because the majority of your stock pot use will be some variation of simmering a liquid, a task that can be easily accomplished with less expensive material, it’s overkill for most people to spend the several hundred dollars a good copper pot costs. You’re better off investing your money in something useful like a set of good knives. On the flip side, if you are looking for a gorgeous show piece in your kitchen that you can still get good use out of, a copper pot is hard to beat. I would probably purchase this as a gift for someone before adding it to my collection of pots and pans as I just don’t think the benefits equal the cost, but they sure are gorgeous.
On the less expensive end of things, aluminum seems a welcome option after the sticker shock of a copper pot; however, what you gain in price, you lose in usefulness. With its capacity for quick heating and light weight, it looks like a great pick, but aluminum reacts poorly with some foods, resulting in off colors and flavors. If you never plan to use tomatoes or other reactive foods in this pot, it’s not a bad choice. Anondized aluminum is another option, but is pricier and must be hand washed.
Falling between aluminum and copper on the price spectrum is stainless steel. Stainless is easy to clean and maintain, heats evenly, treats your food well, and comes with options. You can get a solid stainless steel pot or you can pay a little bit more for a model that has an aluminum core in the base of the pot. This gives you the benefit of aluminum’s rapid heating with stainless’s even heating and easy maintenance. You can spring for one with a copper core, but it’s costly and completely unnecessary for this kind of a pot. I have one 12 quart stainless steel stock pot with an aluminum core, a similar 16 quart version, and one massive 40 quart pot, all of which can handle anything I’ve thrown at them, and the bases are thick enough that if I want to brown some vegetables before adding stock to make soup, I don’t have to worry about uneven heating or poor heat retention.
Shape and Size
Now that we’ve covered materials, what should you look for in shape and size? Classic stock pots are tall and a bit narrow, allowing for less evaporation as your stock simmers, and are what you want to look for. Size, on the other hand, is a bit subjective. If you don’t plan on cooking large batches of anything, you will be fine with a 12 quart model; however, if you are buying a stockpot for the purpose of its namesake, do yourself a favor and go larger with at least a 16 quart pot that can hold plenty of chicken carcasses and soup bones. Whatever size you use, try to find something with a rounded lip around the perimeter for drip-free pouring. Also, if you’re short like me, remember that the taller the pot, the more unwieldy it will be when it comes to pouring out the contents of the pot.
Best bang for your buck: Cuisinart’s 12 quart stainless steel stock pot, Tramontina’s 16 quart stainless steel covered stock pot
Do you like the stock pot you have? Why or why not? If you were to replace yours (or buy your first one), what would you want to purchase?