The Best Gear for Soup and Stew Season

These test kitchen–approved tools will help you achieve soup success every time.

The most current Instant Pot multicooker is a great, easy-to-use appliance. Its flat-bottomed interior pot allows for even searing. Stay-cool handles mean you can easily move the pot, even when it’s hot. The streamlined interface was easy to navigate. A “favorites” feature lets you save go-to recipes. It has a pressure-release switch that keeps your hand away from the hot steam when you vent the machine, and a diffuser on the vent makes the steam disperse slightly more gently. We liked that we could disable the “keep warm” function so that the food wouldn’t keep cooking once it was done. You can also program a timer to alert you after 5 or 10 minutes of natural pressure release, which saves you a trip back to the machine between cooking stages. A few quibbles: The baking function uses steam, so it’s excellent for cheesecake but not much else. The machine doesn’t have a fan to circulate the water and isn’t as accurate as a good sous vide machine, so it’s not capable of true sous vide cooking. It also couldn’t slow-cook large cuts of meat well. But none of these issues was a deal breaker for us. The pressure-cooking, rice, sautéing, yogurt, and steaming functions were all excellent and are reason enough to get a multicooker.

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At nearly half the price of our favorite multicooker, this inexpensive model produced excellent pressure- and slow-cooked food but had a busier, less intuitive control panel. Instead of a digital screen, the button-heavy panel was inundated with presets, making it tougher to navigate. It made excellent white rice and pressure- and slow-cooked beef stew and baked beans, though, yielding tender meat and beans within our recipe times. This multicooker’s nonstick cooking pot was easy to clean, but browning beef took longer. It reduced liquid efficiently and sautéed well, and we liked that it had a manual start button. Overall, this more budget-friendly model produced great results.

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Our former champion won again for its well-designed, straightforward control panel with a countdown timer that was simple and unambiguous to set and allowed us to monitor progress at a glance. The roomy, heavy stoneware crock cooked gently and evenly and never boiled, so food emerged tender and juicy. We loved that its broad, protruding handles with grippy textured undersides usually stayed cool enough that we could pick up the crock without potholders. Thick insulation kept heat directed toward the crock, and a built-in internal temperature sensor gave this slow cooker extra “brains” to keep the temperature below boiling, which helped guarantee better results.

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This new "multicooker"—a slow cooker that can also brown/saute and steam food—produced perfect chicken, steaks, and ribs, with no scorching or hot spots. Its programmable timer can be set to cook for up to 24 hours and then automatically switches over to “keep warm." We liked its lightweight, easy-to-clean, unbreakable metal insert with extra-large, comfy handles, and its oval shape, clear lid, and intuitive controls. The brown/saute and steam functions both work as promised. A nice bonus is that the browning function, with adjustable temperature control from 150 F to 400 F, lets you sear food before slow-cooking, or reduce sauces afterward, without dirtying a second pan.

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This quiet, high-powered blender has simple, intuitive controls. As for its blending capability, it was top-notch. It was able to produce fine-textured foods without incorporating excess air, thanks to its narrow blender jar. The tamper accessory was helpful when blending thicker foods, and the blender’s 7-year warranty insured our investment. It’s tall, at 20.25 inches, so it can’t be stored on a counter beneath a standard 18-inch-tall cabinet, and its narrow jar made scraping out its contents a minor challenge.

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This perfect, pricey pot bested the competition again. It was substantial enough to hold and distribute heat evenly without being unbearably heavy. The light-colored interior combined with low, straight sides gave us good visibility and made it easy to monitor browning and thermometer position. The broad cooking surface saved us time since we could cook more food at once. The lid was smooth and easy to clean. This pot is expensive, but it was exceptionally resistant to damage.

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This reliable pot performed almost as well as a traditional cast-iron Dutch oven. Its fully clad construction ensured stellar heat retention and distribution, helping it sear meat efficiently and evenly. Its broad cooking surface meant that we didn’t have to sear meat in extra batches, and its large, easy-to-grip handles and low, straight sides allowed us to maneuver and reach down into the pot with ease. It was large enough to fry in, and it baked bread adequately, though its loaf was not as satisfyingly browned and crusty as those from our favorite cast-iron pots.

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Our Best Buy lightweight Dutch oven is constructed from three layers of durable stainless steel and aluminum, which radiated and distributed heat efficiently and evenly. This led to a great sear on meat and beautifully cooked rice. We also liked its large, secure handles and tight-fitting lid. But it had one drawback: Its cooking surface is 2 inches smaller than that of our winner, so it took more batches (and more time) to sear food.

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Our top-ranked braiser had several features that contributed to a solid performance in test after test: a light interior that made it easy to monitor browning; a moderately thick bottom that helped ensure good heat retention and even browning; a generous cooking surface that fit every recipe from whole chicken to meatballs to pork ragu without crowding; and large, comfortable looped handles and a stainless-steel lid knob that gave us a secure grip, especially important when the pan was heavy and full of hot food. While pricey, this versatile braiser made great food, was easy to use, and looked good enough to double as a serving dish.

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This pan performed just as well as our favorite braiser but had smaller handles that were tough to grasp. Because of its thicker cooking surface, it took a bit longer to heat up and to brown chicken thighs. This braiser had the largest cooking surface area, which ensured proper liquid reduction and a rich, flavorful ragu. It was easy to clean and withstood being whacked with a spoon and having its lid slammed down repeatedly. This pan delivered excellent results at a bargain price.

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We love this model’s handle, which was thick enough to provide a sturdy place for our fingers to grip but not so thick that it felt awkward. Made of textured polypropylene, it was easy to grab onto even when it was slick with butter or sticky from bread dough. This bench scraper’s rectangular blade covered a lot of ground with each swipe as we scraped the counter and cutting board and also scooped an impressive amount of chopped onions. Though its edge isn’t beveled, it is thin enough to be among the sharpest in the lineup and had no trouble cutting through bread dough or cubing butter. While the manufacturer recommends hand washing for the best results, the scraper survived several trips through the dishwasher during this round of testing, and the copies we stock in the test kitchen have always emerged from our industrial dishwashers unscathed.

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Everything we did with this ladle felt easy and controlled, from scooping chunky stew out of a small saucepan to reaching into a tall stockpot to collect broth. The 45-degree angle of the offset handle put our arms and wrists at a natural angle, giving us full control. The slightly shallow bowl worked well for scraping the bottom of a pot, though it was less convenient for collecting and retaining springy noodles than a deeper bowl would be.

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Testers raved about this classic wooden spoon. Light, long, and maneuverable, it kept our hands far from the heat, and its rounded, tapered handle was comfortable and easy to grip in a variety of ways as we worked. It also suited both right- and left-handed testers. The slim tip of its nicely scooped-out oval bowl was easy to maneuver under food for turning and scooping, and when angled slightly, the head provided sufficient area for scraping fond. Made of teak, the wood resisted staining or drying out, retained its color, and never became rough to touch, even after 10 cycles through the dishwasher. 

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The best innovative spoon we tested, this “spootle” (a combination spoon and spatula), won fans for its light, maneuverable weight and shape; slim, long scraping edge and rounded bowl for scooping food; and tapered, rounded handle that was comfortable and easy to grip in a variety of positions as we worked. The cherry wood had a pleasantly smooth texture and resisted becoming overly dried out and rough, even after 10 dishwasher cycles. (Note: This spoon is available in right- or left-handed versions. We tested the right-handed model; despite this, two left-handed testers gave it high marks.)

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Our winning spoons had a simple design that allowed for a continuous, bump-free sweep, with a ball-chain connector (similar to what military dog tags hang on) that was easy to open and close. This set's metal construction felt remarkably sturdy, and ingredients didn't cling to the stainless steel. And while the 1-tablespoon measure did not fit into all spice jars, it was a minor inconvenience for an otherwise easy-to-use set.

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