How we tested
Here in the test kitchen, we have 15 stockpots of varying sizes, and we use them often. Most home kitchens, however, have room for a single stockpot, so it must handle a variety of big jobs—from steaming lobsters and cooking bushels of corn to canning and making huge batches of chili or homemade stock.
So what size is best? After substantial pretesting, we determined that a 12-quart stockpot is the most useful size—it's the "smallest" big pot, meaning it can handle most big jobs yet is small enough to store with your other pots and pans. So how much do you have to spend to get a good 12-quart stockpot? We bought nine basic stockpots (no fancy steaming or boiling inserts), ranging in price from $25 to $389.95, and headed into the test kitchen to find out.
We boiled water, cooked mounds of pasta (two pounds of pasta and eight quarts of water at a time), prepared two dozen ears of corn, and made double batches of beef chili in each pot. To evaluate the pots, our testers used digital scales, thermometers, stopwatches, gas and electric burners, and plenty of elbow grease. They handled each stockpot extensively to get a sense of its overall feel (both empty and full) and handle design. We washed the pots repeatedly and practiced stowing them away. We found three factors earned a recommended rating.
- Our testers preferred wide stockpots to tall and narrow ones, as greater width allows you to see and manipulate food better and makes for easier cleaning and storage.
- The lighter pots did a fine job cooking corn and pasta—in fact, they heat up faster than than heavier pots. But for cooking applications where sticking and scorching are risks (such as chili), a heavier pot, especially one with a thick bottom, is a must.
- Handles matter—a lot. We found that the best handles extend from the pot at least 1 3/4 inches and are either flat or thick and round, for easy gripping.
Overall, if you use a stockpot primarily to boil corn or pasta, it makes sense to buy a good, but inexpensive model and use the savings to upgrade something else in your kitchen. But if you use your pots for more intensive cooking operations, like chili, opt for the heavier, more expensive models. Whatever your price range, opt for a pot that feels heavy for its size. And when shopping, give the handles a test-run by picking up pots with potholders.
The best stockpot we tested, the $389.95. All-Clad, impressed us more for what it didn't do—scorch on the bottom or feel awkward or flimsy—than for what it did do; after all, how sexy can a stockpot be, even when it's performing flawlessly? That said, our testers preferred wide stockpots (such as the All-Clad) to tall and narrow ones (such as the Vollrath), as greater width allows you to see and manipulate food better and makes for easier cleaning and storage.
The heavier pots (all weighed without lids) outperformed the lighter models. The four heaviest pots in our testing were all made of stainless steel with an aluminum core. Aluminum conducts heat very well and ensures more even cooking and fewer hot spots. The aluminum core also makes the bottom of the pot thicker, which reduces scorching. The lighter pots (including those without aluminum cores) did a fine job cooking corn and pasta—in fact, they heat up faster than the more even-heating pots with aluminum cores. But for cooking applications where sticking and scorching are risks (such as chili), a heavier pot is a must.
Handles matter—a lot. We found that the best handles extend from the pot at least 1 3/4 inches and are either flat or thick and round, for easy gripping. The All-Clad, Cuisinart, Lincoln, and Arcosteel pots had the best handles—they were easy to grip, even with potholders and a pot full of steaming chili. Pots made by Vollrath and Farberware performed well in cooking tests but were severely downgraded because testers found their thin handles to be awkward and poorly designed.