An Expert Guide to Stock PotsPublished on 06/13/2023 · 10 min readMaster the art of cooking with our Expert guide to stock pots. Explore versatile options, sizes, and materials for the perfect culinary creations!
Photo by Ground Picture
TL;DR: When buying a stock pot, consider the capacity (8-15+ quarts), kitchen storage, and your budget. It’s always good to look for comfortable handles to grip, a tight-fitting lid, and a material type that suits your aesthetic preferences and is compatible with your cooktop.
Hi! I’m Jake, an Expert in the kitchen department here at Curated. With over 20 years in restaurants and eight years working full-time in a soup kitchen, I’ve had a few experiences with stock pots. I've used them all, from enameled Dutch ovens to large saucepans and 12-quart 5-ply stainless pots to deep fry food. I love helping people find the right cookware for their needs.
What Is a Stock Pot?
Stock pots have a large capacity, depth, and width and probably aren't your best choice for baking cookies. They are perfect for soups, boiling pasta and beans, canning jars, steaming vegetables, reducing stock, and slow-cooking stews. Stock pots are great for large batches.
What Are the Different Stock Pot Materials?
Stock pots come in several different materials, so here’s the full spread of what’s available, their pros, cons, and best uses.
1. Stainless Steel
Boiling chicken bones for noodle soup? The most common stock pot material is stainless because it’s cost-effective, durable, and non-reactive to acidic ingredients like tomato or blueberry compote. Most budget options will have a heavy three-layer base and a thin layer of stainless along the walls (inefficient). High-end options will have three layers of material throughout the entire vessel making it more durable and higher performing (often the first choice for commercial kitchens).
- Most durable
- Won’t react to food
- Often cost-effective
- Metal utensil safe
- Budget options are not fully-clad, resulting in reduced performance and durability
Best for: Pasta sauce, lobster boils, acidic vegetables.
2. Enameled Steel
A classic material design, enameled steel is colorful, non-reactive to acidic ingredients, lightweight, and easy to clean. Often available in various colors, these stock pots are about as simple as they come.
- Easy to clean
- Best with wood or soft-tipped utensils
- Enamel coating can chip when accidents happen, making this option the least durable
- Lower performance conduction heating than clad aluminum or copper pots
- Might not work with an induction stovetop
Best for: Matching to a simple and classic aesthetic.
3. Enameled Cast Iron
While cast iron cookware is the most inefficient (least conductive), it has the highest heat retention. Most cast iron pots come in the form of a short and wide Dutch oven that is perfect for slow-cooked stews, baking bread, or even sautéing veggies. They’re very heavy, and once you get the ingredients loaded in, it can be too much for some people to transport.
- Amazing heat retention
- Most versatile for baking, stewing, and braising
- Perfect for induction cooktops
- Very heavy material
- Least conductive and least heat control (oven mitts required!)
Best for: Deep frying, braising, slow-cooked stews.
With elegance and performance, copper is a classic material. It’s highly heat conductive, but because it’s a reactive material, most commonly, you’ll find copper used as either an external or core layer of the vessel. At the same time, the inside cooking surface will remain clad with a more durable and non-reactive layer of stainless steel.
- Cooking tests show it’s the best heat conductivity
- Has exact temperature control
- Classic aesthetics
- Metal utensil-safe
- Most expensive
- Copper will naturally tarnish with use (it doesn’t affect performance but does require polishing if you want that shine)
- Often not compatible with induction
Best for: Adding a high-performing and timeless aesthetic to your kitchen that will last for generations.
Some nonstick cookware are good stock pots. They’re great for slow-cooked stews that leave glazed rings on the rim of the vessel. I typically don’t recommend nonstick cookware because they aren’t durable. They’re often available in hard anodized aluminum or clad stainless steel, but nonsticks require a specific level of care if you want them to last more than a few years.
- Easiest to clean
- Often made with highly conductive aluminum
- Affordable and high performing
- Not ideal for high-heat exposure that is often required to boil liquids
- Soft-tipped utensils are required to avoid damaging the nonstick coating
- Vessel will eventually need replacing
Best for: Low-temp cooking, rice, and any ingredients prone to burning or sticking.
What to Consider When Buying a Stock Pot
1. What Size Stock Pot Do You Need?
Consider your number of desired servings, your budget, and whether there’s enough room in your cupboards. A large pot is 12-20 quarts (most folks don’t have enough space for these, so the pot lives on the stovetop!). The most common dimensions (8-10 quarts) are plenty for family kitchens. Also good to make sure the handle size fits you!
2. How Important Are Heat Distribution and Retention?
Because heating liquids requires so much energy, it’s worth spending on a more efficient stock pot. Heat retention is important when using a lower heat source or slow cooking, but it’s also helpful when serving because the contents stay warm for longer (one reason why enameled cast iron is popular.)
3. How Much Maintenance or Preventative Care Are You Willing to Invest?
While copper is durable, it loses that fancy shine and requires polishing. Nonstick is easily damaged with high heat and metal utensils. Enameled stock pots can chip and scratch, too. Ask yourself if you’re willing to commit to preventative care. Otherwise, stainless steel pots are the most durable, with only a little more effort to clean.
4. How Much Should a Stock Pot Cost?
Most stock pots range from $30 (Cook N Home, T-Fal) to over $400 (Hestan, Le Creuset, Ruffoni), but the sweet spot is around $150-250 (All-Clad, Viking, Made In, Zwilling, Calphalon). I do not recommend low-cost stock pots. They use cheap materials, are easily damaged, and are inefficient. High-end stock pots look and perform amazingly but only marginally better than mid-range. If you want to save some money overall, cookware sets often include a stock pot and will save 30% or more versus buying individually.
Features to Look for in a Stock Pot
Here are some top features that are proven to increase durability and ease of use, making your stock pot more fun to own:
- Heavy bottom: A thick 3-ply base is a minimum recommendation as it prevents hot spots and helps distribute heat across the vessel.
- Multi-ply construction: Three full layers of aluminum and/or copper sandwiched between stainless steel results in durable and high-performing cookware. But this does significantly increase the cost.
- Riveted metal handles: Rivets make for sturdy handles. But some folks don’t like this style of handle because food can glaze to the rivets, which adds to the cleanup.
- Heat-resistant handles: If you don’t want to need oven mitts and to avoid burning yourself (yes, all stock pot handles get hot.), a stock pot with a layer of silicone around the handles might be your best option.
- Flared rims: While a flared rim slightly increases the width, it allows easy pouring and increases durability. But some aren’t, so it’s worth noting.
- Graduated markings: Often found in more expensive stainless options, laser-engraved markings indicate the quantity. Great for having more accurate info on portions.
- Oven-safe: Often, stock pots won’t fit in a conventional oven, but Dutch ovens will and are oven safe.
- Steam basket: Most stock pots don’t come with a steam basket. But it’s a device worth considering.
Features to Avoid in Stock Pots
Budget stock pots usually have features to avoid. Please consider this list of reasons why it’s worth spending more for your stock pot.
- Welded handles: Low-cost stock pots with welded handles should be avoided because they have a history of eventually failing and breaking at the worst moments.
- Non-vented lids: When steaming carrots and other veggies, having a lid with built-in vents lets you control heat and release excess moisture. This also makes it easier to remove the lid, as sometimes a vacuum effect can seal the vessel.
- Low-quality nonstick coatings: Generally, I don’t recommend nonstick stock pots because it’s a lot of surface area for the nonstick coating to fail, and the larger vessels tend to flex and warp more with heat. However, some high-end nonsticks are great because they use durable and nontoxic materials and are backed by solid lifetime warranties.(Scanpan, Le Creuset).
- Overly heavy pots: A heavy stock pot isn’t inherently the problem, but whether or not you’re comfortable lifting it is. Make sure the size of stock pot is one you can comfortably lift.
How to Choose the Best Stock Pot for You
Here are a few examples of people with common needs and what I recommend for their circumstances.
Needs: Sarah's household consists of three hungry people, and she loves to have leftovers for the rest of the week. Her son is learning to help with the dishes, and she needs something durable that is more likely to live from accidental small drops into the sink basin or kitchen floor (when empty, hopefully).
Feature to look for: Durability
Products to consider:
- Demeyer Atlantis 8.9-quart Stainless Dutch Oven: Short and wide, this Dutch oven has all of the capacity of a regular stock pot, but the shape is perfect for fitting in the oven. Its 7-ply construction is the best there is for durability and performance.
- Le Creuset Round Dutch Oven: Enameled cast iron might be a bit heavy and delicate for some kids, but with the right instructions, it’s very easy to care for Dutch ovens like this one.
- Zwilling Spirit 3-ply 6-quart Stainless Dutch Oven: This is my budget pick. It has everything a basic pot needs (durability, 3-ply construction, and a good lid), making it a great entry point for home use. (Note: The lid should be limited to 350°F.)
Needs: Michael owns a small restaurant and needs a durable stainless stock pot that can handle day-to-day use.
Features to look for: Durability, ease of maintenance, easy to replace
Products to consider:
- Viking 3-ply 12-quart: One of the larger stock pots available, 3-ply is thick-gauge material that is durable and efficient at heating. Easily my top pick for a commercial kitchen.
- KitchenAid 5-ply 8-quart: The perfect mid-range option for home kitchens but perfect in a restaurant. This 5-ply stock pot is built well with rolled edges that are easy to pour and has an oven-proof stainless lid.
- KitchenAid 3-ply Base 8-quart: The budget option is a good stock pot for beginners, but it might not hold up long-term because the vessel walls are made with a single ply of stainless steel that can lose shape when knocked around the kitchen.
Needs: Annie loves cooking for small dinner parties and wants a stock pot that aesthetically emphasizes her love for bright aromats and performance.
Features to look for: Style, performance
Products to consider:
- Ruffoni Symphonia Cupra 8-quart Stock Pot: Elegant from every angle, the copper finish of this stock pot is also about as high-performance as it gets. Just keep in mind that copper requires polishing occasionally to keep the shine.
- Viking Contemporary 8-quart Stock Pot: With a modern design, slimmer at the base, and wide at the opening, this stock pot looks like a big stainless popcorn tub, which is fun. But it’s also 3-ply stainless with a vented glass lid, making it easy to control heat and see how ingredients are coming along.
- Demeyere Atlantis Stainless Steel Stock Pot: A 7-ply is the most efficient, even-heating and durable version of stainless steel, but it’s also the most expensive.
Finding the Right Stock Pot for You
Spending more on a good stock pot is worth the investment. It’ll be more durable, energy-efficient, and will heat your food more evenly. There’s a lot to consider and a bunch of options out there. If you want feedback on your decision, please chat with me or one of my fellow Kitchen Experts here on Curated.