Published February 1, 2007.
Do you have to spend big money for a big pot?
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.
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.