Experts say the most versatile pot for cooking everything from beef stew to pasta is a 12-quart, stainless-steel stockpot.
In this category, the absolute top performer in professional tests is the All-Clad Stainless 12-Qt. Stock Pot with Lid (*Est. $380), which has a heat-conducting aluminum core between two layers of stainless steel. Most stainless-steel soup pots feature this three-layer construction on the bottom only, but All-Clad extends the aluminum all the way up the sides, ensuring even heating throughout the pot.
Reviewers say it's also sturdy, with comfortable handles that don't heat up during use. The handful of reviews we found lavishly praise the All-Clad's versatility, performance and durable construction (which is backed by a lifetime warranty).
Although the All-Clad pot is the best of the best, reviews suggest that its performance doesn't necessarily justify its high price tag. In tests conducted by a cooking magazine, the Cuisinart Chef's Classic Stainless 12-Qt. Stockpot with Cover (*Est. $70) performs nearly as well as the All-Clad for a fraction of the price. We also found more user reviews to support this opinion than we did for the All-Clad pot. In more than 175 reviews at Amazon.com, the Cuisinart earns a very high overall rating of 4.4 stars out of 5. Owners like its large capacity, heavy construction and comfortable handles.
They also say that even with its disk-bottom construction, it maintains a nice even simmer. If this pot has a weakness, it's durability; we found several reviews complaining about staining, rusting or pitting of the stainless-steel surface. However, a majority of users say the pot is durable, and like the All-Clad, it comes with a lifetime warranty.
We found similarly high user ratings for the Farberware Classic Series 12-Quart Covered Stockpot (*Est. $60). This stockpot earns praise for its fast, even heating, large capacity and comfortable handles. It does receive a couple of complaints about rust or wear to the stainless surface, but most users find it durable. Professional testers, however, are disappointed with the Farberware's handles, which they find uneven and hard to grip. Aside from the handles, they say, this heavy-bottomed pot easily matches the performance of the Cuisinart pot, with very even heating.