Stockpots, also known as soup pots, range in size from 4 quarts to 20 quarts or more and are an indispensable tool in the kitchen. Stockpots are perfect for preparing large batches of soup or stock, unlike Dutch ovens, which are generally smaller and squatter in shape and designed for slow cooking of moist dishes. Dutch ovens are usually oven-safe, and while many soup pots are also oven-safe, their taller shape makes it more difficult to fit in an oven. Most experts recommend owning both a stockpot and a Dutch oven for tackling different cooking tasks; see our separate Dutch ovens report.
The two main materials used for stockpots are stainless steel and anodized aluminum. Stainless pots typically have an aluminum core sandwiched in between two layers of stainless steel to increase the pot's conductivity. Less expensive pots will feature this "sandwich" only on the pot's bottom, while more expensive pots extend it up the pot's sides. However, for a stockpot, experts say this "fully clad" construction isn't such an important feature. Fully clad stainless-steel pots generally cost over $250, while cheaper disk-bottom pots cost less than $75 -- and professional tests don't show a major difference in performance between the two.
Aluminum conducts heat better than stainless steel. However, in its natural form, aluminum can react with acidic or salty ingredients, which can impart an unpleasant, metallic taste to food. Hard-anodized aluminum pots, which have been put through an electrochemical process, are harder than regular aluminum pans, as well as nonreactive. They are also less subject to pitting or damage from drops or dings. Anodized aluminum soup pots range in price from $40 to $100.
Many hard-anodized aluminum soup pots have a nonstick coating on the interior. This treatment can make the pots easier to clean, but it also requires extra care to maintain. Pots must be hand-washed and never used with metal utensils. In addition, many consumers are concerned about the safety of the chemicals used in nonstick cookware. Our report on skillets covers this controversy in detail. To use nonstick pots safely, experts say you should only use them on low or medium heat and avoid heating them while empty.
Large stockpots (around 12 quarts) are ideal for making stock and boiling lobsters, while smaller pots (8 quarts or less) may be easier to manage for soups and stews. We have named the best pots in both categories. The top soup pots are chosen on the basis of performance, durability and ease of use. Our most important source of information on performance and ease of use was the detailed test conducted by Cook's Illustrated magazine in 2007.
We also looked at a more recent test from Fine Cooking magazine and at recommendations from experts at SeriousEats.com and About.com. To back up these professional opinions, we consulted hundreds of reviews from owners at sites like Amazon.com, Cooking.com and Walmart.com. These owner experiences provide useful information about how easy pots are to use (and clean) in real-world kitchens, as well as how they hold up over time.