Note: Cook’s Country continuously updates our equipment reviews and taste tests. The written content below is the most up-to-date information available and may not match what appears in the video segment.
Update: November 2012
Our winning model from 2011, the Alpha Heavy Gauge 12 Qt. (Stainless Steel Stock Pot with Glass Lid) has been discontinued.
What's the point in plunking down $70 for a stockpot that can both simmer chili and boil pasta if you already own a Dutch oven that can ably handle both? No point. (Incidentally, we didn't pluck that number from thin air; $70 is the price of the Best Buy from our 2007 testing.) But when you're cooking for a crowd, it's handy to have a really big pot for mulling cider or boiling water for, say, a double batch of pasta, steamed lobsters, or corn on the cob. (Dutch ovens typically hold 6 to 8 quarts.) A large pot dedicated to such tasks wouldn't require the well-constructed (and expensive) bottom that keeps foods like chili from scorching. Our mission? Find a decent, truly cheap stockpot for boiling. We gathered seven 12-quart stockpots, each less than $40.
To test them, we boiled a double batch of spaghetti and a dozen ears of corn in each. We quickly developed a preference for short, wide pots. With more surface area in contact with the heat, a wide bottom heats water faster. Wider pots accommodated the corn more comfortably, and pots with lower, shorter sides let us see the contents and stir without burning our knuckles. Our top-ranking pots were both under 9 inches tall, with bottoms more than 10 inches wide.
A good stockpot should be easy to handle. Our recipes call for 8 quarts of water to boil 2 pounds of pasta: That's about 18 pounds of boiling water plus pasta that you need to haul from stovetop to sink. Empty, our stockpots weighed between 1.5 and 4.7 pounds. None was unmanageable, even when full. The handles were more important: Big, sturdy, protruding handles gave us a good grip, even with oven mitts. We also demanded pots have lids, which confine the steam and thus expedite boiling; one brand charged an extra $8.50 for the lid, a deal-breaker.
So could any of these cheap pots handle a double batch of chili in a pinch? After getting some degree of scorching in every one, we confirmed our suspicion that you're better off using a thick, heavy Dutch oven (or a heavier, pricier stockpot), which can simmer without burning. That said, our higher-ranked pots performed slightly better; some had thicker bottoms; others were made of heat-responsive materials that cooled fast when we lowered the heat.
Our winner costs just $26. With a low, wide profile, easy-to-grasp handles, generous capacity, sturdy construction, and affordable price, it's our favorite for a big pot devoted to boiling.