To find out, we boiled, stirred, and sautéed in every pot, ending up with gallons upon gallons of chicken stock and a new winner.
How We Tested
A stockpot is like an umbrella: You don't use it often, but it's invaluable when you need it. My own is oft-ignored, usually hidden in a cabinet, but it becomes a star player when I start making chicken stock in colder months. A large pot like this is also handy for cooking multiple ears of corn on the cob, whole lobsters, or big batches of pasta. You can also use it when making stew or chili for a crowd.
We previously tested stockpots, but most of the models we looked at have been discontinued, so we decided to retest. We focused on finding the best 12-quart stockpot because we think it's the most useful size—big enough to accommodate most jobs yet small enough to easily store. We purchased seven widely available models, priced from about $30 to about $400, and used them to boil bulky ears of corn, cook thin strands of angel hair pasta, sauté onions, and simmer chicken wings and backs in water for 5 hours. Our efforts resulted in not only gallons of fragrant chicken stock but also a new favorite stockpot.
Pot Thickness Determined Heating Time
We conducted two tests to examine how well each of the stockpots conducted heat, timing how long it took to bring 2 quarts of water to a boil over high heat and how long it took to sauté 1 cup of onions to an even golden brown over medium-low heat.
In the water test, the top-performing pot brought water to a boil more than 5 minutes faster than the bottom-performing pot. In the onion test, the top performing pot browned the onions about 2 minutes faster than the bottom-performing pot. Looking at these results for each pot, it didn't take much sleuthing to figure out the reason behind these differences: the thinness of a pot's base. The thinner a pot's base, the faster it heated the water and the onions. Our quickest-heating pot's base was 3/16 inch thick, and the base of the slowest-heating pot was twice as thick at ⅜ inch. While bringing water to a boil quickly in the pots with thin bases was a plus, we had to keep a close eye on onions we were sautéing in these pots, as they were more prone to scorching. In the end, heating time wasn't a significant factor in our choice of a favorite pot.
Stainless-Steel Interiors Were More Durable Than Enamel-Coated Steel
Another thing we learned while sautéing onions: The sole enameled pot didn't handle heat as well as pots with plain stainless-steel interiors. The light-colored enamel began turning brown immediately when placed over heat, even though the burner was set to medium-low. We much preferred the stainless-steel pots in our lineup for their ability to withstand heat without discoloring.
Lighter Weight Was Better
Stockpots are large pieces of cookware, and we often have to crouch down or reach up to retrieve them from storage. Even more important, we need to move them from stove to sink with food inside, pour food and liquid from them, and finally, clean them. With so much lifting and toting involved, a pot's weight was a big concern.
The stockpots in our lineup ranged from 4 pounds, 1¼ ounces to 6 pounds, 13⅛ ounces without their lids, which is how we most often used them. This was a big difference, with the heaviest pot being about 67 percent heavier than the lightest.
The two heaviest pots weighed more than 6 pounds. Both felt weighty when we poured water from them after boiling ears of corn; we felt the heft even more when we had to walk from the stove to the sink carrying pots full of hot liquid and chicken bones, which added roughly 11 pounds of weight. Our highly ranked pots were lightweight—our winner weighed just more than 4 pounds—and thus more comfortable to carry and pour from.
Lid Design—Again, Lighter Was Better (and a Rubber Grip Was Nice)
The designs of the pots' lids varied. Some covered the rims of the pots, while others sat just inside the rims. We found that most lids were easy to position in place and remove, but one model's lid required slightly more attention. Because that pot had a wide, flared rim, its domed lid sometimes careened about like a skateboarder on a half-pipe before landing in its appropriate spot.
Another model's lid was much heavier than the rest of the lids. Lid weights ranged from 1 pound, 7/8 ounces to 2 pounds, 1½ ounces. Testers noted that the heaviest lid was slightly more cumbersome to place on or remove from the pot, but its weight wasn't a deal breaker.
Testers preferred lids that were easy to position in place on the first try, and our favorite had one additional feature the others didn't: a rubber grip on its handle that made it even more secure and comfortable to use.
We Liked Rubber-Coated Handles, Too
The handle designs of the pots varied, too. All of them were acceptable, but one model's U-shaped handles really shone. They stuck out the farthest from the sides of the pot, which made them easy and quick to grab, even when we were wearing bulky oven mitts. They also had rubber grips, which offered added security and comfort when transporting heavy chicken broth and bones to the sink.
The Best Stockpot: Cook N Home Stainless Steel Stockpot with Lid 12 Quart
Our favorite pot, the Cook N Home Stainless Steel Stockpot with Lid 12 Quart, was the second-lightest pot in the lineup, so it was easy to maneuver around the kitchen. The lid fit neatly inside the pot's rim without fuss, and the handles were extremely comfortable to grip, thanks to a rubber coating and generous U shape. Another plus: It was the least expensive pot in the lineup.
We purchased seven stockpots, priced from about $30 to about $400. We used each model to boil corn, cook pasta, make chicken broth, and sauté onions, stirring the contents in each pot, pouring contents from each pot, and carrying each filled pot from the stove to the sink multiple times. We also washed each pot five times according to manufacturer instructions.
Ease of Use: We rated stockpots highly if they fit all foods with ease and if they were lightweight and easy to maneuver around the kitchen, cook in, and pour from.
Performance: We awarded highest marks to stockpots that boiled water in a satisfactory amount of time and that cooked onions to a light golden brown color without any scorching.
Durability: We gave strongest marks to stockpots that didn't discolor or otherwise degrade during testing and that held up to repeated washings without showing signs of damage.