Soup Pots and Stock Pots
Without a doubt, your soup pots and stock pot will be the most important kitchen equipment when it comes to making homemade soup. With the possible exception of your chef’s knife and a soup ladle, nothing else will be used in every single soup you make.
While it’s true that you can make soup in practically any kind of kitchen pot, some pots will be easier to cook with and can even make for a tastier result. Ease of care should also be taken into consideration, because you don’t want to have to spend a ton of cleaning time after cooking. That’s the time you should be spending eating, and enjoying the company of those you are feeding!
When looking for a soup pot or a stock pot there are 5 major factors to consider: size, shape, what it’s made of, type of bottom, and overall construction. Cost is a major factor too, but just decide ahead of time what your budget will be, and look for the best options available within that budget. You can easily spend up to 400 dollars on a single soup pot if you want top quality and large size , but you can also buy an entire decent set of pots for less than 80 dollars that will be perfectly fine for home cooking. You can find even better deals at flea markets and eBay if you want to put some time into it.
I have mentioned soup pots and stock pots separately here, because in an ideal world you would use different pots for making soup and making stock. However, most home cooks who decide to make their own stock are perfectly happy making the stock in the same pot as soup is made in. The difference in the ideal soup pot as compared to the ideal stock pot is in the shape.
A stock pot should be tall and narrow, whereas a soup pot would be shorter and wider. The reason for this is that a narrow pot will have less evaporation than a wider pot, and this is a good thing for stocks. Stocks are not made with lids on, as this tends to increase the cooking temperature, which decreases the amount of collagen that is extracted from the bones. Water that evaporates needs to be replaced with more hot water, which can be a bit of a hassle. For a home cook, this is a minor inconvenience; for a professional chef it can mean the difference between getting things made on time or not.
Size of the soup pot or stock pot depends on how much you will be making at a time. Large families will need larger pots, of course, but even small families and singles can benefit by making soup in large quantities and freezing the leftovers. Pots are normally measured in quarts, and 8 quarts is a good standard size for home cooking. Anything smaller than 6 quarts makes it hard to cook in large quantities, and anything larger will either exceed the average stove element or be too tall to work with. Stock pots can be larger, as it is common to make large batches of stock and freeze it in smaller batches.
After size and shape, the next factor to consider is the material it is made of. Pyrex and other glass-like materials look fancy, but to my mind there is only one material worth considering: stainless steel. Pyrex, despite major advances, is still subject to breaking, and it does not conduct heat as well as metal does. And if you are looking to get a good sear on some meat before adding some stock to it, Pyrex simply won’t do the job.
There are other metals that you can go with, and tops among these would be copper. Copper is sturdy, conducts heat well, and is absolutely beautiful, but for soup pots it has a few strikes against it. First, it tarnishes; second, it is softer and more easily dented than steel; it is heavy; and it is expensive.
Aluminum, too, is an option. Aluminum is good as a heat conductor, better than steel, but it just is not as strong. Also, it does not have a polished shine to it, and this makes it harder to keep clean, and food can stick to it more readily. Aluminum is best used as an enhancement to a stainless steel pot, which will be explained below.
To be called stainless steel, the iron alloy must contain a certain percentage of chromium, which is added to create a thin, invisible layer of chromium oxide. This layer prevents oxygen from combining with the iron which would otherwise become rust. Even if the metal is scratched, the chromium in the metal that is exposed will react instantly with the air around it to re-create this protective layer. Basic stainless steel is about 10.5% chromium, but the good stuff is 18%. This ensures a good, long life for the pot as it is constantly exposed to air, moisture and heat, and even the occasional acidic liquid.
Nickel is the second item that is added to stainless steel. It adds hardness to the metal, which helps prevent denting. Also, it creates a mirrored surface that makes it easy to see when it is clean, and it helps make the steel more resistant to heat. The good stuff is 10 percent nickel, but 8 percent is okay too. Other things be equal, I would prefer a higher nickel content than thicker metal, at least on the sides of the pot.
Stainless steel quality is described by a number such as “18/10” or “18/8”, which indicates the percentage of chromium and nickel in the iron alloy. 18/10 is 18 percent chromium and 10 percent nickel.
The bottom of the pot is where the heat comes in, so its construction is of great importance. At the very least it should be substantial and thick. A thin metal will let the heat come directly through it to the food, without it getting spread out evenly. This creates hot and cold spots that can make the cooking process tricky. At best your cooking is slowed down because parts of the food are not cooking; at worst you can get burned food in certain spots, and uncooked in others.
Because stainless steel is not a comparatively good conductor of heat, aluminum is often used on the bottom. In the best pots, a “try ply” of aluminum is sandwiched between layers of stainless steel, which gives the bottom of the pot the best properties of both metals. Of course, it will also make the pot heavier and more expensive. If you cannot afford the best, then simply make sure your soup pot has a thick enough bottom that it will spread the heat out a little more evenly than it would otherwise.
Lastly, you want the overall construction of the pot to be of sturdy quality. The sides of the soup pot need not be very thick, since no heat is being added through them, but you also don’t want dents in it. Handles are ideally made of metal and double-riveted to the body of the pot. Plastic and wood handles may protect you from the heat, but they break eventually, leaving you no protection at all. Lids should be heavy, as they are used to hold in the steam and heat. Both tempered glass and metal are good materials for the lid, and again I prefer a metal handle or knob for durability.
So, with all these things to think about, how do you decide what’s most important? The first thing to think about is size, since there is no way to compensate for not having a big enough pot to feed your family. If you are single you can get away with a smaller pot, but bear in mind that single people do not always stay that way, especially if they make good soup.
The next most important factor is the metal. I prefer 18/10 over anything else, and will gladly sacrifice in other areas to get it. Next, the bottom construction should be considered, since that is where all the action is.
Overall construction is next on the list. It is relatively low on the list because the metal type and bottom already determine much of the sturdiness of the soup pot, and the other factors mentioned above are really just nice extras. If a handle breaks you can always improvise, but you will still have a good soup pot.
The last thing to look at is the shape of the pot: soup pot or stock pot? To my mind having a separate stock pot is a luxury rather than a necessity since you can always make stock in a soup pot. But if you have the money, inclination and cupboard space, then go for it!
This is a great compromise between price and quality, and the fact that it does triple duty as a pasta pot and a steamer makes it all the more attractive. For something a little higher-end you can check out the picture below. It is a little smaller than 8 quarts, but it more than makes up for it in overall quality.