It is very exciting to start choosing grains, hops, and other flavors, but before brewing your first batch of beer, you are faced with a series of important decisions: purchasing your equipment. When choosing a brew kettle, which is better, an aluminum brew kettle or a stainless steel brew kettle?
Stainless steel and aluminum brew kettles each have advantages and disadvantages. Stainless steel is better for the long-term due to its durability and customization, but it will also be heavier and more expensive. Aluminum is a great way to get started homebrewing with low investment, although it does require a bit of extra work in the beginning.
Continue reading to compare and contrast aluminum vs stainless steel brew kettles, including the differences in price, durability, sizing, and efficiency.
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Aluminum brew kettles
Aluminum brew kettles are an excellent choice for first-time brewers or part-time hobbyists as they are easier to find and less of an investment than a stainless steel option. Some brewers even insist using aluminum kettles will make you a better brewer.
A simple, inexpensive, readily available option, the aluminum brew pot is simply the vessel as described with no bells or whistles. It is a great avenue to get started brewing without investing too much money upfront.
Aluminum pots are made by molding a sheet of pure aluminum (called a ‘blank’) into shape. Handles are then riveted onto the finished pot. Rivets are a strong and stable choice for cookware that will hold heavy things. Check out this informative video to watch an aluminum pot get made.
When searching online for an aluminum brew kettle, a lot of stainless steel brewing equipment will come up. This does not mean that aluminum pots are a bad choice; more likely, they are less often marketed as brewing-specific. There is no difference between a well-made stockpot that you probably already have in your kitchen and a well-made brew pot.
Price and availability
Aluminum pots are also usually available on sale following Thanksgiving, as it’s popular for Americans to deep-fry turkeys (be careful!) in large stock pots outside with propane. As a bonus, these usually come as a kit, including a stand and regulator hoses for the gas. The stand can make it easier and safer to boil wort outside if using a particularly large brew pot.
Aluminum brew kettles are readily available in most kitchen supply and homebrew stores. They also usually cost less than like-sized stainless steel kettles.
One of the largest, well-reviewed aluminum pots I found (at 40 gallons) currently sells for $155. At the time this was written, one of those turkey-frying kits with the stand, regulator, hose, and a 7.5-gallon aluminum pot is $93.
When choosing a brew pot, make sure it is large enough to accommodate the boiling action in addition to the wort itself to prevent overflow.
Aluminum brew kettles come in a variety of sizes, starting at 5 gallons going on up to 40 gallons.
At a minimum, buy a kettle that is 1.5 times the batch size to ensure there is room for the brew to boil and be stirred without spilling over. Also, take into consideration the weight of the pot once it is filled with hot wort. Do not buy a pot that will be too large for you to handle at that point.
Aluminum is a softer metal than stainless steel.
Compared to stainless steel, it is more susceptible to dings, dents, scratches, and warping over time. You may have noticed an aluminum baking tray at home that has warped, or seen large stock pots in commercial kitchens with rounded bottoms. That rounded bottom is unstable and can pose a hazard as you are boiling wort.
On the other hand, people all around the world pass aluminum pots and pans from generation to generation. It is possible to take good care of aluminum pots to make them last longer, it is just more work than a well-made stainless steel counterpart.
Pros of aluminum brew kettles over stainless steel:
- Less expensive than stainless steel.
- Readily available in homebrew and kitchen supply stores.
- Conducts heat more quickly, bringing the wort to boil AND cool faster than stainless steel.
- Lighter weight than stainless steel.
Cons of aluminum brew kettles compared to stainless steel:
- Cannot be cleaned with anything caustic, harsh, or highly acidic (such as OxyClean or steel wool) without causing damage.
- Less durable as it’s a softer material.
- Before brewing, the pot has to be ‘seasoned’: Thoroughly clean your pot with a mild cleaner, fill with as much water as is safe, and boil for half an hour to create a protective layer that is dark and oxidized.
- This oxidized layer may be considered unattractive to some homebrewers.
Stainless steel brew kettles
More of an investment, the stainless steel brew kettle is more durable and easier to maintain than aluminum.
Stainless steel brew kettles are more popular with homebrewers and professional brewers alike for those reasons. While they are more expensive at the outset, they are also going to last a lifetime.
Stainless steel pots are usually layers of stainless steel encasing an aluminum core, which acts as the conductor. Sometimes there is simply a disk of aluminum or copper in the bottom of the pan sandwiched between stainless steel. The core is critical because stainless steel is a poor conductor alone.
Add-ons are popular with stainless steel pots. Unlike aluminum pots, stainless steel pots can be modified with ball valves, thermometers, and sight glasses. Many have gallon or quart markers right on the pot. Some even have silicone grip handles (you will likely still need potholders!).
This 40-gallon well-reviewed stainless steel pot is currently $300, which may be more than a hobbyist homebrewer is willing to spend.
Stainless steel pots are generally available in the same sizes as their aluminum counterparts.
Stainless steel pots range in size from 5 gallons to 50 gallons. Some manufacturers will custom-make larger stainless steel pots upon request.
Stainless steel pots can be fitted with a drain valve, which makes it safer to use such a large, heavy pot. There is no need to worry about carrying a tremendously heavy pot full of hot wort when you can use an immersion wort chiller in conjunction with the built-in siphon.
Still, take into consideration the size of the batch and how much headroom you will need to prevent dangerous overflow during the boil.
Part of the reason many brewers consider stainless steel pots to be worth the investment is that they are significantly more durable than ones made from aluminum.
Stainless steel is more durable than aluminum. You will not experience the same warping or a frequency of dents or scratches as you would with an aluminum pot. You also do not have to season the pot before use — just a thorough cleaning with a non-bleach cleaner and then you are ready to start brewing.
Sometimes stainless steel pots have welded-on handles. While welds tend to be very secure, if they happen to fail, it can be catastrophic. With riveted handles, you will be able to tell a loose rivet ahead of time; a weld will simply pop off in the case of a failure. This is something to consider, as the most likely time a weld would fail would be when the pot is filled with hot wort.
Pros of stainless steel brew kettles compared to aluminum ones:
- More durable than aluminum
- Easier to clean
- Maintains its shine over time
- Useful after-market additions
Cons of stainless steel brew kettles to consider:
- Very heavy
- More difficult to bring up to temperature and maintain it consistently
- More expensive than aluminum
Is aluminum safe for brewing?
There are a lot of rumors about aluminum’s food safety — a popular one is that aluminum causes Alzheimer’s or other neurological diseases.
Aluminum is safe to use for brewing beer when properly used and cared for.
Healthy people absorb less than 1% of aluminum from food or drinking water according to a 2007 study. The levels required to cause neurological issues far exceed those from dietary exposure.
This low level of exposure also will not cause cancer, which is another common misconception. Aluminum is the most prevalent metal in the earth’s crust and is also widely available. It occurs naturally in the soil, water, and air, so people are constantly exposed to it.
Care should be taken, however, of your aluminum cookware. Avoid caustic, acidic, or oxygen-based cleaners, as these can erode the metal and cause pitting, which heightens exposure. While wort does not have the acid levels necessary to cause corrosion, certain cleaners do. Use mild soaps and be sure not to skip the seasoning process discussed earlier.
When choosing between aluminum and stainless steel brew kettles, take into consideration your budget, your average batch size, and your commitment to homebrewing. Being able to answer these questions will help you narrow down which brew kettle is best for you.