Brew Kettle Vs Mash Tun (4 Major Differences and 1 Alternative!)

If you’ve considered moving to all-grain brewing, you may wonder if you need additional equipment like a mash tun to get started. Is it possible to just use your brew kettle without investing in a mash tun?

The difference between a brew kettle and mash tun is that the brew kettle is a vessel used to boil the wort after the sugar, starches, and flavors have been extracted from the grains during the mash. The mash tun is a vessel used by all-grain brewers to mash their grains before the boil. Brew kettles are typically made from stainless steel or aluminum while mash tuns can be metal or plastic.

Read on to understand the differences between a brew kettle and a mash tun and if you need a mash tun for your next brew.

Brew Kettle vs Mash Tun

What is a brew kettle?

It doesn’t matter if you use the extract or all-grain method to brew, all homebrewers require a large vessel for boiling wort. 

In extract and all-grain brewing, a brew kettle is a large stainless steel or aluminum pot used to boil and sterilize the wort. 

Depending on your budget and brewing needs, you have several options when selecting a brew kettle. For small batches, an 8-10 gallon aluminum stockpot or turkey fryer can be used as a brew kettle at a relatively low cost. 

For larger batches, kettles designed specifically for brewing are usually made of stainless steel and have a built-in thermometer and ball valve spigot. Also, higher-end kettles have an aluminum bottom encased in stainless steel for better heat conduction and a false bottom for straining grains. 

These more expensive kettles can also double as mash tuns for all-grain brewing. Buying a brew pot that can handle the volume, type, and frequency of brewing you plan to do can make your beer better and help you make the brewing process easier. 

You can even add a brew kettle insulation jacket to provide a more stable temperature during your mash.

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What is a mash tun?

Many all-grain brewers use a separate kettle called a mash tun. Mashing is the process of steeping grains in hot water for an hour or more to activate the malt enzymes that convert the grain starches to fermentable sugars. 

Mash tuns are insulated containers used to maintain a consistent temperature during the mashing process. It also has a false bottom, temperature gauge, and a spigot or valve that helps drain the wort while straining out the grain. Since the mash isn’t boiled, the mash tun can be made out of plastic or metal.

An economical option for a mash tun is to use an insulated beverage cooler fitted with a false bottom for holding the grains and a ball valve spigot. A standard mash tun looks similar to a beverage cooler but is specifically designed for brewing. 

One thing to note, if your recipe requires a multi-step mash process (lautering), you will not be able to use a plastic mash tun. This process involves heating the mash to higher temperatures over a burner. 

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Brew Kettle Vs Mash Tun – typical differences

Although brew kettles and mash tuns can be very similar, the need to fulfill different roles during the brew day means they are somewhat specialized and unique products.

Here are the main differences between brew kettles and mash tuns:

  • Size – Brew kettles and mash tuns will both end up being about the same size. For 5-gallon batches, you’ll want at least an 8.5-10 gallon brew kettle for your boil and an 8.5-10 gallon mash tun for your mash.
  • Material – Because brew kettles are used for the boil, they must be made from metal such as stainless steel or aluminum. Mash tuns, on the other hand, don’t have to handle open flames so brewers can save a little money by purchasing a plastic mash tun. Professional brewers and high-end systems will often include a stainless steel mash tun and hot liquor tank in their setup.
  • Cost – The cost will depend on the materials used and any customizations or accessories, but generally speaking brew kettles will be more expensive than mash tuns because of the materials used. Recirculating pumps, false bottoms, tubing, and other accessories will increase the total cost of a mash tun.
  • Use – Brew kettles are used during the boil and mash tuns are used during the mash.

Do you really need a mash tun?

A decade ago, nearly every resource out there would tell you that you had to have a traditional homebrewing setup that included a brew kettle, mash tun, and hot liquor tank.

That’s because back in those days, it was more practical to have three different vessels so that you could heat your water in one, mash in another, and boil in another without having to clean up in between each step.

These days, it is perfectly possible to avoid purchasing a mash tun by using the all-grain technique known as Brew-in-a-Bag (BIAB). With this technique, you can get away with using just one vessel – the brew kettle.

Here is a video that quickly explains BIAB:

How do homebrewers use a brew kettle and mash tun?

Depending on the style of brew kettle you’re using, the brew kettle and mash tun can be used interchangeably in both extract and all-grain brewing. They are just used at different points in the brewing process.

In extract brewing, the brew kettle is used to boil the wort with hops at the beginning of the brewing process. In all-grain brewing, the mash tun is used to steep grains in hot water at a constant temperature and separate the spent grains from the wort during the sparging/lautering process. 

The brew kettle is also be used to heat strike water for the sparging/lautering process and to transfer it to the hot liquor tank where it’s held until the mashing process finishes. 

Questions related to brew kettles vs mash tuns

Can you mash in a brew kettle?

You can mash in a brew kettle, particularly if you use the BIAB (Brew in a Bag) method, but you’ll need to account for these things:

  • Keep the mash at a constant temperature by watching the heat carefully. Alternatively, you can remove the brew kettle from the heat and wrap it with a blanket.
  • The kettle needs to be large enough to accommodate the pre-boil volume and not overflow when the grains are added.
  • You’ll need a false bottom or fine steel strainer to hold the grains in the brew kettle, and a valve or spigot to drain the wort from the spent grains once mashing is complete. 

Can I use a brew kettle as a mash tun?

If you want to skip the extra step and just boil in your mash tun you need to keep these things in mind:

  • Don’t use a beverage cooler or other plastic vessel as your mash tun because they can’t be heated on a burner.
  • You won’t be able to run concurrent batches because you have to finish your boil and clean your mash tun before you can mash your second batch.
  • You can’t mash and boil in the same mash tun unless you’re using the BIAB method because the grains will need to be removed before boiling.

What is a lauter tun?

A lauter tun is similar to a mash tun in that it is using during the mash but lauter tuns are better suited for large-scale brewing where there are a lot of adjuncts using during the brewing process.

A lauter tun helps to separate the solid grain from the wort before, during, and after the mash.