One of the first decisions most beginning homebrewers have to make is which kettle they’ll be boiling their wort in. If you already have a large stockpot at home, you may be tempted to use that, rather than spending the money and buying a brand new piece of equipment just for homebrew, but will it work?
It’s advisable to use a dedicated 10-gallon stainless steel brew kettle for homebrew. This ensures ample size for a 5-gallon brew, and the stainless steel won’t alter the taste of your beer. A smaller pot will likely not be large enough to keep the wort from boiling over and lighter weight materials such as aluminum will not hold up to heavy use.
Read on to find out more about brew kettles, stockpots, and how to decide which to use.
Do you need a brew kettle?
A key piece of equipment in every homebrewer’s kitchen is a good brew kettle.
The brew kettle is where you’ll be boiling water with malts and hops to make your wort. The length of this step varies but ranges from 30mins – 2 hours for most recipes. Because of this, you’ll need a good, heavy-duty pot that can stand up to a long boil.
There are other factors to consider as well, like the sturdiness of the handles, and any other bells and whistles that may come with it. All of these factors can make the difference between a smooth brew day and a frustrating one.
Can you use any pot to brew beer?
In a pinch, you may be able to repurpose a pot from your kitchen to boil the wort, but you’ll need to consider a few things first:
- Material – Is the pot stainless steel, aluminum, ceramic, or some other material?
- Size – Is the pot large enough to hold your full batch of boiling wort without boiling over?
- Condition – Is the pot clean and in good working order, with no loose pieces, odors, or scratches in the finish?
Should you brew beer in a stainless steel, aluminum, or ceramic pot?
Technically, you can brew beer in a pot made of stainless steel, aluminum, or ceramic. However, there is one clear winner out of the three.
When it comes to cookware materials, stainless steel is best for brewing beer. It doesn’t have a coating that can affect the taste of your beer, and it’s also light enough to make it easy to carry a hot pot of wort around if you need to.
Aluminum is slightly lighter and typically cheaper but can give your beer a metallic taste if its protective layer becomes scratched.
Ceramic pots are also susceptible to chipping and are also much heavier and often smaller than their stainless steel counterparts.
What size kettle should you use for homebrew?
Your brew pot should be at least 1.5 times the size of the batch you’re brewing, but double the capacity is preferred to prevent boiling over. For example, if you’re brewing a 5-gallon batch of beer, it’s best to use a 10-gallon kettle. Anything smaller than 8 gallons or so would not be advisable.
If you don’t have a pot large enough to accommodate your brew, it’s best to cut the recipe in half and brew a smaller batch. If you don’t, you will end up losing a decent amount of wort as it boils over the sides of your pot. You’ll also make quite a sticky mess in the process.
Can you use a soup pot for homebrew?
The danger of using your go-to soup pot for brewing beer is you can potentially introduce off-flavors into it. Especially if you’ve recently used the pot for a particularly aromatic soup, there may be trace aromas of those ingredients on it.
If it’s a pot you’ve had for a while, it may also have scratches in the finish that can affect the flavor of your beer. If these are minor, it may not cause a noticeable issue, but it’s best to avoid using well-worn pots for this purpose.
Using a brew kettle to brew beer
Many beginning homebrewers wonder why buying a brew kettle is even necessary. After all, isn’t it just a big stockpot?
Brew kettles are designed specifically for homebrewing beer. Some may also advertise their adeptness at handling food as well, but be sure to use a dedicated kettle for homebrew and a separate one for, say, a crawfish boil.
Here are some of the pros and cons of brewing in a brew kettle:
There are many advantages to investing in a brew kettle, and as long as you’re planning to brew more than just one or two batches of beer, it’s probably worth investing in.
Here are some of the pros behind brewing in a real brew kettle:
- Quality – Because brew kettles are built specifically for homebrewing, they’re built to hold up to long boils and with sturdy handles for transferring wort. Though there are aluminum brew kettles, many are stainless steel, which is preferred. Aluminum brew kettles have a coating that can affect the taste of your beer.
- Sizes – Brew kettles come in many sizes but 10-gallon kettles are common. These are double the size of a beginner 5-gallon batch which will be ample space and prevent boilovers.
- Additional Features – Some higher end brew kettles come with additional features to make boiling wort even easier. Kettles like the GasOne Brew Kettle come with a built-in thermometer as well as a false bottom and spigot for transferring wort.
There aren’t really any major drawbacks to using a brew kettle that’s designed for homebrew besides the initial investment.
A quality stainless steel brew kettle like the Bayou Classic 40Qt is perfect for a 5-gallon batch of beer and will run you about $60 on Amazon.
That kettle, or one similar, is built to last and should hold up over years of regular use. If you plan on brewing regularly, it’s good to have.
Using a stock pot to brew beer
Most of us have a large stockpot as part of our kitchen arsenal as it has long been a mainstay for commercial kitchens and home chefs alike.
Stockpots are made in a variety of materials: most commonly aluminum, stainless steel, and enamel. They traditionally have high sides and are designed to simmer brothy soups, meats, and other dishes requiring a long cook time. The high sides of the stockpot mean liquid evaporates more slowly out of a stockpot than shorter, squattier pots like dutch ovens.
In a pinch, you can use a common kitchen stock pot to brew beer. There can be some drawbacks to using a stockpot instead of a brew kettle, though.
Here are the pros and cons of using a stockpot to brew beer:
There are certainly advantages to using a stockpot to brew beer, however, they are more about convenience than impacting the quality of your beer.
The primary benefit to using a stockpot over a brew kettle is price.
Needless to say, if you already have a good stockpot lying around, you don’t have to make an investment at all! Even if you were to go to a retail store, the price of a standard stockpot is almost always going to be less than a dedicated brew kettle.
This may be attractive to a penny-pinching homebrewer but bear in mind the cost of losing a batch or two of beer due to off-flavors from an old stockpot. That risk can mean a brew kettle will pay for itself before long.
Despite the cost savings, there are some drawbacks to using a regular kitchen stockpot over a brew kettle that is specifically designed for home brewing.
Here are some potential downsides to brewing in a stockpot:
- Size – Most people don’t realize just how large a kettle is necessary to brew a batch of homebrew. A 5-gallon recipe actually requires a pot with a capacity of 8-gallons or more to allow room for the boil and avoid a dreaded boil-over. A ten gallon capacity is optimal, and you should plan on having twice as much pot space as your brew size. Though there certainly are stock pots available in this size, many of us don’t have a pot quite that large in our kitchen. Be sure to confirm the size of any pot you use is adequate before you start brewing.
- Durability and Features – Many stock pots, especially cheaper ones, may not hold up to the rigor of repeated homebrew boils. They also may be limited in certain useful features. A good brew kettle should have sturdy handles to make it easy to move around your kitchen or even pour into a fermenter. These are often less common on cheaper stock pots.
- Residue – Even if a kitchen stock pot looks clean, it may bear a hint of scorched residue on its base or simply the aroma of a powerful ingredient from a previous recipe. If, for example, you recently made a particularly garlicky soup, or a spicy curry, in your stock pot, it may have a bit of aroma from those ingredients that could transfer to your beer. Because of this, it’s generally not advised to use any equipment for homebrew that you also use for cooking or preparing meals.