What’s up yeast geeks?
Let’s talk brew kettles. The brew kettle is the powerhouse of the
cell brewhouse. It is one of the most important pieces of brewing equipment you will buy. Regardless of whether you are an extract, BIAB, or full all-grain brewer, this is where you turn sweet wort into hopped wort and start removing potential off flavors.
With so many options though, it can be hard to know that you made the right choice. There are a lot of factors that go into this; budget, features, size, brand, and bling (it’s gotta look good for the ‘gram right?).
Given all of those factors, we think that the SS Brew Kettle Brewmaster Edition is the best brew kettle for most homebrewers. It has all of the features you could ever want including a rotating racking arm, whirlpool inlet, dished bottom and etched volume markings. Not too mention, it looks amazing.
That being said, this is a direct fire kettle. Read on to find out what makes a good brew kettle and what we recommend for electric brewers and brewers on a budget.
Brew kettles can be incredibly simple stock pots or complicated kettles with lots of features. Personally, I started with a turkey fryer to test the waters and see if I would even like homebrewing. Spoiler alert: I did. Here are a few of the major considerations when choosing a brew kettle.
One of the first considerations is the size. Homebrew kettles typically come as small as 5 gallons and as large 40 gallons. You can definitely get larger or small kettles but this is the most common range that is still considered homebrew size.
I would recommend getting a kettle that is double your batch size. So if you want to brew 5 gallons at a time, get a 10-gallon kettle. This allows you to do full volume boils. You could probably go a little smaller than that but you will probably end up having to top up your wort with water or risk the dreaded boil-over. Not ideal.
A full volume boil is one of the first things you can do to help improve the quality of your beer so just size your kettle appropriately upfront.
Absolutely but as with anything, there are pros and cons. Aluminum actually conducts heat better than stainless so it will heat up and cool down faster. This is a pretty big benefit if you are using an immersion chiller instead of a counterflow or plate chiller.
The biggest drawback for me is that aluminum oxidizes. That means it will corrode if not properly cared for and maybe even if it is. Boiling water before using it can help as this will help build a layer of aluminum oxide which helps resist additional corrosion. Personally, I wouldn’t want to do this every time I use the kettle. The bigger concern for me is that you can’t use my favorite brewery cleaner, Oxyclean Free.
Invest in stainless if you have the money or you plan on staying in the hobby for a long time. Go with aluminum if you are on a budget or just want to try homebrewing to see if you like it.
It depends. I think this comes down to personal preference. I like my kettle to be taller than its diameter. In my experience, this leads to fewer boil overs.
A wider kettle has more surface area to heat but it also has more surface area to lose heat. Also, with a wide kettle, the foam has less distance to travel to go over the side of the pot.
Blichmann Engineering recommends a height to diameter ratio of 1.2 to 1 for brew kettles. My recommendation would be closer to 1.5 to 1.
Depends on what kind of brewer you are. If you are the precise scientist then, by all means, get a sight glass. If you like to go with the flow, you can probably skip it. The main goal of having a sight glass on your kettle is to be able to record your pre-boil and post boil volumes. This will help you make adjustments before you boil instead of after. The more precise and repeatable you want your process, the more value a sight glass has.
A trub dam is a bit of a luxury item for homebrewers. There aren’t a lot of companies that even offer a kettle with a trub dam. If this is something you want or need then your options are limited.
Most homebrewers will either leave the trub behind by racking from the kettle, use a hop screen or hop blocker, use the whirlpool port to collect the trub in the center of the kettle or just move the trub to the fermenter. I am lazy so I used to just move it all to the fermenter back when I had a turkey fryer kettle. I honestly don’t think there is any difference in the end product but it will only take you 3 seconds to find someone who disagrees.
Whirlpools are just fun. A whirlpool inlet is the first thing I looked for when I upgraded from a turkey fryer to my eBIAB setup. By pumping wort out of your kettle and back in through a tangential inlet, you create an eddy or whirlpool that will collect all of your trub, hot break and isomerized hop material in the center of your kettle making it easier to leave these materials behind when you send your wort to the fermenter. By far my favorite upgrade.
Everybody’s least favorite answer… it depends. Your budget, heat source, and preferences will all play a part in determining which kettle is right for you. Below is a list of my favorites and what makes them special.
The best all-around brew kettle
If you have read many of my articles, you probably know that there are a few companies whose equipment I love. SS Brewtech is one of them. The SS Brew Kettle BME is their flagship homebrew kettle and it really shows off what they can do.
The design is beautiful, it has welded ports with sanitary tri-clamp fittings and a tangential whirlpool inlet. SS Brewtech also included a sight glass, rotatable pickup tube, etched volume markings and a dished bottom for better trub collection. The brewmaster edition kettle is available in 10 gallons and 20 gallons.
Most brewers heat with gas so this is perfect. You can’t go wrong with this kettle.
The best electric brew kettle
Stout Tanks and Kettles is my other favorite homebrew equipment supplier. They are the hipsters of homebrew, innovating equipment before it was cool. The BK9TW-TI-EL1 is no exception. It has a mirror finish polish, thermowell, tangential inlet, 1.5” tri-clamp port for an electric element. Like the SS Brewtech kettle, all of the ports are welded with sanitary fittings.
Stout Tanks offers a version of this kettle from 9 gallons all the way up to 4-bbl.
This kettle is a no brainer if you are an electric brewer.
The best induction brew kettle
The Megapot 1.2 is about half the cost of the Stout Tanks and SS Brewtech kettles but still offers a lot a bang for your buck. You lose the welded sanitary fittings but maintain all of the other features.
If you have an induction stove top, you won’t find a better ferroelectric kettle at this price. Induction heating is more efficient than direct fire but not as efficient as direct immersion electric heating. This is a great kettle to get your feet wet with electric brewing.
The best budget brew kettle
The bayou classic is probably the most sold brew kettle on the planet. Everyone I know started with some variation of this kettle. It is inexpensive, has a lot of features, and can be found very easily.
I really like that this version comes with a ball valve, thermometer, bulkheads, and a false bottom. The false bottom helps filter hops or it can keep grains from burning if you use the kettle for BIAB.
This is the only choice if you are “ballin on a budget”.
The best brew kettle made in the USA
I had to throw Blichmann into the mix. They also make a great kettle and have a lot of die-hard fans. Blichmann is known for its innovation and thoughtful design. In addition, they design and manufacture this kettle in America.
It includes all the features you expect from a high-end brew kettle; sight glass, thermometer, and of course, a patent pending valve for control the flow of wort for sparging, lautering and chilling.
I would recommend the Stout Tanks electric kettle over this but if that is just a little bit out of your budget, the Blichmann G2 is still a great choice.
Any brewer would be lucky to get any of these brew kettles as a gift. However, if you are buying it yourself, you will really need to think about what features are most important to you before making a choice.
We really think the best option is the SS Brew Kettle BME is the best brew kettle for most brewers unless you have a tight budget. In that case, you should look at the Bayou Classic Brew Kettle Kit.
Let me know what kettle you have and what kettle you want in the comments.