The 10 Best Double Boilers
This wiki has been updated 33 times since it was first published in February of 2015. A double boiler provides gentle, indirect heat to whatever you are cooking. Rather than the heat of a burner transferring directly to the food, it is transferred to water in the bottom pan, which boils to become steam that warms the contents of the upper pan. They're perfect for making custards, lemon curds, and delicate emulsions, like hollandaise sauce, and will give you smooth melted chocolate. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
April 22, 2021:
In this update, we added the RSVP International Stainless, which comes in a variety of sizes ranging from 2 cups to 2 quarts. The larger sizes come as a complete set, with a sauce pan, insert, and lid, so you have everything you need to start cooking right away.
But if you already have a pan you like to use, you may be looking for an insert alone. We already had a few options of this kind on this list, like the Nordic Ware 8 Cup and the Norpro Universal, but we decided to add another: the Sysmie Candy. If you won't be using it much and don't want to invest a lot of money, this affordable option is worth considering. It also has helpful features like a heat-resistant coating on the handle and an included silicone spatula.
Also new to the list, the Hatrigo Multi-Purpose can be used either on a stovetop or in a variety of 6- and 8-quart electric cooking appliances, like instant pots, pressure cookers, and air fryers. You can use this one for typical double boiler functions like making custard or melting chocolate, but it can also be used for pot-in-pot cooking, allowing you to make two dishes at once.
The Wilton Candy Melts is a lot less versatile, as it's mainly designed for melting chocolate. While it isn't really a double boiler (no water is involved in the process) we felt it was worth including since gently melting chocolate is such a common use for double boilers. The silicone insert releases chocolate easily and has two pouring spouts. And if you get creative, it's easy to find a few other uses for this machine, such as keeping butter warm on movie night or melting wax and other ingredients for homemade candles or soap (though if you're using it for this purpose, you should probably avoid using it for food or make sure you wash it very thoroughly to avoid cross-contamination).
We removed the Granite Ware 6150 because its dark color made it difficult to keep and eye on the cooking process. The T-fal Specialty was also replaced in this update due to issues with food sticking to it. The Cuisinart French Classic and Calphalon Premier were removed due to availability concerns.
March 30, 2020:
Even though we like its diminutive size, we've ultimately opted to remove the BonJour All-in-One at this time, as the handle is likely to rest too close to the heat source. Rose's Silicone Baking Bowl has been removed, as well, over concerns that it may collapse during cooking. For those who need a small, insert-only choice, we think the Norpro Universal or the Nordic Ware 8 Cup are better bets. The latter has an interesting ridged design that allows it to fit into many pans, but this is something of a double-edged sword, as this shape makes it a bit hard to clean and stir effectively. It's quite affordable, though, and would make a useful add-on to most budget cookware sets.
As for models that come with a saucepan, the All-Clad Bonded and the Calphalon Premier represent great values. These are made with top-notch materials that will last, and they have the small touches that ensure they're easy to use, including sturdy handles. We've kept the Cuisinart French Classic, as well, even though the insert can be something of a hassle. Its bottom is not flat, so you can't set it down on your countertop too easily — not a deal-breaker for everyone, but an annoyance that some users will not be willing to tolerate. And, finally, for something larger, consider the Update International 12 Quart, a high-capacity model that's conveniently induction ready.
Vollrath 20-Quart In your average kitchen, the Vollrath 20-Quart will most likely be too much, but its size renders it perfect for commercial applications. Made in America and NSF listed, this three-piece set is sturdy, with large handles that are easy to grip and a cover that holds in heat well. webstaurantstore.com
Ruffoni Historia Bain-Marie You'd have to search quite hard to find a piece more handsome than the Ruffoni Historia Bain-Marie, which boasts hand-hammered copper, a sculpted acorn finial, and polished brass side handles. It's rather expensive, and you'll need to hand wash it, but it's sure to catch the eye of anyone who enters your kitchen. dillards.com
The Oft Misunderstood Double Boiler
In other cases, the lid will serve only to keep dust out of the set when it is stored away between uses.
A double boiler is designed to slowly and evenly heat foodstuffs that, for one reason or another, require gentle cooking. The include foods such as egg yolks being used to make a thick sauce; cooked too quickly or over too much heat and the yolks will harden and become unusable. Other examples are cheeses used to make fondue that might scorch if exposed to direct heat such as a normal pan yields.
So too must many chocolates or glazes used to make deserts be heated slowly and steadily. The list of foods that can be perfectly prepared in this unique piece of cookware is expansive, and the proper use of the device merits step-by-step instruction. See below for more information on that. First, though, you have to choose the right unit for your needs.
Many double boilers feature a lower sauce pan with a capacity of between two to three quarts. The upper insert pan will have a capacity of about a quart less, in most cases. Ultimately, it is the size of the upper insert which is of greater importance than the size of the lower pan, as the foods you prepare will be placed in the smaller upper portion of the setup. When considering which set is sized properly for your needs, make sure to note the smaller pan's size.
Most double boiler sets come with a lid, but the fact is that you will seldom use it. Often the foods thus prepared require regular -- if not almost constant -- stirring, so using the lid is rather impractical. If you will be preparing foods that can be left unstirred for periods of time, consider choosing a double boiler that comes with a transparent glass lid, as then you can monitor the cooking process without releasing excess heat. In other cases, the lid will serve only to keep dust out of the set when it is stored away between uses.
Finally, price is a serious factor in choosing this and all other fine cooking tools. The more expensive units tend to be more durable, easier to clean, and often more versatile, offering steam cooking options, high oven-safe ratings, and so forth. If you will only use your double boiler for occasional special meals or desserts, though, a top-of-the-line option is probably not needed.
How To Use That Double Boiler
Double boilers heat foods using steam instead of direct contact between a pot and a heat source. This is achieved by putting one to two inches of water in the larger lower pan and then bringing this water to a steady simmer. When the upper insert is nestled down into the pan, it is steadily and evenly warmed by the rising steam. This prevents the foods within the upper unit from being brought to a boil or from scorching, instead providing steady but indirect heat.
While a double boiler's even, steady heat is ideal for these projects, just make sure not to use the same unit for food unless you clean it extremely well.
When cooking with a double boiler, it's imperative that you do not overfill the water in the lower pan. If the heated water can touch the bottom of the upper pan, it will transfer heat directly and will render the whole setup pointless. So too must you check the water level in the lower pan periodically while cooking, for if all of the water should boil off, the double boiler will begin to cook like any other pan and can quickly ruin the food you have been so meticulously preparing.
As noted above, use of these pans often means near constant stirring of a food, and many recipes require the foodstuff to be poured out and/or mixed with other ingredients at a specific time or in a specific order. Make sure you have read through your recipe carefully and have laid out all of the tools and ingredients you will need before commencing the double boiler cooking process; it might require your full attention while underway.
Another fine use of a double boiler is for re-heating or warming foods that you don't wish to further cook. When the lower pot is kept at the lowest simmer, the upper pot will experience just enough heating to maintain its temperature but without altering the food within.
Some people use these handy devices not for food at all, but rather for melting wax or blending essential oils that will be used to make candles, skincare products, and so forth. While a double boiler's even, steady heat is ideal for these projects, just make sure not to use the same unit for food unless you clean it extremely well. In fact, keeping two separate sets -- one for food, one for non-edibles -- may be the wise move.
Easy Double Boiler Cleaning
Based on the nature of many of the foods that are cooked in a double boiler, the cleanup process can often be an involved one -- chocolate and cheese stand out as clear examples of foods that leave an impressive mess behind.
Vigorous rubbing with this solution should at last lift out the mess.
The bottom pan, only holding water, will usually not be marred by any foodstuffs, but can be subject to the buildup of calcium, lime, and other mineral deposits left behind by boiled off water. To remove this buildup in a food-safe manner, mix equal parts water and white vinegar and bring the mixture to a rolling boil. Then cut the heat and let the pot sit for at least a half hour. Pour out the liquid, wash the metal with dish detergent, and it should be left perfectly clean.
As for cleaning the upper pan, commence the process in the same way, boiling water and vinegar. Cut the heat, and then add two tablespoons of baking soda. You can let this mixture rest for an hour or more, and when you return to the pan with a sponge or scouring pad, even stubborn bits of food should lift out with ease. If you find the sides of the pan are still coated in food or any scorching, make a paste using baking soda and water. Vigorous rubbing with this solution should at last lift out the mess.