The 10 Best Fondue Pots
10. Nostalgia FPS200 6-Cup
9. Emile Henry Flame 2.6-Quart
8. VonShef 500ml
7. Swissmar Sierra 11-Piece
6. Trudeau Alto 3-In-1
5. Swissmar Lugano KF-66518
4. Oster FPSTFN7700R-Teco
3. NutriChef Electric PKFNMK23
2. Cuisinart CFO-3SS
1. Swissmar Gruyere 9 Piece
Melts In Your Pot
When most people think of fondue, the initial image conjured to the mind is one of a strawberry emerging from a pot of molten chocolate, a long strand of melted cocoa stretching between two worlds.
If you're more of a cheese lover, you might, instead, see a perfectly cubed piece of bread oozing with a cream colored cheese.
Either way, the two most common ideas of fondue rely on the phenomenon of the melt. But what makes a cheese or a chocolate melt into that brilliant goo? Heat is the obvious answer, but it's not the whole picture.
Fondue pots create heat in one of two ways. Either they produce it from an internal coil that's excited by electricity, as with your plug and play fondue pots, or they sit above a small flame.
Both methods heat pretty slowly (though electric is faster), so most fondue is made on the stove top and transferred to the fondue pot where it's kept at just the right temperature for serving.
That's all well and good, but it doesn't quite get to the heart of my question. After all, if I put ice in a fondue pot, I certainly can't enjoy the same dipping experience in the water that the ice becomes as I can the thick, sweet chocolate lava.
What it comes down to, then, is fat. Both cheeses and chocolates melt into that ideal fondue texture when heat lets their respective fat molecules drift and spread.
If a cheese has too low a moisture content, like a Parmesan, the fat has less wiggle room, and the cheese won't melt as much. Similarly, if acid has been employed in its processing, as is the case with a ricotta, for example, the bound proteins prevent those fats from melting properly.
Chocolates can suffer the same fate if improperly made, but usually the concern there is with corners cut in the quality of ingredients. The fat in chocolate that makes it so perfect is its cacao butter, which, for the record, is not a dairy ingredient. It's a butter in much the same way that peanut butter is a butter.
The result is a chocolate that will still melt, but the flavor and texture are nowhere near the quality of pure, 100% cacao butter chocolate.
Lots Of Pots
There are as many brands and styles of fondue pots out there as there are variations of cheese fondue recipes, and one good thing about these devices is that they're all built to last a good long while.
The only downside to that durability is that you won't have a good reason to upgrade should you decide you want a bigger, better pot.
To help make your decision as simple as possible, we'll look a little more deeply into the two main styles of pots, and let you choose from among your preferred camp.
Electric fondue pots can get a lot bigger, since the only thing they need to compensate for any increased surface area is a larger heating coil.
Flame-based fondue pots are limited by the available sizes of fire canisters, and the limits presented by the width of a single flame. Pass a certain diameter on the bottom of the pot and your heat won't be evenly distributed.
That said, flame based fondue pots are inevitably going to last longer than electrics since they have next to nothing that can go wrong. A connection in your electric unit might short out, and then you have no heat.
The other consideration is stylistic. Electric units look flashier in more modern kitchens, and the more traditional pots will fit in better in a homier space.
Know how many people you want to feed, and know what kind of impression you want to make. The rest of your decision will be primarily feature-based.
Fondue's Not So Rustic Origins
The history of the fondue pot itself is inseparable from the history of fondue, the oldest known recipe for which dates back to Switzerland at the turn of the 18th century.
Given the proximity of the countries, it's difficult to say for sure whether the dish originated in Switzerland, France, or Italy, but the Swiss do claim it as a national dish.
The myth that still surrounds it, though, is that it was a kind of peasant food served up in the mountains. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Fondue from then and now share something very important in common, and that's fancy cheeses. I don't mean old farmer's cheeses that almost disappeared only to have some brilliant capitalist rebrand them as artisanal.
No, the cheeses called for in the earliest fondue recipes were expensive imports, and there wasn't much likelihood that the peasants were splurging on Gruyere.
It wasn't until the 1960s that a fondue craze took root in the US. Take yourself to any garage sale in any suburb in middle America, and you're bound to find somebody's grandmother's dust-encrusted, 60-year-old fondue set.
Since then, not much has changed in the design of the pots, though electric units eventually came along to threaten the traditional models, and the fire gels have gotten a little safer and hotter.