Question: Why did my chocolate banana fondue burn?
With so many styles of fondue pots in stores, such questions should be addressed before a new pot is purchased.
Essentially, there are four types of fondue pots:
The first three -- glazed ceramic, stainless steel and enameled metal fondue pots -- are sold in sets with the necessary pot stand and an adjustable-control heat source. The manufacturer may specify that the burner be filled with a can of Sterno, liquid Sterno (sometimes referred to as denatured alcohol) or an ethanol-based gel-fuel paste that is popular in Europe because it does not emit strong fumes.
The fourth type is an electric fondue pot that has an attached stand and an adjustable temperature control.
Most fondue sets come with six or more skewers. Prices range from $20 for a simple pot in stainless steel to more than $260 for a set handcrafted in copper.
The glazed ceramic fondue pot is best suited for cheese fondue. This heavy, shallow vessel conveys heat evenly. A traditional fondue of Emmenthal and Gruyere cheeses -- or any cheese -- is less likely to burn in a ceramic pot if the flame is properly controlled.
Stainless-steel pots are perfect for fondue bourguignonne (hot oil) and Mongolian hot pot (hot broth) cooking. The lightweight metal transfers the heat quickly. But unlike the ceramic pot, the heat is not conveyed evenly. Hot spots can occur and a cheese or chocolate fondue can scorch. So, some stainless pots are sold with a porcelain insert to be added when cheese or chocolate are used. Such pots often come equipped with a splatter-guard collar around the top of the pot.
Heavy, enameled metal pots made of cast iron, pots of hard-anodized aluminum, as well as electric fondue pots equipped with a temperature control can be used for a wide range of fondue applications.
Some fondue sets, such as the Meat & Cheese fondue set by Chantal, come with one stand but both a glazed ceramic pot and a stainless-steel pot. The Trudeau 3N'1 fondue set has three pots -- one for cheese, one for chocolate and one for fondue that uses hot oil or broth. There are so many types of pots because fondue fans have different needs, likes and dislikes.
Nancy Purvis Pollard, owner of La Cuisine cookware store in Alexandria, has two fondue pots herself -- one in enameled cast iron that she uses for cheese and chocolate and another made of copper and stainless steel for beef fondue. She does not recommend ceramic fondue pots.
"I can guarantee that someone in the household is going to break it. Why bother?" says Pollard, who also does not approve of electric pots. "You're so limited with an extension cord draping across the table," she says. "Someone is going to trip over the thing."
Regardless, electric fondue pots are particularly popular at Kitchen Etc. stores in Sterling and Rockville.
"They are a huge seller," says merchandise manager Kelly Lambert. "There may be no romance of the flame. But people love them because you can adjust the heat, they are nonstick and you can pop it in the dishwasher."
Electric pots, fashioned in pewter, are used at the five Melting Pot fondue restaurants in the Washington area.
"In a restaurant situation, you have to be able to control the temperature," says co-owner Barry Berkowitz. But for cheese fondue, at home, Berkowitz prefers a ceramic pot. "They are the best, so authentic," he says. "You want the cheese to stick to the bottom and get nice and crusty so you can scrape it up at the end. With metal pots, not much of a crust forms."
Estuardo Marroquin, a sales associate at Sur La Table in the Friendship Heights section of Washington, says most of his customers go for cast-iron pots. "People like them because they hold the heat. They are easy to clean. They want the Le Creuset [cast-iron pot] because they like the shape and all the different color choices," he says.
At Terra Cotta Kitchen, a kitchenware and gourmet grocery in Winchester, Va., six brands of fondue pots are on display. "I'd lean toward a substantial, cast-iron pot that's enameled. You want stability and safety, a pot that won't tip over," says co-owner Dan Van Mieghem.
Stability and safety are essential. No matter what type of fondue is on the menu or what type of pot you choose, make sure that your fondue set comes with a sturdy stand -- one that keeps the cheese, the chocolate or the hot oil in the pot where it belongs. A quart of hot cheese splattered on the rug is not anyone's idea of romance.
Circulon's hard-anodized aluminum, porcelain-coated, nonstick pot with stainless-steel stand, 1.75-quart capacity, six forks; $69.99 at Macy's stores.
Le Creuset's enameled cast-iron pot and stand, 1.5-quart capacity, six forks; about $75.
BRING ON THE BEEF:
Hoffritz's stainless-steel pot and stand, two-quart capacity, six forks; about $50.
Emile Henry's glazed ceramic pot and metal stand, 1.2-quart capacity, six forks; about $40.
We found the three fondue sets above at Kitchen Etc. (stores in Rockville and Sterling). These or similar sets are available at most kitchenware and department stores.PLUG IT IN: West Bend's enameled metal, electric, nonstick fondue pot, three-quart capacity, eight forks; about $50, available at Kitchen Etc. stores.