How to Cook Hot Pot at Home
An economical meal that the whole family can help cook at the table
If you've never had hot pot before, you're missing out. It's a popular way of serving dinner in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cuisine and it's economical and easy once you've got the right equipment. There's a little bit of upfront investment in terms of pantry staples and a portable gas stove, but it's well worth it.
Click here to see the How to Cook Hot Pot at Home Slideshow
So how does it work? While there are variations across cuisines in terms of raw ingredients and sauces, basically hot pot boils down to four components: proteins, vegetables, noodles, and sauces. Once you've got all of the ingredients together, hot pot heaven is just around the corner.
Will Budiaman is the Recipe Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow him on Twitter @WillBudiaman.
- 1kg/2lb 2oz braising steak, trimmed, cut into 5cm/2in chunks
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 75g/3oz butter
- 150g/5oz baby onions, peeled
- 4 carrots, peeled, cut into chunks
- 1 tbsp plain flour
- 200ml/7floz red wine
- 400ml/14fl oz fresh beef stock
- 2 fresh thyme sprigs
- 1kg/2lb 2oz potatoes, cut into 5mm/¼in slices
Preheat the oven to 170C/325F/Gas 3.
Season the meat with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Heat a large casserole dish until very hot then add the oil and a small knob of butter. Fry the beef until browned all over, then remove from the pan and set aside. (You may need to do this in batches.)
Add the onions and another knob of butter to the pan and fry for 2-3 minutes, or until lightly browned. Add the carrots and cook for a further minute.
Stir in the flour then gradually add the red wine, stirring until smooth. Add the browned beef and the stock, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and bring to the boil. Stir in the fresh thyme, then arrange the potatoes on top. Dot the surface with the remaining butter.
Broth is the backbone of your hot pot, but really, you don’t need to worry about it too much. If you want to go all out and make a homemade stock, go for it. Sometimes if I’m feeling particularly extra, I’ll do just that, but more often than not, I’ll just use a store bought stock or seasoning packet. Our favorite base happens to be dashi, which isn’t Chinese at all, but, you know, since hot pot is all about customization. Lee Kum Kee makes some pretty bomb seasoning packets – you can find those and all of the ingredients for Chinese hot pot at your local Asian grocery store. There’s also an extremely popular hot pot restaurant (Little Sheep Hot Pot) that sells it’s soup base. Of course, you could always just go my childhood route and just use a simple chicken stock jazzed up with some ginger and green onions. Or maybe you’re really into curry, make a thin curry stock. Maybe you have some leftover pho broth? That’ll work too. Just make sure you’re not using water )
Everything You Need to Make Hot Pot at Home
Hot pot’s current heyday may have been ushered in by high-end chains with lavish service and endless sauce bars—pointing to its long-ago popularity with Chinese emperors—but to me, the practice of cooking meat and vegetables in simmering broth at the table is always best enjoyed in humbler settings, at home with the people you love (or even meditatively on your own).
The versions that people are familiar with in the US originated in China as huoguo (火锅 or “fire pot”) and also became popular in Japan as shabu shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ, which translates to “swish swish”). Both names signal a simple meal—a great excuse to slow everything down and linger at the table, gradually filling bellies with delicious food. As the country prepares to stare down some long winter nights during an already long year, this can be a great way for households to nourish themselves in all the ways they need.
While researching for this article, I interviewed several food professionals: Lillian Chou, chef, food stylist, and formerly Time Out Beijing’s food editor and restaurant critic Jing Gao, Sichuanese food expert and founder of the Instagram-famous condiment brand Fly By Jing and Harris Salat and Tadashi Ono, co-authors of the cookbook Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals. I also dug deep online, finding new recipe variations like this veganized Vietnamese lẩu and obsessively searching for rare, higher-quality yuanyang split pots (spoiler alert: still searching).
If you’ve never made hot pot at home before (or if you have but are looking to tweak your setup), we have the gear recommendations and tips you need to succeed. In general, we’re strongly in favor of using what you already have in your kitchen as much as possible. That said, there are certain tools that can make eating hot pot at home significantly easier and more enjoyable.
The most labor-intensive part of hot pot is the prep. Since the actual cooking happens at the table, that step is easy (or at least communal and fun). But variety is part of what makes hot pot so great, and it takes time and effort to wash, chop, slice, and display all the various ingredients. This is especially true because the way you prep each item will vary depending on how you want it to cook. Traditionally, you slice meat super thin so that it cooks almost instantaneously with a few swishes in the broth, and you slice root vegetables ⅛ inch to ¼ inch thick. Small, leafy greens (such as spinach or baby bok choy with the leaves separated) don’t need any slicing, while larger leaves (like napa cabbage) should be chopped roughly into thirds or quarters.
To get greens squeaky clean, I agitate them in a big basin-shaped bowl (like the large, lightweight mixing bowls we recommend) with a good amount of water, let the dirt and silt settle to the bottom, lift the greens out, and dump out the water and grit. Two or three rinses like this should prevent any sandy bites. You can also nestle a colander inside the bowl (or use a salad spinner with the basket insert in place) to lift the veggies out directly.
For chopping and slicing, most of the time a good chef’s knife and a large cutting board will suffice. A mandoline (with some cut-proof gloves) or the slicing attachment on a food processor can speed up the process and also make it easier to produce paper-thin slices of root veggies. A food processor may also come in handy if you’re mincing large amounts of garlic, ginger, scallions, or garlic chives for your dipping sauces. (Whether you make your own sauces or buy classic versions, aromatics like this can pack them with even more flavor, helping them fulfill their important role in the hot pot experience.)
If you can buy prepackaged thinly sliced meat from an Asian supermarket near you, that’s the way to go. It costs more per ounce, but it’ll save you a lot of time and effort. Look for meat labeled “hot pot,” “shabu shabu,” or even “bulgogi”—just make sure it’s not marinated. But if that isn’t an option, you can certainly try slicing your own, starting with easy cuts such as some decently marbled beef (I like using New York strip) or chicken breast. You may have seen the advice to freeze meat for a few hours to keep it stiff for slicing, but I prefer to freeze the meat completely and then pull it out and defrost it in the fridge for a couple of hours before taking a knife to it. (I find that a solid center with softening edges is easier to work with than a floppy center with firm but melting edges.) Tadashi Ono recommends using a knife with a nice, long blade (choose the longest non-serrated knife you’re comfortable using) and making sure your cutting board won’t shift or slide around (placing a damp paper towel or dish towel, or a small square of shelf liner, underneath your board can help). Slice your cut of meat at a 45-degree angle, using long strokes if possible (shorter strokes will make the slices bumpy and uneven). And be sure to set aside the slices you’ve made so that you can clearly see the next cut you’re trying to make.
As an alternative, Ono suggests taking thicker, fatty cuts of meat, such as pork belly or short rib, and simmering them in lightly salted water for about 60 to 90 minutes beforehand. The meat will be tender and seasoned, and you can then slice it into bite-size pieces and store it in your fridge. When it’s hot pot time, you’ll have chunks of meat that will warm and soften as you immerse them in the pot. (You can even use the salted water you simmered those cuts in as part of your broth base for the hot pot.)
Speaking of which, if you’re not buying ready-made broth bases, this is a good time to get one going on the stove (or in your Instant Pot). If you’re in the habit of keeping kitchen scraps and bones in your freezer, pull them out, submerge them in water in a large stock pot, and simmer away while you prep the other ingredients.
As you finish your slicing and chopping, you can lay out your ready-to-cook ingredients on the table using any combination of bowls, platters, and trays, or even sheet pans, pie plates, bakeware, and cutting boards. It’s a good idea to keep raw meat separate from vegetables or frozen items (dumplings, fish balls, or fried tofu squares, for example) so that you can pack up any uncooked food without fear of cross-contamination. We’ve used smaller bowls for things such as fish balls or enoki mushrooms alongside large platters (such as this understated oval platter from Jono Pandolfi, which we use in our test kitchen) for rows of sliced carrots, taro, daikon, sweet potatoes, and the like. If you want a good excuse to shop for new ceramicware, this straight-sided Hasami porcelain bowl from Tortoise General Store (one of Harris Salat’s favorite ceramic shops) would make a beautiful vessel for a bouquet of assorted fresh greens.
If your table space is limited, you might also consider pulling up a folding TV tray or a rolling cart (like our staff favorite, the IKEA Råskog cart) next to the table to repurpose it as an additional surface for some of your ingredients.
Your main setup requires just two things: a portable heat source for the table and a compatible cooking vessel deep enough to handle bubbling broth (but not so deep that you’re playing stand-up-sit-down for the entire meal).
Portable induction cooktops: Induction burners like our pick, the Duxtop 9100MC, have magnetic coils that generate heat in the pot itself, so cooking with them is fast and precise, and there’s no wasted energy the way there may be with a gas flame. This option also keeps your environs a little cooler—and your fingers a little safer—throughout your meal. Also, with induction you don’t have to keep butane cans on hand (or figure out how to recycle the empty ones).
We do have to note a few caveats with induction cooktops, though. Cooking with induction requires pots made of magnetic materials and with completely flat bottoms—cast-iron and many stainless steel pans are fine, whereas aluminum and ceramic ones are not. Many induction cooktops also make a slight, unpleasant humming noise when in contact with a pan: Wirecutter senior staff writer Lesley Stockton cautions, “If you’re sensitive to the high-pitched squeal of an induction burner, it might ruin your dinner.” You also need to make sure that the cord of your burner can reach an outlet from your dining table. If not, you may be wondering if it’s safe to use an extension cord. Wirecutter senior editor Mark Smirniotis (who wrote our guide to extension cords) suggests using a 12-gauge cord (this cord is another option) in the shortest length you can find to suit your needs. Staff writer Sarah Witman (who wrote our guide to surge protectors) says, “Never run it behind couches and curtains, or under rugs, as that can cause overheating. And to prevent sparks or fires, take care that the plug doesn’t get pulled partway out of the outlet.” Also make sure to position the cord so that people won’t trip getting up from or moving around the table—that’s arguably the worst way to end a hot pot meal.
Butane burners: These will work with any kind of flat-bottomed pot that is safe for the stove. They’re the best option for a traditional earthenware donabe pot (more on that below). Butane stoves are also completely portable, so you don’t have to worry about finding an outlet or someone tripping on a cord, and they make it easy to cook outdoors. Chef Tadashi Ono (co-author of the cookbook Japanese Hot Pots) recommends Iwatani portable stoves.
Having to keep butane canisters on hand is the biggest drawback to using this kind of burner. It’s a bummer to be midway through a shabu session only to have the fire go out on you, so we recommend having a backup or two around. You should store the canisters in conditions between 32 and 120 degrees Fahrenheit (we’d store them indoors, out of garages and kitchens) and keep them no longer than eight years. It may also take some work to dispose of them properly: My sanitation department says it’s fine to put empty canisters in the bin with my recycling, but you may want to check the rules in your area. Out of an abundance of caution, we think it’s a good idea to keep a fire extinguisher on hand, too.
Choosing Rice or Noodles for Hot Pot
It’s totally your preference and totally your call whether to use noodles or steamed white rice as your carb of choice. Or, why not both?
At our house it’s usually all about the noodles. Sometimes its fresh egg noodles (think: long strands of Asian-style fettuccine) sometimes ramen noodles (spiraled and toothy), rice noodles similar to what we use for Pho (thicker, slicker and long), or vermicelli noodles like we use in our Vietnamese chicken curry noodle salad bowl (thinner and more delicate rice noodles.)
Whichever I use, I cook the noodles while the broth is simmering and have them available in a bowl just like all the rest of my ingredients.
TIGER Electric Hot Pots – Easy Clean Up. Affordable. Multi Purpose.
We are proud of the products we sell and always focus on quality. Our goal is to provide small kitchen appliances that are multi purpose so you get the most out them.
So when we created an electric hot pot, we decided to add an extra feature – a grill pan so you can have your own indoor barbecue!
The Tiger CQE-B Electric Skillet comes with a 2.4″ non stick deep pan ( you just have to remove the hot plate to access the deep pan underneath) perfect for hot pots and other dishes that require height or the use of liquid. The adjustable thermostat, up to 446°F (230°C) makes it easy to maintain the proper cooking temperature. This unit comes with a tempered glass lid to keep grilled food warm.
If you enjoy charred grill marks on your food, you will be interested in the Tiger CPK-D Electric Skillet which comes with a barbecue plate. This model also comes with all the same features as the CQE-B, including removable plate and deep pan for easy clean up.
Ma La Xiang Guo (Spicy Numbing Stir-fry Pot)
Ma la xiang guo (麻辣香锅) is definitely a “newer” dish. It doesn’t have hundreds of years of history, but I can tell you, this dish is a legend in the making. It’s so popular in China now that there are tons of restaurant chains like NaDu (拿渡) and ChuanChengYuan (川成元) thriving on just this one dish.
Ma la xiang guo is very heavily spiced, but not just by chilies alone. There are tons of spices added, that until now were mostly a delicious delicious mystery to us. Living in Beijing, we couldn’t get enough of this dish––spicy food lovers will rejoice when they taste it! I recently made this dish (minus the fish balls) for a vegan friend, he said that this is the best dish he ever had at our house.
To show you why we were so obsessed with it, let me shed some light on how it’s done in a Ma La Xiang Guo restaurant. A server hands you a menu after you are seated. You’ll notice that everything on the menu consists of raw ingredients, and each comes with a price. (Side note: I love Chinese menus. They have the thickness of a miniature novel with so many dishes to choose from, and every dish has a picture, name and price—so there’s no need to guess what you are ordering. Most of the time, I like to keep the menu even after ordering so I can marvel at the dishes that I did not order. Sorry, now back to our topic…)
After examining all the delectable choices, you pick your choice of meats, tofus, seafood, and vegetables. There is really no right or wrong way to make your selections, so go ahead, be a picky eater and only select ingredients that you fancy. Eight to ten ingredients is perfect for four to six people any more and you’ll be served up a mountain of food with nowhere to go other than the back of your fridge.
The server then will ask you how spicy you like it, from mild, to medium, to hot. My advice is to go slow if this is your first time, and select the mild, which I think is the right amount of heat for optimal enjoyment. After a short wait, a large vessel of piping hot and delicious ma la xiang guo will appear at your table, along with rice for everyone. BTW, don’t forget to order plenty of water. You will need it.
At mom-and-pop restaurants, fast-food chains, and food courts, you can select ingredients in a buffet-style line, and they are ordered by weight. After you make the selections, they weigh the vegetables separately, because protein costs more. This dish can definitely become expensive very fast. Last time, we ordered it in the Flushing Mall’s food court and were so disappointed—it tasted nothing like what we had in Beijing. So what do I do? Find a way to make it myself, of course!
This recipe is mostly vegetables, but we added some fish balls, because let’s face it, who doesn’t like fish balls? Just remember…all the vegetables need to be blanched first. And if you want to add meats like chicken and/or beef, marinate them with a little oil, cornstarch, and soy sauce first and sear them separately so they are cooked before you add them in with the rest of the ingredients. Another a quick tip: a great time to make this dish is at the end of the week, when you find yourself with a little of this and some of that, and don’t know what to do with the ingredients. Simply combine all the ingredients to make a wonderful, vibrant new dish.
For the vegetables:
- 3 celery stalks, thinly sliced
- 2 carrots, thinly sliced
- 2 potatoes, sliced
- 2 cups rehydrated wood-ear mushrooms(黑木耳), rinsed and drained
- 3 long pieces of rehydrated tofu bean threads (Fǔzhú 腐竹), drained
- 4-6 shiitake (rehydrated if using dried shiitake) mushrooms, washed and sliced
- a handful of sliced lotus root
First, bring a pot of water to a boil, and blanch all the vegetables (potatoes and carrots will take slightly more time), then transfer to an ice bath. Drain thoroughly and set aside.
For the spice-infused oil:
- 1/3 cup oil
- 3 star anise
- 2 tablespoons Sichuan peppercorn
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
- 1 black cardamom (草果)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 whole nutmeg
- 1 large dried orange peel
- 2 pieces dried ginger (沙姜) or 5 slices of fresh ginger
- 1/4 cup dried red chili peppers (keep them whole to avoid the dish being too hot)
Heat the oil in a wok over low heat, add all the spices, and let them infuse for 20 minutes, until all the spices start to brown. Turn off the heat, and use a slotted spoon to scoop out all of the spices, the oil remain in the wok.
For the rest of the dish:
- 2 tablespoon spicy red bean sauce
- 2 tablespoons hot pot soup base sauce（火锅底料）
- 6 slices ginger
- 8 cloves garlic, smashed
- 3 shallots, sliced
- 1 cup dried red chili peppers (keep them whole to avoid the dish being too hot)
- 3 scallions, chopped
- 1/4 head cabbage, sliced
- 1 7 oz. pack fish-balls (optional)
- 2 tablespoons shaoxing rice wine
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Salt to taste
- a handful of chopped cilantro
Here’s a photo of the hot pot soup base sauce, and a link to buy it (a different brand) on Amazon if you can’t find it in your local Asian grocery store.
To see what spicy red bean sauce looks like, check out our “Sauces, Vinegars, and Oils” section of our Ingredients Glossary, and scroll down to the entry for “Broad Bean Paste or Spicy Bean Paste.”
Turn the heat back on low to medium, add in the hot bean sauce, hot pot soup base sauce, ginger, garlic, and shallots.
Cook for a couple of minutes until the oil turns red, taking care not to burn the sauce. Now add in the dried chili peppers, scallions, and cabbage.
Stir and mix everything for 2 minutes. Now stir in the fish balls and all the blanched vegetables, adding in the Shaoxing rice wine and sugar.
Stir-fry and mix everything well for two minutes. Salt to taste.
Transfer to a serving plate (or serve right from the wok), and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.
Serve your Ma La Xiang Guo with plenty of steamed rice.
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Bake these easy hotpots for a comforting autumnal dinner. See our selection of beef, lamb, pork and vegetarian one-pots topped with sliced potato.
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Chicken & mushroom hot-pot
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Use up any leftover sausages in this hearty hotpot recipe, quick yet comforting and perfect for midweek meals
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Sticky pork & pineapple hotpot
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Happy Hot Pot Cooking!
Thank you for reading, and I hope you’re ready to get started on cooking nabemono dishes at home. You’ll find more detailed instructions on how to prepare each specific dish on the individual recipe post itself.
Do you have any favorite nabemono dish you love to make? I’d love to hear from you. And if you have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll try my best in answering. Happy nabe-cooking!
Japanese Ingredient Substitution: If you want to look for substitutes for Japanese condiments and ingredients, click here.