One of my all time favorite meals is hot pot. It can be a cold and cozy night or a warm summer evening – it doesn’t matter because hot pot is always the answer.
Hot pot in Chinese is called huǒ guō (fire pot) or dǎ biān lú (fight the furnace). It’s a fun and filling way to spend the night eating and chatting because you’re literally hanging around a hot pot at the table where you cook and eat together.
In these times it’s also a perfect holiday or celebration meal because you can customize it right to the number of people you have for dinner, no leftovers needed…unless you want them!
Hot pot happens to be the one meal that Mike and I eat the most, partially due to the fact it’s very easy to put together and partially due to the fact that Mike loves it so much. Essentially, all you do to prepare hot pot is make a soup that is simmered at the table in a — you got it — hot pot. You load up the table with a bunch of sliced meats, veggies, tofu, seafood, and noodles. Everything is cooked at the table, a la minute, scooped out of the pot, dipped into your own customized sauce, and devoured.
The theme of hot pot is, as Mike likes to say, is: it’s your choice. And it’s true, it is your choice. Don’t eat meat? Have an all veggie hot pot. Love seafood? Go heavy on the seafood. Really, hot pot is all about choosing your ingredients/what you’re going to put into your pot. There’s a huge variety of hot pot, even within China – there’s mind numbing spicy hot pots, herbal hot pots, curry hot pots, soothing plain hot pots, really there’s no wrong way. Here’s an in-depth guide to get you started!
Hot pot is a Chinese way of way of cooking food in a simmering pot of soup at the table. It’s similar to fondue, except instead of cheese or hot oil, you have a flavorful soup stock. There are a bunch of various raw ingredients that are cooked in the soup, then eaten with dipping sauces. It’s a fun and communal way of eating and super popular both at home and in restaurants.
Hot pot is near and dear to Chinese people across the world and is starting to become more mainstream and popular. Hot pot creates a cozy, warm atmosphere and really brings people together as you sit around a pot, cooking, eating, talking, and relaxing. The food is important but also important are the feels and the feels of hot pot can’t be beat.
Hot pot originated in China but it’s now all over Asia in different incarnations. There are bubbly Korean stews, Japanese shabu shabus, Vietnamese hot pots, and more!
Essentially you need two pieces of equipment for hot pot: a burner and a pot.
For the burner, there are several ways you can go: induction, gas, or a two-in-one pot connected to electric source. I say you go with whichever one you might already have, or if you are going to be buying something, I’d choose induction. Induction is easy to clean – just wipe it down. Plus you don’t need to buy extra gas canisters. We’ve used the two-in-one before too, but it’s easier to use a pot you already have.
As for pots, you want one that’s shallow so your food isn’t drowning. You want to be able to see it floating in there so a deep stockpot isn’t going to cut it. Growing up, we always had a split pot so the adults could have spicy soup while the kids had a mild soup. Split pots are great for people who want two kinds of soup or if you want to keep one side for meat and the other side for vegetables.
Mike and I use a portable induction cooker with our favorite cast iron shallow brasier, it retains heat amazingly and after we’re done, we just wipe down the induction cooker and pop the brasier in the dishwasher.
There are three main components of Chinese hot pot: soup, ingredients, and sauce.
There are a bunch of different variations of hot pot in China, depending on the region, it goes from fiery red and spicy (Sichuan and Chongqing) to milky and herbal.
Soup 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 Japanese dashi with soy, sake, mirin, and a touch of sugar. It isn’t Chinese at all, but, you know, since hot pot is all about customization, we are here for it, especially since it reminds us of oden. The light yet deep umami richness is the perfect flavor for all the ingredients to soak up.
Lee Kum Kee makes a large variety of seasoning packets – you can find those and all of the ingredients for Chinese hot pot at your local Asian grocery store.
If you’re looking for spicy, Hai Di Lao is a famous Chinese hot pot restaurant that sells their hot pot seasoning packets.
There’s also an extremely popular hot pot restaurant (Little Sheep Hot Pot) that sells it’s soup base as well.
If you want go the simplest route, just use a simple no sodium chicken stock dressed up with some soy sauce, shaoxing wine, toasted sesame oil, ginger, and scallions.
For a Japanese dashi flavor, use dashi seasoned with soy, sake, mirin, and a touch of sugar.
Or if you’re really into curry, make a thin curry stock. Maybe you have some leftover pho soup? That’ll work too. Just make sure you’re not using water 😉
You’ll need enough soup to fill your pot. Most seasoning packages have enough to make 6-8 cups. All you do is mix the packet with water. As you’re cooking your hot pot, the soup base will inevitably go down, just top it up with water, there’s no need to add extra flavoring because the soup intensifies and concentrates as it boils down.
What ingredients should I buy for hot pot?
This is the MOST fun part of hot pot. If you love variety and eating a bunch of different things in one meal, this is the meal for you! Everything tastes amazing when cooked in a hot pot. And the best part is, all you’re really doing is buying fresh, raw ingredients. If you’re wondering where to buy hot pot ingredients, the answer is an Asian grocery store! All grocery stores will (obviously) carry different things, but my main recommendation is to hit up any Asian grocery store because they will have a huge selection to choose from. I’ll break down the different categories of ingredients; it’s best to try to get a couple of each one.
Meat, it’s what hot pot is for. Essentially you can cook any kind of meat in hot pot, as long as it’s sliced thinly. You pop it into the boiling water, swish it around a bit and let the pot come back up to a boil, pull it out and eat it. Typically thinly sliced beef, pork, and chicken are very popular. There are a variety of cuts that you can get thinly sliced in trays at your Asian grocery store – go wild and buy a bunch. Some of our favorites are: rib eye (on the left), pork belly (the bacon-y looking one), pork jowl, lamb shoulder, and pork shoulder.
Or, if you like, you can DIY it! Pick pieces of meat that are heavily marbled and pop them in the freezer for about 30 minutes – it should feel slightly solid, but still yield, and then slice it as thinly as possible.
Here I added in some chicken wings because I love wings – I’ll add those to the stock and simmer them for a while before we start hot potting everything else. Wings will take about 10-15 minutes so if you’re going to have them, just toss them in and simmer them before you even start the whole hot pot process.
We also have some tripe because that’s the good stuff! Remember, it’s your choice, so if you want to go with just one kind of meat, you can. Oh, and I didn’t include seafood in the photo, but sometimes we’ll often have shrimp, scallops, squid, and fish slices too.
The frozen section at your local Asian grocery store will have packages of thinly slices meats in trays – they come laid out or in rolls. Try:
Vegetables are Mike’s favorite part of hot pot – sometimes I think he could eat hot pot with just a head of lettuce! I like a bit more variety, so I usually include some sort of Asian vegetable (gai lan, as pictured) and mushrooms. Any leafy greens will work, as well as broccoli and cauliflower. Essentially, anything goes, just make sure you’re not over cooking your vegetables! Pop them in, let them cook, then pull them out immediately, unless they’re the starchy variety of vegetable like daikon, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and taro.
Tofu hot pots are a thing and a good thing at that. There is a HUGE variety of tofu at Asian grocery stores and they are all amazing. Tofu is the best in hot pot because they soak up all the flavors. Head to the tofu section and grab what tofu you love. Mike’s partial to mini tofu puffs and I like medium firm tofu. I also love egg tofu, the kind that comes in a tube. When you’re popping the tofu into the hot pot, it doesn’t need long because you can essentially eat tofu “raw” but if you let it simmer for a while it’ll be one of the best bites: juicy and full of all the delicious hot pot soup.
This category is a straight up go to the Asian grocery store and raid the freezer section. You can make your own dumplings and balls, but the appeal of hot pot to me is that we always have a large selection of these guys hanging out in the freezer, just waiting to go.
When you get to the Asian grocery store, head to the frozen section. Sometimes there will also be a case beside the fish where fresh fish balls are. Fish balls, if you haven’t had them, are THE BOMB. They have the best texture and are not very fishy. They’re kind of hard to explain, but trust me, you’ll love them. I call them fish balls, but they come in all kinds of flavors: shrimp, squid, cuttlefish, lobster – if it swims, it comes in fishball form. I particularly like the “golden” ones because they’re deep fried. Sometimes they’ll even have fish balls with things inside, kind of like a dumpling, but with a fish ball wrapper instead of a dumpling wrapper.
Oh, and grab some meatballs too, they usually have these in the deli section – in our local store we have a selection of Vietnamese meatballs and I always grab some to throw in. There’s also a huge selection of Chinese meatballs as well; the pork and mushroom ones are particularly good.
Speaking of dumplings, grab some frozen dumplings to put in your hot pot. I like to get the ones that are already fully cooked since you can’t really see inside them. Those packages will feature a large “fully cooked” text on the front. Getting fully cooked dumplings ensures that you don’t accidentally pull out a dumpling and bite into a raw filling. Get the classic pork and vegetable combo and if you see it, go for pork and corn, it’s my fave. There are so, so many varieties of frozen dumplings, try them out until you find the dumpling of you heart.
Can you even call it a meal if there aren’t any carbs!? Noodles are the carb of choice for hot pot, they go right into the soup and soak up all the flavors. Sometimes people have bowls of rice too, so if that’s what floats your hot pot boat, go for it!
If I can wait, I like to add noodles at the end when the soup has had a chance to infuse itself with the flavors of everything that has been in the pot. I love noodles, so they’re essential. I usually go for udon because they’re thick and chewy and delicious, but mung bean noodles are excellent at soaking up flavor too. Shirataki is also amazing if you’re going low carb or keto.
Here’s where the fun starts: the dipping. Everything that comes out of the hot pot is dipped in sauce. Well, maybe not the noodles, but you know, you can pour sauce on to those. Every family has their own version of hot pot dipping sauce ingredients and within that everyone has their own personal sauce recipe. Provide a bunch of sauces and let people mix and match. Growing up, I just dipped in a simple sweet soy sauce with green onion and cilantro mix, but now I prefer a mix of Chinese sesame paste, hoisin sauce, sweet soy sauce, and shacha (Chinese barbecue sauce).
If there’s a sauce that I think is always offered with hot pot, aside from soy sauce, it’s shacha. Shacha is made from soybean oil, garlic, shallots, chilis, brill fish, and dried shrimp. It’s an umami bomb and so so delicious. Shacha is from Taiwan and the best brand is Bullhead and it comes in a little silver can (although it actually comes in a big can too and that’s what we have in our fridge) with a resealable top. Confusingly, it’s labeled as Chinese barbecue sauce. Give it a good mix before you scoop some out, the good stuff usually settles at the bottom. People typically mix it up with a bit of soy sauce, sesame oil, green onions, and cilantro. Some people also mix in a raw egg yolk for an extra bit of oomph. They sell it at the Asian grocery store and online.
Sesame paste or sesame sauce is the other big gun at the sauce table. Essentially it’s Chinese sesame paste – which is similar to tahini but made with toasted sesame seeds and it’s nuttier, deeper, and more toasty tasting .You can have sesame sauce on it’s own diluted with a bit of water, soy sauce, and toasted sesame oil, sprinkled with cilantro and scallions, or you can mix it up with other sauces. It’s super thick, so give it a good stir (just like natural almond butter!) before using. They sell it at the Asian grocery store and online. Whangzhihe is probably the most common sesame paste sauce you’ll see.
Mike’s favorite sauce is a mix of sriracha, ketchup, sugar, and sometimes, shacha. It’s sweet, spicy, umami-forward, and delicious.
Now that all the shopping is done, it’s time to set the table.
Once the table is set, the soup is bubbling in the middle, and you have your own custom sauce made, this is how you do it:
Note: for things like tofu and balls or daikon and potatoes, you can just pop those into the pot and let them hang out while it’s bubbling away. The can just chill out, cook slowly and soak up flavor while you’re cooking other items.
Hot pot isn’t a quick eat and get out meal. It’s meant to be enjoyed over a long period of time. Be patient and let the soup come to a boil before adding in any food and let it boil before taking any food out.
Don’t dip your chopsticks in the pot! Use a hot pot strainer to scoop your food out. It’s easier, cleaner, and you’ll be able to find your food more quickly.
This is probably what confuses most people about hot pot. Generally, letting everything come to a boil before you start scooping food out is a good rule, but here are some *hot pot cooking times:*
It’s easier if you don’t add everything at once, just add in a few pieces at a time, the ones you want to eat. This keeps the soup bubbling and the food fresh so you don’t find a random piece of leathery beef that’s been in the pot for hours. That being said, if you want to add everything in at once, you can, just make sure the pot comes up to a boil and bubbles away for a while before scooping things out. If you do put everything in at once, turn the heat of the pot down a bit so it’s bubbling but not at a hard boil.
You can make do with a regular grocery store! Use chicken broth with some ginger, garlic, soy, and toasted sesame oil. Pick out some meats, freeze them slightly, and thinly slice. Get some leafy greens and check out what they have in the frozen section. There will usually be some frozen dumplings at the very least. Grab a package of tofu and some noodles you can have a scaled-down version of hot pot. Order some dipping sauces online for maximum enjoyment.
Alright my friends! You’re ready to go forth and hot pot. Cook, dip, and eat away. I hope you give this a chance. It’s so cozy and comforting and warm.
Oh, one last thing, people are always wondering, when you hot pot, do you drink the soup? The answer is, it’s up to you! Some people do and some people don’t. There’s no right answer here. Typically I don’t have a giant bowl of soup; sometimes I scoop a bit into my bowl when I’m having noodles or have a bit at the end. Whatever you do, drinking the soup always happens at the end, otherwise you’d be depleting the hot pot soup levels.
For maximum authenticity, get as much variety as you can. Use the scale button to change for number of guests. See post for more ingredient suggestions.
5 from 1 vote
wide shallow pot
Arrange all ingredients on separate platters, keeping the meats together, seafood together, and dumplings and meatballs together, so as not to cross contaminate. Or just arrange each ingredient on its own plate.
Combine your soup mix with enough water to fill the pot 1” from the top. Bring your soup to a boil at the table. See notes for soup mix alternatives.
Make the sauces: combine sauce ingredients and let sit for 1 minute in two separate bowls. Taste and adjust as needed. See post for sauce alternatives.
Set place settings, divvy up sauces, and pour drinks. Prepare and set aside a carafe or pitcher of water to refill the soup when it gets low. Enjoy!
You can also use instant dashi powder.
Estimated nutrition doesn’t include sauce or soup.
Hot Pot at Home
Amount Per Serving
Calories 888 Calories from Fat 230
% Daily Value*
Saturated Fat 5.5g34%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.