Tips for Cooking Asian Hot Pot

Gather Your Guests for a Communal Chinese Dinner

Person eating hot pot in Sichuan, Chin

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Asian hot pots are similar to fondue, but they're different than the cheesy dippers you may be used to. Popular in nearly every Asian country, there is Chinese hot pot, Japanese hot pot (shabu shabu), Korean hot pot, etc., each with its own unique twists and slightly different designs in the actual pot.

These hot pots make dinner service and entertaining guests a lot of fun. They're easy to prepare and create an enjoyable group dining experience, especially if you have a few tips to help you plan the meal.

Hot Pots vs. Fondue

What all Asian hot pots have in common is that they are a communal meal. A small group of diners gathers around a table filled with raw meats and vegetables. In the middle of the table is a hot pot filled with steaming broth. Dinner guests pick up individual foods using fondue forks and dip them into the broth to cook.

The primary difference between hot pots and fondue is the dip heated in the pot. Fondue usually conjures up images of toasted bread cubes dipped in melted Swiss cheese or lush strawberries bathed in rich melted chocolate. That’s not surprising since the word fondue comes from the French word “fondre,” meaning to melt.

However, today the definition of "fondue" has expanded to include fun dishes where the food is cooked and served in a large communal pot. This is what we find in the Asian hot pot.

Planning a Hot Pot Dinner

Don’t feel as if you need to purchase an authentic Asian hot pot (also called a firepot) to enjoy this popular dish. Aluminum, stainless steel, and electric hot pot or fondue pots can all be used for hot pot cooking.

Plan on having no more than four diners at an average-sized fondue pot; six is possible for larger Asian hot pots and electric fondue pots. Too many diners sharing one pot leads to spills, crossed dipping forks, and longer cooking times. With larger groups, you can use a second hot pot and set one at each end of the table so everyone can easily reach one or the other.

Asian Hot Pot Cooking Tips

The beauty of a hot pot meal is that you don't have to cook anything ahead of time. All you need to do is prepare the ingredients. This typically involves nothing more than selecting and chopping meats and vegetables so they are easy enough to skewer with a dipping fork.

  • There's no need to limit yourself to one type of main food. Offering a variety—from chicken and shrimp to tofu—will accommodate all tastes. Just be sure to have enough broth and a wide selection of dipping sauces on hand.
  • For speedier cooking, cut the meat into paper-thin slices, no more than 1/4-inch thick.
  • For easier cutting, partially freeze the meat. You can also ask the butcher to cut it for you.
  • Feel free to marinate the meat or seafood in your favorite marinade before serving it at the table. For instance, this Thai garlic shrimp recipe has an amazing marinade that is very easy.
  • When serving a combination of meat with vegetables or tofu, cook the meat first to flavor the broth more quickly.
  • Super absorbent fresh mushrooms, transparent noodles, and tofu (bean curd) are all good choices to serve along with meat, as they soak up the broth quickly.
  • Use a fondue dipping basket for rice and egg noodles or thin leafy vegetables such as bok choy which are difficult to cook with skewers or dipping forks. Simply lower the basket into the broth and cook the food all at once.
  • Don’t forget the side dishes. Chutneys, salads, noodles, and bread all make great fondue accompaniments.

Broth Tips

Unlike fondue, which often uses oils to cook meat, Asian hot pots typically use a broth. Chicken and vegetable are popular options, though you can also use a beef or lamb broth. You can either buy broth or make it yourself. It's also common to add a little extra flavor, such as dark soy sauce, to the broth.

  • To prevent running out of broth, prepare a large batch on the stove. Add it to the hot pot as needed.
  • Keep the broth at a low simmer throughout the meal.
  • For easy dipping, keep the fondue pot approximately 2/3 full. The total amount of broth needed will depend on the size of your fondue pot.

Dip Tips

Once guests have cooked their food in the hot pot, they'll want to dip it into a sauce. You can offer a variety of dipping sauces in small bowls that sit around the table. Be sure to have enough bowls to share so guests aren't reaching over one another or the hot pot to reach a sauce.

  • Not sure about your guests’ tolerance for fiery foods? A good rule of thumb is to offer a variety of both bland and spicy dipping sauces. For example, serve soy sauce along with the hot mustard and other spicy dips. 
  • On the other hand, don’t feel that you need to limit yourself to Asian dipping sauces. For example, horseradish goes nicely with fondue Chinoise.
  • Plan on serving at least four dips, with 1/2 cup of each type of dipping sauce.
  • If you're making a special homemade dip, prepare it a few hours ahead of time. Keep it covered in the refrigerator until needed. This gives the flavors a chance to blend.

Serving Tips

With the food, broth, and dips ready, it's time to prepare the dinner table. It's not difficult, but a few tips will make it easier for everyone to enjoy the meal.

  • If you're using an electric hot pot, be sure to place it where guests won’t be tripping over the cord.
  • Set the hot pot in the middle of the table where everyone can reach it easily.
  • Arrange all the food on platters and serve at the table.
  • Provide each guest with their own soup bowl for placing the cooked food.
  • Keep a soup ladle on hand for ladling out soup, noodles, and other foods that cannot be cooked with fondue forks.
  • For an extra touch, provide guests with wooden chopsticks to eat their food.
  • Tea, beer, or saké are excellent drink choices to serve with hot pot dishes.

Hot Pot Recipes

You have the tips, now you need inspiration with a few popular hot pot recipes. Use them at your hot pot dinner or as inspiration for your own custom recipes. Asian hot pots offer infinite options, so have fun planning your dinner.

  • Classic Mongolian Hot Pot: Made with lamb and flavored with ginger, scallions, bean curd, and cabbage, this recipe is a great one for beginners.
  • Mongolian Hot Pot With Chicken and Seafood: Similar to the lamb version, this one combines chicken, red snapper, and shrimp.
  • Chinese Beef Fondue: Also called fondue Chinoise, this is an easy fondue dish using flank steak, with suggestions for dips and side dishes
  • Shabu Shabu ("Swish Swish"): The Japanese version of hot pot gets its name from the swishing sound the meat makes as it is quickly cooked in the hot broth. Ponzu sauce is a popular dip.
  • Yosenabe: This popular Japanese hot pot dish has your cook everything in the pot. Instead of dipping to cook, guests can simply pick out the pre-cooked food and enjoy.