Copper is the traditional material for the boiling vessel, because copper transfers heat quickly and evenly, and because the bubbles produced during boiling, and which would act as an insulator against the heat, do not cling to the surface of copper, so the wort is heated in a consistent manner. The simplest boil kettles are direct-fired, with a burner underneath. These can produce a vigorous and favourable boil, but are also apt to scorch the wort where the flame touches the kettle, causing caramelisation and making cleanup difficult.
Most breweries use a steam-fired kettle, which uses steam jackets in the kettle to boil the wort. Breweries usually have a boiling unit either inside or outside of the kettle, usually a tall, thin cylinder with vertical tubes, called a calandria, through which wort is pumped.