I like to think of large-cap stocks as the solid backbone of a portfolio. Large-cap stocks have a market cap greater than $10 billion. They've proven themselves with revenue growth, profit, and products -- and often, you can count on them to pay dividends. Payouts to investors are particularly important during years when stock performance falters. Even if investors don't benefit from share gains, they'll at least receive the dividend payment -- which they could choose to reinvest as a bet on a future stock boost. That's why it's essential to plan ahead and include these companies in your portfolio, even if the market is in the middle of a climb.

Right now, the coronavirus pandemic is escalating. Cases have climbed to record levels in and outside of the U.S. over the past month. So, along with the factors above, we'll want to look at companies that will thrive even if the public health crisis persists through 2021. With all this in mind, I've picked out three large caps that fit the bill.

An investor holds an image of a rising bar chart and the number "2021."

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Abbott

Abbott Laboratories (ABT -1.18%) is a Dividend Aristocrat. That means it's increased its dividend annually for at least the past 25 years. Most recently, Abbott raised its dividend for the 49th straight year, lifting the quarterly payout by 25%. The move brings its annual dividend to $1.80 per share for the 2021 financial year. That makes for a yield of 1.65%.

Besides its payouts, Abbott also has good revenue and earnings track records. Both have climbed annually for the past six years and two years, respectively. And over the past decade, the company's annual gross profit margin has generally widened, reaching 58%.

ABT Gross Profit Margin (Annual) Chart

ABT Gross Profit Margin (Annual) data by YCharts

Two key elements are likely to push revenue higher in 2021: the company's coronavirus tests and the next generation of its FreeStyle Libre glucose monitoring system for diabetes. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has granted Emergency Use Authorization to eight of Abbott's COVID-19 detection tests. And last year, regulatory authorities in the U.S. and Europe cleared the latest FreeStyle Libre systems for use.

Coronavirus testing and FreeStyle Libre sales are already on the rise. In the third quarter ended Sept. 30, diabetes care revenue climbed more than 26% year over year. The global continuous glucose monitoring market is expected to reach $12.1 billion by 2026 while expanding at a compound annual growth rate of more than 15%, according to Polaris Market Research. Abbott also reported $881 million in coronavirus testing revenue, up from $615 million in the previous quarter. We can expect more gains from these much-needed products this year.

2. Target

Target (TGT 0.98%) is also a Dividend Aristocrat. The retailer lifted its quarterly dividend by 3% in June, resulting in an annual dividend payment of $2.72 per share. The yield is 1.39%. Like Abbott, Target has increased its dividend for 49 consecutive years.

Target's revenue and profit have been rising for the past three years -- and the situation is looking bright for the upcoming full-year earnings report. Many retailers suffered during the coronavirus pandemic, but Target's business flourished as shoppers flocked to its website for essentials and opted for contactless ways to bring their orders home. In the third quarter ended Oct. 31, Target's digital sales soared 155% year over year. Pick-up, drive-up, and Shipt sales jumped 217%.

People will continue social distancing as long as the pandemic persists -- and perhaps beyond it. So I think that we can expect more gains in Target's digital business and order pick-up services. But what about its stores? Even at times when traffic may decline, stores remain central to Target's business. Target's stores fulfilled more than 95% of its third-quarter sales. This is a definite positive, since fulfilling through a store rather than a warehouse means lower costs for the company. In fact, it's 90% cheaper per unit, according to Target.

3. AstraZeneca

AstraZeneca (AZN -1.82%) hasn't increased its dividend regularly. But it has steadily maintained its payment over the past decade, making it a company you can rely on for steady income. It pays an annual dividend of $1.40 a share. The yield is the best on this list at 2.78%.

Everyone has been watching AstraZeneca over the past several months as it brings its investigational coronavirus vaccine through clinical trials. So far, the U.K., India, and five other countries have granted the vaccine candidate emergency authorization. We can't expect revenue immediately; AstraZeneca has promised to sell the vaccine during the pandemic without taking a profit. But the product could be an important generator of revenue post-pandemic.

Two points are in AstraZeneca's favor. The company has greater capacity than its rivals, and can produce about three billion doses of vaccine annually. AstraZeneca's lower pricing scheme has also earned it more orders. If pricing remains reasonable once the company begins taking a profit, it may be able to keep at least some of its early customers.

Though AstraZeneca has a long history of revenue and profit growth, both have declined in recent years. The good news is things are picking up. Product sales rose 9% in the first nine months of the year, led by the company's newer medicines. The new medicines posted sales growth of 34% in that time period. And finally, the company's plan to acquire Alexion Pharmaceuticals (ALXN) will boost AstraZeneca's position in immunology drug development -- and offer another growth driver. AstraZeneca predicts double-digit gains in earnings per share (EPS) within the companies' first three years together.

I'm optimistic about these three large-cap stocks for 2021. But more importantly, I'm optimistic about them well beyond. They've demonstrated their strength in times of trouble and, as a bonus, offer steady income streams to their shareholders.