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Experience with portable induction cooktop?

Greetings Chowhounders!
I've been looking into a portable induction cooktop unit for a while but the picture isn't much clearer to me. There's a wide range of prices from $70 on amazon.com to $600 on Williams-Sonoma. I've downloaded manuals on a range of units, compared watts, # of temperature settings, range of temperature settings, weight, and other "features" but still am unclear on the range of prices.

If you have experience with a portable induction cooktop, can you please share and enlighten me? I'm interested in these questions:

1) Are there any benefits to knobs vs. push buttons for settings control?

2) Which of the "features" are useful, and which are just frivolous? For example, my microwave has lots of buttons and settings but the only buttons i use are "Minute Start" and "Stop."

3) Do you really get a better quality unit at the higher price range? Do they cook better? Last longer? Have a larger diameter of actual cooking surface? Look prettier? Have better warranties?

4) Is there something else I forgot to consider?

thanks!

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  1. These are electronic devices, with nothing mechanical except the cooling fan. So there is no advantage to a power knob as opposed to buttons or a touch panel - unless you just prefer turning a knob.

    You do want multiple power settings, just as your stove has simmer, low ... high. This is an alternative to the cook stove, not the microwave. Sometimes you want to boil water as fast as possible, other times you want to simmer.

    Some burners have temperature controls, which may not be all that effective. There's a sensor just under the cook surface, so it does not actually sense the temperature of the food. This sensor might be more effective at protecting the burner itself from overheating.

    A timer can be convenient, especially if you do braising. It's nice to know it will turn itself after 2hours, even if you forget.

    Heat is generated in the pan by a coil under the cook surface. It is hard to say just how large this coil is. On one unit that I recently took apart, the coil had an outer diameter of 7". I suspect most 120v units are about the same. More expensive cooktops apparently have multiple coils and can handle are wider range of pan sizes. The best way to get even heating is to use an induction compatible cast aluminum pan.

    Does the manual say anything about what happens when you remove the pan from the burner? The inexpensive one I have used beeps and shuts itself off. I've read that expensive stove tops, let you remove the pan briefly without interrupting power, or restore the power settings that it remembered you had. I don't know what $400 portable units do. In case, stirring the food by flipping the pan does not work as well on an induction burner.

    Warranties are something you'll have to read about from the manufacturer or retailer. Durability is a big unknown. My inexpensive unit just blew a capacitor after 5yrs, apparently the same kind that often has to be replaced on ceiling fans. There's no guarantee that $400 unit won't do the same!

    2 Replies
    1. re: paulj

      paulj,
      i'm actually surprised that the coil is only 7". Do you find it sufficient? What is the widest diameter pan you use on it?

      i think even some of the inexpensive models mention a 1-2 minute buffer before turning off if you remove the pan. It's a good thing to keep in mind. Thanks!

      1. re: redbeanbun

        The smallest diameter was about 4-5". A 10" cast iron skillet fits, but does have a distinct 'hot spot' ring about 6" in diameter. On the other hand a 10" cast aluminum skillet (with steel insert in the base) heats quite evenly. A 6qt Fagor pressure cooker also worked nicely on it (multilayer ss).

        On another thread I looked at a $400 WS burner. Stated width was 12", and from the picture we estimated that the circle marked on the surface was about 9". As long as the pan does not overlap the controls it will work, but I'm pretty sure all the heat is generated inside that 9" circle.

    2. I have three portable induction cookers, the oldest one (Zojirushi) is about 10 or 15 years old and the newest ones (Panasonic) are about 2 years old. They have all been perfectly reliable.

      I'd probably buy a name brand (Panasonic, Zojirushi, Toshiba, Hitachi, Mitsubishi, etc.) rather than a cheap Chinese unit with a name you've never heard of, but that may just be my prejudice as a consumer living in Japan.

      I prefer push buttons to knobs because they are usually sealed against the entry of liquids and are easier to clean. Of course, the more heat levels the better.

      A good feature is for the "auto off" function when you lift the pot to resume at the same temperature when you put the pot back.

      Another good feature is direct temperature input, so you can set the desired target temperature as a digital value. This is useful for deep frying.

      A cutoff timer is a good safety feature.

      As a minor point, I prefer a power cord that detaches at both ends.

      Good luck finding a nice unit!

      8 Replies
      1. re: tanuki soup

        I wonder if any these brands are available outside of Japan (or Asia). A web search shows lots of Zojirushi induction rice cookers, but no hot plates.

        1. re: paulj

          My bad. Here's a link to "ih ホットプレート" (IH hotplate) at Amazon Japan (hope the Japanese characters display okay):

          http://www.amazon.co.jp/gp/search/ref...

          Pretty much all the big Japanese electronics manufacturers offer induction hotplates for the domestic market.

          But not one is available in the US based on a search for "induction hotplate" at Amazon US:

          http://www.amazon.com/gp/search/ref=s...

          1. re: tanuki soup

            One of the 700w units reminds me of hot plate that I've seen at HMart, a New Jersey based Korean grocery chain. However the HMart one is labeled entirely in Chinese, with nothing saying 'induction' in English. But what I could see of the electronics through the cooling vents looked like induction.

            1. re: paulj

              Hanarum (H-mart)! just what i was thinking! we have some other korean and japanese markets so maybe i'll have a good chance of finding one.

              1. re: redbeanbun

                The only brand I've seen at 99Ranch is Tautung (best price for that brand is at Newegg)

            2. re: tanuki soup

              Tanuki soup: i never thought about the power cord. What's the benefit of removing the power cord? Connivence for cleaning and storing?

              I certainly never came across Zo or any of the other big-name brands you listed during my research tho if i did, i probably wouldn't need to do much research. I have two Zo appliances and they're holding up well to heavy use. They're not available in the US at the typical vendors but it does give me an idea. I'll have to check around at our local asian markets which often carry the asian brands of appliances. Downside would be that not all of them come with manuals in English. :)

              *thank you*

              1. re: redbeanbun

                "What's the benefit of removing the power cord? Convenience for cleaning and storing?"

                Yup. In addition, since we're talking about a portable unit, there is less chance of tripping over the cord when carrying it around. Induction hotplates are also great for keeping food warm on the tabletop, either for serving or for communal dishes like Japanese nabe. The ability to unplug the cord at the hotplate end minimizes the risk of knocking things over with the cord.

                1. re: tanuki soup

                  excellent. i was thinking of using it primarily outdoors on our 2nd floor deck but was hoping it can double duty on the dinning room table precisely for keeping food warm or as a substitute for hot pot (fire pot? pardon my poor translation).

        2. I've cooked on several and own a Eurodib commercial grade unit. Based on my experience, one factor I should have considered but didn't was the noise from the fan. I love my unit but the fan sure is noisy. I purchased mine at a significant discount from the MSR by shopping at a restaurant supply store.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Breadcrumbs

            Fan noise is something you only learn about in the user reviews. The electronics that drives the induction coil are going to generate some heat, and need to be cooled. Think of a computer with a 200w power supply. An induction burner is consuming 1800w. Most of that is 'dissipated' in the pan, but some needs to be blown away.

            1. re: paulj

              loud fan noise...interesting. how loud can it be? is it something that can be solved by turning the tv on louder?

              1. re: redbeanbun

                Be assured, I wouldn't have taken the time to respond to your enquiry had this been a non-issue.

                1. re: Breadcrumbs

                  gotcha. the noise range is greater than annoyance and more in the range of "what the hell??"
                  how long does the fan typically run after it's turned off?

                  1. re: redbeanbun

                    In my experience, sometimes the fan turns off right away, other times, it runs 30sec or so; longer if the unit has been running a while.

                    Volume of the fan may vary with the model. My Tautung was louder than a desktop computer, but not as loud as the vent over the stove. It was fine in the kitchen, but more than I would like at the dining table. For table use I prefer the butane burner.

                    More expensive units might use a more expensive, quieter fan, and better designed air flow, but there's no guarantee that that is the case.

          2. I bought a Eurodib 1600 watt and have used it daily for a year. It allows me to remove and shake the pan for about two seconds without losing its setting. I really like it, but the circle of heat is rather small.

            I just got a Salton 1500 watt from Costco (only $75 with a casserole type pot), and the induction circle seems to be larger (8.5" vs 7"). I only used it once, and it blew the circuit breaker, with a few other things on (lights, computer, TV) where the Eurodib never did this. I'll have to watch how I use this one!

            I just got rid of my range (single guy, retired) so I am happy to get by with two induction burners, a Waring convection oven, and the usual microwave. It is nice to be able to put the induction burners into a cupboard for storage. Modular cooking appeals to me.

            With the range gone, I have a 220 volt outlet available, but have not been able to find an induction burner that will feed from this. There are burners with European 220 v. plugs, but can I adapt this to the North American 220v outlet?

            2 Replies
            1. re: jayt90

              there is! this one!
              http://www.amazon.com/6530-ProChef-30...
              i've been eyeing this - more power is better, yes?? regardless of whether we need more power...
              i don't have an outlet to support 220v tho.

              1. re: redbeanbun

                If you want more than 1500 - 1800 w power, 220v is the way to go. Max Burton seems to have one better reputations, at least among brands available in the USA. I have MB 6000 on backorder.

                Notice that the commercial unit is much thicker than the 120v units (5" v 2.5").

                There is also a 1800w 120v MB in this heavier case.

            2. We've had an inexpensive "off-brand" table top induction burner for about 6 years, purchased on sale at Kam Man (Chinese chain grocery/home goods) for around $60. It stood up well for the first five years, but now some of the controls, lowering power specifically, are not responding, but this can be worked around using the temp settings, and the burner still works just fine at both lower and higher settings.

              We mainly use it with the pot it came with for Chinese style hot pot, and less frequently with a cast iron pan for quick table top cooking, and very occassionally as an extra burner for a party type meal.

              For the amount that we use it (maybe 20+ time a year), I'll probably replace it with a similar unit when the time comes. If I were going to use it for more "real" cooking or more often than once a week, I'd probably look at the expensive models.

              220 will definitely give you more power, but one of the things I really like about our 110 is being able to plug it in to any standard (in this case U.S.) outlet, it way ups the flexibility of use for us.