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Experience with portable induction cooktop?

r
redbeanbun Jan 23, 2011 12:50 PM

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. paulj RE: redbeanbun Jan 23, 2011 03:04 PM

    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
      r
      redbeanbun RE: paulj Jan 23, 2011 05:07 PM

      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
        paulj RE: redbeanbun Jan 23, 2011 05:14 PM

        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. tanuki soup RE: redbeanbun Jan 23, 2011 03:33 PM

      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
        paulj RE: tanuki soup Jan 23, 2011 04:15 PM

        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
          tanuki soup RE: paulj Jan 23, 2011 04:30 PM

          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
            paulj RE: tanuki soup Jan 23, 2011 05:03 PM

            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
              r
              redbeanbun RE: paulj Jan 23, 2011 05:30 PM

              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
                paulj RE: redbeanbun Jan 23, 2011 05:32 PM

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

            2. re: tanuki soup
              r
              redbeanbun RE: tanuki soup Jan 23, 2011 05:20 PM

              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
                tanuki soup RE: redbeanbun Jan 23, 2011 05:31 PM

                "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
                  r
                  redbeanbun RE: tanuki soup Jan 23, 2011 05:54 PM

                  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. Breadcrumbs RE: redbeanbun Jan 23, 2011 05:33 PM

          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
            paulj RE: Breadcrumbs Jan 23, 2011 05:38 PM

            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
              r
              redbeanbun RE: paulj Jan 23, 2011 05:50 PM

              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
                Breadcrumbs RE: redbeanbun Jan 23, 2011 06:08 PM

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

                1. re: Breadcrumbs
                  r
                  redbeanbun RE: Breadcrumbs Jan 23, 2011 06:22 PM

                  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
                    paulj RE: redbeanbun Jan 23, 2011 09:55 PM

                    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. jayt90 RE: redbeanbun Jan 23, 2011 05:52 PM

            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
              r
              redbeanbun RE: jayt90 Jan 23, 2011 06:08 PM

              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
                paulj RE: redbeanbun Jan 23, 2011 09:58 PM

                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. q
              qianning RE: redbeanbun Jan 26, 2011 06:24 AM

              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.

              1. KansasKate RE: redbeanbun Mar 3, 2011 04:52 PM

                Our only cooking surface is a 110v Fagor portable induction hob. It was under $200 on Amazon. We love it, and so far it has done everything we've wanted. We use enamel cast iron, copper core stainless, etc on it. We make one-pot boeuf bourguignon on it, letting it cook for 2.5 hours. Never have to adjust the heat. I move it to the middle of the table for Swiss fondue; works much better than gel fuel.

                1. In general (ovens, washing machines, etc), I prefer knobs to touch pads, but it's far from a deal breaker. Our hob has a touch pad. Once in a while, I have to push twice if I hit it off-center or too fast the first time. Not a big deal... and probably wouldn't happen if I weren't always multitasking but instead actually paid attention to what I'm doing. :-)

                2. If you have kids, a locking safety button might keep them from turning it on by accident. (Even so, to hurt themselves, they'd have to put a pan on it, let it heat up, and touch the hot pan.) Otherwise, On/Off and temperature controls do the trick.

                3. Since this was a temporary purchase to use doing restoration work, we didn't want to spend much and therefore didn't look at the more expensive models. However, we've grown to love this so much, we will always use it for fondue, as a hotplate for buffets, extra burner when cooking for the masses, etc. Also, 220v was not an option for us (the makeshift kitchen is in a parlor) so we were limited to 110v models.

                4. Noise. As you've read, some people have units w/ loud fans. I don't think the Fagor's fan is worse than a microwave, convection oven, or air filter system on our central heat & air.

                A couple of my new pans had slick bottoms, and if I stirred vigorously the slick bottom slid a little on the slick glass top. Put a small octagonal Silpat under the pan -- problem solved!

                Hope that helps.

                5 Replies
                1. re: KansasKate
                  r
                  Rick RE: KansasKate Mar 3, 2011 05:34 PM

                  I initially purchased: http://www.amazon.com/1800-Watt-Porta...
                  but I just returned becaus it ended up only heat 4" of the pan in a distinct ring.

                  I just bought http://www.amazon.com/Max-Burton-6000...
                  It still has a distince heat ring, but this one is 6" with a small hole in the middle, just like a doughnut. I do find it heats more evenly than my previous unit.

                  With both units I was disappointed that my cast iron skillets actually worked better on my electric range. By work better I mean that the heat is much more even on the electric range. I made some brussel sprouts in a 10" cast iron pan on the induction unit and ended up burning some of them due to the hot spot in the center of the pan.

                  Regarding the fan noise, sure you can hear, but it's nothing worse than running the microwave at least on the two cooktops I've used.

                  I'm not debating buying a $99 10" All Clad D5 pan for use with my induction cooktop.

                  1. re: Rick
                    paulj RE: Rick Mar 3, 2011 09:14 PM

                    All of the pans that I like using on my Max Burton (and the Tautung before that) have a 7" diameter base or smaller. That includes a 3qt Chantal SS dutch oven, a 6qt Fagor pressure cooker, a 22cm steel crepe pan, a 9.5 carbon steel Lyonaise fry pan, and a 9" cast aluminum fry pan.

                    While I may use power setting of 5 or higher for bringing water to a boil, I do most cooking at levels 1 and 2.

                    As a result of the distinct heating ring on cast iron I don't use it on the induction burner. These days I mainly use the 10" cast iron skillet as an oven pan - e.g. oven frying fish steaks etc. I don't like the idea of using an induction burner to heat a cast iron pan to 500+ deg. The Tautung used to shut itself off if the pan got too hot; I haven't pushed the MB to that point yet.

                    1. re: paulj
                      r
                      Rick RE: paulj Mar 5, 2011 10:45 AM

                      I've been wanting the 22cm De Buyer carbon steel crepe pan and after reading your post I finally bought one last night. I did the potatoe peel think, rubbed it with oil etc. Tried to fry some eggs this morning and they stuck really bad. I was a bit disappointed, though they are a lot easier to clean than my lodge cast iron. Great feeling pan, hope I can get it to work well for me.

                      1. re: Rick
                        paulj RE: Rick Mar 5, 2011 11:03 AM

                        I did a fried egg (with some potatoes and sausage) in the de Buyer, and only had a bit of sticking - but that is after year (more or less) of use. The smooth carbon steel seasons faster than cast iron, but it isn't instant.

                        1. re: paulj
                          r
                          Rick RE: paulj Mar 27, 2011 08:50 AM

                          Just got a 6 quart Le Creuset enamel over steel stock pot that is the perfect size for the Max Burton. I really wanted something I could boil water quickly in and this stock pot is great for that. Picked it up on sale for $28 at Sur La Table.

                2. f
                  flibbertygibbet RE: redbeanbun Mar 26, 2011 09:53 AM

                  I've just moved to China for a job, and everybody uses induction cooktops. I've cooked on them several times while i've been in China, but i'm still not completely sure how to use them.

                  I'm not sure how many people have Chinese induction cooktops but there are a bunch of different presets. What exactly do all of the settings do? There's definitely one that warms milk, and a hotpot setting, and four other presets, but i don't understand what these are for! Shouldn't i be able to just set the temperature and then heat food? Can somebody please explain how there preset options are used? Is setting it to "hotpot" any different than just setting the temperature to a low simmer, or is this just for paint-by-numbers cooks?

                  Sincerely,
                  Confused in China

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: flibbertygibbet
                    paulj RE: flibbertygibbet Mar 26, 2011 10:25 AM

                    I had one like that (Tautung brand; I say had because a capacitor blew after 5yrs of use). I did not make much use of the 'modes', instead just chose a power setting, and occasionally a time. It's temperature mode did not seem to work.

                    'Boil' seemed to be the same as highest-power, but it wouldn't let me lower the power. I think 'stir fry' was the same as boil, 'hot pot' more of a simmer, 'congee' the lowest, etc.

                    I now have a Max Burton, probably made in China, but with more straightforward controls. I can set power (10 levels) or temperature (and time). The temperature reading is taken under the glass top, so appears to be 20F lower than the contents of the pan.

                    1. re: paulj
                      j
                      jdmfish RE: paulj Mar 27, 2011 05:22 AM

                      I may be late responding, or offer very little, but thought I'd add my $.02.

                      I bought one from Walmart, which I had a gift card for, and wanted to see what induction was about. For the $50 I paid for my unit, I'm glad I did.

                      This is the unit I purchased:

                      http://www.walmart.com/ip/TRU-Eco-Ind...

                      For the price, I'm very happy with it. It's slightly-above/above average quality. The knob is solid on my unit, and the few push buttons are solid as well. Nothing flimsy. The fan can be a little noisy, but overall doesn't bother me one bit.

                      I do not find any noticeable "hot spots" on SS, likewise, there is a noticeable hot spot with cast iron, but I don't use cast iron indoors much - I use it on the grill more often. So that's not an issue for me either.

                      Features I like - Cooking by temp, instead of power. I feel it offers a bit more control. On my unit, just scroll the wheel/knob to the left or right. For example, it starts at 160, goes to 180, then 210, 250, 290, 320, 350, 390 and 430.

                      Has a good built in timer, and shuts unit off when timer expires. I like that it shuts the unit off, if I'm making something that I have to step away and don't want it to burn, but other times, I wish the unit would stay on, and the timer just go off.

                      Only thing I'd look for in a more expensive unit, aside from looks, since that's subjective, is a larger cooking coil, and a better warranty. For the price I paid for my unit, if it lasts me a few years, I'd be more than happy. And I'm probably going to pick up a second unit, and cook on the two induction burners since the stove we have is very old. And very rarely am I cooking on more than two burners anyways.

                  2. dcole RE: redbeanbun Mar 27, 2011 10:18 AM

                    What do you all rec for picking up a unit for an apartment kitchen...I am not really sure about voltage, ect and don't want to be blowing fuses.

                    6 Replies
                    1. re: dcole
                      paulj RE: dcole Mar 27, 2011 10:42 AM

                      I have 20amp circuits, and haven't tripped a breaker yet. Initially I was cautious about running both the microwave and induction burner, but haven't a problem.

                      120v * 20 amp = 2400 w. The max power that I've seen with portable 120v units is 1800w, so there is 600w buffer. Plus I rarely use full power. 1300w is plenty most of the time.

                      1. re: paulj
                        dcole RE: paulj Mar 27, 2011 11:05 AM

                        Thanks paulj. Would you say that is the norm in the US?

                        1. re: dcole
                          paulj RE: dcole Mar 27, 2011 11:15 AM

                          How old is your apartment building? Is there a circuit breaker panel in your unit, or are the fuses all together in some dark corner of basement?

                          My building is 20 yrs old, and there is nothing unusual about it's electrical wiring.

                          Also, some older electric stoves have 120v outlets on the panel, which has its own breaker.

                          1. re: paulj
                            dcole RE: paulj Mar 27, 2011 04:13 PM

                            I have a breaker in the unit. I would imagine the building is 40 years old or so. I would imagine it is fine, just don't want to buy a hob and be tripping circuits

                            1. re: dcole
                              paulj RE: dcole Mar 27, 2011 04:29 PM

                              The breaker should have amps marked on it.

                        2. re: paulj
                          jayt90 RE: paulj Mar 27, 2011 04:17 PM

                          If you want a modular kitchen, no range, and maybe an energy efficient small fridge and another efficient small freezer, you will really have to spread out the functions over two or three circuits.
                          This is what I did when i got rid of my range and large fridge.
                          The kitchen area has a small freezer, a small refrigerator, a Waring Pro convection oven, and an induction burner. I have gained a lot of counter space, and freedom to cook for 1 or 2 persons.
                          However, the second induction burner is in the next room (dining) because the circuits will not support everything in the kitchen.
                          In a small apt. size kitchen, you might want to go modular (those burners can go in to a cupboard for storage, and you will save floor space), but the circuits will have to be spread out. The math is not hard to do, as paulj explains.

                      2. r
                        redbeanbun RE: redbeanbun Jun 4, 2011 10:26 AM

                        Hi everyone, thanks for all the information and advice - it was more than I could find anywhere else. Although I tried to keep everything in mind during my search, it seems like our choices in the US are fairly limited compared to Asia and Europe. I finally settled on a BergHOFF model. The most difficult part was the lack of specifications on each of the models out there. So here is some info on the BergHOFF portable induction unit.
                        Power: 1600W, 120V
                        Temp: range 150-450F, 10 settings at 30degree intervals
                        Timer: up to 150 min, increase by 10, decrease by 1 min intervals
                        Auto shut-off: 5 seconds when pan removed from surface, 1 beep for each second
                        Heat diameter: Approximately 6 inches via burn test with one 10” SS tri-ply skillet though I didn’t open the case to verify since some of the screw holes are covered with stickers (probably for warranty purposes).

                        I wish the temp increments were smaller say 10degree intervals, or even better, worked like the Timer function. Thirty degree intervals is a little too hard to achieve a simmer in smaller volumes. It seems like it’s a typical temp range and intervals for models available in the US though.
                        The fan noise didn't seem too bad but I downloaded an iPhone app just to get a relative idea of noise level (yes, there seems to be an app for that too). Here's what I found (avg dB):
                        background = 47
                        background with fridge running = 60
                        background with A/C running = 55-60
                        tv at volume 20 = 62
                        stove overhead fan with the iphone mic shoved up against the fan = 96
                        berghoff with the iphone mic shoved up against the unit = 84
                        berghoff with the iPhone mic at my ear level = 64

                        The fan turns off right away but the longest I’ve had it running was to boil pasta.
                        Oddly enough, the only thing I can’t provide is a model number as there doesn’t seem to be one on the box or instruction manual. It doesn’t help because it seems that there’s an identical model out there with different power requirements.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: redbeanbun
                          d
                          dlmz06 RE: redbeanbun Jun 2, 2013 10:50 AM

                          I can recommend the Vollrath Mirage Pro. A little more than the usual units from China, but, beautiful to look at. Convenient on the countertop. Quiet. Very flexible, EASY control. Relative temps with a control knob with about 20 steps between chocolate melting low 90 degrees and frying 340 with 14 more steps above. VERY QUIET. ( I also have had 2 brands of the inexpensive Chinese cookers that I no longer use.) The control circuitry is different. The difference accounts for the noise in the inexpensive Chinese units which may use comparators which hunt for the control point causing they noise as they swing freqency, not microprossessor algorithms as in the higher end units. The Vollrath is a better design with respect to noise and very flexible control, both temp and power settings. Temp number indication is relative so you can go quickly from low to high with the knob. Very efficient design means amazingly little turn on to cook time. Great if you like a knob to control. They also have a model that works with up down buttons. Good warrantee 2 yr. Great customer service, unusual these days. Works well in my 30 year old appartment kitchen. Has about a 6 inch heat circle judging from the bubbles in the bottom of the pan at boil. Commercial quality, but easily used at home. (International cooking is my hobby.)

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