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May 24, 2012 04:06 PM

Stovetop burner alternatives, old ones are too small, crooked, and overheat. Portable stove Q. (Novice Chef)

(Main questions numbered below if you don't want to read all this)

Hi everybody, Im just starting out learning to cook seriously and my old electric stove/oven has 3 really small burners and one that's a bit bigger. Most of my regular sized pans don't even really fit on the bigger one, it's also crooked and trying to alter or realign the burner does nothing (it's a whirlpool electric coil by the way).

The burners also overheat and need repairing but who knows when the owner will get around to having it fixed and how well the stove will even work afterwards given it's age.

Obviously these problems are making it difficult to get anywhere, and I can't afford a new stove/oven.

I was trying to problem solve in my head and I started thinking of how the stove burners "seem" like a fairly simple contraption by themselves and wondered if there was a way to just get some burners without having to get a whole new oven setup as well.

The idea was sparked from hot plates which I've never used and am still not sure how they even work or what they really do.

As you can see Im totally in the dark here, my only conception of cooking is electric coils on a stovetop in the kitchen, so this is all foreign to me. I did a little researching and it came to my attention that there is such a thing as "portable stove burners" Can anybody tell me about them?

1. They always seem to be referred to as being used for camping, is it common to use them at home in your kitchen in place of a conventional stove? Could I just plug it into a regular outlet and put it on top of my old stove? Sometimes they are referred to as countertop stoves but I don't know what the proper name is or if that's the same thing. Does anyone here do this?

2. Are they as good as conventional stove tops, do they work just the same? Some sites mention they are mostly for simple heating while camping and what not, others say there are ones more specifically for kitchen cooking. What do I need to be looking for?

3. How should I choose one for me? I've heard about induction ones and gas burners but Im thinking I just want a simpiler electric one that's similar to what Im used to for now. Should I go for whirlpool coil again?

4. Are there any good brands or types anyone can reccomend? Any to avoid? What stores should I look in to buy one, should I avoid cheaper places like Wal-mart?

5. Any other factors I should consider, anything else I should know? How much should I spend on a decent quality one? Do I need a more expensive one or are cheap ones fine?

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  1. I'd highly recommend an induction burner. I moved into a house with an electric glass top and hate it so much I've only been using my portable induction burner. The induction portables are very powerful and are very responsive, way better than a portable electric.

    1. ONE: It sounds like you are renting. Tell/ask the landlord to lower the rent or replace to stove unit.

      Ok. Replacement coils are cheap. Many hardware store carry them. It is a repair you can do. Pull the old ones, and match them up in the store. But since you are renting ( I assume that) you should get the owners permission. It is not your stove. Also, if the coils overheat, and you are not causing it, there may be some serious safety problem here. Notify the owner.

      Induction hotplate would be good IF your cookware is magnetic. Place a small magnet, any kind, on the bottom of your pans. If it sticks induction will work. Induction is expensive compared to a traditional hotplate. Hotplates are inexpensive. Or they used to be. And many hardware stores carry them. BroilKing makes several. I would look on ebay under hotplate, induction hotplates, etc and get a feel for what is available. Just make sure you check the new box. Then you can search the manufacturers site. There are also propane burner cookers that caterers use. Using them can get expensive. My advice: See ONE above. Seriously. Basic electric stoves are not that expensive. The "owner" should be willing to make a small investment to keep you happy.

      1. What do you mean by "overheat"? Does a heating element on the lowest setting get red as if it were on the high setting? (That would be a serious problem.) Do have hot spots in the bottom of a pan which cause scorching? On what settings? What kind of cookware do you use? If your pans are susceptible to hot spots, you might get a better result with a disc between the heating element and the pan which distributes the heat more evenly. Nordic Ware has them in both 6" and 8" size:

        6 Replies
        1. re: GH1618

          I live in a rented apartment with the same problems. FIRST, fire hazard and fire safety is a primary concern. The area AROUND the stove, such as the laminated countertop, the walls, the clearances between X, & Y, and Z, much of which may not be readily apparent to you, but would be to a contractor, home inspector or the landlord, are very much relevant to the question being discussed here. So get everything you are planning to get altered approved IN WRITING, in every single detail, PLEASE.

          Now we can get into the technicalities, which will include gas or electric. In the latter case, please ensure that the landlord knows how many amps are to be drawn and the load on the apartment's circuits, and the kitchen circuits. For example, an 1800 Watt induction plate may draw 14-15 amps, but a 3200 Watt plate significantly more. A high quality induction machine from Cooktek can cost as much as $1500. Try always to get the analog version, NO digital stuff, please, to go wrong. However, these are quality products and are portable, and compatible with house current and truly heavy duty. Again, I am no shill for Cooktek!! Look well before you leap!

          CADCO manufactures professional catering electric plates of 2 types, one with coils, the other with a solid surface. Both have their applications, and you may wish to call their catering manager and discuss your needs. The stoves come in a one-burner and 2-burner configuration. I am not promoting CADCO, merely offering them as an example of the type of quality catering equipment available from restaurant supply stores like WEB, Gala & others.

          Glass ceramic stoves are not induction, but are also available from the catering specialists, and are of high quality. They do not require induction-capable pots and pans. I always prefer to pay a certain premium, but not too extravagant a one, to purchase from a catering specialist, because their reputation rides on their quality and durability. YMMV.

          Northern Tools manufactures a 35K BTU gas burner [propane and natural gas] that can be used indoors. There are many Taiwanese companies selling gas burners because those are the usual way to cook indoors in Taiwan; however their connections to propane cylinders do not match US fittings. Open flames may not be a good idea in many situations.

          1. re: GH1618

            The heat setting goes from Min-1-9 and when I turn it to exactly 1 it seems to get very hot to me. If I put my hand over the burner my hand gets red very quickly, and it burns to the touch. The burner doesnt get red though.

            Is this normal for that level of setting?

            I use a lodge cast iron pan for most of my cooking and ceramic coated pan as well.

            1. re: Odie77

              I haven't used electric for a long time, so don't know for sure, but I would not expect to put my hand close to the element at the lowest setting. One way I would judge it is to fry an egg. I do this at al ost the lowest setting for a gas burner which will stay lit. The egg sits there for awhile before I see it starting to cook. If I couldn't cook an egg so slowly that I get impatient waiting for something to happen, I would think it wasn't low enough.

            2. re: GH1618

              Buy yourself a Kuhn Rikon 2080 11-inch Energy Saver/Flame Protector ($48.48) and a Kuhn Rikon Energy Saver/Flame Protect 9.5-Inch ($43.95) at (You can often find like-new returns on Amazon for $30 - $36) I have a professional stove but still have trouble with hot spots - even when cooking with Le Creuset enameled cast iron. The Nordic Ware that GH1618 recommends are a bit tiny for stovetop grills and skillets - the two applications were totally even heat is most critical for most cooks. If you read the reviews for the Nordic Ware plates, almost all reviewers complain that the plates quickly warp and are then useless because they can no longer effectively transfer heat to the cooking pan/skillet/grill. The Kuhn Rikon are Swiss-made and are of incredible quality. I have used mine for years and years - and with very high heats - and they are still good-looking and perfectly flat. They aren't inexpensive, but they are an investment that - unlike the lousy stove you're dealing with now - you can take with you and enjoy for the rest of your life.

              1. re: rmgrizzle

                One source for the Kuhn Rikon Flame Protector that I looked at reports that is for use on gas stoves only.

                1. re: GH1618

                  You are correct! This is the safest recommendation for the manufacturer to issue to avoid claims against the product.

                  Practically, though, the plates CAN - with a few exceptions - be used without problem on electric ranges.

                  The Kuhn Rikon plates can be problematic on SOME solid electric burners because the plates can become overheated when sandwiched between the solid steel burner plate and the cooking utensil when very high heat is used for searing, etc.

                  I recommended the KR plates to this particular person because he/she is cooking on exposed electric COILS. Because there is air space under and between the coils, the KR plate will not overheat when put to such use - even if the cooking vessel is brought to a very high temperature for searing.

                  I'm from Berlin, Germany where almost all household cooking is done on electric ranges. Most cooks I know here use the RK plates on their solid steel electric burners without problem. As stated above, though, I'd be reluctant to do high-heat searing with a the KR plate in place. Not having the plate in place when searing should not be such a problem for most cooks, though, as seared foods are moved frequently so hot/cool spots can easily be worked around. Also, the RK plate will not overheat on a solid steel electric burner set on HIGH if the cooking vessel contains liquid (other than oil) as the liquid will not get much above 212° - so keeping the vessel from getting much hotter than that. (This not-searing-hot vessel keeps heat moving from the burner plate on through the RK plate and into the vessel, so avoiding overheating of the RK.)

                  RK plates seem not to be subject to overheating when used on ceramic ranges. Plus, they help to protect the ceramic surface from cast iron and other rough-bottomed cookware.

                  It appears that the young person who posted the original question doesn't have much money at this point in his/her life. Rather than spending a large sum of money for an electrician to check the circuitry in the rental to ascertain if it could safely support external cook-plates - and then having to spend yet more money for cook-plates that will probably be abandoned as soon as a decent stove enters this person's life, the recommendation I gave - particularly because the young person has a range with electric coils, would surely be the least expensive and simplest solution to the problem he/she described.

                  By the way: Although the Nordic Ware plates are very reasonably priced, they are much more prone to warpage than the KRs (KR uses a superior metal alloy and different manufacturing process to form its plates). Another very troubling issue with the NW plates is that the inexpensive finish on then burns with exposure to high heat. I don't know what the fumes from this burned material contain, but I do know that I don't want my children breathing them!

            3. So much depends on how much money you have lying around to play with. Let us consider the induction route first. There are 2 "sizes" that are useful for my way of cooking, the 1800 Watts and the 3500 Watts.

              The former works on the 110/120 volt house current and most 12 Ampere domestic wiring found in kitchens BUT you need to check with landlord about overloading circuits, since fridges, and other appliances may be hooked up to the same wiring.

              The 3500 Watts is available in Single phase and 3 Phase, 120 V/12 Amp and 220 Volts, and higher Amp versions. You will need to talk to someone who is an expert on electricity and safety.

              For my druthers, there is a catch, and that is the weight-bearing capacity of the induction surface, its heat resistance and general longevity. Since I have no affiliations, I can mention something like the Cooktek COMMERCIAL dropin version, which is portable and very sturdy. Don't ever get any digital versions because electronics and heat are not a good combination. Get the plain, old-fashioned analog or whatever else they are called, with a knob to turn. The bummer is the price, >$1500; mind you these are commercial models, built for heavy use. There are $60-120 ones which will last for only a short while, and area come-hither waste of money. Your decision.

              There are flat, "French style" cooktops, as they are known in the trade, to distinguish them from the coil type. You can go to any restaurant supply warehouse, e.g. GalaSource online, and turn to the CATERING section. Take a look at their electric catering cooktops, and study what is on offer. Those are good buys, for not much money. Get a single burner, and see how that works for you. Compare several restaurant supply houses for the best price.

              Third alternative, using the stovetop you already have. I have a long cast iron griddle, about 19 inches x 8 or 9 inches; whatever is a double burner spanning griddle, with one face ridged, the other plain. You can pick one up at a garage sale or find one fairly cheaply at a Christmas or post-Christmas sale, or get a relative to give you one. This is not elegant, but works well: in those same restaurant supply stores, you will find great sales on Lincoln roasting pans, aluminum, that will span 2 burners. These pans can be used as excellent multi-purpose vessels for deep frying chicken [caution, 2 inches of oil, not more], stir frying with extreme success, and cooking a vast variety of dishes in many ethnic styles provided you understand what you are doing and are organized.

              Note that the roasters come as a shallower top, and a deeper bottom, and you can choose which part you will need to do what on your stove top, sitting on the ridged cast iron heat tamer. Works well, not the greatest elegant or super efficient in terms of energy savings, but excellent in terms of results. Saves money, and you get a very useful piece of kitchen equipment in that cast iron grill whose value is legion. You can slip it inside the oven and it becomes a baking stone, and do so many things with it, such as make chapatis, naans, great pancakes etc. besides, great steaks, various Indian and Middle Eastern kebabs, roast eggplant right on the stove, roast tomatoes and green peppers for Mexican and other cuisines, etc.

              Another piece of equipment I find useful, but others may find unwieldy, is a 20 inch steel frying pan with heavy 3ple clad bottom that I picked up cheaply at a restaurant suply store. Winco and various Chinese outfits make these things. They are sometimes on sale but you need to be careful. Get a cover, sold separately. An aluminum cover for a Johnson-Rose stockpot or aluminum brazier is great.

              [Indeed, a 25 quart aluminum brazier can be had for a modest price, if you are not afraid of using aluminum; get the ones with shallow sides, not more than 3 inches high. They will span all three or 4 burners. Please get some soft refractory or firebrick, to make sure you are not damagng the stove, and insert it at the corners, PLUS the cheat wiremesh heat tamers must go in under each burner. If you like to cook for a crowd, yu are all set. But otherwise, think of that 25 qt, brazier as the best surface to cook pad thai, chinese noodles of all sorts, many Indian meats like kadhai, katakat, and so much else like thai shellfish crepes, Korean pajeon etc.. Anything that requires a large surface area to cook, and slightly different surface temperature gradients where different materials might simulataneously cook or be held for a few seconds or minutes, you have the ideal vessel for 1-4 people. Use the long Chinese wok tools and long handled tongs and you will be all set with practice. You already know that thai & Chinese food of the street vendor sort are not shy of oil, so be warned. If you want that smokey taste, know that it does not come from a health food fanatic's rations of oil.

              Even a steel brazier or frying pan can become so well seasoned as to become almost non-stick with use. I have several like this, but you must be careful about using them properly.

              The steel frying pans by Winco etc. are not fantastic, but for the price they will do the job reasonably well.

              If you have the money to spend, go ahead and buy Vollrath or the best Sitram or Demeyere you can afford. There is much to be said for skill and focus. It is not the equipment that is paramount.

              Here are a few of the solutions that work for me, to convert weak gas burners to more reasonable sources of heat. YMMV.