7 Best Portable Induction Cooktops | March 2017
- individual timers
- very easy to clean
- automatically turns off
- comes with free nonstick saucepan
- uses llittle energy
- helpful instructions
- precise thermometer
- large induction coil
- powerful temperature control
- 20 temperature ranges
- compact and lightweight
- child safety lock system
If you've ever burned yourself on an electric stovetop or accidentally set fire to the contents of your pan on a traditional range, you know the myriad hazards that cooking can present to both the chef and to his or her home. Electric ranges are particularly hazardous for their tendency to remain hot long after the cooking process is complete, where traditional ranges, though they may cool quickly after cooking, present the nefarious and invisible danger of toxic, flammable gasses.
Induction cooking seems to solve all of these problems, eliminating the fear of real fire and the inconsistent heating you often see from typical electric stoves. But how one earth does it work?
When we think of cooking, we usually envision some form of conduction heating in which heat from a source like a flame or a hot coil transfers its energy into the metal of a pot or a pan, exciting the molecular structure of the metal until it, too, bears heat. That heat, then, cooks your food, boils your water, etc.
Rather than cooking by conduction, induction heaters use electromagnetism to produce heat in a pan. The surface of an induction heater is essentially just a large electromagnet that's been hooked up to a powerful electronic oscillator. You may recall that a fan's ability to move back and forth and cover more of a room is called oscillation. So, the electronic oscillator in this case takes an alternating current of a very high frequency and passes it through the electromagnet, creating an oscillating magnetic field the magnetic flux of which repeatedly magnetizes the pot or pan.
That process of oscillating magnetization creates large eddy currents in the right kind of metal like cast iron or stainless steel. These metals are considered ferromagnetic for their specific resistance to eddy currents and their ability to gain magnetic energy. As the pot or pan gets magnetized over and over, the energy inherent in the process excites the molecular structure the metal in much the same way that heat from fire would, creating a pan that's hot enough to cook on, but one sitting on a surface that barely heats up itself.
A Range Of Options
Choosing from among an array of portable induction cookers has as much to do with the chef in question as it does with the cookers themselves. From model to model, you're liable to notice a handful of different features designed to give a cook both feedback and control to a degree (literally) unobtainable on any other type of range. How useful you find that feedback depends on what you tend to cook, and how strict you are about your recipes.
A roux, for example, requires a tremendously specific temperature that must be maintained across an equally specific cooking time. Too hot, and your roux will burn before you know it; too cold, and it will never form. Recipes with this level of difficulty can scare many cooks into submission, but with an LCD screen giving you real-time temperature feedback, along with the ability to dial in and maintain certain temperatures with certain induction models, you can attempt to tackle recipes that previously seemed impossible to you.
It's also possible that you just don't like roux. Or, that you don't like anything too complicated in the kitchen, for that matter. In fact, one of the most prominent demographics of portable induction cooker owners is college students. In the dorms, it's generally frowned upon to work with an open flame, and electric cookers are, really, just as dangerous. If you expect to survive four years of college dining hall cuisine that's provided by horribly rated prison food suppliers without putting on 10-50 lbs., you're going to need an alternative.
For a college student, fancy readouts and multiple burners are probably unnecessary, nor would more than a single burner fit comfortably in a dorm room that's really just a large closet with a window. Knowing the parameters of your space will go far in paring down our list to your essential options.
Cooking For A Century
While induction cookers have only become a more popular option in the last few decades, patents on their technology date back to the turn of the 20th century. Those patents went unrealized by manufacturers until the mid 1950s, when Frigidaire, a division a General Motors, took part in a tour across North America designed to showcase the variegated products GM had plans to bring to market. Despite some interest in GM's design, the product never had a chance to meet consumers in their homes.
In the early 1970s, Westinghouse Electric Corporation began production on a single, stand-alone induction burner called the Cool Top Induction Unit. Very quickly after that, the company created the Cool Top 2, which hit the market priced at $1,500. In 1973, that was roughly the equivalent of $8,100. Not exactly the least expensive option on the market.
By the early 2000s, Sears offered consumers an induction range at a much more favorable price that also included a traditional, self-cleaning convection oven. Panasonic took the technology a little further after that by introducing a system that used a higher frequency oscillation and a different coil design. The new style allowed the induction top to work with formerly incompatible cookware, giving consumers even more options among induction cookers.