There’s a lot to love in induction cooktop cooking. The best portable induction cooktops offer sleek designs, with smooth glass surfaces subtly etched with concentric circles. There’s the safety offering of no open flame. And there’s the efficiency, too—by making the cooking vessel the heat source, induction cooktops use about 10 percent less energy than standard electric burners and up to half the energy of gas. Part of this efficiency is due to their ability to achieve proper temperature alarmingly fast: a splash of oil is ready to go almost as soon as it’s added and a pot of water will boil in just a couple minutes. And there’s so much more precision and temperature control possible than with standard electric or gas ranges.
Portable induction cooktops, specifically, are great for cooks looking to add extra cooking surfaces to a small kitchen—or cooks who frequently host large gatherings and find themselves running out of stove space. Bring one to your college dorm or to your wilderness retreat. Or use it instead of the bad electric stove in your rental.
I tested four highly-rated portable induction burners and found the best overall—plus a budget pick. Find the winners below. For more information on how induction cooking works, plus the details of my testing method, scroll to the bottom of the page.
The Best Portable Induction Cooktop: Duxtop Induction Cooktop Model 9600LS
With 20 different power and temperature settings (ranging from 200 to 1800 watts, and 100° F to 460° F), the Duxtop offers more heat control than any other model I tested. It also did the best job of regulating its temperature. I cross tested the display temperature with my digital thermometer and it always measured within 10 degrees of the display, whereas other models varied by up to 30 degrees. All the induction cooktops I tested spiked temperature when you first heated them, but the Duxtop self-regulated quickly—both after that initial spike, as well as in instances where the temperature had lowered, such as after adding the potatoes to the oil.
The Duxtop also has the simplest interface. The LED-lit screen is easy to read from a distance. There's a "boil” setting which puts the power to its highest capacity and sets the timer for 10 minutes, as well as a“keep warm” setting, which puts the temperature at 140 and sets the timer for 30 minutes. Otherwise, you simply press the “menu” button to select a power level or specific temperature, and use the idiot-proof “+” and “-” buttons to adjust the levels as needed. There’s also a timer that goes up to 10 hours (If the timer isn’t set, the machine shuts off after 2 hours) and a lock button—useful if there are kids nearby who are tempted by buttons.
As with all induction cooktops, there’s a low whir from fans inside the machine, which starts as soon as you place a pan on top, continues through the cooking, and runs for about a minute afterward to help the machine cool down. But, the Duxtop was the quietest of any of the models tested. It was one of the easiest to clean as well, not only because there are no crevices for oil and debris to get stuck in, but also because its glass surface was the easiest to wipe down without leaving any streaks.
The Duxtop is among the most expensive cooktops I tested, though it does offer a two-year warranty, where as all other models have a one-year. It's also one of the bulkiest models—both the heaviest, at 5 pounds 12 ounces, and the biggest in size, at about 11- by 14-inches wide and 2.5 inches deep.
Budget Pick: Isiler Induction Cooktop
At around half the price of the winning Duxtop, this model has a sleek minimalist design and is easy to use and accurate temperature settings. The control panel is a little harder to read from a distance because it’s not set at an angle as the Duxtop is and has a standard digital screen rather than an LED-lit one. There are only 9 temperature settings, as compared to the Duxtop’s 20, and it’s noticeably slower to self-regulate its temperature during the deep-fry tests, taking twice, sometimes three-times as long to come back to the proper heat once the oil cooled after adding potatoes. Its surface, while flat and smooth and made of glass like the others, is strangely streak-prone, and requires more effort than seems necessary to thoroughly clean. Still, this is a great budget option.
Other Induction Cooktops I Tested
NuWave PIC Flex: This was the smallest, most portable of the induction cooktops. But its control panel had a lot of unnecessary settings and buttons. It has the highest temperate range, going to 500 F, but was also the slowe to stabilize its temperature during the deep fry test.
The Duxtop 9100 MC: This is sometimes marketed at The Secura induction burner online, but is actually a less expensive Duxtop model, leading to some confusion when I ordered it. Its design is very similar to the winning Duxtop (though less sleek). The interface is also identical. But there are fewer heat settings (15 rather than 20), more nooks and crannies for food to get caught in, and it was the loudest of the models I tested. Plus, it didn’t do quite as well regulating its temperature during the deep-fry test.
How Does Induction Cooking Work?
With thermal induction a flame or an electric implement generates heat and, in turn, heats up the cookware when it's placed on top. In contrast, an induction cooktop uses electromagnetic induction to turn the pan itself into the heat source. (The cooktop itself hardly warms up at all—after you remove a pot of boiling water, it's warm to the touch but not scalding hot like a gas or electric range is by comparison.) It works like this: The copper coils in an induction cooktop pass an electric current to the iron in the cookware (note that not all cookware works on induction stovetops), and because iron, unlike copper, is a poor conductor of electricity, that electricity is released in the pan as heat.
Most induction burner models offer both a power level (numbered and corresponding to a specific wattage that can be as low as 100 watts and usually as high as 1800 watts) as well as a specific temperature setting, starting as low as 100° F and going as high as 500° F. Any induction cooktop designed for home use is suitable for a 120-volt outlet, which is standard in the US (but most advise against plugging in more than one induction cooktop at a time to the same outlet).
The drawbacks mostly relate to the limitations of the types of cookware you can use. You need pots and skillets made from “ferromagnetic material.” Ferrous means that it contains iron, so induction-friendly cookware is cast-iron, iron, steel, or stainless steel that has a magnetic base (not all 18/10 stainless steel will work, and neither will glass, ceramic, copper, or aluminum). The cookware needs to be flat—which rules out woks—and pans smaller than 4 inches or so in diameter, like little butter melters, may not connect. Additionally, without an open flame like that of a gas burner, you can’t blacken a bell pepper on the stovetop or crisp a sheet of nori by waving it over the heat (but you can use your broiler for these things). And you need to be cautious to keep items that are sensitive to magnetism (such as credit cards—and pacemakers!) a distance from the cooktops, lest they get damaged.
How I Tested & What I Looked For
I evaluated the induction burners based on their temperature accuracy and regulation. I looked at their size and weight (after all, these cooktops are meant to be 'portable'). I also evaluated the ease of cleaning them. One of the great advantages of induction cooktops (both portable and those permanently installed in a kitchen) is that they don’t have all the tedious-to-clean nooks of a standard range top. Cleaning should be just a quick, smooth wipe-down. Induction burners also contain a fan to prevent overheating, which can get loud. I looked for the quietest option.
I put model went through a set of tests:
First, I boiled four quarts of water. If you’ve ever cooked with induction, you know that bringing a pot of water to boil is a thrill. Here a watched pot will boil—and fast! In this first round of testing, the differences were negligible—all models boiled water in pretty much the same (quick!) amount of time.
Then, I measured evenness of heat distribution by browning slabs of tofu. Manufacturers like to boast that induction offers the most even heat distribution there is—with the cookware itself becoming the heat source. So I decided to sear two slabs of tofu, cut for maximum surface. For each model, I seared tofu for 3 minutes at a temperature setting of 340 degrees, without disturbing at all, then checked their cooked sides to see how even the browning was. While the induction cooktops all boast even heat distribution, my searing tests revealed that there’s a clear concentration of heat at the center of the cooktop. On all models, the tofu slabs I seared showed darker browning the closer they were to the center of the cooktop. The variance among the models came down to the exact level of browning differences—an issue of temperature accuracy—but all showed the same pattern.
Then, I made potato chips in the name of science. Induction cooktops should be ideal for deep frying. If you’ve ever deep fried food over a gas burner, you know that while the heat level stays the same, the temperature of the oil continues to rise, so you need to continually adjust the heat to try to maintain a steady temperature. An induction cooktop, however, allows you to set that specific temperature of 340°, and by making the cooking vessel the heat source, it's able to self regulate: upping the heat when, for example, you add cold foods that drop the temperature of the oil, and lowering it if the oil temp starts to spike.
While the Duxtop 9600 is the priciest of the models, it’s a worthwhile investment, thanks to an intuitive interface, the best range of temperature settings, heat control, and temperature regulation. For a budget pick that offers slightly less temperature range and stability, opt for the Isiler induction cooktop.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious