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Portable Induction Burners

Published January 2010

How we tested

First there were induction ranges. Now there are portable versions, which come in handy when you need an extra burner in the kitchen (or a compact cooker in a dorm). Unlike traditional gas or electric burners, induction burners don’t get hot. Instead, they use a high-frequency electromagnet to create a magnetic field between the cooktop and the pan. The magnetic field penetrates the metal of the pan and sets up a circulating electric current, which generates heat.

Pros and Cons of Induction Burners

The benefits? Induction burners are meant to be faster and safer than typical electric or gas burners and make it easier to precisely control your cooking temperature. On the downside, you can only use pans that contain iron, such as cast iron and stainless steel. Don’t even think about aluminum, copper, or Pyrex—and you can only use nonstick pans that contain iron material. (To find out if a pan functions on induction, try attaching a magnet.)

Which Designs Worked the Best and Were Easy to Use?

We selected six brands, priced from $124 to $499. After timing how long it took to boil 2 quarts of water in a 3-quart saucepan on a gas range (6 minutes, 30 seconds), we did the same on each induction burner. Despite claims that they operate “twice as fast” as a gas range, all of the portable burners were actually slower: The slowest took a whopping 12 minutes, while the fastest took a minute longer than the gas range. As it turns out, the power of these single burners can’t compare to a full-size induction range—the burners we tested had between 1300 to 1800 watts apiece, while a comparable induction range burner would be 3200 watts. Their power has to be limited because you plug them into an ordinary wall outlet, while a full induction range requires a special circuit.

Did they offer any advantage at all? Yes. With induction, it’s very easy to get precise control of cooking temperature, since the burner itself does not become hot—as a result, there’s little to no “carry-over” heat. We prepared heat-sensitive béchamel sauce and it was exceptionally easy to maintain the temperature just as we wanted. We also made macaroni and cheese on each unit, with good results. An induction burner is also much safer than conventional burners, because there’s no flammable surface. You can even touch it, because the surface never gets very hot, though it can become warm from the heated pan. We put a dollar bill between the pan and the burner; the dollar didn’t burn even with the power on and the pan’s contents boiling.

The top performers distinguished themselves from the losers with speed in the boiling tests and practical design. All of these burners had a “futuristic” look, but in lower-ranked burners, this worked to their detriment. Burners with overly slick surfaces didn’t offer traction, which meant pans of hot food slipped whenever we stirred them. And sleek touch-sensor controls made temperature adjustment a challenge. We much preferred user-friendly push buttons and dial controls.

Declaring the Best Portable Induction Cooktop

In the end, we preferred our winner for its well-designed controls, efficient heating (just one minute longer than the gas stove), and reasonable cost. Should you buy it? It isn’t faster than a gas range and it’s pricier than your average hot plate or single-burner gas stove. But if you want a safe, relatively efficient portable burner, it does the job.

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The Results

Winner
Recommended

Design Trifecta 360 Knife Block

Admittedly expensive, this handsome block certainly seemed to live up to its billing as “the last knife block you ever have to buy.” The heaviest model in our testing, this block was ultrastable, and its durable bamboo exterior was a breeze to clean. Well-placed medium-strength magnets made it easy to attach all our knives, and a rotating base gave us quick access to them. One tiny quibble: The blade of our 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a little.

$248.64*
Recommended

Schmidt Brothers Downtown Block

This roomy block completely sheathed our entire winning knife set using just one of its two sides—and quite securely, thanks to long, medium-strength magnet bars. Heavy, with a grippy base, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard made this model extra-safe but also made it a little trickier to insert knives and to clean; the wood block itself showed some minor cosmetic scratching during use.

$141.90*

Schmidt Brothers Midtown Block

This smaller version of the Downtown Block secured all our knives nicely, though the blade of the slicing knife stuck out a bit. With a base lined with grippy material, this block was very stable. An acrylic guard afforded extra protection against contact with blades but made it a little harder to insert knives and to clean; the wood itself got a little scratched during use.

$67.99*
Recommended with Reservations

Swissmar Bamboo Magnetic Knife Block

This small, scratch-resistant model had a stable, rubber-lined base and could hold all our knives, though the blade of the 12-inch slicing knife stuck out a bit. But inch-long gaps between its small magnets made coverage uneven and forced us to find the magnetic hot spots in order to secure the knives. Its acrylic guard made it safer to use but harder to insert knives and to clean.

$49.93*
Not Recommended

Messermeister Walnut Magnet Block

This handsome block was done in by its shape—a tippy, top-heavy quarter-circle that wasn’t tall or broad enough to keep the blades of three knives from poking out. It lacked a nonslip base, and its extra-strong magnets made it unnerving to attach or remove our heavy cleaver. Finally, it got a bit scratched after extensive use.

$129.95*

Epicurean Standing Knife Rack 12"

This magnetic block sheathed all our knives completely, though with a bit of crowding. But it was hard to insert each knife without hitting the block’s decorative slats on way down, and because the block was light and narrow, it wobbled when bumped. Worse, we couldn’t take it apart, so splatters that hit the interior were there to stay. Additionally, the outside stained easily, and when we wiped it down, the unit smelled like wet dog.

$99.95*

Kapoosh Rondelle Knife Block

This model stabilized knives with a mass of stiff, spaghetti-like bristles that shed and nicked easily after extensive use, covering our knives with plastic debris. While all our knives fit securely, several of the blades stuck out, making this unit feel less safe overall. Finally, though the bristles could be removed and cleaned in the dishwasher, their nooks and crannies made this block hard to wash by hand.

$24.99*

Kuhn Rikon Vision Knife Block, Clear

This plastic block required us to aim each knife into the folds of an accordion-pleated insert that was removable for easy cleaning but got nicked easily with repeated use. Because we could only insert the knives vertically, longer knife blades stuck out; a cleaver was too wide to fit. The lightest model in our lineup, this block was dangerously top-heavy when loaded with knives.

$35.88*