Let's start by defining just what a portable induction cooktop is. You may be familiar with the built-in induction cooktops on a stove that look identical to the electric smoothtop burners. The induction cooktops that are portable can be taken with you and used almost anywhere - including at the Alain Ducasse restaurant in Paris. The genius behind the induction cooktops is that they don't heat the burner surface, they heat the cookware directly making them safer to use than electric or gas cooktops. Magnetic coils inside the cooktop start the process of creating energy to heat up whatever you are cooking. It's best to use cast iron pots and pans, stainless steel, or enameled iron cookware on the induction burners. Stay away from copper, glass, and aluminum. The biggest advantages to using a portable induction cooktop are energy efficiency and speed of cooking. Built-in induction cooktops cost between $2000 and $3000 while the portable models range from $100 to $1500. They are carried in cooking stores nationwide and can be found in general department stores like Target or online at Amazon.com.
Buying Guide - The leading brands of induction cooktops (portable) are Sunpentown, Fagor, Waring Pro, Viking, Wolfgang Puck, Cooktek, and Max Burton. The high end models from Cooktek are close to $1500 and the much sought after Viking Portable Induction Burner goes for $500. Sunpentown offers several models that are priced at $150 or less and get excellent reviews from consumers and experts alike. We found portable induction cooktop reviews on websites like Cookware.com, Chow.com (foodie site), Cheftalk.com, and dozens on Amazon.com. Louisa Chu did a direct comparison on Chow.com between the Sunpentown and CookTek models (huge price variation with very little different in performance) and another review pitted the Waring Pro Induction Cooktop against the Vollrath Mirage Induction Cooktop. Surprisingly the Waring Pro gets not so great reviews from owners and the Vollrath Mirage did quite well. With 1800 watts of power, the Vollrath is almost identical to the Viking which sell for less than $500. They all offer different power levels to control the heat, timers, auto-shut off functions when no cookware is present, overheating protection, brushed metal or stainless steel housing with ceramic or glass cooktops, and dial or knob controls. Many of the top sellers on Amazon have 1200, 1300, or 1400 watts of power and the high end models from Viking or CookTek have 1800 watts to cook food even faster. You will pay for the higher watts, but reviews for the expensive units are very good meaning the money is well spent. Owners find the versatility of the portable cooktops convenient especially when wanting to cook outdoors. Just plug it into an outlet and you have almost instant heat. They also like the temperature settings on these induction cooktops which give you exact readings versus regular gas or electric stoves that don't have those kinds of numbers. Also, many chefs mention that the cleanup associated with portable cooktops is easier than on traditonal stoves. You can browse the top selling portable induction cooktops online here.
Best Induction Cooktop:
RECOMMENDED - On almost every website we found induction portable cooktops listed, the Sunpentown SR-951T 1400-Watt Countertop Induction Cooktop was a top seller with excellent ratings from owners and experts. At $220 it's in the mid-range price zone for these units, but the 1400 watts and touch pad controls along with a good timer make it a great buy. Many of the other models only have 1200 or 1300 watts and consumers say the extra power is nice to have. The SR-951T features a glass-ceramic surface to give you instant heat with pans that are induction compatible. The Sunpentown cooktop has SmartScan technology, 7 power levels, 7 temperature settings, and safety features like overheat and auto shut-off protection. Owners found the unit durable, reliable, and very efficient. The temperature control settings let you cook almost anything indoors or outdoors. Most people use these as a supplement to their traditional gas or electric stoves, but if given the chance they use them whenever possible. Check out all the top rated Sunpentown portable induction cooktops.
Portable Induction Burner:
RECOMMENDED - Normally we don't tell our users to go with high end appliances like those from Viking, but the Viking Portable Induction Burner is a top rated induction cooker that receives high praise from experts and owners alike. The big difference between the lesser models is that you get 1800 watts of cooking power versus the 1200 or 1400 watts found on other brands. Viking hasn't always scored so well in the Consumer Reports ratings scale for appliances, but this one does excellent. The versatility of the Viking induction burner lets you cook on your back porch, in the dining room, etc. Owners say the knob to control the temps is easy to use and the functionality is simple, yet effective. Designed as a professional appliance that is often found in restaurants, the Viking burner looks great in homes as well. Consumer comments include things like "5 stars for home use luxury" and "convenient, versatile, and efficient". The Vollrath is also in this price range, but the Viking gets better overall reviews from home chefs. My wife just bought this model, but we have yet to use it enough to make any serious comments (so far so good though). We will update the review once we have more experiences to write about. UPDATE October 2015 - After 3 years of the Viking it started having problems, so now we have moved on to the Vollrath (59500P) - 14" Induction Range - Mirage Pro Series. I don't know if 3 years is considered reasonable but I was disappointed with the longevity of the Viking $500 product. We are hoping the Vollrath performs as well and lasts longer.
1600 Watt Countertop Induction Cooktop:
The Max Burton line of cookware has been gaining in reputation and their Burton Induction Cooktop, Athena 6000 is a solid choice for those with a smaller budget as the unit sells for about $125. The ceramic cooktop comes with plastic housing, there is no open flame to deal with, power levels from 1-10 (150F to 390F), there is a keep warm setting, a 150 timer that is programmable, features an alarm and an auto shutoff. Use it for catering, buffets, or even outdoors to compliment the BBQ. There are some other models from Max Burton that score well with consumers, so give them a look online.