Portable induction burners are a great choice whenever you want the convenience of an extra burner, whether it’s for the holidays, for keeping buffet foods warm, for a college dorm, or even for tableside cooking—all without the risks of using a burner with an exposed coil or open flame.
But we have heard complaints that most portable induction burners brown unevenly and have a central hot spot, particularly when searing food in a skillet. This is because most models (including one of our favorites, by Duxtop) contain a small copper coil beneath their glass surface that’s about 6 inches in diameter.
Why Some Portable Induction Burners Brown and Sear Unevenly
Manufacturers print a larger circle on the surface of the burner to indicate the proper placement of the pan, but this doesn’t correspond to the actual size of the coil. As a result, the induction current generated to heat the pan is limited to the smaller area directly over the coil. The rest of the pan becomes hot only after the heat spreads as it is conducted through the metal of the pan, rather than the direct, rapid heat of induction.
Most portable induction burners have induction coils that are just 6 inches across, so you can get a hot spot in the center of your pan. We have tips to overcome this.
While this doesn’t necessarily cause problems when portable induction burners boil, simmer, deep-fry, or braise, it shows up as uneven cooking when you want to sear or brown food in a large skillet. (It’s like cooking on your smallest burner with your largest pan.)
To keep the price low and the appliance small and compact, portable burner manufacturers make the induction coil smaller than you’d expect. They work fine for braising, boiling, and simmering, but you may see hot spots when frying. One tip to overcome this is to lift the pan partially off the burner to mix the oil and even out its temperature.
Manufacturers are limited to producing portable induction burners with small coils if they want to keep costs low and the overall profile of the device compact. To make a larger coil, as in our winner, the Breville/PolyScience Control Freak, the device has to be much taller, bigger, and bulkier to allow space for the necessary cooling ventilation inside, and it becomes much more expensive to produce, which is reflected in the price of about $1,500 (compared with the nearly $120 price of the Duxtop model).
How to Get Your Portable Induction Burner to Heat More Evenly
There are two ways to overcome this limitation of an ordinary portable induction burner:
1. Be sure to use a thick, heat-retaining skillet such as heavy-duty cast iron or a fully clad stainless-steel and aluminum skillet (like our winner from All-Clad)—and perhaps choose a 10-inch rather than a 12-inch skillet to more closely match the cooking surface to the diameter of the induction coil.
2. Be sure to preheat the pan with some oil in it a few minutes longer than usual to allow heat to spread and even out across the pan’s surface before adding food.