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Science of the Sizzle: How Hot Plates Work

There are several situations in which you would want or need a hot plate   and not only when you move into a dorm room (in most cases, they re not allowed anyway). To save money on food costs when you travel, you could take a hot plate, a pot and pan, and cook in your hotel room, if permissible. In some apartments and small homes, a full stove may not be feasible. If you re renovating your kitchen, you might have to cook dinner in your dining room or living room   and on what?   naturally a hot plate.

To choose the right hot plate for you and your family, first you must consider the type of heating you would prefer. And to do that, you need to understand how each type of hot plate works.

Electric Hot Plates

Traditionally, hot plates have been of the electric coil variety, which work as you might expect them to. Electrical wire is hidden inside flattened coils of metal. When you turn the knob, electricity travels through the wire and heats up the metal. That heat then transfers to whatever pot or pan you have on top of the coil.

There are a few advantages to using electric-style hot plates. For example, the heat from an electrical coil is evenly distributed. Overall, electric hot plates are going to be the least expensive option overall, and this takes into account the purchase price as well as the fact that you can use less expensive pots and pans on the unit, including glass and aluminum. And if you already have copper pots and pans, you can use those, too.

On the flip side, though, electric hot plates aren t easy to clean if you happen to spill something. You will have less control over heat with an electric burner and you may find that the regulation of the heat is uneven.

Induction Hot Plates

Although induction heat has been used in kitchens for decades, it s still relatively new in the United States. Induction units use electricity to power the unit, but rather than heating the cooktop surface and then radiating heat from the plate to the pan, the heat is created in the pan itself. The copper coils within the unit creates a fluctuating magnetic field and when you place a ferromagnetic pot or pan on top of the cooking surface the electrons within the metal try to line up with the magnet, but they can t. This interaction generates thermal energy and thereby creates heat in the pan.

The biggest pro of using induction heating is energy efficiency: less heat is lost when cooking because induction units generate little ambient heat. You also get more accuracy in temperature control, from the lowest temperatures to the highest. Induction hot plates are safe alternatives to gas or electric burners because they stay relatively cool   except where a heated pan transfers heat to the surface of the cooktop. Also, induction hot plates clean up nicely   a quick wipe down keeps things neat and tidy.

Induction cooktops are still pricey, though, so expect to pay, on average, about five times more for an induction hot plate compared to an electric hot plate. Also, you must use magnetic cookware, so if you don t already own appropriate pots and pans, you have to invest in those. Also, the cooktop on an induction cooktop can be scratched easily, so your hot plate may look worse for wear in a short amount of time.