Need to know
- Portable induction cooktops can be useful for small spaces or for trialling induction before paying for a full-size cooktop, but some models have lots of drawbacks
- If you take the time to find a good product, you can avoid being stuck with a poor-performing model
- Join CHOICE to access full reviews of portable induction cooktops, full-size induction cooktops and ovens to help you find the right cooking appliances for you
If you're kitting out a granny flat or campervan, or maybe just thinking about switching from gas to induction cooking at home, a portable induction cooktop might be on your radar.
They can be a logical first step before switching your full-sized stovetop from gas to electric, and their small footprint means they'll fit in the even most diminutive kitchen. Plus, they're transportable, so they open up possibilities for cooking outside the kitchen.
They do have their drawbacks though, so before you start daydreaming about eating hot porridge in your campervan or giving up on gas, here's what you need to know about portable induction cooktops.
"Portable induction cooktops can be a great choice, but they do have issues that you won't see in a full-sized induction hob," says CHOICE kitchen expert Martha Psiroukis.
"They just aren't as efficient, intuitive or easy to use and clean as full induction cooktops.
Portable induction cooktops just aren't as efficient, intuitive or easy to use and clean as full induction cooktopsMartha Psiroukis, CHOICE kitchen expert
"If you want to trial induction cooking before committing to a full induction cooktop, portable options aren't always the answer.
"You may actually be better off booking in an induction cooktop demonstration at major appliance retailers, where they are sometimes offered. Cooking on a portable model can be different, so you may not get a good feel for what induction cooking is actually like.
"The list of cons may seem to outweigh the pros, but you can avoid many of these negatives if you choose well, so it's vital to do your research. Check our reviews before you buy to see which ones we recommend."
A portable induction cooktop is one way to trial induction cooking before committing to a built-in induction cooktop.
Here are the reasons to consider a portable induction cooktop.
1. You'll get the benefits of switching from gas to induction
Many people are making the switch from gas to electric cooking, for a number of reasons. Gas cooking is linked to a range of health risks, gas prices are increasing and gas is a fossil fuel that creates greenhouse gases.
And while you'll still need electricity to run an induction cooktop, you can use your own solar if you have it, or buy greener electricity instead. Plus, induction is far more efficient than gas, so it can reduce your cooking time and therefore your energy use.
Induction gives you all the control and responsiveness of gas cooking, but with a smaller environmental footprint and less risk to your family's health, so moving away from a gas hob to using a portable induction cooktop will still give you the best of both the gas and induction worlds.
Induction cooktops won't heat up your kitchen as much as gas, either, which is a big plus on hot summer days.
2. They're much cheaper than full-sized induction cooktops
Built-in induction cooktops can range in price from $600 to $6000 – but you can pick up a portable induction cooktop for as little as $55.
The cost of a full-size induction cooktop doesn't stop at the checkout, either: you may need to change your kitchen cabinetry, and you may also need an electrician to install it. Plus, you'll have to buy cookware that's induction-compatible if your current set isn't.
They're a thrifty way to try before you buy
But a portable induction cooktop is pretty much plug-and-play, so it'll cause much less disruption to your kitchen and your wallet if you're still deciding whether a full induction cooktop is right for you.
So if you're not completely sure you want to move from gas to induction (or even if you're considering upgrading from an electric ceramic cooktop), they're a thrifty way to try before you buy.
Portable induction cooktops won't take up much space on your kitchen bench.
3. They're great for small spaces
If space is at a premium, a portable induction cooktop can be a saviour.
At around just 28 x 37cm (give or take a centimetre or two), and weighing less than 3kg, their small footprint makes them suitable for shared accommodation, granny flats, RVs and caravans, or small businesses that don't have a fully-installed kitchen.
You can pack them up easily when it's time to go, so they're handy for travelling or cooking outdoors.
If space is at a premium, a portable induction cooktop can be a saviour
It also means that they won't use up much bench space if you're using one to trial induction cooking before changing over your existing cooktop.
Plus, they're so lightweight and transportable that you can use them for cooking in different spaces. Would-be cooking influencers use them to film on location, and you can use them to keep dishes warm on the table or in a buffet.
Just remember that you may need to leave space around the cooktop for ventilation – but this requirement differs between models, so check your manual to make sure.
4. Useful safety features
Between sharp knives, boiling hot liquids and fragile crockery and glassware, kitchens can be full of accidents waiting to happen.
Fortunately, some portable induction cooktops have safety features such as child lock, residual heat indicators, automatic switch-off, and permanent safety symbols.
These safety features are also useful if you're using them in tight spaces: you can check if the surface is still hot before you put it away if you're in a hurry to get back on the road or when you're tidying up the kitchen.
The list of reasons not to buy a portable induction cooktop is a lot longer than the list of reasons to buy one, but buying the best portable induction cooktop will help you avoid many of these negatives.
Portable induction cooktops won't give you the same experience as a full-size cooktop.
1. Many don't perform well
Of the 15 cooktops our experts have tested, they recommend only two.
In our recent portable cooktop testing, our experts noticed lots of issues with the cooktops overheating and the safety cut-out not working as it should. Many of them perform poorly at low-temperature cooking, and a number couldn't turn down low enough to simmer food.
While portable induction cooktops have cooling fans, they can still overheat. The vents are exposed and are prone to getting clogged with food spills, dust and the like. And they can be quite difficult to clean.
You just won't get the full induction experience that you'd have with a full-size induction cooktop
All of this means you just won't get the full induction experience that you'd have with a full-size induction cooktop.
If you're thinking of switching to induction cooking, our experts say you're better off booking in an induction cooktop demonstration rather than buying a portable model so you can learn how to use them and get a good feel for what they're actually like to cook with.
However, if you do need to go portable the two recommended models are still good buys. Check our latest portable induction cooktops review to see how each model performed.
Some pre-set functions can be confusing.
2. They can be difficult to use
Controls, displays and pre-set functions vary widely between brands, so it can take a lot of trial and error to figure them out. They may also have very different power levels to a regular hob, just to confuse things further.
Not only that, but 'medium' on one product can mean quite a different thing to 'medium' on another, so you'll need to figure out exactly what each setting means for the model you're using.
Our experts found they needed to use the 'cake' setting on one cooktop to cook rice
The preset functions can be confusing, too. Our experts found they needed to use the 'cake' setting on one cooktop to cook rice – the functions don't always line up with what you're actually cooking.
"We recommend looking for a cooktop that lets you choose the power level and cooking time yourself," Martha says. "You'll have more control that way."
They're also harder to clean than full-size cooktops. Martha says the vents in particular are quite difficult to clean.
"Because they're exposed, they are prone to getting clogged with food spills. It's important to keep the air intake and vents free of dust, dirt and insects, otherwise the overheat cut-out switch could trip," she says.
3. They don't have the same temperature and power range as normal induction cooktops
Some models we tested struggled with low-temperature cooking. Some even failed the chocolate melting test, leaving our testers with chocolate that seized and stuck to the bottom of the pan.
When we've previously tested portable induction cooktops, most models could turn down as low as 100 watts, but in this test many only went as low as 300 watts – which means you can't simmer on them or cook at low temperatures.
If you're trialling induction with a portable model before upsizing to a full cooktop, not being able to cook at low temperatures means you won't get the full experience.
Many portable induction cooktops don't have the temperature range or power levels of a full-sized induction cooktop, which limits their versatilityMartha Psiroukis, CHOICE kitchen expert
And if you're buying one for your caravan, camper or granny flat, you'll be limited in terms of what you can cook.
"Many portable induction cooktops we tested don't have the temperature range or power levels that you'd find on a full-sized induction cooktop, which limits their versatility," says Martha.
"Look for simple 1–10 power levels or 100–2500W settings."
4. Disappointing instruction manuals
While portable induction cooktops aren't as complex as their full-size counterparts, they do still take some getting used to (especially if you haven't cooked with induction before), so you'll need some guidance to get started. Detailed information about power levels, pre-set functions and cooking guides is vital.
Unfortunately, the instruction manuals supplied with the products we tested were light on detail and not very clear.
Our kitchen experts have more than 60 years' experience between them and have worked with all kinds of cooktops, so if they had trouble, what hope do regular home cooks have?
5. Small cooking zone
While portable induction cooktops' small size is a selling point, it does also come with a downside: a smaller cooking zone than you'd have on a full-size induction cooktop.
That's a problem for two reasons. Firstly, you're limited in terms of what size pot you can use (in terms of both dimensions and weight), and secondly, they're not as efficient as a similar-sized cooking zone on a full-sized hob.
Most can accommodate pans of 12–20cm, though some do accommodate larger pot sizes. And because they're smaller and less robust than a built-in induction cooktop, you could be limited in terms of the weight of your cookware.
The Breville Quick Cook Go, for instance, can only take loads of up to 6kg, so if you're using a large pot or cast-iron Dutch oven, you might not be left with much room to add to it. But check the manual for your model; it may be able to take heavier loads.
"Make sure the cookware is as close in size to the cooking zone as possible. This will make it more efficient and will heat more evenly, so you can cook faster, plus it'll reduce energy use," says Martha.
6. Limitations when using them in a caravan or camper
While portable induction cooktops are a great way to cook when you're travelling, your electricity setup could change the way the cooktop works – something to be especially mindful of if you're generating your own power through solar or a generator.
"They draw a lot of power on higher settings – so much so that you shouldn't use an adaptor or plug anything else into the same power point," says Martha.
"It won't be able to deliver high power settings if there isn't enough power input. So if you have it set to 2000W, but available power is only 900W, that's all you're going to get.
"If this happens, you might notice your steak stews instead of sears or water takes longer to boil, for instance. In a worst-case scenario, the cooktop won't work at all – it'll display an error code or won't switch on."
7. The noise
When you first start cooking with induction, you might find some of the noises a little disconcerting. Depending on the type of cookware, the cooktop may beep and hum. While it's slightly annoying, it's quite normal and nothing to worry about.
But portable induction cooktops come with an extra, far more annoying noise: the cooling fan.
"Cooling fans on portable induction cooktops can be very noisy – every model we tested had a noticeable continuous cooling fan noise," says Martha.
8. The cost of new cookware
Buying induction-compatible cookware is another cost you may need to add to the bottom line if you're switching to induction. If you usually cook on copper, aluminium or glass cookware, you'll need to buy new cast iron, steel, or stainless steel pans.
So while a $55 portable cooktop might sound like a steal, it's not quite so cheap once you add the cost of a new saucepan and frying pan on top.
Before you hit the shops, check your existing cookware by putting a magnet on the base: if it sticks well, it should be good to use on induction.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.