Induction cooking has taken off in Australian households. It's less polluting to the home environment than gas, which has been known to increase health risks such as childhood asthma, but for many, installing a full-sized induction cooktop can be tricky – particularly if you're renting or aren't sure whether to take the plunge. Induction cooktops usually require far more power than a regular 10 Amp (10A) connection and need to be hard-wired by a licensed electrician.
That's where portable induction cooktops come in. They're relatively lightweight, one-hob appliances that run on your existing home power point, complementing your current kitchen cooktop. They're also great for shared accommodation, RVs and caravans, or small businesses that don't have a fully-installed kitchen. With some models costing as little as $59, they're also a cheaper alternative to a full induction setup.
Getting started with induction cooking
If a portable induction cooktop is your first foray into induction cooking, then expect a learning curve as you get to grips with the various settings. When assessing the cooktops, our experts look for controls that are as intuitive and flexible as possible.
Some models have pre-set functions (like sauté or slow cook) which may seem convenient at first glance, but depending on the model, it may be cumbersome to select your own power levels and timings if the pre-set ones don't suit your needs. Our CHOICE Expert Rating take this into account when we test cooktops.
What to know before you buy
Intuitive, obvious controls
You don't want to be constantly referring to the manual. On such compact units, clear buttons (such as a plus or minus for increasing/decreasing power) are important.
Some cooktops have cooking modes such as sear, slow cook, soup or sauté which can be OK if they suit your needs, but being able to choose your own power level and cooking time (and do so easily) gives you more control.
The cooktops should be stable on the surface, ideally with non-slip feet.
If left unused for a while we recommend wrapping the unit to avoid cockroaches or moths from settling into the air vents. You may find ones with hooks to hang up.
It's normal for induction cooktops to make beeps and hums depending on the cookware, and then there's the sound of the cooling fans (which is continuous when in use and ends about 30 seconds after it's switched off). Don't be alarmed by these noises.
Anything from around 100–2100W is ideal to cover a large variety of cooking scenarios.
Keep warm function
This is an optional low heat function that keeps cooked food at serving temperatures for a period of time.
Not essential, but this option allows large quantities to be heated quickly for a short time before reverting to the selected setting.
Portable cooktops only have one cooking zone, so you want it to accommodate a good range of pot sizes from a small milk pot to a casserole dish. They can generally fit 12–20cm diameter pots.
You want a surface that's easy to wipe over with dishwashing liquid and a soft cloth (don't use harsh chemicals or abrasive cleaners). Food may spill over the sides and into the air vents depending on the design, and the vents can be difficult to clean.
Most portable induction cooktops use finger touch controls (although we've seen ones with press buttons) so you'll need to keep the buttons free from grease and moisture otherwise they may not work.
Benchtop space and weight
You may need to clear 10cm around all sides for ventilation (but consult the manual to make sure). The cooktops we've tested weigh between 1.9–2.6kg, with a width and length of 28 x 37cm (give or take a centimetre or two). They can be 4.5–6cm high, so bear this in mind as you'll be cooking on top of your regular benchtop, which can be 90cm high already.
Handy safety features can include a child lock, residual heat indicator, safety symbols and adequate distance between a large pot and the controls.
How much do portable induction cooktops cost?
Expect to pay between $49 and $100 for a portable induction cooktop. According to our calculations, using it for 30 minutes three times a week over a year at maximum settings means you could pay annual running costs of around $36–54 (depending on the model) at $0.30 per kWh.