Whether you’re looking to ease the stovetop crunch during the holidays or need a way to keep dishes warm on a buffet, an extra burner can be a smart investment. Though the standard electric hotplate we used in college is still around, technology has advanced a bit. I put three differently fueled portable burners through their paces, assessing both their capacity to cook and to maintain steady low temperatures.
Viking portable induction cooker
Price: $500 at ChefsResource.com
This impressive induction burner with its glass-ceramic surface and stainless-steel frame allows you to adjust heat instantly and with great precision. The lowest setting is below a simmer, while “high” delivers the equivalent of 15,000 BTUs and boiled 4 cups of water in less than four minutes. Safety features include a knob that must be pushed to be turned, an automatic shut-off one minute after a pan is removed, and the fact that it won’t heat up at all unless compatible cookware is used on it. It accommodates pots and pans up to 12 inches in diameter.
Deni halogen burner
Price: $150 at Deni.com
Slimmer and lighter than the Viking induction cooker, this burner is powered by quartz glass tubes filled with halogen gas, below a glass-ceramic cooktop. It plugs in and heats up instantly with the push of a button and cools down quickly. It boiled 4 cups of water in six minutes, and its lowest setting is below a simmer. Safety features include a light that blinks as long as the burner remains hot, even if the unit has been turned off. The cooking surface is 9-1/2 inches in diameter, but it can accommodate pots and pans up to 12 inches.
Bonjour buffet tabletop burner
Price: $50 at BonjourProducts.com
Consisting of a lightweight chrome stand and a butane-powered gas burner, this is the most portable of the three burners. It also took the longest to boil water, most likely because the gas jet is rather small in diameter. The gas could easily be set low enough to hold a simmer. Once the butane tank is filled, it burns for up to three hours and unlike the other two reviewed, it does not require a plug or cord. It can accommodate pots up to 12 inches in diameter. The chrome stand does become quite hot, and the open flame is a potential safety hazard.