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Aaron N. Tubbs

Dragon chaser.

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One or two of you, at best, may recall that I wrote about the Max Burton 6000 induction burner previously. After about nine months, the control board stopped responding to increase messages, so I could only run the thing at “5” or below. I bought another copy in the “premium” version, hoping the control board was made at a higher standard of quality. It isn’t, but the stainless is much easier to clean, so I’m not entirely disappointed. We’re talking $75 or $100, which is in the cheap range for induction burners.

There are a few problems with the Max-Burton devices, namely:

  1. There are ten heat settings. If you discover that simmer is somewhere between “3” and “4,” good luck, you’re screwed.
  2. The element (is that the appropriate term? I don’t even know) is very small; despite having good pans, this creates a tiny hot spot in the middle of the pans when the burner is used at full power (doesn’t matter whether you’re using carbon steel, copper, aluminum, clad cookware, cast iron, etc.) — you can’t uniformly sear stuff in a pan larger than about 6"
  3. The device beeps menacingly and constantly when there’s not a pan on it, and it turns off after a few rounds of this.
  4. It’s noisy.
  5. There’s no way to change the default setting, and it always starts at “5.”
  6. The control board is a lousy piece of shit and will fail if you use it numerous times a day like I did.

On the upside:

  1. The cheap Max-Burton induction burner will boil water quickly.
  2. The small element is perfectly sized to boil a Hario or Takahiro kettle; this burner is perfect for pour-over or tea prep. Except that the control board will fail.
  3. The device is cheap and not that large.

I don’t want to give the impression that the Max-Burton isn’t useful, but it’s a very limited-use thing — you can only effectively use it to boil stuff; it lacks the control to make it useful as a general-purpose burner.

This brings us to the other end of the spectrum; the Apogee CookTek MC-1800G is a work of art. It’s got some downsides. The first is that it’s an order of magnitude more expensive than a Max-Burton. The second is that it’s huge. It’s twice as tall as the Max-Burton and bigger in every other dimension as well. It’s heavy, though that’s not entirely bad — it’s solid if you’re really using the thing. My pet peeve, perversely, is that it sucks at boiling water.

Actually, it’s not entirely accurate that the MC-1800G sucks at boiling water. Rather, it has a much larger element than the Max-Burton. This is fantastic for working with larger pans like a 3qt Saute pan, a 12" skillet, a 7.5qt dutch oven, a 20qt stock pot, etc. For a small kettle like the aforementioned Takahiro or Hario, it takes forever to boil because the field seems to be just on the periphery of the kettle, instead of blasting the entire bottom surface. Bummer. So I’m still keeping my Max-Burton around for making coffee, which is dumb, but the MC-1800G is not a one-stop shop.

Alright, everything else is an upside. Here goes.

  1. The Apogee is made for being used constantly. It has a reliable fan and replaceable filters. It’s meant to be used day-in and day-out, and as a result it doesn’t do stuff that’s stupid. To this point, it doesn’t beep when the pan is missing. Instead, a picture of a pan gets a big X through it on the LCD when a pan is missing, and it looks like a pan again when it’s present. This is how it should work.
  2. There are 100 power settings instead of 10. Tonight, making chili, I boiled the mixture at 60, ramped down to 40, then 10, and found, eventually, 7 was the magic number. I’ve made several soups and sauces with the hob over the past months, and it’s always been possible to pick a perfect temperature, and leave the device alone — this capability to fine-tune the output is marvelous.
  3. There’s a trivial-to-use control lockout. This is more useful than it sounds; three presses of the lock button, and you can’t perturb the thing. If you clean as you cook, or are clumsy, this is critical.
  4. There’s fast adjustment of temperature in multiples of ten by sliding one’s finger along the glass slider, and fine-tuning of temperature via the arrow buttons. If a pan gets away from me and the oil starts smoking, it’s great to be able to drop down a few clicks. If I deglaze some browned bits and suddenly need to blast the pan, it’s nice to be able to do this. At the same time, being able to go from 43 to 42 to fine-tune a simmer is just as trivial. It’s still PWM like the Max-Burton, but the frequency is extremely high by comparison, and the effect is negligible as a result.
  5. The surface of the entire device is glass and steel. It’s trivial to clean either surface. Unlike earlier versions of the Apogee, there’s a touch-sensitive control set on the glass, and the LCD is hidden behind it, so there’s nothing that moves and nothing that crap gets into. Basically it’s a glass cooktop and glass control surface and then brushed stainless otherwise (thank you for not chroming it).
  6. The burner is big; it seems to generate heat in a torus with an outer diameter of around 8 inches, instead of about 3 inches like the Max Burton. This makes a massive difference with, say, a 12" skillet. Perversely, when blasting stuff in the skillet, the center of the pan is not the hottest part, and instead the midpoint between the center and the edge is now, which is sort of neat/weird.

Do you need an Apogee CookTek? Need is a funny word. If, like me, you have a gas stove that can’t boil a 7-qt pot, let alone be used to sear a steak, you’re going to ened some sort of alternative solution. In my experience, a cheap induction burner is an inadequate if you’re using it as a cooking surface, instead of just a liquid boiler. You can get a decent Iwatani butane cooktop for about the same as the Max-Burton, and still get decent (though I don’t think as precise/consistent as the MC-1800G) control and a lot of heat output. Granted, with a gas cooktop, you have to deal with gas refills and the fact that a 12-qt pot feels exceptionally unsteady, whereas the MC-1800G feels massive, even with a 20-qt pot on it. If you don’t care about actually cooking things, and just want hot, there’s no reason to get such a thing.

That said, I find myself going to the Apogee first, and being a bit bummed when it’s in used and I need a second burner. It’s easily the best pan-heating device I’ve ever used.