Pros: High power; fast, continuous, infinitely variable heating; immediate heat control; easy to use and clean
Cons: Relatively high initial cost (but shop around for discounts)
After seeing an induction cooker used during a cooking demonstration while aboard a cruise ship - where no open flame is ever allowed - I decided I wanted to learn more about this new cooking method that has gained wide acceptance in Europe but has been slow to take hold in the United States. After doing a bit of research, I bought a Viking VICC 120SS, a portable tabletop unit, to supplement my new dual-fuel stove (gas cook top, electric oven with gas assist). After using the Viking induction cooker for several days, I am completely amazed!
I chose the Viking VICC 120SS over a number of less expensive models specifically because of the virtually infinite number of heat levels provided by the rotary heat control. This allows the user to dial in any heat level, giving much greater control over the heat than digital units that allow only a fixed number of heat levels (typically five or six but sometimes up to nine or ten). The rotary dial of the Viking unit offers continuously variable cooking levels up to 1800 Watts.
Not only is the cooking power continuously variable, but the Viking VICC 120SS induction cooker also responds almost instantly to changes, much like a gas burner. When you turn the cooking unit down, or off, the heating level changes immediately. Also like a gas burner, the heat is constant; it does not cycle on and off like a typical electric heating element. A constant simmer is very easy to achieve and maintain, which is particularly valuable when making sauces or candies. But induction cookng is much more efficient than a gas burner, and, unlike a gas burner, it does not emit carbon dioxide or water vapor, both of which are normal byproducts of combustion.
The Viking VICC 120SS is extremely powerful. At 1800 Watts, it is one of the most powerful portable 120 Volt induction units on the market. (Built-in induction units run at 220 Volts and can achieve much higher power levels.) However, users will cook in the middle of the heat range most of the time. The highest heat setting will boil water very quickly - for cooking pasta, as an example - but it can overcook or burn most foods just as quickly. Never put an empty pan on the highest setting to heat it quickly (a bad habit often learned when cooking on electric and even gas stoves). If you turn your back for even a moment, you can ruin your cookware!
As a test, I put my new Viking VICC 120SS induction cooker up against my microwave oven. (At 900 Watts, my microwave is typical of many home microwave units.) I placed 16 oz. of water in a saucepan and the same amount in a glass measuring cup. I placed the saucepan on the induction cooker and the measuring cup in the microwave and turned them both on at the same time at the highest setting. The water on the Viking cooker came to a rolling boil in about 2 minutes and 30 second, but the water in the microwave took about 4 minutes and 20 seconds to boil. 'Nough said on that?
On the low end, the "Warm" setting does just that: it keeps the food warm without further cooking. And, as noted above, the heat is maintained constantly, without cycling on and off. The Viking VICC 120SS senses the size of the pot or pan automatically, and I haven't detected any hot spots or uneven heating.
Unlike a gas burner, you do not have to wait while the heating unit ignites. And, unlike a resistance or halogen electric heating unit, you don't have to wait for the element to heat up. The pot or pan starts warming almost immediately. Simply turn the rotary knob to the desired setting on the Viking VICC 120SS induction cooker and start cooking. (Unlike the Viking VICC 120SS induction cooker, with its infinitely variable rotary control, most induction units have digital touchpad controls, which force the user to accept a limited number of cooking levels and reportedly can develop sensing problems.)
Because the cooking surface itself does not produce heat, the Viking VICC 120SS remains cooler than the burners of gas or other electric units, although it does absorb heat from the cooking vessel. The result is that spills never bake on, which makes the unit very easy to clean. Whenever I have spatters or spills, I simply pick up the pot, wipe the surface with a damp sponge or paper towel, and then resume cooking. As soon as you lift the pot or pan off the surface, the Viking VIC 120SS shuts off power to the induction coil.
The Viking VICC 120SS induction cooker is a pricey unit that typically sells for around $499. However, during my research, I learned that McNichols Electric Service in Detroit is an authorized repair center that sometimes offers reconditioned units at substantially discounted price but with full one-year warranty, except for cosmetic blemishes. The unit I received had a small dent in the underside but otherwise was in perfect condition. Reconditioned induction cookers are not listed on the company's web site; you have to call for availability and price. Only the durability remains to be proven, since I have had it but a few days.
In contrast to the high price, the energy efficiency of an induction cooker is said to be much higher than that of most other heating methods. Since heating is induced in the cooking vessel and not conducted from an outside source, very little of the heating energy is wasted. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the energy transfer of an induction unit is approximately 90%. Other studies estimate the overall energy efficiency of an induction cooker to be about 84%. Compare that with about 70% for a non-induction smooth electric cooktop and about 40% for a gas burner. Even a microwave oven is reported to have only between 50% and 75% efficiency.
Finally, unlike a gas burner, the Viking VICC 120SS induction cooker does not produce any additional water vapor (H2O) or toxic fumes like carbon monoxide (CO) or PCBs, since there is no combustion involved.
Simplicity and ease of use, quick response to user input, ease of cleanup, safety and energy efficiency make the Viking VICC 120SS an almost miraculous kitchen tool. Once a user gets over the bad habits learned when cooking on other stoves and ranges, the quick and reliable response of the Viking VICC 120SS can make almost any cook shine by allowing him or her to focus more on the art and science of cooking and less on the equipment. The Viking VICC 120SS lets cooking be fun again!
Update: I have used the Viking VICC 120SS induction cooker for about nine months now, and I am still hooked. It has become my go-to heating unit that I use ahead of any gas burner on my wonderful GE Profile dual-fuel range. In addition to the reliable and amazingly controllable heating qualities, I especially like how easy it is to clean. This is definitely one of the best purchases I have ever made.
Consumers Union, the organization behind the "Consumer Reports" magazine, has observed that induction cooktops have the fastest-heating range elements they've ever tested but also reported problems with touchpad controls and recommended that consumers wait until the technology has become more advanced. In my opinion, the Viking VICC 120SS induction cooker, with a familiar and reliable, continuously variable rotary power control, is an excellent way to ease into the future of cooking with a single induction heating unit before taking the plunge into an all-induction cooktop.