Pros: power, performance, price,
Cons: small burner area, requires magnetic pans
I recently acquired a Max Burton 6500 induction unit.
I'd been wanting some extra burner space and was also interested in induction. Cook's Illustrated had given the Max Burton 6000 their top scores. The 6000 is an 1800 watt unit intended for home use. It has good marks at Amazon, but seems a bit prone to breakage in shipping. There is also a 6200 that is the same as the 6000, just with a little extra stainless steel.
Price breakdown (amazon pricing as of December 2010)
The 6000 has been cheaper than that in the recent past so you can probably do better in pricing.
The 6200 is the same as the 6000 with a bit of extra stainless steel on the control panel.
The 6500 is an 1800 watt unit intended for professional use. It's bigger, more stainless steel structure and so on.
The specs and controls are very similar between the units and I'm quite pleased with the 6500. I suspect the guts are pretty similar but I was looking for this to withstand some abuse and so went with the pro model.
What does 1800 watts mean?
In straight BTUs, 1800 watts is a little disappointing. However, there is also efficiency to factor in. Gas stoves average about 40% efficient. Induction units average just above 80% efficient. So they rate 1800 watts as equivalent to 16,600 BTUS. And it is more powerful than my 14,000 BTU gas stove.
1800 watts also means that you can blow the circuit breaker pretty easily if you're running much of anything else on the same circuit. For the most part, this has meant turning off the induction unit briefly while I ran a mixer or food processor for a minute or two. Then turning the induction back on. On lower settings, you can get away with more.
Induction means magnetic pots and pans.
The standard 18/10 steel in pots and pans doesn't work on induction burners. Most of my disc bottomed pots and saucepans worked. My clad Calphalon 12" skillet does not.
While my cast iron is magnetic. The magnetic ring on this unit is only about 4 inches in diameter. Cast iron is a poor conductor of heat. It can hold a lot of heat but it's not so good at transferring it. See details in the review below.
Aluminum doesn't work at all. There is technology in development that will work with virtually all metals, but it's not available yet.
Two Cooking Modes.
You have two cooking modes, Power and Temperature.
In the power mode, you have various pre-set power levels ranging from 400 watts up to 1800 watts, usually in 200 watt steps skipping only 600 watts. This is a continuous power input to the pot, analagous to the common Low, Medium-Low, Medium, Medium-High and High settings. There is a little loss of fine tuning with those settings. More fine grained controls come with higher price tags. The system will stop supplying heat if it senses a temperature above 464 in the pan (see below for more thoughts on how this works and effects cooking).
For boiling a gallon of water for pasta, the induction unit beats my gas stove. Definitely faster. As the unit heats the pan through induction, handles can remain surprisingly cool. There is no heat coming up around the edge of the pot or pan.
There are 10 temperature settings 140, 180, 210, 250, 280, 320, 360, 390, 430, 464. 464 is the thermal limit as above. These are fairly well thought out choices and have some interesting ramifications.
180 is a good simmer point. I used this setting for making turkey stock after Thanksgiving. I got the clearest stock I've ever made. I could guarantee it wouldn't boil and needed no fiddling with controls to find the simmer . Not that finding a simmer is hard if you have the experience, but this is dead simple. You can literally walk away and not worry about it coming up to temp or sneaking past to a boil. I ran other kitchen electrics without trouble once the pot was at temperature as the power needed to maintain the temperature was low. It seems that it offers maximum power though until the temperature is reached.
210 will maintain a good boil at my altitude (shy of 5000 feet) though there is some cycling based on temperature sensor. At lower elevations, it will cycle into and out of the boil.
I don't have technical diagram and documentation but it seems to work this way. There is a temperature sensor underneath the glass cooktop. The cooktop only gets hot from what the pan radiates back. You can literally touch the cooktop next to a boiling pot and it won't burn. So this sensor gives a fair approximation of the temperature of the pot above but lags a bit. So the 210 setting makes sense to keep the pot at the boiling pot within the limits of the system.
I also used the temperature settings as I made the roux for the turkey gravy. This was a learning experience. I set the temp to 320 and the roux wouldn't darken beyond blond. You could walk away, not stir, the roux wouldn't burn. The fat wouldn't smoke as it wasn't at the smoke point. Taking it up to 360, II could start to add some color, but still it was resisting burning in interesting ways. I went to 390 for a little bit just to finish color. The fat started smoking at that point and I turned it down, but I was done. With a more fine grained temperature control, you can practically idiot proof making dark roux.
The 320, 360 and 390 temperature points show interesting promise for deep frying. Again, more precise controls with finer gradation would be better. Still, I'm very impressed with the temperature feature of this unit.
Impressed with the performance and power of the unit, I picked up a flat bottomed wok. I've denigrated flat bottom woks for a long time but they do work well on induction. And a round bottom wok won't at all.
The sensor in this (and most other units) needs a certain amount of magnetic material in the induction zone for the unit to power up. Otherwise it displays an error code. Pans must be at least 4 inches in diameter and within 1.5 inches of the cooktop to trigger the sensor. Round woks don't work.
But back to the wok. I'd always learned to use maximum heat available for cooking in the wok. It was an amazing amount of heat, arguably hotter than my 30,000 BTU stove I use outdoors for Wok cooking. Great sear, smoky edges. It can easily get away from you and scorch. You absolutely have to have everything ready and you have more bottom surface area to keep in motion than in a round bottom wok. You don't have as much concern about overloading the wok with ingredients. Wok cooking was one of the reasons I wanted to try induction cooking and it didn't disappoint.
I also used my cast iron wok with the flat bottom but round interior. Worked very well, but is not one I can toss around and flip the ingredients.
Excited about the wok, I wanted to try a saute. As my 12" clad skillet didn't work, nor my aluminum, I used my 12" Lodge cast iron skillet. The center got rip roaring, scorching hot. The outer edge wouldn't boil water. The handle was cool to the touch. This was a disappointment. The magnetic input area on this unit is small and cast iron doesn't conduct heat well enough to heat evenly.
There is development underway where the whole cooktop has the heating bundles but it only activates the bundles that have a pan on top. So instead of four or five burners, what you can fit on the cooktop is how many burners you have. And that would solve the problem I had with the cast iron.
I don't have a 12" skillet that works well on my induction hob yet so I can't comment on doing a large saute. Well, I do, but it's not available to me for cooking yet. (Christmas) I have a clad Tramontina that is magnetic. Will be interesting to try. i think It will still have a hotter center, but should be conductive enough to cook well.
I'm thinking that big cast iron would still be OK for frying though. The oil will conduct the heat enough to balance the temperature. I still have to try that and see.
The cast iron wok was fine because you want that focused heat in just the bottom of the wok.
Another failure was with my cast iron waffle iron. It's small enough that i thought it would heat evenly enough. However, it's too high off the cooktop. So the stated claim of being within 1.5 inches is not true in my unit's case. It has to be much closer.
There is another caveat for the wok. Because of the power, you will generate some smoke from the oil and ingredients. I've taken to using a small table in front of my stove with the unit on top so I'm close to my exterior venting hood. The height of the unit and the cabinets hanging down make cooking on the countertop troublesome with the wok.
Theoretically, induction is a silent technology. These units do have a fan that runs even for a bit after you turn off the heat to keep things cool in the electronics. There can be noise in pans as the magnetics can vibrate cores in disk bottoms and clad systems occasionally. Mine has a rising and falling whine as it's heating. I've mostly used disk bottom pans. With the wok, I have enough other noise and activity I've not noticed if that whines. I guess I should listen again more closely.
As the cooktop doesn't really get hot, splashes and spills don't get cooked on. I've been pleased with the cleanup.
Overall, i like the unit a lot. It offers great performance with compatible pans and has been a pleasure to use.