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Posted on Aug 22, 2008 | 100 comments

Kettle Race: Electric vs. stovetop

Kettle Race: Electric vs. stovetop

Battle: Regular vs. electric kettle

I’m always on the lookout for ways to save time cooking for packed lunches, but never gave much thought to a real basic: boiling water. Whether I’m boiling frozen dumplings, fast-cook pasta, or multi-cooking several different things together to save time, the slowest part of the equation seems to be bringing the water to a boil in the first place. Was there a way to speed this up?

I’d heard that electric kettles were a good way to boil water faster, but I was a little dubious as to exactly how much time they’d save. Was it a marginal amount of time, or substantial enough to justify buying something that would take up more counter space in the kitchen? I bit the bullet and bought a Hamilton Beach 1.7-liter cordless model at Costco, and pitted it in a head-to-head race against a regular kettle on our gas stove. I think I’ve been watching too much of the Olympics lately! (Click for the test results.)

I set up two races: one with 1 liter of water, the other with 1.7 liters (maximum capacity for the electric kettle). I used a heavy Calphalon kettle on our gas stove for the control. The hands-down winner was the electric kettle in both tests.

Battle: Regular vs. electric kettle (electric wins)

The electric kettle boiled one liter of 68.7 deg. F water in 4 minutes 10 seconds, 2 minutes 24 seconds faster than the stovetop kettle, which clocked in at 6 minutes 34 seconds. Check the photo finish on the right — it’s not even a close race! (Click on any photo for a larger view.)

The electric kettle also shaved 3 minutes 52 seconds off of boiling time for 1.7 liters of 69.8 deg. F water, coming to a boil at 7 min. 6 sec. as opposed to 10 min. 58 sec. for the stovetop kettle.

I don’t think an electric kettle is a must-have in the kitchen, but if you make a lot of hot drinks or are really focused on speeding up prep time it might be worth a look. My husband drinks a lot of tea and pours the hot water into a thermos, so this’ll get a place on the kitchen counter as long as he makes tea a number of times a week. I figure I’ll use it for speed bentos, as I’m happy to save even a couple of minutes in the morning when I’m rushing around getting everyone ready for the day. (Bring the water to a boil in the electric kettle, then pour it into a hot little pot to cook food quickly.) If my husband cuts back on his tea consumption, though, I’ll probably tuck it into a cabinet underneath the kitchen counters to clear up counter space.

I’m guilty of an impulse buy with this purchase as I didn’t do proper research on electric kettles before tossing it into my shopping cart at Costco (bad Biggie!). The Hamilton Beach model I have is working fine so far, but I see from customer reviews on Amazon.com that it might break within six months. Argh! I’ll do more research if and when that happens, but it looks like Consumer Reports and Cooks Illustrated have yet to do product testing on electric kettles.

What has your experience been with electric kettles? Pro or con? Let us know in comments.

FURTHER READING: 

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  1. @36 from anthony: I got all excited about your 2:41 time for one liter until I realized that you’re in Belgium. Good for you, but I guess I can only dream of those speeds in the States. If anyone in the US has run across a super-speedy model I’d love to hear about it!

  2. @38 from Amelia: Thanks for the info on the “hot water” model. How does the eco-model work with measuring the water into cups? I’m not 100% clear — it pours out in one-cup increments? It has a cup-by-cup measuring scale along the side?

  3. @50 from Jessika: Thanks for the model info on your uber-kettle, Jessika. Absent a proper U.S.-based consumer report comparing kettles, that’s a good place for me to start. Dirt Devil…

  4. I’ve got a braun electric kettle that I’ve had for years, and it still works pretty much perfectly. It has a seperate base and kettle, and it autoturns off when its finished boiling the water, which is pretty nice as well. Also the heating element is enclosed, which from what I’ve read, tends to make them last longer and be better saftey-wise.

  5. it has a cup by cup measure: basically you fill the kettle (central reservoir)then push a button on top to release water into a second chamber which is marked along the side (in teacups since that’s the most common use over here).
    then turn on the kettle and it boils.
    Really, really fast (I suspect because it only heats a fairly small space and also must be well insulated as the water in the reservoir stays cold)

  6. As my good friend (and his family) drinks a lot of tea (and use it for miso soups, ramen etc) they have a airpot style hot water dispenser. They’ve had it for years. (I don’t know the model, but since it has peeling stickers in Japanese writing, I’m sure it doesn’t matter anyways. :D )It heats and then stores the water to be ready at any time. Probably a little much for your needs, but I have my eyes on a new one at the local Mitsuwa.

  7. Oh and Alton Brown touts the Electric Kettle in many of his episodes, perhaps he recommends one in his book, Gear for your Kitchen.

  8. @38 from Amelia:

    Here’s a review of something very similar to the One Touch (from the Australian Consumers’ Association)

    http://www.choice.com.au/viewArticle.aspx?id=106279&catId=100168&tid=100008

    PS the last electric kettle review from that site is available free, here:
    http://www.choice.com.au/viewArticle.aspx?id=105527&catId=100168&tid=100008

    The New Zealand one is here, but you have to pay to view if you’re not a member:
    http://www.consumer.org.nz/topic.asp?docid=1164&category=Appliances&subcategory=Kitchen%20-%20small&topic=Jugs%20and%20kettles

  9. I was given 2 electric kettles as high school graduation gifts. One had a removeable lid & the other is more kettle-like with only a spout. I forget what happened to the lidded one but I still have the kettle one (16 years later!) & it is a wonderful tool. I use it to heat up water for hot chocolate, hot water to put in the thermos for school lunches[to help keep foods warm] & lots of other little uses. If I have extra water left over I usually pour it down a drain in the house (kitchen or bathroom sinks).

  10. Bodum has a long history of high quality products and after having several other company’s kettles break on me within several months, my bodum has lasted me 3 years now. As long as you clean it regularly, it works like new every time.

  11. I’d actually grew up with the Japanese/Asian style electric water boilers where they heat up the water and maintain it at a certain temperature, so you can pretty much “always” have hot water.

    If you want boiling water, just press a button to reboil it.

    It wasn’t until I moved to Australia that I saw the stove top boilers and found them to be much slower.

    I definitely use electric kettles now, but it’s plastic, and I boil just enough for a cup of tea, or for boiling egg noodles/pasta, soup etc.

    I used to wonder why they didn’t have the Japanese style electric heated water holders/kettles. I have heard tidbits of concerns on electricity used to maintain water temperature. Anyone else know much about this?

  12. I have a cheap Sanyo cordless that has lasted me about 5 years now. I never thought about boiling water for cooking (always used it for tea and coffee only) until my boyfriend started doing it to speed up cooking pasta, and it does seem to make the process quicker. Usually my kettle lives in the cupboard until needed like my toaster as I don’t use it regularly enough and have limited counter space.

  13. When we want to boil water in a hurry, we use the hot water tap off the water cooler. It’s hot, not boiling, but it dramatically speeds the time to bring a pot to boil.

  14. @61 from An: We don’t use enough hot water in a day to justify one of those high-end Asian air pots, although they’re good for an office kitchen. I too wonder about the electricity consumption…

  15. I was sort of surprised at the brand name of the kettle I got, Dirt Devil. In googling it now, I find out they are largely into vacuum cleaners. The jump to kettles seems a bit far fetched to me but it got me that kettle so whatever ;).

    All I can find about that product number is European. I do recall a friend mentioning having a similar kettle but of another brand. I believe it was a Braun.

    As to the maintaining of temp of water, mine also has such a feature, it does not use as much electricity as a stove does since the temp regulator senses the drop in temperature and adds whatever heat is required. A stovetop will start from the beginning and although not much heat will be needed to boil already warm water, it still takes kicking it to starting mode etc.
    With a stove using as much electricity as a kettle (about) it is still more lenient on your electrical bill, and on the power grid, to use a kettle. Or so I’ve read on this on environmental consumer group website. I only use the “keep warm” feature as long as required. If you keep it on forever, it is probably not a good thing. Yet, the latter is probably only required if you only have cold water. Or is there other uses?

  16. I’m surprised you don’t have one of those Japanese hot water pots. We love ours…hot tea in an instant…not the best if you’re looking for energy efficiency. Nice thing about Costco is that if your product breaks…just take it back. They have a history of your purchases on file so even if you don’t have a receipt, they’ll still give you a refund/store credit. Good Luck!

  17. When my aunt in Maine found out that I have an electric kettle she said that my “Canadian heritage” was showing. I think I’ve read somewhere that New Englanders and Maritime Province Canadians are the biggest tea drinkers in North America. Red Rose tea, anyone? :)

  18. I find the fascination with electric kettles in this thread quite strange, as they are de rigeur in most Australian kitchens! It hadn’t occurred to me that it wasn’t the same in the US.

    I have a cheap, plastic kettle that was donated to me when I was a very poor student, by a friend who was the last in a large family of international students. Being Malaysian, they used it constantly for ramen, tea etc. It’s been in regular use for probably 14 years without any problems!

    In addition to using it for normal things like tea, I also boil water for pasta etc in the kettle, transfer it to a pot and place it on the stovetop. It’s a LOT quicker than waiting for a huge pot of water to boil, and uses much less energy.

    To be extra energy efficient, I only put as much water in the kettle as I require at that time – that way you’re not using energy to boil water you don’t need. I even have a similar style cordless espresso pot which gives me an Italian style espresso in about 1.5 minutes, to save on time & energy!

  19. I can help here!!! For the readers above whose electric kettle is covered with calcium, I have a tip. You take plain white vinegar, about 1/4 to 1/2 cup depending on the size of your kettle) and pour it in. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes and then add water to fill the kettle and turn it on. Another option is to put the vinegar in right after you have used the kettle, but sometimes this makes vinegar-steam, and doesn’t smell so great! Let it sit for another 15 minutes or so, and then rinse it once or twice with plain water, turning it on each time. The bonus part is that the vinegar is food save, so no nasty chemicals in your meals! (this is also great for rinsing the sink drains, coffee machines, and any other warm water appliances.)

    We use our hot pot to pre-boil water for pasta, potatoes, soups, teas, and even a sinkful of dirty dishes. It’s faster than the faucet in our home too!

    Enjoy!

  20. @41 & 6 Biggie – I work at Costco – they’re usually pretty good about picking the best for their stores that are a decent price for the consumer. You can return most things there ANYTIME for ANY REASON. Even if you’ve lost your receipt – or let’s say your kettle went out in 6 months – or 10 years – you could still return it.

  21. We bought the Capresso kettle based on Cooks Illustrated recomendations. Its very attractive and works great.

  22. Our friends in Australia turned us onto electric kettles. I love ours – I use it to heat water for hot beverages, hot water to warm up thermoses, boil water for recipes. It is great!

  23. I have been an electric kettle user for years. I originally used it because I had a cat that would jump on gas stove.Until we got him trained this was a must. Also it shuts off automatically. While not an absolute necessity, it is a time saver, a safety item, and does not heat up kitchen. I have a Braun cordless stainless steel. Use it every day. Fast!! Now they have the hot water available in kitchen sink, but we don’t have that-older home. May install that when we remodel kitchen.

  24. Nine years ago, not long after we moved into our house, dear Hubby left the kettle on the stove while he went upstairs to do a “quick” check of his email. I came home, noticed something smelled hot, and found a small disaster in the kitchen. The kettle had boiled dry, the aluminum bottom had melted completely off, and some of it had splattered around the stove, melting dime-sized holes in the vinyl floor. We were very lucky I came in time, and that the aluminum blobs didn’t land on something really flammable.

    The next day I went to a local kitchen shop and plopped down $70 for a stainless steel electric kettle. He was a little mad that I spent that much, but that thing has lasted 7 years so far! I drink a few cups of tea almost every day, and he used to make French press coffee. It’s one of my favorite kitchen gadgets.

    It took us 5 years to replace the kitchen floor….

  25. @67 from Adara: I hadn’t realized that I could return purchases to Costco if I didn’t have the receipt. Thanks for the highly useful information, Adara!

    On the air pots (Japanese “mahoubin”), I don’t drink all that much tea or I’d be more tempted. They were great in the office when I worked in Japan, though!

  26. @70 from Alie: Thank you for the detailed, step-by-step directions for descaling an electric kettle with vinegar, Alie! I’m sure it’ll come in handy in the future.

  27. @73 from Gudrun: Hmm, Kitchen Gadget Girl likes electric kettles, eh? They must be good! :-) What brand/model do you have, and are you happy with it?

  28. @74 from PW: Cat on a hot gas stove, cat on a hot tin roof… You captured my imagination with that one! Our cats haven’t shown much interest in the stove yet; hopefully that’ll continue.

  29. @75 from N: I could totally imagine that happening at our house if our stovetop kettle didn’t have a loud whistle! How lucky that you found it in time!

  30. I have a Sunbeam HotShot Water Dispenser – it heats up 2 cups of water in about a minute – faster than the microwave!…. used to use it a lot at work (at my desk) in the winter … Now I use it at home (& I don’t get the leftover coffee flavor from using DH’s coffee maker hehe!)

  31. Ditto what Alie says. I live in South Korea and boiling water on the burner takes forever. When I cook pasta, do dishes, make tea, I always use my “hot pot” I could not imagine not having one.

  32. I love electric kettles. I have one that is almost like a pot. The base, handle and lid are plastic but they’re the nice heavy duty type (won’t flex if you try to bend them). The pot that touches water is completely stainless steal with hidden heating elements. It heats really fast because the whole bottom of the pot is steel whereas in my sister’s plastic version, only a small part of the bottom is the heating part. I love mine because it has a temperature dial but it has a cord and the only way to turn it off is to pull the plug. The manufacturer also says I could cook soup and noodles IN the pot as well. I’ve haven’t tried that yet but it’s great for college. I expect mine to last a long time. If anyone’s interested I can go look up the product name.

    My family has one of those Japanese electric kettles that stay on all the time. It’s so convenient. My friend has a smaller version that only makes about a gallon or so of water and takes up less counter space. It even had a digital reading for temperature readout and more. Just letting you know it’s out there!

  33. i was just going to say.. in germany you’re a weirdo if you dont have a “water cooker”… an electric kettle. they think were crazy that this isnt standard. invest in one.. they are super cheap and save tons of energy. takes about 15 seconds to cook the water for a cup of tea… and preboiling your pasta water is also a timesaver..

  34. ah, never mind, my question got answered at the bento faq, didn’t realize it was there.

    lol

  35. I lived in the UK for a number of years, and no one would DREAM of not having an electric kettle. (We did without for a while after ours broke, and waiting for the kettle to boil on the gas stove, combined with worrying it’d go dry or the flame would go out from a breeze or something drove me NUTS.) (Yes, I know the flame shouldn’t go out, but it was a very badly designed stove.)

    The thing about it to make it worth it’s counter space is you have to NOT think of it just as a tea-making machine. I know plenty of people who used them to hard-boil eggs, and I personally used one to make spaghetti. (I didn’t boil it in the kettle, I should add- I started with quick cook or angel-hair type pasta, put it into a container, poured boiling water in, and wrapped it up to keep the heat in. Works well for couscous also, and some boil-in-the-bag products, like the packets of pre-cooked rice you get now, which you only have to heat up.)

    Plus, it’s also a time saver when boiling water for other things which you want to do on the stove. There’s no reason at all why you have to wait for the stove or microwave to boil your water- start with pre-heated water from the kettle, and the cooking time drops significantly. (Assuming you don’t use hot water from the tap, which I never do.)

  36. @87 from Joe: Ah good, that spares a comment directing you to the FAQ! ;-) Glad you found it.

  37. Cook’s Illustrated has reviewed kettles:

    http://www.cooksillustrated.com/testing.asp?testingid=677

    I bought a cheap-o on eBay some years ago (mostly for tea/soup/oatmeal), much like you did: no up-front research. I’m quite happy with mine and if it breaks I won’t shed any tears at all.

    t.

  38. sorry if someone said that before. Euro electric kettle seem to boil faster. Once in the US, I asked around why electric kettle were absent from kitchens. I was told that because of the different electric system, 110v vs 220v, US electric kettle were not really efficient.

  39. This comment thread is totally overwhelming!

    I loved my electric kettle while in the UK, but don’t have the patience to wait while my slow USA electricity heats up the water, LOL.

    However, in college I was completely enamored with my roommate’s “Sunbeam Hot Shot” which I don’t think has been mentioned in this thread yet. It only makes enough water for one cup of coffee or tea at a time, so for people who want to use this as a cooking device, it’s no good, but the thing had a tiny footprint, which was perfect for our tiny dorm, and it made hot water in about 15 seconds. I think you can buy them at Target. They’re not really a high-end item, heh.

  40. My parents got me a cheap electric kettle when I went to college, claiming that it was essential for the dorm room. I used it to boil sausages and make ramen for three years! I probably used it more than I ever used the microwave.

  41. We have a Zojirushi electric kettle that keeps the water hot through the day. Took a small one to college. Basically, you fill it up, it’ll boil to one of the preset temperatures. Then you can dispense whenever you want.

    It is a combination of an air pot (push or electric dispenser) and an electric kettle.

    Wouldn’t live without it and when the last one broke, it was replaced in 24 hrs.

    We refill the 3L pot at least twice a day with just 3 people living at home so the $100 feels like a bargain.

    Korean markets also sell a hot water maker similar to those “office cooler” types except it has a dial to adjust the temp. from hot to chilled and purifies the water from the pipe supplying your sink.

  42. Having just been in the British Isles in the last month, not only is the electric kettle used for tea, instant coffee (my daughter now loves), but putting boiling water into foods to cook like pasta, sped up the time.

    I agree with your results, however here are a couple of physic things related to your test. A flat bottom kettle would have provided better heat transfer then the round (cool looking) kettle. Too much heat transferring off the kettle, being wasted. The electric does much better in using heat efficiently. In general gas is not as efficient as there is some heat loss, since it never has the concentration of heat as electric has. Applies to all things that use gas. Also on hot days, using an electric kettle only heats up a small amount of water and the rest doesn’t sit around heating up (giving off energy) as it cools off. You think about these things when its blazing outside.

    And one more thought, I like the cooking with gas, but don’t like the extra CO2 that is the by product when using it, except in an oven where it is confined better. I only use electric now. Check into PG&E’s Time Use Meter if you’re all electric that has a good savings.

    Thanks for the test, sure seemed timely!

  43. I just impulse-bought the same kettle…and then saw the same reviews on amazon…boo. Anyway, there are two rubber (well, soft, translucent “stuff”) inside the kettle that seem to cover the things that would indicate the water level inside the kettle. Are they supposed to be removed?

  44. i recently picked up a tiny electric kettle for a couple of bucks in a thrift store to keep on my desk at work. timed it against my MICROWAVE and the kettle is faster! kettle – enough water for a cup of tea: 45 seconds. microwave: 1 minute 30 seconds
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/catastrophegirl/2844026327/

    then i got creative and filled a giant tea ball with pre cooked refrigerated rice and it steamed the rice perfectly, hot to the touch, in about a minute. also faster than the microwave.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/catastrophegirl/2844889044/in/photostream/

  45. It’s so weird hearing you people talk about kettles as something new. In Australia EVERYONE has one, even if they don’t have a kitchen. You can get them for $20 from supermarkets, and i use mine about five hundred million times a day. I guess it’s our english-heritage tea-drinking habit : ) BUT, I’ve heard that it in fact takes more energy to use the kettle than a gas stove, it’s quicker but uses a hell of a lot of electricity to make it that fast. Of course, electric stoves are stupid and should be banned. I grew up with one, then moved into a house with gas and finally understood the phrase “now we’re cooking with gas”. It’s hot straight away, and you can control the heat!

  46. Mom used to use a small teapot on the stove for heating water for her tea (whether it was to make a pitcher, or just a cup or two), but having burnt it dry a few times, and just plain forgot about it, getting an electric kettle was one of the best things we ever did. Initially we were going to go with one like what Alton Brown uses in his shows, but were worried about the wide mouth not pouring as well into smaller containers (mug) so we went with the same brand, but a different model. We have the Chef’s Choice 677 Cordless Electric Kettle and have been very very pleased with it. It’s not as useful for things like, boiling eggs in, which we still do on the stove, but it’s perfect for boiling water for tea, or coffee drinks. The biggest plusses for switching from stovetop to electric kettle are the time difference, and the safety feature of the auto-off. Practically speaking, it being cordless is also very handy. We tend to have things spread all over, but even if the measuring cup (4cup measure that we use to brew tea in for pitchers) or mug is next to it, I can’t imagine how awkward it would be to have to work ’round having a cable attached.

  47. We have a stove top kettle at my house, but last semester, my roommate had an electric kettle and I’ve learned I can’t live without one! I drink tea all the time and I had to buy myself one when the new semester started.
    I’ve never used it to help boil my pasta or dumplings, though it sounds like an awesome idea! I find I just don’t have that much time in the morning to make lunch (I try to do it the night before) but this could help me out considerably.
    I love your blog entries … :)

  48. How does it compare to the hot pot? I don’t need hot water often and was thinking of the electric kettle.

    Which one provides better energy efficiency?

  49. We were gifted an electric kettle from european house stay guests over 6 years ago and wondered how we ever lived without one!

    I currently have a Breville stainless steel kettle, as I did not like the idea of heating plastic as a vessel for hot water over and over.

    Quick cup of tea, warm your thermos, fill your Fashy hot water bottle, warm your neti solution, fast boiling water for pasta/steaming/soups… Electric kettle, used and loved throughout europe, still a mystery in the USA…

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