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Posted on Aug 22, 2008 in Review, Tips | 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.

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 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.