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Kettles

Friday, 29 December 2006 | Tags: , , , ,

A staple kitchen appliance for hundreds of years, kettles have evolved from simple stove top models to electronic gadgets. With all the kettle choices out there, to high-tech features really boil your water faster? We find out.

The Basics

  • Kettles (also called tea kettles or water kettles) are designed exclusively to heat water.

  • There are two general types of kettles available on the market, both with distinct advantages and disadvantages:

    • Non-electric, stovetop kettles sit on the stove element. They generally take longer to boil water, but they are also more reliable since there’s nothing mechanical to break. They’re also less expensive than electric, but if you forget it is boiling, it could go dry and cause a fire.

    • Electric kettles are plugged into a wall socket and are supposed to heat faster than stovetop models using less energy. Many are made out of moulded plastic, with retro-looking designs becoming popular. Some designs have a base on which the kettle sits. Most electric models have an auto shut-off feature.

  • Regardless of whether you get a stovetop or electric model, keep these features in mind:

    • Is the kettle easy to pour and drip-free?

    • Does it have auto shut-off (electric) or a good whistle (stovetop)?

    • Is it easy to care for?

    • Is it built to retain heat and boil quickly?

  • Most kettles have a maximum capacity but that doesn’t mean you can fill it up that much. Most electric kettles have a max fill level marked. For stovetop models, fill only to the bottom of the spout opening.

  • Avoid complicated lids that must be removed in order to fill the kettle. A wide top spout makes it easy to fill with fewer steps.

  • Make sure the handle is comfortable to grip and that you can pour without being scalded by steam. Most handles are rubber, wood, or plastic and designed to remain cool to the touch. Handles on stovetop models can get hot so keep an oven mitt handy.

  • If you’ve decided a non-electric, stovetop model is your best bet, consider these tips:

    • Be sure your kettle comes with a whistle that is loud enough for you to hear in another room. Some whistles will not work if there isn’t enough water, or if there’s too much water.

    • Material options vary and all have advantages and disadvantages:

      • Aluminum is inexpensive but not as long-lasting as copper or stainless steel. It heats fairly quickly. Some models come with a copper bottom, which speeds up heating.

      • Copper is highly conductive and can heat water from all sides. Use a lower heat setting with copper kettles to make them last longer.

      • Ceramic kettles can go right on the stove burner. They’re also often attractively designed.

      • Enamel kettles come in a wide array of colours but should be handled with care to avoid chipping. They are not as long-lasting as copper or stainless steel, but they are usually less expensive.

      • Stainless Steel is very easy to care for and also attractive, but is slower to boil than aluminum or copper.

  • If you decide on an electric kettle, features to choose from include:

    • The heating element, which may be concealed in the bottom of the kettle body itself, or in a separate base.

    • Automatic shut-off is a standard safety feature that shuts the kettle off when the water has boiled, or if the kettle is empty.

    • Most electric kettles don’t have a whistle to let you know they’re done, which means it may shut off and cool down before you get to it.

    • A fill level gauge indicates minimum and maximum water levels to help the kettle work at its best. Too little water and the kettle will not operate. Too much water and the kettle may spray hot water out the top.

    • An anti-scale filter blocks particles that may build up in the kettle and around the heating element. They’re removable and cleanable, and manufacturers claim they help the water taste better.

    • Cordless electric kettles are helpful in that you aren’t getting tangled when you’re pouring your water. The cord is instead attached to a base on which the kettle sits. Most cordless models have auto shut-off when the cord is lifted off the base. The element also never comes in contact with water, which means there’s no corrosion and less scaling build-up.

Other Considerations

  • Remember it’s always best to start with cold fresh water and use it as soon as it reaches a boil. The longer the water boils, the ‘flatter’ and less oxygenated it becomes.

TEST CRITERIA

We tested out the boiling speed of 5 different kettles:

  • Superior Dome Top Kettle (corded, stainless steel, 2.2 litres): $25
  • Sunbeam (cordless, anti-scale filter, auto shut-off): $35
  • Black & Decker Smart Boil (cordless, anti-scale filter, auto shut off, 360 degree swivel base and a flat stainless steel heating element): $42
  • T-Fal Avante (cordless, stainless steel styling): $90
  • Lagostina (stovetop, stainless steel): $50

(Note: prices listed above are approximate and in Canadian dollars)

Boiling Test

We put the same amount of cold water in each kettle and had a boil off:

  • The Sunbeam Cordless kettle was the first to boil at 6 minutes, 47 seconds. The other countertop models followed within seconds.

  • The stovetop Lagostina finished in last place, taking 2 minutes and 40 seconds longer. We found it the most difficult to pour as well, and because it was hot, it was tricky to handle.

OUR TOP PICK

We had a split decision: half of us liked the simplicity of the stainless steel Superior Kettle and the others preferred the fast-boiling Sunbeam Cordless kettle.

 

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