The first thing I did with the new stovetop in front of me was the simplest and the most important. I set the burner to a temperature, set of pound of butter in a pan and walked away for 20 minutes. When I returned, I skimmed the foam from the surface and poured out perfect clarified butter.
The chefs among you might notice the lack of baby-sitting that process entailed. No stopping back to make sure it wasn’t burning, no realizing the heat was set too low, no fussing whatsoever. That’s thanks to being able to set the burner to an exact temperature, in this case 240 degrees Fahrenheit, something heretofore inconceivable in built-in cooktop. This means you can do stuff like temper chocolate, caramelize onions, or slowly cook ultra-tender scrambled eggs without fear. Or, you can sear a steak without worrying if your burner’s definition of medium-high is the same as the recipe writer’s in the cookbook you’re reading. You can do it all with a tested number and not a feeling.
For the brand-new Smart Induction Cooktop, Hestan supplements this impressive offering heavily, with hundreds of chef-created, tested recipes, along with in an app that walks you through every step.
Wait a second, you might be thinking. Haven’t I heard about this sort of thing in reviews about the Tasty One Top, the Hestan Cue, and Breville’s ControlFreak? To which I would answer, “Yes, but this is where it gets more practical.” Unless you only ever cook for one or two people, the standalone countertop burner units tend to make you feel like you’re going the Holly Hobby route. Slightly ironically, you also end up scooching them right up to, or on top of, your existing stovetop to get them under the vent hood.
All that’s to say: built-ins are the way to fly. The Hestan Smart Induction Cooktop is one of the first built-ins to hit the market. The company’s debut model is 36 inches wide, and it comes in black ($3,749) or metallic silver ($4,399). Other sizes are sure to arrive in the future. (There are fairly standard-sized holes that stovetops like these drop into. Whether or not you might choose to install it yourself will likely depend on how comfortable you are with the idea of hard-wiring your own appliances.)
I went to the company’s Seattle office, where I had two days of unfettered access to test it aboard Hestan’s houseboat kitchen on the Lake Washington Ship Canal. After I finished the clarified butter, I dialed up Hestan’s suggested temperature for stir-frying (425 degrees Fahrenheit) from its handy temperature chart, threw in some peppers and onions to fill my omelette, and appreciated that the setup knew to goose the heat when the cool ingredients were added, something a standard burner can’t accomplish. If you do a bit of deep frying at home, this is something to be very excited about as it will regulate the temperature of the fry oil.
How’s that all happen? The cooktop, an app, and Hestan’s proprietary pans communicate via Bluetooth. Those pans—there are two of them—the Smart Pan that comes with it, and the more voluminous Chef’s Pot, a $300 add-on purchase, which each have a built-in temperature sensor in the bottom and electronics in the handle. This setup also allows Hestan to sell its pans and technology to other manufacturers—GE is one—which can then incorporate Hestan’s tech into their own cooktops.
Those pans and the idea behind them are some of the stove’s strongest and weakest points. I’d rather use my own pots and pans with Hestan’s stove, but that’s only possible if you use the stove like a traditional, not-smart one (and if your pans are induction-friendly), and forego the app and the temperature control it affords. The ControlFreak and Tasty One Top get around this by reading the temperature via a nubbin that pops up from the center of the burner and stays in contact with the pan. That said, the Smart Pan and Chef’s Pot felt and acted well-made during my testing. The cooktop ships with Hestan’s newest Series 2 pans, which—god bless them—are dishwasher safe.
Cleverly, you enter the thickness of the protein before you drop it in the pan, which tells the setup how hard and long to cook to dial in your desired doneness.
You’re also bound to the app if you want to cook to the degree, a tether that is this appliance’s great fault. There’s really no good reason why you shouldn’t be able to put the precision aspect to use on a Sunday morning without pulling out your phone, logging in, ignoring texts and notifications, opening the app, and dialing up a temperature just to make an omelette. Apps can be loaded with features that make an appliance better but the basic, distinguishing factors of an appliance—in this case precise temperature control—should be available without having to fire up your phone.
[Reviewer shakes fist at sky.]
It’s also very important to note that Hestan is partnering with several stove manufacturers who will use Hestan’s tech (and pans) and some of those offer app-free control. For instance, the induction stoves in GE’s Café line allow you to dial by degree, right from the stovetop.
That said, if you’re down with some tapping, and I know app dependence to run a kitchen appliance doesn’t bother everybody, the guided cooking options are abundant and expert.
This is possible because Hestan employs the accomplished chef Philip Tessier and a skilled kitchen crew who have created a broad selection of quality recipes, backed up with an app worth its salt. It’s hard to overstate how much better the user experience is when recipes have been tailored by a professional crew as opposed to crowdsourced unreliably, as some apps and manufacturers do.
That omelette, for instance, is divided into steps, and everything from whisking eggs to melting butter to washing the pan is made easier with an accompanying description and short video. This is great if you get stuck wondering how fine you’re supposed to dice something or how to roll that omelette into a lovely torpedo shape. (Hint: Start rolling with the spatula while the pan’s still horizontal.)
I gobbled my lovely omelette and sped on, following Hestan’s version of clams with chorizo, substituting mussels for clams and reveling in the well-thought-out recipe. I wasn’t really hungry after the eggs, but the mussels, tinted yellowy-red from paprika, took on meaty undertones from the chorizo and I took a lunch break, watched tugboats go down the canal, and inhaled two pounds of pillowy bivalves.
Pressing on, I made near-perfect brioche French toast and some lovely poached pears, noting that I probably wouldn’t have tried the latter without the boost of assurance that Hestan’s setup gave me. I made fajitas, roasted peaches with a hazelnut vinaigrette, and pan-seared both a steak and some salmon. Cleverly, you enter the thickness of the protein before you drop it in the pan, which tells the setup how hard and long to cook to dial in your desired doneness.
The Hestan Smart Induction Cooktop certainly has its imperfections. The app was ever-so-slightly buggy, though it’s a safe bet that much of that will get ironed out with app and firmware updates once people begin using it en masse. I would love to see the equivalent of the “a little longer” option that we see on some toasters, allowing, say, some extra-crispy edges on that French toast. That update-ability is also a bonus, allowing the product to get better over time, so maybe I’ll get my wish. The big whiff, though, is not being able to dial up temperature control direct from the stove, phone free.
Hestan’s cooktop is an important and exciting step forward in cooking. Guided cooking, especially when it’s as well-done as this, is an excellent use of the smart kitchen. But the biggest long-term gain with this stovetop is the ability to cook to the degree. It’s particularly exciting to think of recipes being written with exact stovetop temperatures, à la “set your burner to 400 degrees/medium-high.” While we’re beginning to see and hear about other companies’ similar setups, I hope every one of them follows suit—this degree of control will make better cooks of us all.
Food writer Joe Ray (@joe_diner) is a Lowell Thomas Travel Journalist of The Year, a restaurant critic, and author of “Sea and Smoke” with chef Blaine Wetzel.