The first time I cooked on an induction burner, I was hooked. We were on vacation at a rental cabin near Darby, Montana, and I wanted to boil up a few ears of sweet corn for dinner. Whoever said "a watched pot never boils" certainly wasn’t referring to an induction burner. The water in those stockpots went from tepid to rapid boil in about two minutes flat.
The induction burners also cooked more evenly than the electric range I had at home, and although I couldn’t put my finger on all of the subtle differences, it felt like my bacon was crispier, my pancakes were fluffier, and my time was spent actually cooking instead of waiting. Maybe it was because I was on vacation, but I think the induction burners had something to do with it.
My family noticed as well. Over the holidays, I was gifted a single-burner induction cooker that came with a small sauté pan and about a two-quart stockpot. I immediately fell in love with the gift and realized how efficient and comfortable it was for me to use the stand-alone cooker at my kitchen island where I normally do meal prep.
Smart technology has always fascinated me. My aspirations of having a smart home have yet to be realized but my kitchen and outdoor cook space have quite a jumpstart on the rest of the house. Initially, I was introduced to smart cooking technology through the Traeger Timberline grill, which uses what they call WiFire technology to monitor and control your cook remotely via smart phone or tablet device. I found this especially handy the first time I cooked an overnight brisket on the Timberline, simply checking the internal temp of the brisket from my smart phone in the comfort of my bed.
Other devices have caught my eye as well. The Joule by Chef Steps sous vide machine can be operated from a smartphone or tablet. I find the app clever, intuitive, and lighthearted, which also makes the cooking experience more pleasant.
Recently, I have been testing and using a newer smart device called the Hestan Cue Smart Cooking System. It is an induction cooker controlled by an app from your smart phone or tablet via Bluetooth. Sensors in both the base unit and pan or pot communicate with each other to keep your food in the temperature zone of what Michelin star chefs have deemed perfect for cooking any particular dish.
I spoke with Hestan Cue about the philosophy behind the product:
“Our goal at Hestan Smart Cooking is to provide solutions to the top four questions that intimidate every cook in the kitchen: 'How do I prepare it? What temperature do I cook it at? How long do I cook it? When is it done?' With the Cue, we not only answer each of these questions; we help replace the fear of failure with a sense of confidence and delivering consistent results."
The Hestan Cue app is packed full of recipes with suggestions for every meal, mood, or season, and a variety of dishes based on dietary restrictions, allowing you to easily craft a meal around a single ingredient or even different collections of favorite recipes from a variety of chefs. The app is truly inspiring, and I have already seen updates and improvements in the amount of content and recipes since I began testing. Overall, the recipes are interesting, diverse, and every one I've made has been delicious.
The Cue arrived very well packaged, and I would not hesitate to get this item delivered versus going to the store to buy it. There is a Bluetooth hub with a battery (included) that installs quickly for both the 11-inch Hestan Cue pan that comes with the system and the 5.5-quart chef’s pot (sold separately). I recently learned that you can also operate the Hestan Cue without the app using capacitive touch controls, similar to the way you operate a smart phone.
After following a few of the app-driven recipes, it was actually more difficult for me to cook just as well manually (what Hestan calls "control mode"). It's just easier to let the Hestan Cue do the thinking for you.
Quick example: I cooked the app's Chicken Tagine recipe, which requires a series of steps like browning the chicken thighs, building and reducing the sauce, and braising the chicken in the sauce to finish.
I absolutely loved watching the Hestan Cue brown the chicken. It knows to cook at about 425ºF and determines the proper amount of time before telling you to flip the chicken by constantly monitoring the temperature. It also knows how long the braising liquids and sauces need to be reduced for the right texture. I was especially impressed by how the cooker had me finish braising the chicken meat over a much lower temperature (about 212ºF) with the lid on the chef’s pot.
If I were to cook this dish on my own without using the app to walk me through all of the steps, cook times, and temperature adjustments, I would be on my own to rely on my previous cooking knowledge to get everything right. Or I could refer to the Chef’s Tips given in the app's manual mode to help choose the right temperatures based on desired results. Again, it's just easier to let Cue do the thinking.
At this point, the app does not suggest cooking times with specific temperatures for common foods because of the complexity that goes into getting a precise doneness. That makes sense because the cooking time for something like a steak will vary drastically depending on the cut of the steak, the thickness, desired doneness, and if the steak has been tempered or not.
However, in control mode, the app does provide some handy recommendations for cooking temperatures. The app is evolving quickly, and I anticipate there being many more options to make the manual experience more user friendly. For instance, Hestan Cue recently launched a Quick and Easy collection of recipes to help with cooking simple proteins, veggies, and easy favorites like quesadillas and grilled cheese.
Another feature of the Hestan Cue app is what they call "mix and match," where you can mix a protein with a sauce to make your perfect meal. For example, when you choose the preparation for pan-roasted halibut, the app provides over two dozen sauce options to pair with the fish. And the sauces are not just run of the mill. In addition to classics like Beurre Blanc, Teriyaki, and Tomato Basil, you can choose more exotic sauces like Pear and Almond Brown Butter, Brandy Peach Gastrique, and Bacon Emulsion.
The recipes are very specific, so if rule-following is not your strong suit, they can be a bit frustrating. I learned this when instead of grating cheese for Chicken Alfredo, I cubed the cheese, not considering that the recipe had planned on grated cheese melting quicker than cubes. However, if you can color within the lines and follow the directions as planned, your reward is restaurant-quality dishes with a calibrated balance of flavors that would be challenging to achieve without some serious professional training.
The neat thing about using the app and following the directions is that the Hestan Cue leaves little to chance. If a dish calls for a chiffonade of basil, the step-by-step video instructions show you exactly how to make the tiny ribbons of fresh basil.
Hestan Cue is also partnering with some big names. The app currently has recipes from the Culinary Institute of America and ChefSteps, the makers of Joule Sous Vide. The sous vide integration is a clever collection of recipes you can start by sous vide cooking on the Joule and finish cooking on the Hestan Cue. They are also showcasing recipes from events they have participated in like Feast Portland. As these partnerships develop, and Hestan Cue participates in more events, I anticipate the amount of app content from these partnership categories to grow significantly.
How does induction work? I asked Bill McGrath, the electrical engineer at AmazingRIbs.com, to explain it simply:
“Induction heating occurs when free electrons in a conductor move under the influence of a changing magnetic field. The induction stovetop has a coil under the burner that is driven by a high-frequency signal. This creates a rapidly changing magnetic field that induces a current in the bottom of a pot, thereby heating it. You might think that any conductive material would work, but the coupling of energy requires a high magnetic permeability, so some materials won’t heat effectively on an induction cooker. Iron has high permeability; aluminum doesn’t. Cast iron and stainless steel will usually work fine, so your All-clad and Le Creuset are good to go. If in doubt, see if a magnet will stick to the bottom of the pot or pan. If it does, you’re in business. If shopping for cookware, look for the Induction-Ready icon on the package.”
Recently I had a conversation with the Culinary Science Director from Hestan Cue, Andre Nguyen, to get a better understanding of how the device is different from my electric range. Andre said:
“For starters, electric home ranges have a constant power output rather than a temperature output.”
He went on to explain:
“Power and temperature are two different things. A major benefit of the Hestan Cue burner is automatic temperature regulation. The two most important components of cooking are time and temperature. It is hard for people to react to temperature swings on the stove. If you are not constantly monitoring the temperature, it affects the outcome and the quality of the food you are trying to cook. With the Hestan Cue, measurements are taken every two seconds and temperatures are adjusted. So when you flip food after cooking onto its cold side, the device adjusts power to have cooking temperatures remain the same.”
Hestan Smart Cooking is a sub-group within the Hestan brand, which has long been known for being innovative and offering premium quality products for both the higher-end home cook and commercial kitchens. For instance, Hestan Outdoors makes high quality grills and outdoor cookers like the AmazingRibs.com Platinum Medal-winning Hestan GMBR36-LP gas grill. They also make high quality outdoor living suites and outdoor cooking stations that incorporate refrigeration, storage, and refreshments into the outdoor cooking lifestyle.
Hestan's parent company, Meyer, pioneered hard-anodized aluminum cookware back in the 1970s. And Hestan Vineyards has won numerous awards of excellence. All in all, it’s no surprise that a company so committed to culinary excellence is now blazing trail with the Hestan Cue.
Like a fine wine that improves with age, I anticipate the Hestan Cue to continue to evolve. This culinary technology will reward the home cook with a better and better user experience and, ultimately, more delicious food that is simple to prepare.
Convenience does come at a price. The Hesten Cue Smart Cooking System with the induction cooking base and 11-inch pan lists for $399.95 on the company website. The Hestan Cue 5.5 quart Chef’s Pot with lid is sold separately at an additional $299.95 or as a set with the burner is $449. Although some cooks may experience sticker shock at those prices, I think this unit is a worthy investment as an outdoor cooking station or as indoor cooking station, particularly for a small house, studio apartment, or recreational vehicle.
The quality of the Hestan Cue’s pans, the sleek design of the induction device, intuitive nature of the app, and the delicious results that are consistent and repeatable are all unmatched with any other cooking system I have experienced.