I am surprised that no one has authored a post to review the Breville Polyscience Control Freak single-plate commercial induction plate. Aside from being designed for heavy use in a commercial kitchen, what really sets this product apart is that they have a built in thermostat that you can insert into a cooking pot to regulate the power output. In this post, I will talk briefly about why I think a feature like this is necessary for induction cooking, and then I will briefly give my opinion about why the Control Freak does not quite satisfy the requirement in an elegant enough way.
The problem with induction cooking is that the induction plate is not the entire cooking system. In effect, the cooking utensil needs to integrate closely to the induction cooktop. The problem becomes that the thermal characteristics of different induction-compatible pots can vary in the extreme. You can set an induction plate that has 10F temperature increments to 140F, and the temperature inside the vessel can be anything from 120F to 280F.
I got a big demonstration of this recently when I compared high-end cooking pots - such as Demeyere - mid-range pots - such as All-Clad - and low-end pots, such as HOMIChef using Japanese stainless. The All-Clad and Demeyere vessels all have carefully designed thermal characteristics so that the temperature inside the pot at least approximates the temperature showing on the induction plate. Even then, one pot might be 20F low and another 30F high. The temperature sensor reading under the pot does not necessarily reflect the temperature inside the pot. It all depends on thermal characteristics of the pot, and it also depends on what the algorithm is for maintaining temperature in the microcontroller of the induction plate. Cheaper induction plates will send a massive surge of power for 10 seconds, then shut off for 50 seconds. More expensive induction plates like the Vollrath Mirage Pro G4 will pulse with very low amounts of energy more often. Based on thermal characteristics of the pan, this can vastly affect cooking conditions inside the pot.
Where this becomes a real problem is with pots that have poor thermal designs. The HOMIChef products that use Japanese stainless steel have massive aluminum slabs on the bottom with very poorly designed thermal characteristics. I have had the experience with those pots of turning the induction plate to 175F, then having the pot go into a thermal runaway condition that sends butter to 430F and ends up burning/ruining the butter. Unless you have a thermometer or laser-sensor and watch for this, you really cannot predict visually how a given pot will behave with a given induction plate. There are too many variables.
All of the above is to make the point that the ideal induction system would give you some way to measure the temperature *inside the pot*, and then it would adjust the power level to seek the target temperature inside the pot. That is the only way to overcome thermal design defects in a given pot. The Control Freak product does just this. They give you a temperature probe that you clip on the side of the pot, and you can go into a cooking mode that adjusts power output of the induction plate in order to seek a desired temperature inside the pot. So far, so good.
The problem is the actual temperature sensor they developed for this system looks cumbersome. The probe is so large that it prevents the use of a cover on the pot. If you go on Youtube, professional chefs are using saran wrap to cover their pots, to overcome this design defect. Who is going to spend the kind of money that a Control Freak requires (current list price just over $1700) for a cumbersome thermometer attachment that lowers the usefulness of your pots?
To make matters worse, users claim that Breville will not sell you a replacement thermometer. So who is going to buy a $1700 induction plate whose main advantage is integration with a clumsy and delicate thermometer, when breaking that thermometer renders the entire system useless, or at least not more valuable than induction plates that you can purchase for under 500?
The Hessan Cue system tries to remedy this by putting intelligence directly into the cooking vessel. That's a nice thought, but it is not going to fly. The fact is no consumer wants to buy expensive cooking utensils built for a specific induction system. Most of us have our own brand loyalties. The only way you will take away my Demeyere frying pan is if you pry it out of my dead hands. :)
The right way to design this would be a small temperature probe that can fit entirely inside the pan/pot, then that sensor communicates temperature back to the induction base unit using bluetooth. This probe has to be versatile enough to work in both water and oil based cooking methods. There has to be a way to make it work in a frying pan, in a griddle, and in a stock pot. There needs to be that level of flexibility. The temperature probe needs to be something where I can buy additional units. Aside from replacing damaged/dead units, as the technology improves why wouldn't I want to upgrade a wireless thermometer separately from my induction plate?
So Control Freak is a nice idea that solves a real technical problem in induction cooking, particularly for people who have invested in cookware that has poor thermal characteristics. Unfortunately, Control Freak solves this problem in a way that creates new problems you did not have in the first place. So I think I will wait for a future generation of this product, and I'll wait for the bargain on eBay.
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