My kitchen is packed with a bunch of tools that are, more or less, totally unnecessary. A $500 microwave that’s also an air fryer. A $1,000 espresso machine with an LED screen that froths milk into latte-art ready foam. An $850 oven that has a camera inside it. And perhaps the most shameful: a $500 machine that only makes nugget-style ice. Superfluous as these devices may seem, it’s hard to imagine life without them. However, there’s a recent addition that renders equal parts scorn and satisfaction: the Breville PolyScience Control Freak induction cooking system.
This induction cooker can do it all. Well, anything an induction cooktop can do, anyway. But it does it better and with an unfathomable amount of precision. The Breville Control Freak is built for restaurant kitchens, and it’s easy to be floored by the technical heat it brings to home-cooked food. But at its price point, is all that culinary magic worth it? For the most part, yes. Does that mean everyone should own one? Absolutely not.
What is the Breville Control Freak Temperature-Controlled Induction Cooking System?
— Dimensions: 8 inches wide x 19 inches deep x 5 inches high
— Weight: 24.7 pounds
— Temperature Range: 86 - 492 degrees Fahrenheit
— Temperature Stability: ±1 degree Fahrenheit
— Features: Heat intensity control, dual-fan cooling system, durable stainless steel housing, high-heat resistant ceramic glass, Tritan polymer LCD display, color TFT screen, USB port, dishwasher-safe control knobs
The cleverly named Breville PolyScience Control Freak is an induction cooktop with serious technical specs that make culinary perfectionists salivate. For those unfamiliar with induction cooktops, here’s a quick primer: unlike gas and electric cooktops which transfer heat into a cooking vessel, induction cooktops are powered by electric coils that heat pots and pans through magnetic currents. This means that not only do pans cook food faster, but far more efficiently and precisely. The cooking vessel is heated directly, so the surface remains cool. That way, in the event of a spillover, messes won’t become stubborn — or worse, dangerous. The one downside is that you need to use induction-ready cookware. If a pan can’t hold a magnet, it won’t be able to heat up on an induction cooktop. Luckily, if you do any serious cooking, there’s a good chance you already have drawers full of induction-ready cookware. This includes all cast iron, enamel-coated cast iron, and stainless steel cookware. A fair amount of new non-stick pans are also induction-ready.
The Breville Control Freak is massive. The box the device came in weighed nearly 25 pounds. Most of that was the device itself, but it also came with a lovely black travel case and a separate container for the probe thermometer. My last induction standby was the Tasty One Top, which anyone who’s ever seen a Buzzfeed cooking video is all too familiar with. This device dwarfs it in size and weight. The Control Freak hogs space on medium-sized countertops; moving it about from place to place is about as difficult as moving a stand-mixer. If the cooktop on your oven is flat, you could take advantage of the real estate there, so long as you don’t turn on your stovetop when you’re using it. The ceramic glass cooktop is wide and can house pots and pans from 4.5 to 10 inches in diameter, with a weight limit of up to 200 pounds.
In the very middle of the Control Freak’s cooktop lies a small glass nub. It contains multiple sensors to ensure the temperature of any given pan is as precise as possible. This glass sensor tip checks the temperature 20 times a second. That’s precision you can bank on. As far as temperature ranges go, the pan can range from a balmy 86 degrees Fahrenheit all the way to 482 degrees Fahrenheit. Along with the built-in sensors, the Control Freak can be paired with its companion probe thermometer to add an extra layer of precision to cooking for both liquids and oil.
Home chefs control the various cooking options and modes via two dials, one for heat and one for time. A gorgeous LCD screen displays everything that’s happening. Buttons next to the LCD screen allow for further customization, including adjusting cooking modes and how quickly you want your pan to heat up. There’s also a small thumb drive you can insert to save cooking presets if you’re inclined to save a procedure you came up with on the fly.
Tech and Power
Because it’s built for restaurant kitchens, the Breville Control Freak packs quite a lot of power. It has 1,800 watts that can create massive amounts of heat, though the twin fan cooling system keeps things running smoothly. The device can also run for up to 72 hours with its built-in timer. Not only can Control Freak hold a steady cooking temperature, but it also sports a “keep warm” function like an old-fashioned Crock-Pot. Heat is distributed at three speeds, depending on how temperature-sensitive the food you’re cooking is, or conversely, how quickly you want to serve up dinner.
Breville Control Freak Induction Cooking System Review: Is it Worth It?
It was easy to assume the Control Freak would be more or less as big as other induction burners. The Tasty One Top is far lighter and smaller than the Control Freak, and more or less did what it was supposed to do. Better yet, because the Tasty One Stop is a portable cooktop, it did it on the fly. The Control Freak is also portable and even comes with its own carrying case to lug it from place to place. But that doesn’t stop it from being a tank of a machine. I splurged on the device as a birthday present to myself last October, and here are some of the reasons I love it, despite the fact that buying it put me in the poor house.
How does one justify spending this much money on a single cooktop, when they could just as easily buy a full-blown cooktop/oven combo for less scratch? Home Depot sells a good range of cooktop/oven combos for as little as $1,100. But one word comes to mind that sets the Control Freak apart: versatility. It’s not simply an induction cooktop. The Control Freak is also a precision fryer, a sous-vide cooker, and even a chocolate-tempering machine. So many previously untapped cooking avenues that would now be within arm's reach!
The Control Freak handily cooked mixtures containing dairy or eggs to correct temperatures without fear of curdling or boil-overs. Not only could the Control Freak deep fry at high temperatures, the device could oil-poach fish and duck at lower ones. If one was so inclined, they could place sugar in a pot and walk away for hours as the Breville Control Freak cooked it into perfect caramel. Induction cooktops also heat more efficiently, which is good for even cooking. Plus, it can cut down on your cooking time. A watched pot will boil on an induction cooktop, which is to say, far quicker than a standard stove.
My first step was to put this efficiency to the test. Using Breville Control Freak’s built-in probe thermometer, I set a stopwatch to test out how long it would take to bring a quart of water to boil (212 degrees Fahrenheit) in an uncovered pot. It took five minutes and one second from start to finish. I repeated this process on a standard Frigidaire electric cooktop burner, placing the same pot with the same amount of water in it over the highest possible heat, this time using a separate probe thermometer. It took an astounding nine minutes and 51 seconds to get to the same temperature. That means the Breville — at least as far as boiling water is concerned — is almost twice as efficient as a regular stovetop when it comes to applying heat to pans, and, by extension, food.
Dedicated Frying Station
My first actual cooking task using the Breville Control Freak was making a batch of frozen french fries. This is done by slicing up potatoes, cooking them in boiling water, and then frying them quickly in 340-degree peanut oil. If you’ve ever purchased fries from your grocery store’s freezer section, this is essentially what you’re buying: a pan-fried potato. Making them at home cuts down on the cost of these mainstays, not to mention plastic waste.
The Breville Control Freak thermometer has a setting specifically designed for frying. Once you add food to the hot oil, the temperature of the oil dips about 20 degrees as the food tends to suck away heat from the fat. Luckily, it bounces right back up to temperature after about five to 10 seconds, all without having to fuss with a dial. Frying on a stove using an analog or digital thermometer isn’t nearly as responsive, and you have to watch your food like a hawk. With the Breville, the first batch of frozen french fries cooked up in about 90 seconds. And when it comes to frying food like bone-in chicken thighs, it’s convenient not to have to fuss with the stove dial to make sure the temperature is correct. There’s no fear of the chicken being undercooked or the crust over-browned. If a recipe calls for something to be cooked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 minutes, you can bet on the Control Freak doing just that, give or take a few seconds.
Precision frying means that food will cook more quickly and thoroughly, which also translates to less cooking fat being soaked up into your actual food. Homemade donuts and churros are especially tricky to get right, because what are pastry doughs but big, porous sponges? Now, it’s difficult to imagine ever going back to making churros, donuts, or beignets without the Breville Control Freak. This goes double for criss cut fries and tater tots.
Big Machine, Delicate Heat Transference
As stated above, the Control Freak works quickly, but on occasion, speed kills. This is especially true when cooking temperature-volatile foods like sugar, eggs, and, perhaps most of all, chocolate. Luckily, the Control Freak doesn’t simply allow you to pick what temperatures to cook food at, but also lets you apply that specific temperature using three speeds: Slow, Medium, and Fast. After all, when it comes to cooking certain foods, a single degree can be the difference between delicious and devastating.
This is especially true when it comes to melting chocolate. It’s why modern convention dictates melting it in a double boiler, that is, a bowl set over a pot of hot water. Using the Breville Control Freak, you can melt dark chocolate chips simply using a pan. After the bulk of the chocolate melts, turn down the heat and add some solid chocolate to cool the mixture down and get it to the perfect consistency. When chocolate is “in temper,” it will set up shiny and have a satisfying snap to it. Skipping all this fuss renders chocolate that sets up sticky and tacky, which makes for pretty paltry desserts.
Medium speed is ideal anytime you're making anything with eggs, including custards, pudding, and ice cream bases. Many ice cream bases have you strain out mixtures after cooking, as even the most diligent cooks will overcook their eggs a little. I strained the first batch of vanilla ice cream I cooked on the Breville Control Freak, just to see if it was as precise with eggs as it was with chocolate. The only thing left in the strainer was a spent vanilla bean pod, without any trace or smell of overcooked egg, just a silky, thick pool of creaminess.
Sous Vide and Searing
Immersion circulators are becoming as ubiquitous as food processors in kitchens nowadays. By circulating water to maintain temperature, they cook food precisely. The Breville Control Freak also claims it has sous-vide capabilities. The only way to test this was to cook a New York Strip Steak bought in late August that was abandoned to the depths of my freezer. The cool thing about cooking sous vide cooking is that you don’t have to worry about thawing anything.
I adjusted the temperature of a medium dutch oven filled with water to 130 degrees Fahrenheit. In went the bag with the frozen steak and a few seasonings. The water wasn’t circulating, so I wondered if this would make a difference in the finished product. The timer was set for two hours, and the rest was left up to the Control Freak. After the alarm sounded — which was so loud it could be heard in the other room — I plucked the bagged meat from the water. It looked quite similar to previously made sous-vide steaks: pretty dismal. The final step in most meat recipes cooked via sous vide is to apply a final blast of heat so the food is golden brown and tasty (instead of looking like something that spent the last couple of months submerged in brackish waters).
I set a trusty carbon steel pan on the cooktop and turned the dial up as high as it would go. While it was set to 492 degrees, the pan got as hot as 510 degrees before I placed the meat into the pan. It seared the steak to perfection in what had to be less than 20 seconds. After all, the meat was already cooked to medium-rare on the inside, so I didn't want to spend too much time with the final browning process. Within a minute, all sides of the meat were golden brown, and after turning the burner way, way down, it flambéed up a nice pan sauce. The results were stellar. Perfectly pink meat came out as well as if I cooked it using an immersion circulator. Given the fact that the Control Freak provided the best sear ever, this device could replace an immersion circulator completely, at least as far as cooking steak is concerned.
Breville Control Freak: One Year In
My time with the Breville Control Freak is about to reach its one-year anniversary. And many of the annoyances I had with it on day one are even more present now that I’ve had so much time with it. I use it primarily as my go-to stovetop when I shoot cooking videos and storing it is a bit of a pain. Even its carrying case takes up more real estate than I want to dedicate to it. For now, I store it slanted, inside the cabinets of a small kitchen island. I think if the Control Freak was about 20 percent smaller, I’d love it exponentially more than I do right now.
That said, it’s still a godsend when it comes to frying and precision cooking. It seemingly heats up faster every time I use it, whether the cooking medium is butter, oil, or boiling water. For entertaining, it’s become an equal parts workhorse and conversation starter. Guests gather around it and watch me fry tempura or stir various kinds of cheese into fondue. One dinner party even saw the Control Freak fry three pounds of chicken thighs in as little as ten minutes. I replicated this on my gas stove and it took nearly three times as long. Still, despite its versatility, its size prevents it from being an everyday device, because my new home simply doesn’t have the counter space to acommodate it. I couldn’t fathom braving any dinner party without it, though. And as expected, I’m still a little bit miffed about the price I paid for this tank.
The Breville Control Freak does everything it says it can, and it does so astoundingly well. Despite its out-of-this-world precision, though, it’s still very hard to justify the price paid for it. I don’t (nor do I plan to) run a restaurant anytime soon. Most meals don’t require the sort of firepower and precision that the Breville Control Freak can deliver. In fact, it’s rare that this glorious device gets used more than a couple of times a week. Does that mean that I will soon return it for a full or partial discount? Don’t bet on it. The Breville PolyScience Control Freak is more than just an induction cooktop; it’s a secret weapon to create restaurant-quality food at home. But that doesn’t mean that there’s at least a faint twinge of regret in the recesses of my heart for dropping the massive amounts of cash on it.
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