Think you know hot plates from your college days? Think again. The electric hot plate has evolved over the years, and in addition to the classic plug-in version, there are now ceramic models that get their heat from a quick spin in the microwave, infrared options, and cast iron hot plates, which are great if you’re into outdoor grilling. With classic electric hot plates—which simply comprise a surface on which to cook and are powered by electricity or a flame—you get temperature controls, an on-off switch, and, depending on what model you choose, some extra bells and whistles. That means you can use your plate to do everything from making eggs to boiling water to simply keeping meals warm while you wait for your family to get downstairs.

An automatic shutoff option and thermostat-regulated temp mean you can work without worry. It’s compatible with pots and pans of every material. CUSIMAX

Some notes about safety: The first time you use your electric hot plate, you may notice some smoke—that’s just the appliance burning off its protective coating. It should abate after a couple of uses, but if it doesn’t, stop using it immediately and call the manufacturer. Use heat-safe gloves when handling the hot plate, including the knobs, which on some models can warm up during use. And always make sure that the surface your hot plate is resting on is heat-resistant. The last thing you want is to damage your countertop or table.

This compact (9.15 by 10.65 by 3.65 inches) option features low, warm, medium, and high settings; along with a cool-touch base and non-skid rubber feet—perfect when you’re on the move, like in an RV. Elite Gourmet

Loads of materials are safe to use on an electric hot plate—including ceramic, aluminum, glass, and stainless steel—but it never hurts to double-check the specs of your cookware and appliance before you fire it up. A flat electrical plate is also exceptionally easy to clean; just use a combination of water, baking soda, and vinegar to wipe it down. (Never use anything abrasive, like steel-wool pads.)

Efficient Design

This one warms up fast but doesn’t risk burning your hands when you go to pick it up. The ergonomic design makes it easy and comfortable to transport. Techwood

This one warms up fast but doesn’t risk burning your hands when you go to pick it up. The ergonomic design makes it easy and comfortable to transport. Tip text: Infrared heat, which works by converting energy into radiant heat, is a clean energy source that warms up quickly and only heats the things in its direct contact, so it’s energy-efficient, too. Though electromagnetic radiation is part and parcel of infrared heat, models that lack high-frequency ER are safe for all to use, including pregnant women and children.