Over the past three years we’ve spent dozens of hours researching and long-term testing electric kettles. For another year in a row, we think the Cuisinart CPK-17 is the best electric kettle for most people. It’s a high-end, temperature-variable model that’s ideal for brewing myriad teas, making pour-over coffee, or simply boiling water for instant oatmeal. It has a winning combination of speed, accuracy, and ease of use that bested all the other electric kettles we tested.
If you love pour-over coffee and want the precise aim of a gooseneck kettle, we recommend the Bonavita 1-Liter Variable Temperature Digital Electric Gooseneck Kettle. Tea lovers will also geek out over its spot-on temperature accuracy, though its one-liter capacity is probably best for smaller households.
If you don’t want to break the bank but still want a decent variable temperature kettle, we recommend the Chefman RJ11-17-GP Precision Electric Kettle. This glass model has a speedy boil time, preset temperature settings, and a three-year warranty.
Winnie Yang has worked in the food industry since 2002. She is a writer and the managing editor of The Art of Eating as well as the website Culinary Backstreets. She has also written for Saveur, Condé Nast Traveler, Feast, Jamie, and Tasting Table, among other publications. Tim Barribeau is a freelance science and technology writer. He writes a lot about cameras, including over at The Wirecutter, and he spends an awful lot of time in the kitchen playing at being a mad chef. Michael Sullivan, who contributed to our 2016 update, has reviewed can openers and cookbook stands as well as other kitchen gadgets for The Sweethome. He is a graduate of The International Culinary Center, where he also worked as an editor. He previously worked as a recipe tester for the cookbook Meat: Everything You Need to Know.
We also talked to a number of experts about what they look for in a kettle, including Tony Gebely of World of Tea, Michelle Rabin of T Ching, and famed tea expert Bruce Richardson. We also looked at highly-rated models on Amazon as well as reviews from Cook’s Illustrated (subscription required), Good Housekeeping, and WIRED.
If you’re wondering why your expensive tea or coffee doesn’t taste the way it does at your local cafe, you may improve your outcomes by brewing at the correct warmth with the help of a variable-temperature kettle. Getting a variable-temperature kettle is the key to immediately improving your caffeinated drink game, whether you’re a tea collector or a scale-grinder-dripper coffee nerd. An electric kettle also works for people who hate the alarming sound of whistling kettles and want a fast, more automatic path to their morning cup of caffeine.
If you have an entirely plastic electric kettle that imparts an unpleasant taste or smell to the heated water, you may want to switch to stainless steel or glass. While these models still contain some small plastic components, they generally don’t have as many issues tasting or smelling like plastic. If you’d rather avoid plastic entirely, we’d recommend investing in an old-fashioned all-metal stovetop kettle.
When drinking tea, most people just put a kettle on to boil and then pour the resulting hot water over the tea bag, regardless of type or temperature. However, the different varieties of tea are meant to be brewed at different temperatures. Though exact, specific temperatures are up for debate and come down to personal preference (see The Sweethome’s suggested water temperatures for teas and coffee below), the general rule is that more delicate leaves require cooler water. So green tea should be steeped at a temperature markedly lower than the rolling boil of black.
Coffee aficionados also pay attention to temperatures. The Aeropress system suggests using water that is considerably cooler than freshly boiled—165 to 175 degrees Fahrenheit. Some dripper fans use 195° water, while others suggest 205°, and both temperatures fall under the full boil temp of 212°. A great electric kettle should have a wide variety of temperature settings to accommodate different types of beverages. Reasonable accuracy at hitting those temperatures is also important (because there’s no point in aiming for 200° and hitting 212° instead).
Speed is also important so you’re not waiting forever for your water to come to temperature. An electric kettle should be easy to use, have a handle that doesn’t get too hot, and feature automatic shutoff so you don’t have to worry about forgetting to turn it off. A large mouth for easy cleaning is also a plus, but these days, the vast majority of electric kettles conceal the heating element, so you no longer have to contend with scale-covered electrical pieces that never get totally clean.
Aside from technical features, we looked for models that had decent warranties. Our research has shown (and customer reviews have indicated) that electric kettles have a high failure rate across the board. Boiling water is very hard on appliances, especially ones with finicky moving parts or complex settings. Even quality kettles have a somewhat short lifespan, so finding a model with a solid warranty is key.
All of the kettles we tested for our 2016 update were metal or glass. Some people, including our experts, complain about plastic kettles imparting a funny taste or smell to the water. To minimize the possibility of adverse flavors in the water, we didn’t test any models made entirely of plastic. However, all of the ones we did test do contain some minor plastic elements, like parts of the lid, a filter, or the water level window. All of the manufacturers of our picks assured us the plastic components in their kettles are made from heat-resistant plastics. This means they’re less likely to leach by-products into your water at high temperatures, even after repeated boilings over prolonged use.
For our 2016 update, we tested our previous top picks from last year (the Cuisinart CPK-17, the KitchenAid KEK1722SX, the Bonavita 1-Liter Variable Temperature Digital Electric Gooseneck Kettle, the Zojirushi CD-WBC40 Micom 4-Liter Electric Water Boiler, and the Chef’s Choice 681) against an additional four kettles: the Secura 1.8-Quart Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Water Kettle, the Capresso H20 Steel PLUS, the Chefman RJ11-17-GP Precision Electric Kettle, and the Zojirushi DCC40 4 L.
We tested the temperature-variable kettles by measuring how long it took a liter of water to come to a boil and how accurate the internal thermometer was for non-boiling temperatures. We tested the internal thermometer of the kettles by heating the water to one of the specific temperature settings (below boiling), and measured it with a Thermapen thermometer. This was done multiple times for various temperatures available on each kettle (with ample time for cooldown in between sessions). For the simple electric kettles we tested, we just measured time to boil. Some models we tested had a warming feature that could hold set temperatures, so we checked their accuracy after letting them rest for an extended period of time. We also tested automatic shutoff features and took note of any excessive or annoying beeps. Additionally, we tasted the water from each model after boiling to see if there were any off flavors caused by plastic components.
Our top pick from last year, the Cuisinart CPK-17, is still the best, thanks to its ease of use, speed, and accuracy. While it might not be a leader in every category, it ranked highly in all of them, lacks any appreciable drawbacks, and lands at the right price.
The Cuisinart CPK-17 was the simplest to operate compared to all the other variable temperature control models we tested. Joe Brown at WIRED did a roundup of high-end electrical kettles and also liked the CPK-17. He awarded it top marks for its speed, streamlined looks, and easy-to-use controls. It has six preset temperature settings as buttons on the handle, a start button, and a keep warm button. You add the water, hit the temperature you want, and wait for it to beep when it’s done. It then kicks into an automated keep warm cycle, where it will maintain temperature for up to 30 minutes, in case you can’t quite make it to the kitchen in time. The push-button on the handle made for easy one-handed lid-opening, and the water poured in an even stream without dripping.
Aside from its straightforward, easy-to-use design, our testers found the Cuisinart had an extremely consistent boil time. On average, it brought one liter of water to a boil in 4 minutes, 4 seconds. While this wasn’t the fastest of the kettles we tested, it was speedier than most. Additionally, the Cuisinart proved to be incredibly accurate in our tests; after holding a set temperature of 185 degrees for 30 minutes, the water measured just 2 degrees over.
Besides its temperature-holding accuracy and quick boil time, the Cuisinart had all the other features we looked for in an electric model: a removable scale filter for easier cleaning, a concealed heating element that won’t get gunked up by mineral deposits, and a 360° swivel base so you can grab it from any angle. Its lid is large enough to get inside easily for cleaning (just avoid splashing water on the control buttons located on the handle). And while all of these are fairly standard features, the Cuisinart is the only one that has them all while managing to avoid any of the glaring flaws that plague its competition.
Unlike the annoying, excessive beeps that were one of the pitfalls of the KitchenAid KEK1722SX kettle (our former runner-up last year), the Cuisinart only beeps once when you press a button on the control panel or several times when a temperature setting is reached. Our testers liked that the Cuisinart alerts you once a temperature is reached so you don’t have to hover over the kettle in eager anticipation. However, be mindful that a raucous beeping will occur if the kettle is on and returned to the base empty. This is the “boil-dry protection” warning to prevent damaging the kettle, so just remember to shut the kettle off if it’s empty. Since the water level window allows you to see when it’s getting low, we found it was easy to prevent this.
One feature the Cuisinart has that makes it stand out among its competitors is a limited three-year warranty, which is substantially better than all the models we tested in this price range (they offer just one year of coverage). Given that constantly-boiling water can be very rough on a gadget, having triple the warranty of the rest of the pack is pretty darned impressive.
Of course, the Cuisinart has some minor drawbacks. While this model had better accuracy than most of the other kettles we tested (which measured more than 10 degrees off their temperature settings in some cases), we found it wasn’t as accurate at hitting lower temperatures, measuring 8 degrees over when set to 160°. Temperatures of 175° and up, however, measured only 3 to 4 degrees off (which is pretty accurate). Since this model has a slew of other noteworthy features and has been consistently reliable over years of long-term testing, we’re willing to forgive its minor temperature variances at the lowest setting.
We have received recent feedback from some of our readers and have seen other reports of the Cuisinart breaking down after about a year. Some Amazon users have reported rusting screws on the interior within a couple of weeks, but this problem is rare and should be covered under warranty. We’ve also heard complaints that the lids on some units of the Cuisinart CPK-17 have broken off at the hinge. We haven’t experienced these issues ourselves; several people on our staff have owned and used this kettle for years and haven’t encountered any problems with it. Most say it’s been a workhorse. One of our staffers has used it every day, sometimes up to four or five times a day over the past year, and they report that it has never broken “or acted up.” We will certainly keep an eye on the user reviews of our pick to see if a quality-control problem has cropped up, but we continue to stand by our pick.
If you are a coffee fiend (or happen to live with one), the Bonavita Gooseneck kettle is an excellent compromise between a traditional tea kettle and one better suited for making pour-over coffee. It’s extremely accurate, provides excellent pouring technique, and is easy on the eyes, too.
We touched on it a bit in our guide for coffeemaking gear, but this kettle had the most precise temperature control out of all the models we tested. It impressively measured just 1 degree off regardless of the temperature setting, which gives you the freedom to set it in one degree increments from 140° to 212°. A representative we spoke with at Bonavita said its impeccable accuracy is one of the reasons why it’s so popular among baristas.
Our testers also praised it for its long neck, which provided excellent pouring technique for pour-over coffee or a single cup of tea. Though the spout wasn’t very handy for pouring into a teapot, we feel this isn’t an issue since it’s handsome enough to serve directly from the kettle.
There are some minor drawbacks, however. The Bonavita took almost three minutes longer to boil than our top pick, and there’s no water level window to see when it’s getting low. Also, unless you live in a small household, it doesn’t work particularly well as a dedicated tea kettle due to its relatively small volume (just 1 liter). If you’re in a situation where you have limited space and you value your coffee as well as your tea, it’s a solid compromise. (Note: Bonavita does have a larger 1.7-liter gooseneck kettle that looks similar to our pick, but Amazon user reviews indicate that it’s plagued by malfunctions, so we opted not to test.)
After over a year of longterm testing using the kettle daily, we haven’t experienced any issues with the 1-liter Bonavita Kettle and think it’s the best for those who will use if for both tea and pour-over coffee.
If you prefer something more affordable, we recommend the Chefman RJ11-17-GP Precision Electric Kettle. It quickly brings water to a boil, has preset temperature controls, and a warming feature that shuts off after one hour.
Our testers were impressed with the capabilities of this kettle, which had one of the fastest boiling times of all the models we tested (3 minutes, 50 seconds). It was also one of the only kettles in the $50 price range that had variable temperature controls and didn’t seem cheaply made. Impressively, after being set to a holding temperature of 180 degrees for one hour, it measured just 4 degrees off.
The controls are easy to navigate and accurately track the water’s temperature as it raises or lowers on an easy-to-read digital display. This feature is especially convenient if you want to remove the kettle from the base at a temperature outside the preset degrees. This model even comes with a removable metal tea infuser if you prefer to steep loose leaf tea directly in the kettle.
Perhaps most surprising, this kettle is protected by a three-year limited warranty. While some customers on Amazon say this kettle gave out after a couple of weeks of use, we haven’t encountered any technical issues ourselves. We’ll continue to test this kettle over the long term to see if any problems arise.
There is one minor quirk to operating this kettle. It precisely heats the water to the desired set temperature, but the residual heat causes the water to rise about 10 degrees higher. However, the digital display will accurately show the water climbing, so you’ll still know the exact temperature of the water, even if it’s over. To compensate, we recommend setting the temperature 10 degrees below the temperature you want to hit. Even with this glitch, we still think the Chefman RJ11-17-GP is the best option available for kettles with variable temperature controls in this price range.
Some Chefman RJ11-17-GP buyers on Amazon have complained that this model beeps excessively. After long-term testing, we’ve experienced the same problem. One Amazon reviewer suggests removing the speaker on the circuit board. Although we haven’t tried that ourselves, it seems to be a good way to resolve the issue.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $192.
If you can spend more and drink a prodigious amount of tea, you might want to look into two new models: the 4-liter and 5-liter Zojirushi CV-DCC40/50XT VE Hybrid Water Boilers and Warmers. These are significantly more expensive and take up more space than regular electric kettles, but they’re ideal for keeping a large volume of water at a specific temperature for an extended period of time. These newer models are much more efficient because they heat the water directly to the set temperature (without boiling first and then cooling it, as some older models did).
In our tests, the new Zojirushi CV-DCC40 did well at holding temperatures for a long time, but it measured about 10 degrees over the preset temperature. It’s a well-made boiler, but we only recommend it for offices, restaurants, or larger households with young children that need a lot of warm water ready throughout the day.
To minimize the amount of deposit buildup in the kettle itself, always empty the kettle after you use it. You’ll still need to decalcify your kettle from time to time, though that frequency depends on the hardness of your water. Check the manual for specific instructions on descaling from the manufacturer. Otherwise, you can fill the kettle with 1 cup of white vinegar and 3 cups of water, heat to a boil, turn off, and allow to stand overnight. Alternatively, half a teaspoon cream of tartar with half a kettle full of water should also work. After emptying, refill with water only, bring to a boil and drain; repeat twice more.
If your kettle comes with a mesh filter for trapping calcium deposits, it will need to be cleaned periodically—more often if you have hard water. Follow the instructions in the manual for removing the filter and clean it with a cloth or brush under hot water. If you’re unable to remove the calcium deposits, let the filter stand overnight in a solution of one part water to three parts white vinegar; rinse thoroughly before replacing the kettle.
There are a huge number of electric kettles out there. We managed to dismiss some through research, and other hit major problems during testing.
Last year our runner-up was the KitchenAid KEK1722SX, but after longterm testing, we found its excessive beeping beyond annoying. Also, the kettle always defaults to Celsius, so if you want Fahrenheit temperatures, you have to change the settings every time you use it—pretty irritating.
The Breville BKE820XL is pretty fantastic but let down by its rather steep price. It just doesn’t have anything to differentiate it from the Cuisinart and be worth the extra cash. We also looked at the Breville IQ Kettle Pure, but we preferred the stainless steel model.
The Chef’s Choice 688 was very precise, but has one enormous, glaring flaw: It’s incredibly slow. Recently, its ratings have dropped on Amazon due to various malfunctions.
The Chef’s Choice 679 is too expensive for a basic boiler. We were able to dismiss this model since there are a slew of other kettles in this price range that offer more features at lower prices. We also looked at the Chef’s Choice 691/692, but each was a bit pricey for a basic kettle.
The Melitta 40994 ranks among the top selling kettles and received decent reviews on Amazon. We like the damped lid, which raises slowly when you push the button, but the two large plastic water level windows on either side of the kettle were unnecessary and just put more plastic in contact with the boiling water, which we feared would leach flavor to the boiled water.
While the Melitta 1.7 L has a temperature control knob, it doesn’t indicate specific temperatures. (It’s by tea type: “oolong,” and so on.) We found this very frustrating especially when trying to heat the water to a specific temperature for pour-over coffee. It also has a Amazon rating far below some of our other picks.
The subpar reviews of the Capresso teaC100 on Amazon indicate that this model frequently malfunctions after only a short period of time.
One kettle we wanted to like was the Hamilton Beach 40996, but it was dragged down by horrible accuracy, slow speed, and unintuitive controls. The interface is also complicated to use; changing temperature units and setting the alarm and time are highly complex operations.
The Bonavita 1.7 L has incredibly poor reviews on Amazon, apparently at least in part due to the handle overheating. There’s a Pino digital kettle that Cook’s Illustrated liked, but the Amazon reviews are poor, and it doesn’t seem to be widely available.
On the super cheap end, the Ovente KS96S Stainless Steel Cordless Electric Kettle looked like a promising on/off style kettle and gets pretty good ratings on Amazon, but many reviewers complained that it’s slow to heat up.
The Ovente KG83B Glass Electric Kettle, 1.5 L, Black has a fairly good rating on Amazon, but we were able to dismiss it since a lot of reviews claim the plastic warps after several uses.
While the Ovente KS88S had a few promising features, its LED light that changes colors to indicate various temperatures is gimmicky. After all, it’s a kettle, not a spaceship. Additionally, many customer reviews complain that it beeps too loud.
The Adagio Teas Variable Temperature Kettle has a low rating on Amazon due to shoddy construction.
The Adagio Teas 3 UtiliTEA is one of the more popular variable-temperature kettles thanks to its low price point. Unfortunately, it’s also mired in flaws. It can only hold 0.9 L, which is barely enough for a basic pot of tea. The other big problem is the heat control—just a knob with a brown section and a green section with no indication of what temperatures those are.
The Firebox iKettle is temperature-controlled and connects via Wi-Fi to your smartphone. It’s also rather expensive. Having Wi-Fi on your kettle really seems like it’s of limited use: you have to put water in the kettle anyway, so you might as well just start the thing boiling while you’re there. It’s not worth the significant extra cost.
Reviews on Amazon.com reveal that the Aroma Hot H20 X-Press has problems with rust, shut-off malfunctions, and water leakage. Most reviewers complain that this model is just downright cheap.
We found the Hario EVKB-80U-HSV had an appealing design but didn’t offer anything more than the Bonavita gooseneck and is more expensive. It also lacks variable temperature controls and has availability issues.
The Sharper Image kettle has no variable temperature control and is too expensive for a basic kettle. Our current top pick has a slew of other features and is much less expensive. The Sharper Image kettle also takes a long time to bring water to a boil, longer than some of our other picks.
The OXO On Cordless Glass Electric Kettle is far too expensive for a basic kettle that lacks variable temperature controls.
The EPICA 1.75 Quart seemed like a good contender and has a decent rating on Amazon, but some customer reviews say it smells of burning plastic while heating water.
There are myriad models that lack temperature controls like the Breville SK500XL Ikon and the Proctor Silex K2070YA (1 liter) that don’t compete with our top picks. Most cheaper models that have some form of temperature control (like the T-fal and Hamilton Beach K6080A) are almost entirely made of plastic. Some reviews indicate these plastic models leave the water tasting and smelling like plastic.
Water heaters like the Aroma 3.8-L Digital Water Heater SS and the Secura Electric Water Boiler and Warmer LCD Digital Control (5 Quart) look similar to the Zojirushi and seem reasonably priced, but neither have any reviews on Amazon. The Aroma AAP-340SB Hot Water Central 4-Quart Air Pot/Water Heater, Stainless Steel has a low rating on Amazon that doesn’t compete with the Zojirushi.
A few models were exorbitantly priced, such as the Breville BTM800XL. More than $200 is too much to spend on a kettle, especially if it only has a one-year warranty. Even the KitchenAid KEK1522CA doesn’t have any more to offer than our top pick, which is less than half the price.
The Chef’s Choice 681, which was our budget pick last year, had one of the fastest boiling times of all the models we tested, but at nearly the same price as our budget pick, it doesn’t have enough to offer. It shuts off immediately after boiling and lacks a keep warm mode. Amazon reviews for this model have dipped considerably because it leaks and has shut-off problems.
Like the Chef’s Choice, the Secura 1.8 L doesn’t have much to offer compared to our budget pick. It’s a very basic kettle that simply boils water and lacks a water level window.
In our tests, the Capresso H20 Steel Plus 1.7 L heated water nearly 10 degrees over the preset temperature. However, the biggest problem was the water had a slight plastic taste and smell after boiling.
If you’re serious about drinking tea or coffee, you’ll want a variable temperature kettle so that you can heat up water to the perfect temp for your various tea types or pour-over coffee. The Cuisinart CPK-17 offers a quick boiling speed, consistent temperature accuracy, and six different water settings for everything from delicate teas to a rolling boil. It looks good, is easy to use, and will hold your water at a specific temperature for 30 minutes. If you drink pour-over coffee as well as tea, we recommend the incredibly accurate Bonavita 1-Liter Gooseneck Kettle. If you prefer something more affordable, the Chefman RJ11-17-GP is the way to go.
(Photos by Michael Hession; illustration by Elizabeth Brown.)
Originally published: February 23, 2016