Sooner or later almost every confectioner starts thinking about making caramels. For many, caramels - especially salted caramels - are a cornerstone of their business.
I've seen them made lots of different ways, including on a regular stove top, but one thing I always come back to is that it's important to be able to regulate heat and apply it consistently. My home stove is not very good for this, and I've been contemplating getting an induction cooktop for this purpose. They are efficient and put out a steady, reliable heat. The only downside, I thought, was that induction cookers require special pots.
I learned that this was not the case recently talking to a friend who uses an induction cooker who told me that he has troubles with the cookers maintaining the heat he wants for long periods of time. Apparently, there is a cutoff circuit in some of the devices to keep them from overheating. To be fair, he's got a 120V 1000W machine, and he might not have a problem if he had one with more power, but that's not in his budget at the moment.
I was in my local gourmet shop over the weekend and I started talking to one of the owners, Ben, about the commercial crepe makers they were using. They have cast iron cooking surfaces (they retain heat real well) and, depending on the model, can go up to 450F-570F and keep it there all day long (in fact, the real knock against these machines is how long they take to cool down before they can be handled safely).
It seems to me that these would be a great alternative to induction cookers for people looking to make caramel as they accept any king of pot, get hot, and maintain a specific heat real well. There are versions that are much less expensive that are also made for commercial applications but I don't know if the price difference is a case of being penny wise and pound foolish.
One thing I learned from talking with Ben is that he uses his crepe makers for a lot of different cooking applications, including frying eggs to put in crepes. As long as what you're cooking isn't too runny or render out much fat, you can cook it directly on the surface of the crepe maker. This makes them, I think, a pretty versatile addition to a lot of confectionery kitchens, and in my current project I am recommending that one of the two induction cooktops be replaced with one of these crepe makers - and save a couple of hundred bucks at the same time.
Of course, if I was serious about making caramels and needed to make them all day every day, I'd plonk down whatever cash was necessary for a dedicated machine. The one that people keep talking to me about wanting to own is the Savage FireMixer. It may not be as retro-chic as making caramel in a copper kettle over an open gas fire, but when it comes to all-around convenience (including not having to install venting and fire suppression) this is the one that keeps calling to me.