I am no longer impressed by your fancy new 10,000 BTU hot pot burner

Two years ago, we had a gathering at my house for some friends for hot pot, the traditional way of ringing in the lunar new year (which takes place today). It was actually a bit of a cross-cultural event, since the attendees came from different regions of Asia, where different traditions reign. (And the American guests just had to choose sides!)

My house has but one portable stove for hot pot, so one of the guests brought her own unit, a unit as it turns out which was purchased specifically for the occasion, which gleamed in the light and proudly proclaimed 10,000 BTU of raw heating power. This was cause for much boasting, particularly since I didn't know the heating power of my own puny old unit, but I accepted my second-place position with grace.

Some time later, we had a quiet family hot pot, and my old and horrifically unfashionable burner was brought out to do its tired but important job, and it was then that I found the sticker that specified its heating power.

9,925 BTU.

Now I am no longer impressed by my friend's 10,000 BTU burner.

Comments (31)
  1. Gabe says:

    Does anybody know if hot pot is the origin of the Mongolian barbeque?

  2. Falcon says:

    Damn, I was expecting your stove's power to be MORE than 10,000 BTU! Still a good story, though.

  3. Jason says:

    "Two years ago, we had a gathering at my house last year"

    So, three years ago?

    [Editing error when I rescheduled the entry from last year to this year. Fixed, thanks. -Raymond]
  4. Chris Long says:

    I think the British Thermal Unit (BTU) is a unit of energy, not power, but anyway… I guess the label means 10,000 BTU/hour or something?

    Reply to self: Yes, it does.


    As a Briton myself, it's weird how BTUs are used in America given that we don't use them any more, at least in that context (my gas bill is paid per BTU, I believe).

  5. Sunil Joshi says:

    @Chris Long

    The reason you still pay in BTU for your gas is that you still have a pre-metric meter (some people have pre-metric electricity meters.)

    Newer residences and replaced meters are in metric.

  6. Sunil Joshi says:

    Sorry I meant to say some people have pre-metric eletricity meters as well

  7. Brits also use the "," symbol as a decimal separator which would make "10,000 BTU" significantly less impressive.

  8. ficedula says:

    @Maurits: Uh, no we don't. Comma is a thousands separator here in the UK, same as in the US.

    There are a fair few European countries who use "," as a decimal separator but in this respect, at least, we have the same format as the US…

  9. Chris Long says:


    No, we don't, we use '.' as the decimal separator and ',' as the thousands separator.  Many/most mainland European countries do it the other way round, though.

  10. Retracted.  In South Africa we used " " as the thousands separator and "," as the decimal separator.

  11. keith says:

    When I bought my condo, it needed a new HVAC on move in.  The heater in the HVAC was rated 50,000 BTU.  About a year later, my mother redid her kitchen with a trendy Viking cooktop.  That cooktop with all burners at full was 60,000 BTU.  Hmm.  At least my gas bill is less than my mom's.

  12. James Schend says:

    @Chris Long: the real question is do you still call them BTUs? Or just TUs?

  13. Drizzt says:

    Someone do knows where can I find the subtitles for this blog's post?

  14. Nik says:

    10000 BTU/Hour is about 3000 watts.  Is this a gas burner you're talking about ?  Otherwise it would have to draw 25A at 120V, and it would trip a 15A circuit breaker pretty quickly.

  15. Gabe says:

    Nik: Only burning devices are rated in BTUs. Electrical devices are always rated in W, unless they're motors, in which case they may be rated in hp.

  16. AK says:

    According to Tim Taylor, BTU stands for "Big Heat Unit": http://www.hiarchive.co.uk/index.php

  17. Arlie says:

    But it's the last 75 BTU that make *all* the difference.

  18. 640k says:

    Plase use ISO standard units: Joule

  19. 640k says:

    Please use ISO standard units: Joule

  20. John Kerr says:

    Depends who suplies the fuel. If it's BP, it arrives in BTUs.

  21. Gabe says:

    640k: "He is no longer impressed by his friend's fancy new 1.054e+7 J burner now that he discovered that his own burner is 1.046e+7 J."

    Of course, it's stupid to rate a burner in Joules/hour because the proper SI unit is Watts:

    "He is no longer impressed by his friend's fancy new 2929 W burner now that he discovered that his own burner is 2906 W."

  22. Nappa says:

    Vegeta! What does the sticker say about its heating power level?!

  23. Ben says:

    @Gabe: I'm pretty sure the correct statement would be "He is no longer impressed by his friend's fancy new 2.93 kW burner now that he discovered that his own burner is 2.91 kW."

    Although, he did not ask for SI units, but for "ISO standard units". I'm pretty sure that in ISO 80000-5:2007 "Thermodynamics" the only units are Kelvin, Celsius and reciprocal Kelvin. That would imply there is no ISO standard way to measure a heater. :)

  24. Andreas Rejbrand says:

    In *Sweden*, comma is used as the decimal separator.

  25. Dave says:

    As a Briton myself, it's weird how BTUs are used in America given that we don't

    use them any more,

    I had the same problem, I had to go and look up the definition of these archaic units.  Turns out a BTU is defined as the amount of energy needed to be emitted by a 1 foot-candle source to raise the temperature of a half-furlong length of copper wire by one degree Rankine, measured in horsepower-hours.  Simple, once you look it up.

  26. Dave says:

    Please use ISO standard units: Joule

    Why should he?  If it was good enough for use by medieval monks, it should be good enough for use in the US.  Everyone knows those new-fangled SI units are just a plot by foreign terrorists to take money from true US companies.

  27. Bill says:

    @Nappa: Wow that took longer than I had expected.

  28. Random832 says:

    @Sunil Joshi, what unit did pre-metric electricity meters use?

    Anyway, the BTU is defined in essentially the same way as the calorie, only based on the pound instead of the gram/kilogram, and fahrenheit instead of celsius.

  29. Cheong says:

    Hot pots are tasty!!!

    For a note more related to technical blog, heat generated by computer systems is also measured in BTUs (to measure how much cooling is needed). And on a related thought, is there anyone still use your heated server/workstations to warm your lunchboxes?

  30. Clank says:

    @SunilJoshi –

    Whether you are billed in BTU or whatever is not a factor of your meter.  British domestic gas meters measure the *volume* of gas delivered, not the amount of energy.

    Pre-metric meters measure cubic feet of gas delivered, modern meters measure cubic metres.  If you have a pre-metric meter, you will find on your gas bill a conversion factor which converts that into a cubic metre value (although most gas bills are sufficiently obtuse that it may not be immediately obvious…)

    Your gas company bill will then apply a conversion based on a standard calorific value for a cubic metre of gas, and will then calculate your bill based on this.  I'm pretty sure all UK domestic suppliers bill based on kilowatt-hours (i.e. their rates are specified in price-per-kWh.)

  31. Mark says:

    Ahh, the foot-candle. Makes a mockery of those ear-candles.

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