Hot plates look like a single electric stove burner, and that's usually exactly what they are. People often use them if they have an efficiency apartment, dorm room, or a room in a boarding house. They are good for small cooking chores, such as boiling water or heating soup. Powered by electricity, a hot plate may have either one or two burners. In general, each burner will have an adjustable heating control, which means that it isn't necessary for both to be on even if one is not being used.
Someone shopping for a hot plate should look for one with adjustable temperature controls, a non-stick reflector plate for easier cleaning, and a safety switch that will cut the appliance off after a certain amount of time. This reduces the risk of fire. In fact, these appliances are often not allowed in dorm rooms because they do have what amounts to an open flame. Many fires have started when a tired college student fell asleep with a nearly empty pan of soup on a hot burner.
Hot plates are available almost everywhere small kitchen appliances are sold, usually with the hot pots and toaster ovens. They are relatively inexpensive, especially when compared to full-size appliances. Many models are also available online.
Solid platform hot plates are invaluable in the laboratory — they're right up there with the Bunsen burner. These devices are meant to heat chemicals or other solutions for lab experiments. Some even have magnetic stirrers to keep the heat and motion going at the same time. This type is usually available from laboratory supply stores.
Hot plates can be lifesavers for those who need some way to cook, but don't have much space. They should always be treated with care, with users following all common sense safety rules. Following those rules can reduce the chance of fires and injuries.