What is induction cooking? & other Induction Cooktop Question & Answers
Welcome to Induction Q & A, where Two Kitchen Junkies answers your questions about one of the newest and most innovative forms of cooking on the market.
Because induction cooking hasn’t taken a stronghold in the US, many home chefs aren’t aware of its major benefits. In this Q & A, we outline some induction cooking basics that will help you consider whether you’d like to incorporate induction cooking into your kitchen.
- What is induction cooking?
- How is induction cooking different from traditional cooking?
- Are Induction cooktops safer than traditional cooktops
- Is induction cooking more energy efficient?
- Induction cooking video library
- How much will an induction cooktop cost me?
- What do you mean by “appropriate cooking vessel?” (What pots and pans can I use?)
- What are the biggest benefits of induction cooking?
- What are its major drawbacks of induction cooking?
- Any quirks or odd things I should know about induction cooking?
- How can I start induction cooking?
- Additional Reading
What is induction cooking?
Induction cooking is a type of stovetop cooking facilitated by electromagnetic currents, as opposed to electric radiant heat or gas. Our article What is an Induction Cooktop? (link) details more thoroughly the science behind induction cooking.
In short: induction cooking still uses electricity, not gas. A magnet below the induction cooktop’s smooth surface is charged with alternating currents. When an appropriate cooking (induction ready) vessel is placed on the cooktop, the electromagnetic circuit is completed. The pot or pan is excited at the molecular level. The molecules in the pot or pan move rapidly, causing them to heat up, making the pot or pan itself hot enough to cook your food.
Because induction cooking relies on the creation of heat in the cooking vessel itself, it works in a very different manner than gas and electric radiant cooktops. Most of us are familiar with either gas or electric radiant cooking.
Induction cooking differs primarily in the way it heats the cooking vessel. As described above, it is still contingent on the use of electricity. This means induction cooktops have to be hardwired or plugged in, depending on the make and model.
Yet, while induction cooktops look similar to some electric smoothtops, their operation is quite different. An induction cooktop itself will never get hot, because the current in the cooktop needs a cooking vessel to complete its electromagnetic circuit. Only when the circuit is completed by an appropriate cooking vessel can the electromagnet in the cooktop provide energy to heat and cook your food. So, no hot coils or surfaces that take a long time to heat up or cool down.
Induction cooking is clearly most different from cooking with gas. Those who love cooking with natural gas might find induction cooking off putting because it seems so different. However, induction is seen by those who use it as the best of both worlds: electric and gas.
Unlike gas cooktops, induction cooktops are smooth and easy to clean. However, unlike electric radiant cooktops, the responsiveness of induction cooking mimics that of cooking with gas. Cooks can adjust the temperature of an induction cooktop immediately, just as they can the size of the flame on a gas stove.
How will it change my cooking time?
Induction cooking is significantly faster than cooking with gas or electric radiant heat. As mentioned above, induction cooktops are impressively responsive. The time it takes an appropriate vessel to heat up or cool down on an induction cooktop is minimal.
Proponents of induction cooking commonly cite their favorite cooktop’s ability to boil water in less than half the time it takes traditional cooktops. Decreased heating time is achieved on induction cooktops because heat is generated in the pot or pan, not lost to the ambient air. Essentially, on an induction cooktop, more energy can actually go to heating water than warming the air above the stove. More energy directed toward your food results in faster cooking times.
Induction cooking is often considered safer because the cooktop itself does not get hot. Technology has come a long way in terms of safety and reminder features on traditional electric stovetops, but they can still stay hot for a long time without showing any signs of heat. If accidentally left on, a traditional electric stove can and will remain hot. This can ruin cooking vessels and utensils, and can potentially result in injury.
Induction cooktops mitigate this risk to some extent. Induction cooktops maintain room temperature because the pot or pan is what’s actually heated. As soon as the cooking vessel is removed from the induction surface, no additional heat is generated. None lingers on the cooking surface either. This means the cooktop is safe to the touch as soon as you’re finished cooking.
Even if an induction cooktop is left on, it won’t heat unless a piece of induction compatible cookware is left on it. That being said, if an induction cooktop is inadvertently left on with a piece of induction cookware on it, the results will be the same as if it were left on any other stove. Food can burn, pots, pans and utensils can be ruined and prolonged exposure can result in fires.
When compared to gas stoves, induction cooktops have the added benefit of operating without the dangers of natural gas. Whether an induction cooktop is on or off, there is never the risk of a gas leak resulting in injury, illness or explosions. This sometimes makes induction cooking safer for use in small or les ventilated spaces.
It is important to keep in mind that cooking vessels on induction cooktops get hot and can maintain that heat when moved from an induction cooktop to another surface. Induction cooks still need to use potholders and oven mitts as necessary to avoid burns.
Due to their unique mode of operation, induction cooktops can be attractive to cooks interested in energy efficiency.
When considering the use of energy generated by the cooktop itself, it’s true that induction cooktops are more energy efficient than traditional gas and electric stoves. Because the electromagnetic current heats the cooking vessel itself, energy from the cooktop is not lost to the ambient air. This means the vessel will heat faster and the stove won’t have to be left on as long, for example, to get water boiling.
Still, all things considered, induction cooktops require electricity, and depending on your geographic location, the electrical energy you get in your home is generated the same way (burning coal, hydro, wind or nuclear power) whether you end up plugging in a traditional electric stove or an induction cooktop.
In fact, the way energy is used in an induction cooktop is similar enough to smoothtop electric cooking that the US Department of Energy considers induction cooktops a technology option for smooth element electric cooking rather than a separate type of product.
All in all, energy savings alone are not sufficient to tip the scales in favor of an induction cooktop. It’s how the energy is used that makes induction cooking unique and attractive.
Unfortunately, many home cooks think they can’t afford an induction cooktop or induction cooking.
There is a lot of misinformation about how much an induction cooktop costs and a lot of unnecessary hype about the importance of induction cookware (more on that later).
The primary cost associated with induction cooking is purchasing an induction cooktop. It’s true that switching from a gas or traditional electric range to an induction cooktop is pricey. Most induction cooktops run over a thousand dollars.
Name brands more familiar in US households, including GE and Electrolux come with even heftier price tags, and are steadily gaining popularity in the households of the rich and famous.
Still, there are options for those with more modest budgets. Countertop induction burners are an option that can be incorporated into any kitchen fairly affordably. See our article What is an Induction Cooktop? for suggestions on highly rated induction burners starting at just $60.
Throughout this Q & A, we’ve referenced the importance of using appropriate cooking vessels when induction cooking. Because induction cooking harnesses the power of electromagnetism, not all pots and pans can be used.
Our article What is Induction Cookware? thoroughly explains what types of pots and pans can be used on an induction cooktop and why.
The most important thing to consider is that to work on an induction cooktop, a pot or pan must be magnetic. If a magnet doesn’t stick to your favorite piece of cookware, it won’t work on an induction cooktop. It won’t complete the cooktop’s electromagnetic surface and therefore won’t conduct any heat to cook your food.
For some this is bad news because it requires buying new pots and pans or a special tool called an induction interface disk. For those who already cook with cast iron or stainless steel, which are induction ready, the biggest learning curve will be adjusting to the responsiveness of the induction cooktop.
Of course, there are plenty of wonderful pots and pans made specifically for induction cooktops, including a whole line by Belgian cookware company Beka
What are the biggest benefits of induction cooking?
What are its major drawbacks of induction cooking?
- Precise temperature control (especially good for sauces and confections)
- More responsive than traditional gas or electric cooktops
- Safer, to some extent, especially because the cooktop is cool to the touch
- Cooler kitchens: an induction cooktop heats the cooking vessel, not the air
- Can be expensive to go from a traditional range to an induction cooktop
- There’s a definite learning curve since induction cooktops heat fast and can burn easily
- Less laidback feel: you can’t sip wine or chop onions as something heats up on an induction cooktop because even the contents of a pan will be hot almost immediately
- You may not be able to use your favorite pots and pans on an induction cooktop without a converter piece called an induction interface disk
Every type of cooking has its quirks. For gas, it’s praying the igniter works each time and that the pilot lights haven’t gone out. For traditional electric stovetops: making sure the burners are jiggled back in properly after every cleaning.
When it comes to induction cooking, chefs report that some induction cooktops produce a clicking or buzzing noise. For some, this is negligible, while others find it extremely irritating.
For the most part, noise associated with induction cooking isn’t actually caused by the cooktop itself. It occurs when certain cookware is charged by the alternating currents of the electromagnet in the cooktop.
Cast iron and stainless steel cookware won’t produce a noise, but “clad” cookware, which is made of different metals layered together, can. The metals in clad cookware can respond differently to the electromagnetism, causing each layer to vibrate at a different frequency at a molecular level. Layers of a single pan moving at different frequencies may result in a humming or buzzing that some can ignore, but others detest.
Additionally, chefs fond of Asian cuisine report that flat induction cooktops are not compatible with traditional woks.
To cook with a wok on an induction cooktop, you’ll either have to use a flat bottom wok (not a traditional wok with a curved bottom) like this cast iron piece by Lodge or purchase a special induction cooktop with a curved wok burner. A utilitarian model by Adcraft Heavy Duty Stainless Steel Countertop Wok Induction Cooker, 120 Volts — 1 each. runs $250 whereas fancier models can run well over $1,500.
If you’re ready to take the plunge and start induction cooking, you’ll first have to decide whether you’re replacing your current cooktop, or going to buy a separate induction burner to use in your current kitchen setup.
Once you have your induction cooktop, decide which cookware you can use on it and start experimenting. There’s a learning curve, but given induction cooking’s benefits, you’re sure to find it’s perfect for some of your favorite recipes.