A very hot topic: everything you need to know about induction cooktops
Induction was first shown to the public at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. It was commercialized about two decades later and again in the 1970s, but was too expensive for most consumers. It then gained popularity outside the United States. As the technology became more widely understood and energy efficiency became more and more relevant, induction came back onto consumers’ radars. Style-wise, induction’s elegance is part of its appeal. Are the days of clunky stainless steel gas stoves with big knobs fading into the sunset?
The science of induction comes from the magnetic energy field created when an electric current is passed through coils of copper wire under a cooking surface. The energy is transferred directly to the magnetic cookware, causing it to heat up. The pan heats up, not the surface.
What you’ve probably heard about induction is that you need special cookware. “Special” means pots and pans should be magnetic, and you probably already have a few in your kitchen. (If a magnet sticks to the bottom of a pan, it will work with induction.) Stainless steel and cast iron, including enameled cast iron cookware, such as Le Creuset and Staub, work well. Materials not compatible with induction are aluminum, copper, glass and ceramic. Also, the pan should have a flat bottom, covering about three quarters of a cooktop element. (An induction cooktop has elements of different sizes, also called griddles.) A flat-bottom wok works well, but a round-bottom wok does not.
Jenny Tredeau, regional business development manager at Clarke, explains that induction is all about speed, performance and safety. At the Clarke showroom in Milford, Tredeau demonstrates the boiling water test: she takes two large saucepans, each half-full of water, and places one on an induction hob, the other on a gas burner, both set for maximum heat. Water in the induction pot boils quickly in half the time it puts on the gas burner. Think how fast you can bring pasta to the table! (The jet lag is even greater with an electric cooktop.)
In addition to the minutes saved, induction is better for the environment. According to Consumer Reports (2022), induction is 5-10% more efficient than conventional electric ranges and about three times more efficient than gas. Induction may soon be the inevitable best choice as some cities and towns in Massachusetts and other states begin banning natural gas lines for new residential construction.
The energy efficiency of induction comes from both less energy used and less energy wasted compared to gas and electric cooktops. Some of the heat generated by gas-fired flames and red-hot coils under an electrical surface heats the cooktop and dissipates into the air. With induction, the energy flows directly into the cookware. “The heat comes from the pan, which cooks your food,” says Tredeau. Without the creation or loss of residual heat, induction allows you to reduce your energy costs and have a cooler kitchen. Fans don’t have to work as hard.
Chefs’ attitudes toward induction have changed as technology has improved. Matt King, culinary director of PPX Hospitality Brands, owner of Smith & Wollensky, Legal Sea Foods and Strega Italiano, cites improvements in durability and cost to repair. “And they are more powerful than before,” he said.
While King Company kitchens across the country still use high-BTU gas burners, many have portable induction cooktops in prep areas. King says induction is more widely used in their restaurants in London and Taiwan to reduce both energy costs and heat generation in small kitchens.
King says one of the biggest benefits of induction is how quickly the heat adjusts. “It’s very easy, fast and very precise,” he says. “The gas will go down quickly, but you have to constantly judge the flame and how hot it is. With induction, you use one setting and it’s the same all the time.
Induction also earns points for safety. If there are no cooking utensils on a lit element, the sensors will detect this and automatically turn off. (There must be a magnetic connection for induction to work.) This eliminates the risk to gas and electric cooktop safety if a pan is removed and the cook forgets to turn off the burner. While the induction surface directly under a pan becomes hot due to the heated pan, the rest of the surface remains cool.
Cleaning is child’s play. The smooth glass surface is easier to clean than heavy metal grates on gas burners and the crevices around them. With hot electric and gas surfaces, boiling or splattering foods can burn and harden, requiring extra elbow grease to clean. Induction surfaces just need a quick wipe down with a sponge or towel.
If you’ve cooked primarily with gas, it takes some getting used to. There is no screaming flame: now we cook! You might be worried that without flames you can’t sear a thick steak well, but that’s not true. King reminds home cooks that “Not all gas ranges are created equal, it depends on the BTUs. Same with induction. If you have enough power, the food browns well. I was able to replicate everything I did on gas with induction.
What is true is that some of your habits will have to change. “You’re dealing with a more delicate surface,” King says. Aggressive shaking of pans, as cooks happily do on indestructible metal grates, will be a thing of the past. King suggests lifting the pan to shake it (easier if you have strong arms and wrists) or shaking the pan on the surface more carefully. Most glass cooktops, both induction and electric, have shatterproof glass; they can still crack, but can be replaced.
The disadvantages of induction are threefold. They are generally more expensive than electric hobs. Prices vary depending on hob size, manufacturer, wattage, additional features such as boost (a super-fast heating option) and materials. Generally speaking, a 30-inch induction cooktop can cost around $500 more than an electric cooktop, depending on the brand and where you buy it. For example, a recent search on the Home Depot website shows that a 30-inch Bosch electric cooktop starts at $1,049 and a 30-inch Bosch induction cooktop starts at $1,899. At Clarke, which offers the premium Wolf line, a 30-inch induction cooktop costs around $2,800, while a comparable 30-inch electric cooktop costs $2,360.
The other two downsides: You’ll need induction-friendly cookware, like cast iron and stainless steel. And there’s a slight buzz or buzz at higher settings, which comes from the vibration of the magnetic energy. (With the extractor fan running, you may not hear a thing.) You may also feel a slight vibration in the handle, but heavier, thicker pans minimize this.
Induction versus electricity is a simple comparison. In terms of performance, induction rules: it heats and cools faster, is more energy efficient, there is no residual surface heat, which makes it safer, it is more accurate, precise and responsive, and easier to clean. Tredeau says very few buyers go electric once they become familiar with induction.
If you want to try induction before you commit, you can purchase a small portable cooktop. There are affordable models to experiment with, and having an extra cooking surface can be useful when entertaining or bringing into a rental home. Better yet, borrow one. Many libraries lend “things” in addition to books. Brookline Libraries currently has six kits, each including an induction cooktop, skillet, pot and lid, along with instructions. (The organization Mothers Out Front originally partnered with the library to introduce induction cooking to the community.) Other libraries in the area also loan induction kits.
You can also visit your local appliance store or a Clarke showroom (Boston, Milford and South Norwalk, Connecticut) where you can learn about various cooking appliances and see how they work on “live” equipment. . Tredeau says you can even bring your favorite pans and spin them.
Lisa Zwirn can be contacted at email@example.com.
Lisa Zwirn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org