Home cooks are fortunate to have three solid options for cooking methods in ranges and cooktops—gas, standard electric and induction. While induction ranges make up less than 5 percent of all electric ranges, according to AHAM factory shipment data, that percentage has grown in recent years. In 2022, induction cooktops made up about one-third of all electric cooktop shipments, a 6% increase over the previous year.
Induction technology is not new—it was introduced publicly at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair—but many consumers still are not as familiar with induction cooking as they are with its gas and electric counterparts. We have put together a primer on what you need to know about induction cooking if you are thinking about making the switch from gas or electric.
How Induction Cooking Works
Induction ranges and cooktops look a lot like typical glass-top electric models, but they generate heat differently. Induction cooking takes place on a flat glass surface that is equipped with heating coils that create electromagnetic energy. This field induces electric currents in the pans. These currents are activated by iron in cookware. Restated another way, induction cooktops use those electromagnetic fields to create heat in the cookware by generating a magnetic field that induces electrical currents in the metal of the cookware, creating heat. In other words, the cookware itself becomes the heat source, rather than the cooktop.
Electric cooktops, on the other hand, use electric resistance coils or heating elements underneath a ceramic or glass surface to generate heat. The cooktop surface gets hot, which in turn conducts heat to the cookware. Some infrared transfer from the elements through the glass also helps increase the heat of the pan on the glass.
Gas cooktops burn natural gas or propane to create a flame, and the heat from the flame is transferred to the cookware via direct contact with the flame.
With induction, when the iron makes contact with the magnetic field, the iron particles of the pot or pan agitate, causing the pan to heat up quickly while the cooktop remains cool. The induction process occurs quickly; partly because there is no waiting time for a burner to heat up first. Plus, because of the direct transfer from the magnetic field to the iron in the pan, there is hardly any loss of heat, so whatever is being cooked heats up quickly! And only the pan, and what is in it, gets hot.
When using the appropriate type and size of pan, induction ranges and cooktops heat faster than their electric and gas counterparts, leading to quicker cooking times.
The Induction Cooking Experience
Now that you know a little bit about how induction cooking works, here are six ways your cooking experience might change once you make the switch to induction from gas or electric:
- Induction cooktops maintain a cool cooking surface. With induction, only the pan and what’s in it get hot. The heating element is not exposed, so there are no fire hazards or risk of burns from the stovetop itself. (Gas and electric ranges and cooktops are also very safe when used as recommended.)
- Like other smooth-top electrics, induction surfaces are easy to wipe down right after cooking because the surface remains relatively cool. Due to the cooler temps on the glass surface on an induction unit, any spills will not burn onto it. (Gas and electric ranges and cooktops are also simple to clean with the proper technique.)
- While it is a popular misconception that you will need to buy all new cookware when you switch to induction, the reality is that most cookware, especially stainless steel and cast-iron cookware, is compatible with induction, as it may already contain iron. If you are shopping for cookware for induction cooktops, look for pots and pans marked ‘induction-compatible’ or ‘induction safe.’ Also, cookware with a flat bottom will provide the best cooking results.
- Cookware needs to be the correct size and needs to be placed in the center of the heating element in order for it to be properly activated. The pot can’t be too small, off-center, or wobbly, so flat-bottomed pots and pans work best.
- While most induction cooktops have a setting that allows you to shake the
pan while cooking, the heating element can cut off prematurely, which can be frustrating until you get the hang of it.
- Induction cooktops sometimes cause a rattling, whirring, or humming sound as high energy transfers from the magnetic coil to the pan. This sound usually goes away when you turn down the heat or add food to the pot or pan, but it can be surprising (and annoying) for some users. There can also be a sound from the cooling fan for the electronics.
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