How induction works
Beneath the ceramic surface of an induction stove top are cooking units that produce a high-frequency, electromagnetic field. That field creates a loop of electricity inside a pot or pan that causes it to heat up. Induction relies on a magnetic field, so it can only affect magnetic, or convection-capable cookware, such as cast iron, steel and some stainless-steel. It doesn't work on aluminum, copper, glass and ceramic cookware.
The advantages of induction cooking
Speed: Water boils about twice as quickly as on a conventional cooktop. One 2.8 kilowatt induction burner can bring 2 gallons of water to boil in 14 minutes, versus 24 minutes for a 12,500 BTU gas burner.
Adjustability: The heat can be adjusted instantly and in very fine increments, with no hot spots. It’s very easy to adjust from a boil to a simmer, for example. This feature allows you to more easily perform delicate tasks requiring low settings, such as melting chocolate and warming milk.
Ease of cleaning: The induction stove top’s continuous surface is simple to clean. The cooktop doesn’t heat up, so spills won’t burn onto the unit, making them easier to wipe up.
Energy efficiency: Up to 90 percent of the energy generated actually goes toward cooking the food, compared with 55 percent for gas cooktops and 65 percent for electric units. Stoves, in general, cost consumers very little to operate (about $13/year, according to theinductionsite.com), so the greatest potential for saving energy is that induction cooking does not heat up the kitchen, which keeps the home’s air conditioning unit from turning on.
Safety: Induction can’t harm paper, cloth, or skin. The cooktop stays cool while the pan heats up. While other smooth-top units remain hot—and dangerous for potential burning—for a time after removing cookware from the burner, induction cooktops will be much cooler to the touch.
The disadvantages of induction
Cost: Pricing is still higher than traditional stovetops, but small portable units are reasonably priced. The demand for induction cooktops is growing. Internationally, induction cooking has been widely used for 40 years. Because of the potential for energy savings and the obvious safety advantages, consumers are looking more seriously at these units. As with any new technology, prices started high but are dropping as more consumers purchase them. Cooktop units start at about $1,000 and full stove/oven units begin at about $1,500. However, it is possible to start out small; some portable one-and two-burner units cost less than $100. These units can be used to cook at the table (think fondue), for camping (if electricity is available), or to add an extra burner while cooking a holiday meal.
Cookware: If you have cast iron, you’re all set, but your steel and stainless steel cookware may or may not work, depending on how it was made. Glass, copper, and aluminum won’t heat up at all when placed on the stove, and some stainless steel cookware will heat, while others won’t. The best way to tell if you’ll need new cookware is to test what you have with a magnet. If it can’t hold a magnet strongly, you’ll need to buy new pots and pans.
My experience, by Smart Choices editor Kathy Eastman
I purchased an inexpensive tabletop induction unit online ($65 included shipping). The unit boils water almost instantly, and while making a veggie dish (shown in the photo), the onions and peppers began sizzling immediately after I turned the unit on. I marvel at how the pot stays cool until long into the cooking process, and the unit (beyond where the pot touches it) and the surrounding countertop both remain cool to the touch. I can easily adjust the cooking temperature, with a nearly instant reaction in the food cooking.
The one disappointment: My "regular"cookware doesn't work on the unit. I do have a few cast-iron pots, which work on the stove, however. The unit is most useful when I'm cooking for company and need an extra burner, and whenever I cook soups, stews, and roasts with my cast-iron pots.
For more information
- This GE site has basic information on induction cooking. Of particular interest: the videos (click on the Videos section in the middle of the page) to see how induction works, watch a pot of water boil within seconds and observe how an ice cube does not melt while sitting on the burner next to a pan of boiling water.
- Best Reviews recently rated inexpensive portable induction cooktop units.
- Consumer Reports recently reported on induction cooking and rated induction cooktops and ranges.