So you’re in the market for a new stovetop.
Sure, you love your Old Reliable and the classic, crusty patina it’s developed over meals past. But really, the fire department believes it’s time to give it up.
You’re looking for something modern, sleek and high tech. Something with some scientific flair.
After researching all kinds of stovetops, you’re now considering an induction range- one whose looks will wow your friends as well as your famous stir fry does.
Unlike the gas or electric stove that you might be used to, induction cooking work a little differently. They are a little more complex to understand and have their own little quirks you’ll have to deal with.
Luckily, we’re here with a quick guide to help you out.
What is induction cooking?
As its name suggests, induction cooking heats up your food by a process called induction heating. Normally, the heating devices around your kitchen use other processes to generate heat, like thermal conduction (gas/electric stoves). A flame heats the bottom of your pots or pans and they heat up. Simple.
In this case (and we’ll get to how it works below),an induction stove relies on a magnetic field to cause your cookware to heat up. There’s no heating element, burner or flame to worry about and the stovetop itself stays relatively cool the whole time.
How does induction cooking work?
Well, to begin with we should warn you there is a little bit of physics involved here so bear with us.
Put very simply, under your induction stovetop’s ceramic surface is a copper wire. Once you turn the induction stove on, it sends an alternating current (AC) of electricity through that wire. An alternating current, if you remember your high school physics, has a flow of electricity that goes back and forth rather than in one direction.
This alternating current, in turn, creates a little magnetic field that oscillates, meaning it changes its polarity from North-South to South-North and back again, over and over many times a second.
When you put cookware that’s ferromagnetic (attracted to magnets) on top of the induction stove, that’s when the fun begins. This rapidly switching magnetic field induces small loops of electric currents in your cookware, called eddy currents.
Because your cookware is probably not a great conductor of electricity (you’re not using cast iron to wire up your house after all), the energy is converted to heat and they start to heat up.
This is why only certain types of cookware can be used for induction cooking, they need to be ferromagnetic and resist an electrical current well enough to heat up. If they conduct electricity too well, they won’t heat up as much.
Benefits of Induction Cooking and Ranges
Induction cooking is a lot faster than traditional gas and electric stoves. The electromagnetic cycle is a lot faster at getting your cookware hot than gas and you don’t have to wait for any heating elements to get up to temperature like you do with electric stoves.
Generally speaking, it takes about half the time to boil water on an induction stove as a gas stove.
Induction Cooks More Evenly
Because your cookware is heating up, rather than sitting on a burner, it is less likely there will be any hotspots that can burn your food due to being in closer contact with the heat source.
Induction Ranges are Cool
And not just to look at.
Because the surface of the induction stove doesn’t get hot, you (or your kids) won’t burn your hands if they accidentally touch the cooktop.
They also won’t heat up your kitchen as much.
No residual heat
If you’ve ever turned off your burners, taken a quick call and returned to find a you’ve now scorched your steak well past medium rare, you’ve learned an important kitchen lesson – burners take time to cool down and will continue warming your cookware in the meantime.
Induction cooktops, in contrast, will turn off instantly when their electrical current is cut off. No electricity, no magnetic field.
Disadvantages of Induction Cooking
You can forget your range is on
With no flame or glow from electricity, it’s kind of hard to see if your induction stovetop is on. After all, you can’t exactly see a magnetic field.
Because the surface doesn’t get hot, you’re not likely to burn your house down. But you will run your electric bill up and may damage pots and pans if they’re left on.
Some models do have a visual glow added, but not all models have it, so do so be careful.
They can Interfere with Digital Thermometers
One odd thing with induction stoves is that they can interfere with digital thermometer readings due to the magnetic field. They can glitch out in many different ways, from freezing to rebooting to just give error readings.
The solution to this is to turn off the stove, or move your cookware away from it while measuring temperatures.
Induction stovetops are more fragile
Sure, induction stovetops look cool and sleek. But that coolness and sleekness is due to the flat ceramic cover over the induction coil. Ceramic is more fragile than what you might find on a gas or electric stovetop and if you drop a pot or pan it may crack or chip.
You’ll also need to clean them more regularly or the ceramic will stain.
You need induction cookware
This is the biggest downside of induction cooking, by far.
Due to the nature of induction heating, you need cookware that’s ferromagnetic (attracted to magnets). That means cookware that’s made of stainless steel, cast iron, enameled cast iron and the like.
Generally speaking, if you walk into a store with a fridge magnet and it sticks to the cookware’s base, it’s fine.
All this means some of your fancier cookware may not heat up on an induction stovetop. Notably this means copper, aluminum, ceramic and glass cookware won’t heat up to cook your food.
If you are a cooking enthusiast or have googled your pots and pans in the past, you may note an odd thing here.
Copper and aluminum tend to conduct heat quickly and evenly and are great for cooking on traditional stovetops, but won’t work on an induction at all.
Meanwhile, stainless and cast iron, which have low thermal conductivity and take a long time to heat up, work well.
If you want the best of both worlds, however, higher end cookware manufacturers now make induction ready copper and aluminum pans that have stainless steel clad or sandwiched between them.
How energy efficient is induction cooking?
Interestingly, induction cooking is generally more energy efficient than gas and electric ranges. More of the energy consumed is transferred to the cookware than gas or electric, giving them a higher energy efficiency rating than either gas or smooth top electric.
Essentially,induction stovetops heat food up far more quickly than other options, meaning they don’t have to be on as long and don’t consume as much electricity – better for your wallet, better for the environment.
In addition, unlike gas ovens, they don’t emit as much air pollution when cooking.
Steph Acevado Having previously worked as a line chef for almost 5 years, Steph is our go-to expert for all things food and meal prep related and is a self-described knife nerd. When she’s not helping people learn to prepare exquisite dinners at home, she’s probably serving up some hot pockets for her twin boys or jogging with her pup Moose around her house in upstate New York.