(Updated January 2018) There are a lot of advantages to cooking with induction. If you’ve been thinking about making the switch to induction cooking but have had a hard time figuring out whether it’s worth it or not, you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to help you find your way through the maze that is the induction market today and find out the real advantages of induction cooking!
Whether you’re remodeling your kitchen, replacing an old stove, looking for a convenient portable cooker, or just want to know more about the technology, this article will help you sort it all out. From the basics on how induction cooking works to its main advantages and drawbacks, you’ll find it all here. And if you don’t, feel free to ask a question in the comments section or email us. We will do our best to answer your questions ASAP!
Note: Check out our other articles on induction cooking:
How Does Induction Cooking Work?
The simplest answer is that induction burners are just big ol’ magnets (though powerful ones). More precisely, they are electromagnets: an induction burner is a large coil of wire (or several tiny coils of wire which operate in sync) that, when alternating current is passed through it, creates a magnetic field. This field does not, in itself, generate heat. Rather, heat is generated by the attraction between the ferrous metal in the cookware and the alternating current in the element. In other words, the magnetic cookware induces heat (and yes, this is where the term “induction” originates).
The really amazing thing to understand about this is that it is the pot, not the stove, that does the cooking. Remove the pot and the reaction stops instantaneously. The overall result of this is cooler, more efficient, and safer cooking, all of which is discussed in more detail below.
There’s more that could be said about induction technology, but it's not necessary to understand all the science behind it in order to appreciate it. The most important thing to remember here is that if you have electricity, you can have an induction stove. If you want more details, you could do Google searches on topics like induction cooking, electromagnetism, and heat transfer (these Wikipedia links are a great start). But you really don’t need to know any of that stuff in order to use induction.
Is Induction Cooking Safe?
Safety is one of the great advantages to cooking with induction. Cooler burners and built-in features like burner lock and auto-off (after a period of inactivity or because of overheating) make induction the safest cooking technology available.
Over the years, however, concerns have been raised in two areas: induction stoves are said to emit dangerous levels of electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs), and to interfere with pacemakers.
Could the magnetic field of an induction cooktop interfere with pacemaker operation? Yes, maybe. It depends on a number of factors that are beyond the scope of our expertise. If this is a concern for you, consult a doctor before investing in any induction cooking device (portable, range, or cooktop).
As for EMF emission, our contention is that induction technology is completely safe, and does not cause harm to humans. However, this is a complex and highly controversial topic. So much so that rational kitchen decided it required a more in-depth discussion.
Is Induction Better than Gas or Electric?
The answer to this question is largely subjective. Some people will never give up their beloved gas stoves, and some will prefer electric for reasons we may never understand. You will have to arrive at your own conclusion through research and knowing what best fits your personal style. However, for many people who don’t have access to gas, the advantages to cooking with induction provide an option for them to experience the precision and instantaneous control of a gas cooktop--with less messiness and even more accurate control.
So for us, the upshot is this: If you have a gas line, you have a difficult decision to make. If you do not have a gas line, induction is a no-brainer!
Which Induction Cooktops Are Best?
Again, this is largely a matter of preference. We give our favorites and explain why we picked them--but maybe you have different needs and preferences. If so, ask your questions in the comments section below, do some more Google searching, or go try one out in person. Only you can decide what best fits your needs, lifestyle, and budget.
What Are Some Features of Induction Cooking?
Here are the main advantages to cooking with induction. You may think of others, but these are the ones we think are the most useful.
The biggest complaint people have about conventional electric cooking is its slowness to respond. This is not the case with induction cooking. In fact, induction cooking gives you the best of both worlds: the responsiveness of gas, and the convenience of electric. Because the heating elements themselves do not retain heat, there is less residual heat even than with gas--this makes induction cooking even more precise and easier to control.
Because the pans heat and the burners do not, cooking with induction is more efficient than both gas and conventional electric cooking. Some sources say induction is up to 90% more efficient. However, according to Wikipedia, a 2014 study done by the U.S. Department of Energy found that induction had 70.7-71.9% efficiency, electric coil had 71.9%, and gas had 43.9%. This means that of the heat generated by each element, this is the percentage that actually heated the food (rather than the burner, the cookware, and the ambient air). While these things can be difficult to measure with complete accuracy, this study suggests that induction cooking is indeed an efficient way to cook--but in reality, about the same as conventional electric.
Does this make cooking with induction less expensive? There are mixed reviews on this topic. Some manufacturers claim huge savings on your energy bills, but most users say the difference is small or even unnoticeable. However, because induction cooking is faster, more precise, and cooler than gas or electric, it certainly provides other efficiencies. It might get you in and out of the kitchen faster, it won't heat up your kitchen as much, and you will probably use less energy even if you don’t notice a huge difference in your bill. These are certainly measurable advantages of induction cooking!
A Cooler Kitchen
Because induction heats pans and not burners, kitchens stay cooler. The heat lost to ambient air during induction cooking is negligible, which keeps kitchens more comfortable to work in. You may also save on other costs such as ventilation, which isn’t as necessary when cooking with induction because of the lower heat loss to the environment.
Easier to Clean
And here we get into the true beauty and functionality of induction cooking. After all, no matter how much you may love cooking, it’s unlikely that you love the cleaning up afterward. Induction cooking is by far the cleanest and easiest way to cook. Here’s why:
- Because the cooktop itself generates very little heat, food and cooking splatters won't cook onto the surface. This makes it very easy to clean.
- Most induction cooktops and ranges have touch controls built into the glass top, so you only have one surface to keep clean--no burners or knobs to futz with. And the only crevice for food to get into is the one around the edge (which some models do not even have!).
- Also because there is so little heat generated, you can actually place paper towels or newspapers on the surface while you cook! So if you're doing something messy, the paper will soak up most of the splatters. Here's a youtube.com video that demonstrates the paper-under-the-pan technique that is only possible with induction cooking:
It's Safer Than Gas or Electric
Induction cooking is inherently safer because burners don’t get hot, pans do. In addition, induction products have a number of safety features such as pot sensors, auto shutoff, control locks, and timers to ensure a safe cooking environment. Burners also will not turn on without an induction-compatible pot on them--but even if they did, they wouldn’t get hot enough to burn anyone’s little fingers.
The "Cool" Factor
Kitchens are no longer just utilitarian rooms used to store food and make meals. They have become the modern showcase room for design, and in large part a measure of how much status a house has. Being cutting edge technology gives induction status by default. So much so, in fact, that many people still don’t know what it is--but give them a demo on how fast it can boil a quart of water, and they’ll walk away shaking their heads in wonder and envy.
Induction cooktops and stoves are, if nothing else, sleek. The smooth top, with its incorporated controls, is the poster child of culinary modernity. Sure, you can get this look with conventional electric. But it just doesn’t have the same cool factor--or the same usability.
What Are the Disadvantages of Induction Cooking?
Although we believe the advantages of cooking with induction outweigh the disadvantages, here are some things to consider:
Induction products cost more than comparable electric or gas technology, and is likely the reason it's been slow to catch on in the U.S. as a standard cooking technology. (This is not the case with portable induction cookers, however, which have sold by the millions--but unless they're very high end, they aren't robust enough to replace a gas or electric stovetop.) However, the prices have come down in the past few years, and you can now get an induction cooktop or range for not much more than conventional electric. You can also get a portable induction burner for less than $100 if you want to try it out before making a bigger investment.
You may also have to invest in induction-compatible cookware, although you are likely to already own at least one or two pans that will work (cast iron, for example).
Some people complain that their induction burners sometimes hum or buzz. This is usually caused by the fan inside the cooktop that cools the electromagnets. The noise is often compared to the cooling fan on a computer. It might take some getting used to, but generally isn’t a deal breaker for most people. Inexpensive portable induction burners are usually the worst offenders.
Certain pans might also cause an induction burner to emit a high-pitched squealing sound. This can be caused by warped pan bottoms, and it also seems most common on inexpensive portable induction burners. I use stainless All-Clad cookware on a high-end portable and have never had buzzing or squealing in more than 5 years of using induction.
Cooking with induction is a new technology for many Americans (not the case in Europe, India, and the Far East, where induction cooking is extremely popular), and it has options unavailable on either conventional electric or gas. Induction units can seem quirky at first: requiring magnetic cookware, being fussy about pan size, and shutting off automatically if you remove the pot for more than a few seconds. Also, the bridge element and power boost features unique to induction cooktops require some getting used to. It may take awhile before you stop slapping your head and thinking, “Oh, shucks, I could have used power boost to boil that water!” or “I forgot about the bridge element for my griddle this morning!” You may also need some time to just get a feel for how fast and precise induction cooking really is, particularly if you’ve switched from electric. Induction is so fast that if you think you can walk away from a heating pan like you do with gas or conventional electric, you're bound to burn a few things before you know better!
None of these things are really disadvantages--in fact, they are more advantages of cooking with induction--but they do have a learning curve.
Touchpad controls are great in a lot of ways--they look great, for example, with an uber modern aesthetic. But they can be slower to operate, and maybe even annoying if you’ve been turning a knob all your life. Touchpads are, in my opinion, one of the great disadvantages of all computerized appliances. They are almost always more cumbersome to use, and if anything goes wrong with them, they can cost hundreds of dollars to repair.
However, computerized appliances are the future. In another decade, you probably won’t even be able to find an old-fashioned knob on a stove, washing machine, or dishwasher. And, the interfaces continue to get better--that is, faster and more intuitive to use.
When buying any touchpad-controlled appliance, we strongly suggest that you make sure you can live with the interface. If you just try it once, you might think, “Oh, this is easy to use! No problem!” But stop and think about how you will use the appliance in real life. How long does it take to power on? How many presses does it take to adjust the setting? How often will you have to make several adjustments at once, and how long will this take? All of these are important factors for everyday use.
Probably the biggest disadvantage of cooking with induction is that it requires induction-compatible cookware. Magnetic cookware, that is. This means that aluminum, old stainless steel, and copper are all unusable. Because these aren't magnetic metals, they simply won’t get hot.
The truth is, most of us already own some induction-compatible cookware. Cast iron, including enameled cast-iron, works with induction. And most new stainless steel cookware (that made in the last 5 years or so) has a ferrous outer layer that makes it excellent for induction cooking (many All-Clad lines, for example). Use a magnet to check your pans: if it sticks, then the pan is induction compatible.
Most cookware manufacturers now list whether a pan is induction compatible. If they don’t, you can ask, or use the magnet test.
For more information, check out our article, A Guide to the Best Induction Cookware.
The Glass Surface Can Scratch or Crack
Induction cooktops are made of a tough, heat-tempered glass-ceramic composite that is much more durable than glass alone. (This is true even of the lowest end portable burners.) However, they can scratch or crack, so you have to be careful with them. For example, you don’t want to do a lot of scraping of pans along the surface or set a pan down too heavily.
There is, however, an extremely simple fix to prevent scratches: lay a paper towel, newspaper, or piece of parchment paper under the pan! You can do this on induction, remember, because the burners don’t get hot (see the video above). Not only will you eliminate scratching, you will also make cleanup as easy as throwing away the paper towel.
Burners Don’t Turn On or Stay On
In most cases, these problems go back to the learning curve issue. If you place the wrong-sized pan on a burner, or an empty pan, then the burner may not turn on; it might flash at you or simply do nothing. For many induction burners, the pan has to be within an inch of the size of the burner. And some burners won't turn on if a pan is too small, particularly if the pan's magnetic properties aren't very strong. Sometimes, people complain that the burner just turns itself off without warning. But they may have forgotten that they lifted the pan up, or set a timer for the burner, or that the burner will shut off if it overheats, or if it detects a spill--a feature that can sometimes be triggered by small amounts of moisture on the cooktop (like from steam condensation).
As neat (and safe) as these automatic features are, they really do require a learning curve. In most cases, complaints like this are the result of people not having fully learned how to use induction technology. And if they do indicate a malfunction, it could be related to electrical wiring, a voltage surge, or the type of cookware you're using (cast iron, for example, can get very hot if left on an induction burner for a long time, and the burner may shut off to prevent overheating). Reading the manual might fix many of these “mystery” issues.
"More to Go Wrong"
Because induction burners are electronically controlled, there's more to go wrong than there is with a gas stove. And when things do go wrong, the repairs can be expensive.
However, this is true of all new appliances. You're going to have to deal with this issue on washers, dryers, refrigerators, water heaters, furnaces, even cars. And it is also true for electric stoves and cooktops. So once again, if gas is an option for you, you may want to hold off on an induction stove or cooktop. But if an electric hookup is all you've got, the advantages of induction cooking really are a no-brainer.
Possible Resale Issues
Some people are concerned that induction will be a negative factor when selling their house. It's such a new technology that many people don't understand what it is, and they think they'd be stuck with a yucky electric range instead of a responsive gas one. We think this is a moot point--as long as you let your potential buyers know that you've got kitchen technology even better than gas.
There are many advantages to cooking with induction. It's a fast, easy, convenient way to cook. The technology is still a little spendy, but most people who try it love it, especially if their only other choice is conventional electric cooking.