Should you make the switch to induction? If you currently have an electric cooktop or range, it's a no-brainer: yes, you should absolutely make the switch, because induction is better in every way.
If you currently have a gas range, it's a harder choice because an induction cooktop can be expensive--and may cost more to run than natural gas.
In this article, we discuss the pros and cons of induction to help you decide if induction is the right choice for you.
How Does Induction Work?
Here's a short video that shows how induction heating works:
Induction cooktops use a conventional electric hookup (most commonly a 240V hookup and 50-amp wiring), but they do not actually produce heat. Rather, the heat is a result of magnetic induction.
An induction burner is a copper coil which becomes magnetic when electricity is passed through it (commonly known as an "electromagnet"). When a ferrous (that is, magnetic) pan is placed on the burner, the pan completes a magnetic circuit. Then heat is produced by the pan's resistance to the magnetism, not the magnetism itself. (See this Wikipedia article for more information.)
The heat created is instantaneous. This is what makes induction cooking so fast and why water boils so quickly (almost twice as fast as gas in some models), which is what induction is best known for. The heat also adjusts instantaneously and stops instantly when it's switched off. This rapid response is also what makes induction cooktops so precise and efficient.
Note also that the heat is produced only in the pan, not in the burner itself. This is why induction cooktops don't get overly hot--the heat that's there is primarily from the hot pan, and not the burner itself. This characteristic has a lot of positive implications, which are discussed below.
Induction cooking has been around for decades. The first patents were issued in the early 1900s, and induction cooktops hit the mass market in the 1970s.
Today, most major appliance manufacturers have an induction line, and most cookware manufacturers make induction-compatible cookware. Induction ranges and cooktops still comprise a small segment of the American market--somewhere around 7%--but their popularity is growing, and this induction trend is expected to continue as prices continue to fall.
Precise and Responsive
Induction cooktops are both precise and responsive. This is partly because all the heat goes directly into the pan (very little heat loss), and partly because of the nature of induction, which is instantaneous. Serious cooks have always preferred gas to electric stovetops for the superior heat control--because electric burners take longer to come to temperature and can linger at that temp for a long time before cooling down--but induction is even better. Heat adjustment is so quick and so precise that induction is a completely different ball game than other cooking methods. People usually find they have a learning curve with their new induction cooktop because of its amazing speed and precision.
For example, you can't turn a burner on to medium high and let a pan heat with some oil in it while you get your ingredients out of the fridge. That oil will be hot in seconds, so you have to have your ingredients ready to go.
Excellent Low-Temperature Control
Most people (and review sites) praise induction for its lightning fast heating. As great as that is (and it really is!), we really love the excellent low-temperature control of induction. Induction heat can be precisely controlled to temps as low as 80F.
Try doing that with a gas stove!
What does this mean? Well, if you're heating delicate food on a gas stove or want to keep something warm, you have to constantly monitor it, maybe removing the pan repeatedly or turning the burner off and on to keep it from getting too hot. You've done this so often, it's automatic. You probably don't even think about it anymore--or think that there might be a better way.
But there is.
Induction burners are capable of precise low temperature control. Most full-sized cooktops (and some portables) have a "Keep Warm" setting that really works; you don't have to worry about food burning or the bottom of the pan scorching. It's a great feature that doesn't get talked about a lot because people are so impressed with how fast induction works. But the low temp control is an even neater capability, because no other cooking technology does this as well.
Gas will never be able to function as well at low settings because the flame, even a small one, is too hot; even high-end gas stoves that can cycle the flame on and off at simmer temps are going to run hot-cold, hot-cold to maintain a simmer; this is better than a gas flame that doesn't cycle, but it's not as good as a steady, constant temperature.
Electric stoves may do this better than gas, but few of them can go as low in temp as induction, plus they lack all the other great features of induction.
So if low temperature control is important to you, induction is the best choice.
(Note that this is not the case with inexpensive portable induction cookers, which have notoriously bad low temperature control. They do not have the sophisticated heat controls that full-sized induction cooktops and some expensive portables have.)
Induction Cooktops Are the Safest Type of Cooktop
When discussing pros and cons of induction cooktops, safety is one of the areas where induction cooktops really shine.
Induction cooking is inherently safer than other methods because the burners don’t get hot, the pans do. You can see this in the image above: the egg in the pan is cooking, while the egg on the burner is not.
In addition, induction cooktops and ranges have a number of safety features such as pot sensors, auto shutoff, control locks, and timers to ensure a safe cooking environment.
There's also no open flame as with gas, and no fumes given off (gas burners give off small amounts of carbon monoxide and other unhealthy compounds).
So for overall kitchen safety, you can not beat induction.
There are a couple of other issues to think about, though...
The magnetic force of induction can interfere with some pacemaker operation. This isn't because induction is dangerous. It's because the magnetism can interfere with the pacemaker's operation.
Whether this is a concern depends on the type of pacemaker involved. If this is an issue for you, consult your doctor. He/she will be able to tell you whether or not your pacemaker will be safe around an induction cooktop.
If you or someone in your household has a pacemaker, consult your doctor before purchasing an induction cooktop.
Some people are concerned about the radiation that an induction burner gives off. It's true that an induction stove gives off some radiation; this is true for all electrical appliances, and it's unavoidable in the modern world. Induction hasn't been studied at great lengths because it's a fairly new technology. But from what we know about the electromagnetic spectrum and what we know from the tens of thousands of studies done on other radiation-emitting objects (from power lines to cell phones), we can say with assurance that induction cooktops are safe.
For more information about this, check out the article Is Induction Cooking Safe?, where we go into pretty extensive detail on this topic (probably more than you want to know).
Because the pan and not the burner is heated, induction cooking is extremely efficient. In fact, it is the most efficient way to cook, with less heat loss than both electric and gas (gas, by the way, is the least efficient).
This may not result in a noticeable difference in your power bill, but then again it may. But even if it doesn't, it feels good to know you're using the most efficient type of energy possible to heat your food.
Little Residual Heat
Because of the remarkable efficiency of induction cooking and because only the pans get hot (not the burners), there is very little residual heat. This has a few important implications.
A Cooler Kitchen
If having a cool kitchen is important to you, induction is the way to go. Even if its efficiency doesn't save you a noticeable amount, the cooler kitchen will save you dollars on your cooling bill in the summer.
If you can't stand the heat, get an induction cooktop.
Possibly No Need for a Vent
Some people say that because induction is so much cooler than other cooking methods, they haven't found the need to invest in a range hood or venting system. However, the vent carries cooking odors out of the house and isn't just for cooling.
This is an interesting point nevertheless. If you don't already have a proper venting system and don't want to install one, you should definitely look into induction.
With their smooth glass surface and lack of knobs (in many cases), induction cooktops look great.
They add a modern flair to a kitchen and blend in seamlessly with the countertop. This lack of surface and controls makes the kitchen space feel larger and airier.
Ranges can also be very modern-looking, especially if they are slide-in rather than freestanding, though the freestanding can also look very fresh.
Induction cooktops and stoves are, if nothing else, sleek. They work in just about any decor, whether it's ultra-modern minimalist or farmhouse traditional.
And because they're so easy to clean, they make it easy to keep your kitchen looking great.
You may be able to get this look with conventional electric, but it lacks the "cool" factor, and certainly lacks the usability.
Easy to Clean
Last but certainly not least: One of the greatest things about induction cooking is how easy it is to keep the cooktop clean. Because no matter how much you might love to cook, you probably don't like the cleaning up afterward.
Why is induction the cleanest way to cook?
- The cooktop itself generates very little heat, so food and cooking splatters won't cook onto the surface and can be wiped off right away.
- With everything integrated into the glass-ceramic top, you only have one surface to keep clean--no burners or knobs to futz with.
- Because so little heat is generated, you can put paper towels or newspapers on the surface while you cook to collect spatters! So if you're doing something messy, the paper will soak up most of the mess. Here's a youtube.com video that demonstrates the paper-under-the-pan technique that is only possible with induction cooking:
We also have to look at the cons when considering induction cooktop pros and cons...
Induction ranges and cooktops tend to cost more than electric or gas technology, and is likely the reason they've been slow to catch on in the U.S. as a standard cooking technology. In the past couple of years, though, prices have been falling. You can now get an induction cooktop or range for not much more than conventional electric or gas, and in some cases even less. (Frigidaire and LG both have offerings at a great price.) You can also get a portable induction burner for less than $100 if you want to try induction out before investing in a full-sized cooktop. However, keep in mind that the inexpensive portables don't have the power, precision, and low-temp capability that a full-sized cooktop will have.
You also need to have induction-compatible cookware to use with an induction cooktop, so if you don't already have cast iron or compatible clad cookware, you'll have to invest in some.
Require Special Cookware
As already mentioned, you need induction-compatible cookware to use an induction stove--non-magnetic cookware doesn't work (the burners won't come on). So this is an added expense if you don't already have it.
Most new cookware, unless it is solid copper or aluminum, is induction-compatible. So although many people think this is a big concern, if you've bought a set of cookware in the last 5 years, it's probably induction-compatible.
Although "glass" cooktops are made of a durable glass-ceramic composite, they will scratch and even crack if you scrape a rough pot across the surface (cast iron, we're looking at you) or set a heavy pot down too hard. Glass-ceramic cooktops have been around for awhile now, and they look good and work great. But you do have to be careful with them.
The great thing about an induction cooktop is that you can protect it with paper towels or newspapers, which not only soak up spills but also prevent the surface from getting scratched. You may not want to do this every time you cook, but if you're using an old cast iron skillet with a rough bottom, you can lay down paper first to protect your cooktop surface, as shown in the video above.
Try doing that on a gas stove!
Induction Cooktops Have a Learning Curve
One of the pros of induction cooking may also be a con. Because it's so new and different from gas and electric, using induction can require a bit of a learning curve.
Induction units can seem quirky at first: requiring special cookware, being fussy about pan size, and shutting off automatically if you remove the pot for more than a few seconds.
Here are the biggest learning-curve issues with induction:
- Heat: You may need some time to get a feel for just 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.
- Touchpad controls. The touchpad controls are great in a lot of ways (their invisibility, for one thing), but they definitely take some getting used to if you've previously worked only with manual knobs. There's no getting around the fact that they're slower to operate. Some people really hate them, while others prefer them for the sleek appearance and ease of cleaning. There's a huge variety of touchpad designs, so be sure you get a cooktop that you find easy to use. (Having to scroll through a menu to change a setting can be a real pain when cooking.)
- Pan placement. For nearly all induction cooktops and ranges, your owner's manual will tell you that you should use the burner closest in size to your pan, and that the pan should be centered on the burner for best results. Why does it matter? It has to do with how the magnetic induction functions. If you use a pan too small for a burner or don't center it very well, the cooktop may not conduct as much power to the pan as it otherwise could. This isn't a hard thing to do, but you do have to remember that pan placement is more important with induction than with other cooking methods.
Induction Cooktops Lack the "Feel" of Gas
This isn't really a con; it's more of a personal preference thing. Some people don't like that there isn't much "tactile feedback" with induction burners. There's no flame and the burner doesn't glow, so the small indicator light is the only way you know a burner is "on." You may miss having that feedback when you cook, i.e., the glow of an electric burner or the flame of gas.
This is why Samsung put fake blue flames on their induction range--to provide some sort of feedback for people accustomed to cooking with gas.
Has this helped Samsung sell induction stoves? Probably--people love the "warmth" of it. Though for many people, the feedback is a non-issue, or enough is provided by the sound and smell of food sizzling in a pan.
Induction Cooktops Require Electrical Wiring If Converting from Gas
If you already have an electric range or cooktop, then you already have the right wiring for induction, so you can easily replace an electric range or cooktop with an induction one. But if you have a gas range and want to make the switch to induction, then you may have to have an electrician wire a 240V outlet into your kitchen. This would be yet another expense associated with converting to induction if you do so from gas.
Repairs Can Be Problematic
Statistically, induction doesn't break down more than regular electric stoves, so that isn't the issue. However, because induction is so new, some repair technicians may not have experience working on them. If you read reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, you'll see that this can be a real problem.
This will change as induction gets more popular, but right now, it can be an issue.
Also, if you have issues past the warranty period, repairs can be expensive. Any appliance with electronic controls can potentially cost a small fortune to repair. Sometimes, the repair costs nearly as much as replacing the unit.
This is not an issue exclusive to induction cooktops and stoves. All appliances with electronic controls and microprocessors can be costly to repair. It is something to consider when buying any new appliance in today's market. Unfortunately, electronic controls are becoming more common, and you may not have another option within a few years.
Our advice here is to always, always buy the extended warranty for any major appliance, and make sure you can get service in your area for the brand you buy.
Some people complain that their induction burners sometimes hum or buzz. Our research shows that this can be caused by a couple of things:
- The fan inside the cooktop that cools the electromagnets. All induction cooktops have fans to keep the internal components cool, and they run constantly during operation. 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, as their fans are made of cheap parts and not engineered for quiet operation.
- Cookware. Sometimes it's the pans you use that make buzzing or other noises. Usually, this is caused by warped bottoms or inexpensive clad cookware that may have some cladding separation going on. Sometimes it can occur if you're using a small pan on a big burner. If you have a buzzing issue, make sure your pans have flat, smooth bottoms, that the cladding is in good condition, and that the burner most closely matches the size of your pan. If none of these help, you may want to try different cookware.
The list of induction cooktop pros and cons is long; you can probably think of a few that we didn't. In the end, the best method of cooking is, more than anything, a personal choice: what you prefer is the best type of cooktop for you.
However, because induction is relatively new to the American market and a lot of people don't know much about it, you owe it to yourself to find out if it's something you would like in your kitchen. If all you have is an electric hookup, induction is the fix that will give you the response and precision of gas: better than gas, actually.
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