Is induction cooking better than gas?
It might not be for everybody, but you should know what it is and have a good idea of its pros and cons if you're in the market for a new stove or cooktop.
What Is Induction Cooking?
A Brief Lesson on Induction
Induction stoves look like smooth-top electric stoves and they use standard wiring for electric stoves (e.g., 40- or 50-amp wiring on a 240V hookup), but the similarity stops there.
An induction burner is an electromagnet, which heats ferrous (i.e., magnetic) metals that are placed on it. From Wikipedia:
In an induction cooktop ("induction hob" or "induction stove"), a coil of copper wire is placed under the cooking pot and an alternating current is passed through it. The resulting oscillating magnetic field induces a magnetic flux which repeatedly magnetises the pot, treating it like the lossy magnetic core of a transformer. This produces large eddy currents in the pot, which because of the resistance of the pot, heats it.
This is why you need induction-compatible cookware: it must contain ferrous metal to work with an induction burner. (More on this in a minute.)
Induction stoves and cooktops make up about 7 percent of the American market, but they are extremely popular in Europe, Australia, and the Far East. This is probably because natural gas is both more expensive and less available in those parts of the world than in the U.S.
Gas is induction's only real competitor. I'll explain why in more detail below.
Do PICs Use the Same Technology as Full-Sized Induction Cooktops?
Yes. In fact, an inexpensive portable induction cooktop (PIC) is an excellent way to introduce yourself to induction cooking. While it won't exactly mimic a high-quality, full-sized cooktop, it will give you a clear idea of how fast, powerful, and responsive induction cooking can be.
For more information on PICs, see The Best Portable Induction Burners.
Portable induction cooktops (PICs) can be either 1800 watts or 3500 watts. Most consumer-grade models are 1800 watts or less and require just a standard wall outlet (like this one and this one). Some PICs are 3500 watts and require a 240 volt outlet similar to the one required by a full-sized range or cooktop (like this one). 3500 watt PICs are more expensive and are typically used in commercial kitchens for their speed and durability--but they are not unheard of for home use. This 3000 watt Max Burton model, for example, is popular among home users who need a powerful, durable burner for various applications (home brewing, for example).
If Induction Is So Great, Why Isn't It More Popular?
Induction has been around for quite awhile. The first patents were issued in the early 1900s, and the first commercial induction stoves were marketed in the 1970s. Today induction is hugely popular in Europe, Australia, and the Far East, but in the United States, it comprises only about 7 percent of the market.
Why is this the case if induction cooking is better than gas?
One reason is that natural gas is cheap in the U.S., and it is expensive in other parts of the world.
Another reason is that induction cooktops are more expensive than gas and conventional electric cooktops. The prices have come down in recent years, and continue to come down. But induction is still usually a more expensive option than other cooking technology.
Yet another reason is simply what people are accustomed to. If you grew up with a gas stove, you probably want a gas stove. Induction is the new kid on the block here in the U.S., and while there are always early adapters, there will be more people who take the wait-and-see approach.
Is Induction Cooking Safe?
Yes, induction cooking is safe. That is, it is no more dangerous than any other appliance in your home, with one exception: If you have a pacemaker, you should consult with your doctor before buying an induction cooktop or stove. The magnetic fields of an induction appliance may interfere with the operation of certain pacemakers. Typically, the pacemaker must be within a couple of centimeters of the burner for a long time for interference to occur. Nevertheless, it is always best to check with your doctor if this is a concern.
Some people also worry about the electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emitted by induction stoves. However, there is no evidence that they are dangerous to living tissue.
For a detailed analysis of this issue, see Is Induction Cooking Safe?
Do Professional Kitchens Use Induction Cooking?
Yes, they do.
Induction burners provide extremely fast and precise heating, so they're ideal for the fast-paced restaurant kitchen environment.
They also have almost zero ambient heat, which helps keeps restaurant kitchens cool.
In this short video, three famous chefs (Rick Bayless, Ming Tsai, and Fabio Viviani) discuss their love of induction technology:
Pros of Induction Cooking
Induction cooktops adjust heat instantaneously--even faster than gas. Furthermore, because all of the heat is in the cookware itself, there is almost no residual heat in the burner when you turn off an induction hob. The cook has pretty much complete control over the heat going into the food.
This fast response time is what makes it possible for induction to boil water almost twice as fast as most gas stoves, and for pots to stay on burners after you've turned them off without any worries about having to scrape burnt food off the bottoms.
We at The Rational Kitchen think that induction has been marketed all wrong in the U.S. The primary thing you hear about is "how fast it boils water." Yes, induction burners are lightning fast--faster than gas, and much faster than electric--and this is a great advantage.
But where induction truly shines is in its precision. You not only get superior performance at the high end, but also at the low end: gas can not hold a low temperature uniformly for a long period of time. To do so, they have to cycle on and off because of their inability to work below a certain temperature. When you consider that natural gas burns at a temperature of about 3500F (from Wikipedia), you begin to see the problem.
A quality induction burner, however, can hold any temperature at which it is set. So you can rest assured that a "Keep Warm" setting will do just that without the bottom of the pot scalding.
So yes, super fast water boiling is cool, but the ability to control at low temps is, for a serious cook, even cooler.
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%. That is, 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).
This is difficult to measure with complete accuracy. However, this study suggests that induction is indeed a far more efficient way to cook than gas.
Does this make cooking with induction less expensive in the long run? Some manufacturers claim induction cooking results in huge savings on your energy bills, but most owners say the difference is small. And because natural gas is so cheap in the U.S., gas is still probably cheaper to operate.
Yet because induction cooking is faster and cooler than gas or electric, it provides other efficiencies. It might get you in and out of the kitchen faster. Also, it won't heat up your kitchen as much, so you may not need to run an air conditioner in the summertime to keep the kitchen at a comfortable working temperature. You may also not need ventilation--a range hood--over the cooktop itself, because induction gives off so little residual heat. Many people with induction opt not to use one.
Cleanup Is, As They Say, a Breeze
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 bevel 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:
Here's a short video that demonstrates this amazing property of induction cooking:
Induction Cooking is Safer than Cooking with Gas
Induction cooking is inherently safer than gas because the burners don’t get hot; the 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 little fingers.
The "Cool" Factor
Kitchens no longer are simply utilitarian rooms used to store food and make meals. They have become a showcase for design and a measure of how much status a house (and its owner) has.
The cutting edge technology of induction gives it 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 doesn’t have the same cool factor, because it doesn't have the same usability.
Cons of Induction Cooking
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 tens of millions--but unless they're very high end, they aren't robust enough to replace a gas or electric stovetop.)
However, prices have fallen in recent years. Today, 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. (This Duxtop model is an excellent choice for just under $100.)
Also, because induction is efficient, you could save money on your electric bill--not just from the cooktop itself, but from the lower cooling and ventilation requirements that come with induction cooking.
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 decibel level is about the same as a 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 buzzing or high-pitched squealing sound. This can be caused by warped pan bottoms or poor quality cladding, and it also seems most common on inexpensive portable induction burners. If you use good quality cookware like stainless All-Clad cookware on a high-end portable, you're less likely to get any buzzing or squealing.
Induction cooking is a new technology for many Americans (not the case in Europe, Australia, 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.
You may need some time to 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!
These aren't really disadvantages--in fact, they are more advantages of cooking with induction--but know that there's a learning curve.
Touchpad controls are great in a lot of ways--they look great, for example, with that ultra-modern aesthetic. But they can be slower to operate than old-fashioned manual knobs.
Touch pads are, regrettably, 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, as well as cheaper to repair.
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 really give some thought to 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? These are important factors of everyday use to consider.
"Induction Compatible" Cookware Required
Probably the biggest disadvantage of cooking with induction is that it requires induction-compatible cookware. That is, the cookware must have a magnetic bottom in order to work with an induction appliance.
This means that aluminum, old stainless steel (earlier than mid-1990s or so), and copper are all unusable. Because these aren't magnetic metals, they simply won’t get hot.
Most of us already own some induction-compatible cookware. Cast iron, including enameled cast-iron, works with induction. And most new clad stainless steel cookware has a ferrous outer layer that makes it excellent for induction cooking (many All-Clad lines, for example).
The Magnet Test: Use a magnet to check your pan bottoms: 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, see A Guide to the Best Induction Cookware.
Induction cooktops are made of a heat-tempered glass-ceramic composite which is far more durable than glass alone. (This is true even of inexpensive portable burners.) However, these cooktops can scratch or crack, so you have to be careful with them. For example, you don’t want to set a pan down too hard, and you want to lift rather than scrape a pan along the surface.
There is, however, a simple fix to prevent scratches: lay a paper towel, newspaper, piece of parchment paper, or even a towel under the pan when you cook! You can do this on induction because the burners don’t get hot (see the video in the Easy Cleanup section above). Not only will you eliminate scratching, you will also make cleanup as easy as throwing away the paper towel.
Burners Shutting Off
If you place the wrong-sized pan on a burner the burner may not switch on. For some induction hobs, the pan has to be within an inch of the size of the burner. Also, some burners won't turn on if a pan is too small, particularly if the pan's magnetic properties aren't very strong, because it doesn't sense the pan.
Sometimes, people complain that a burner goes 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 do require a learning curve. In most cases, burners switching off 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.
What About Electric Ranges?
Gas and induction are the real competitors--electric isn't really in the running.
There was a time when cooks who only had access to electric stoves had to settle for second-rate performance. Compared to gas, conventional electric comes in in a dismal second place--it's response time is achingly slow, taking forever to heat up and then, once hot, forever to cool down again.
For this reason, serious cooks and professional chefs have always preferred gas.
Well, if electric is your only options for a range, you no longer have to settle. If you're a serious cook who lacks a gas hookup, your troubles are over, because induction outshines conventional electric on pretty much every front: it's faster, more responsive, more precise, and cleaner.
The only real place where electric is better is cost: electric stoves and cooktops are cheap, while induction stoves and cooktops are not. (However, as I mentioned earlier, the prices are coming down.)
So, really, the only reason to choose electric over induction is the lower cost. Which is entirely valid if budget is your main priority. However, if you're stuck with an electric hookup and want a stove or cooktop that will outperform even most gas cooktops, induction is the way to go.
So, the Verdict: Is Induction Cooking Better than Gas?
In the end, you have to decide for yourself which cooking technology is best for you. While induction is still more expensive than gas, it's better in just about every way: faster, more responsive, more precise, and easier to keep clean. But some people will always prefer gas for the "feel" of it, for its "warmth," because of the cost of switching over, and other valid reasons.
If so, that's fine. As long as you educate yourself before any big investments and buy what makes you happy, that's what really matters.