What are induction cooktops & ranges?

ELECTRIC...GAS...INDUCTION?

For decades, there have been two technologies for cooktops: gas and electric. Gas burns natural gas or liquid propane to create heat quickly and with great temperature control. Electric uses either exposed steel coils or metal ribbons under ceramic glass that conduct electricity to create heat. Electric provided increased safety and made cooking possible in homes without natural gas or propane.


So, what is this new technology called induction? How does it work? Why switch from gas or electric to induction? Read on and find out.



HOW DOES INDUCTION WORK?


Induction cooktops and ranges employ electromagnetism to create heat. Beneath the ceramic glass cooking surface lie copper coils that create an electromagnetic field. When ferrous (iron-containing) cookware is placed on an induction burner, the electromagnetism excites the iron molecules, and the friction of the molecules creates heat.


The burner is only able to work if it detects a pot or pan on the burner, and if the pan is appropriately sized for the burner. You can turn the burner on as high as possible and rest your hand on the burner with no effect, because the burner requires magnetic material to activate. And, if you're concerned about utensils or jewelry activating a burner when it's turned on without a pan or pot present, don't worry; unless your utensils or jewelry are as large as the bottom surface of a pot or pan, the burner will not activate.


Temperature control is excellent with induction, to the point that chocolate and other delicate foods can be melted and cooked without the use of a double-boiler. At the other extreme, water can be brought to a rapid boil in as little as 90 seconds.



WHY SWITCH FROM GAS OR ELECTRIC?


If you currently have a gas cooktop, you probably enjoy the quick response of the flames, the great temperature control, and the ability to heat quickly. Induction does all of these things, only more efficiently (50% more efficient than gas), quickly, precisely (digital control means greater precision, and often with more usable grades of heat than a gas burner), and safely, as there are no flames.

If you currently have an electric range or cooktop with a ceramic glass cooktop, using the burners will be familiar, as the surface is the same material. You'll get the same kind of even heating over the burner that your electric range provides, but with greater responsiveness, control, efficiency (25% more efficient than electric), and speed. The digital controls will make duplicating cooking results even easier. Clean-up will also easier, as far less heat is produced on the cooktop (heat only radiates from the pot or pan), meaning there is less burning of spilled foods. There is no different hookup required, so installation will be the same as for a conventional electric range.


If your current range or cooktop has coils, an induction range or cooktop is going to be a fantastic step forward for your kitchen! No more long waits for burners to heat up, no more long waits for burners to cool down, no more removing pans from the burner as you turn down the heat to simmer sauces. The response time for changes in temperature is far beyond the capabilities of coils, and will give you better results with less effort. Additionally, cleaning a ceramic glass cooktop is much easier than on a coil surface, because there is only one smooth glass surface instead of multiple burner pans and a top with wells that collect grease and stains.


COOKWARE

Because induction cooktops operate with magnetism, your cookware must be magnetic. Aluminum, copper, glass, and porcelain will not work with induction. The bottom surface of the cookware should be either iron (like cast iron) or stainless steel. Clad cookware with layers of aluminum or copper beneath stainless steel will work fine, as will cookware with stainless steel disks on the bottom. In general, if a magnet will cling to the bottom of your cookware, it should be acceptable. If all of your cookware is aluminum, you can treat yourself to a nice new set of pots and pans to go with your nice new induction cooktop or range!

WHAT ELSE SHOULD I KNOW ABOUT INDUCTION?

Many brands carry induction ranges or cooktops. Some, like Electrolux, offer a "hybrid," meaning some burners are induction and some are radiant. These are good for people who might be sharing the range with others who might not prefer or understand induction cooking. Other brands, like Kenmore, offer full induction cooktops and free-standing ranges.


While the burners don't generate heat, the cookware will become hot, and some of that heat does radiate back to the cooking surface. For this reason, some caution must be exercised when removing cookware from a burner (as is the case with any cooking surface). However, the surface cools much faster than electric, as only the glass surface is hot, and there is no risk of materials catching fire from touching the burner when a pan is removed, unlike a gas burner.

Right now, induction does carry a higher price tag than either electric or gas. This is mostly because induction cooking surfaces are not manufactured in as great numbers as electric or gas, and they use copper, so the elements cost more to make than electric elements. As induction gains in popularity, the prices will decrease. In the meantime, if you're serious about cooking, or you enjoy the newest and greatest technologies on the market, the price may not be an issue.

Whatever brand and model you choose, you will find that the difference in price will be made up for in greater enjoyment and better results while cooking.