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An Introduction to Induction Cooking

In the beginning there was fire. Then gas. Then electric coils. Now we're cooking with magnets? We answer all your questions about induction cooking.

By Aaron Krach

"My sister won't stop talking about her new induction cooktop — and I still don't understand what the big deal is."

JOE KLETT (Sales Manager, ABT Electronics and Appliances, Glenview, IL): Induction is an advanced version of an electric cooktop. Instead of heated coils that turn orange-red, the electrical unit below the glass surface doesn't heat up, but creates an electromagnetic field. When you put a pot made with ferrous metal on top…

Ferrous metal?

That just means the pot has iron in it, that a magnet would stick to it. Copper and aluminum pans won't work, but stainless steel, aluminum-clad, and cast iron — no problem.

Okay. So where's the heat?

In the pan. The electromagnetic field sends a current into the pot or pan. This current heats the pan itself, nothing else.

How is that different? Doesn't the pot get hot on any stove?

Yes, the pot or pan is always hot, but with gas there are flames underneath, and with electric there are hot coils. With induction, the cooktop stays cool.

So I don't have to worry about leaving the stove on?

My daughter recently bought induction because she has young children. Since the heat is only in the pan, you don't have to worry about kids turning on a burner accidentally, as long as there isn't a pot on top. Without a pan, no heat is generated.

Back to cooking. What are the benefits?

Induction creates heat almost instantly. You can boil water in a quarter of the time it would take on a regular gas stove. At the store, I keep a pot of water and let customers turn the switch. Within seconds they can see small bubbles on the bottom. It's remarkably fast.

Sounds great for pasta. What else is induction good for?

Anything you need temperature control for, such as chocolate, desserts, certain sauces. With a traditional electric cooktop, if something boils and you turn it down, you usually have to move the pot because the coils cool slowly. With induction, the temperature change is immediate. Gas is easier to control than electric, but nothing is as exact as induction. Induction cooktops look great, too — very sleek and modern. And they're easy to clean.

Easier than other glass-topped models?

Yes, because drips or splatters don't cook on the surface. Since most of the glass never gets hot, sauce or egg or anything else you spill won't burn onto the surface. It can be so difficult to get food off once it's cooked on, but with induction, spills wipe right up.

I've heard induction technology is green, but everybody says everything is green these days.

Induction is definitely energy efficient. The pan sits flat on the glass, making a direct connection, so there's less energy lost during what we call heat transfer — that's when the flames or hot coils heat up a pot. With induction, heat transfer is electromagnetic, which is so efficient, you're able to use 84 percent of the heat created. A gas cooktop is only about 30 to 40 percent efficient because the flames heat the air around the pot, which doesn't cook anything. Electric coils are better, around 70 percent.

That's a huge difference.

Yes, but it's expensive to be green. So I understand it's not for everyone. You can make up the cost over time, but slowly. An induction cooktop costs about $1,700, while an electric one can run $700.

That's pricey.

A good introduction would be a single, stand-alone induction burner (prices start at around $150). They're usually 15 inches in diameter and sit on your counter and plug into the wall socket. You can keep it in the cupboard if you don't use it often. Some people use one just for boiling water, since induction is so good for that.

There must be a downside.

Other than the price, not really.

What about the cookware you mentioned?

Some older nonstick pans won't work, but most newer cookware will. Maybe you'll end up buying one new pan. Otherwise, you probably already have everything you need.

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