What is an induction cooktop stove? It’s a kind of burner that uses electromagnetic fields to cause the pan or pot on top to heat up—meanwhile, your appliance remains cool, thus making this method of cooking safer, faster, and more energy-efficient.
While induction cooking technology has been around for decades and induction ranges have long been common in commercial kitchens, they are now catching on like crazy in regular people’s homes. Here’s why, and what you need to know about induction cooking and these special appliances.
What is induction cooking?
Unlike traditional electric or gas stoves, this cooktop’s “burner” doesn’t emit any heat when turned on. Instead, it emits an alternating electric current—which creates electric currents in the metal pot you’ve placed on top. This, in effect, turns the pot itself into the cooking surface.
“The early consumer models, back in the 1970s and ’80s, were a little temperamental, which is why induction didn’t take off then,” explains Dan DiClerico, home expert for HomeAdvisor.com. “But manufacturers have gotten the technology right, and the prices continue to fall, comparable to gas ranges, so induction’s become very hot in the last few years.”
The benefits of cooking with an induction cooktop stove
So what’s so great about this cooktop stove? Here are the cooktop details:
It’s fast: Consumer Reports calls induction burners the fastest option on the market (faster than electric cooktops) and capable of shaving as much as 4 minutes off the time it takes to bring a pot of water to boil. When you’re trying to get your kids fed before a sitter arrives, those extra minutes can be priceless.
It may be safer: “Induction stovetops don’t start heating up until a pot or pan is placed on the burner, meaning that if it is turned on by accident with no pot on it, it won’t get hot,” says Joana Chatelain, senior buyer of large appliances at Overstock.com. “That’s a great temperature feature that helps prevents burns or potential fire hazards.”
It’s accurate: The temperature control and response time are “incredibly precise,” notes DiClerico, “even more so than with gas burners.” The better the cooktop, the finer adjustments to temperature you may be able to make. If you’re pleased with your gas appliance, think of it this way, DiClerico adds: “Induction can be thought of as the perfect combination of gas and electric, offering the performance of gas with the convenience of an electric cooktop.”
Less cleaning is involved with induction: An induction surface stays cooler during cooking. That, combined with the smooth top (no crevices here!), translates into easier spill cleanup, says Chatelain. Most of the time, all you’ll need is a damp sponge. (Still, check with your manufacturer; at least occasionally, you’ll still need to pull out a special cooktop cleaner and cleaning pad.)
Kitchen temperatures stay cooler: Since less heat is emitted from an induction cooktop, you won’t have to sweat it out while standing over your cookware to prep dinner!
The downsides of an induction cooktop
But induction cooktops aren’t perfect, of course. Here are some of the less savory points related to cookware and cost:
You’ll pay more: Depending on brand, size, and model, an induction cooktop could set you back as much as $5,000.
Not all of your cookware will work: Only certain pots with a high metal content will work on induction appliances. That means you’ll need to check or test your stainless-steel or aluminum cookware to see if they are viable options. To do so, hold a magnet to the bottom, says DiClerico. If the magnet sticks, you’re good to go. All cast-iron pots and pans should be fine, but “most nonstick cookware won’t work,” DiClerico adds. Make sure any new cookware or stainless-steel pans you buy are marked “induction-capable.”
There’s a noise factor: Consumer Reports cautions that induction cooktops are prone to clicking noises at low heats, humming noises when the heat’s turned up, and an internal fan running when it’s trying to cool itself down.
You have to be vigilant: True, you can leave things like soup stocks on for long periods of time without the worry of your gas going out, says Frank Proto, chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. But that doesn’t mean you can just walk away. “When cooking, your food needs to be attended to more, as it tends to scorch quickly,” he cautions. You can also end up scorching your cookware, too.
What’s the best induction cooktop stove?
Like so many kitchen appliances, it comes down to personal preference, not to mention how much you want to spend. If you’re thinking of replacing your oven in favor of induction cooking, here are some options.
Chatelain recommends the GE Café Series (Overstock, $1,813), which includes a built-in kitchen timer and the ability to sync two burners together to create one large cooking surface.
Proto favors the GE Monogram (Monogram, $3,300), which he uses at home. The ability to fit five pots on it is a plus, he says.
And Consumer Reports gave three induction cooktops perfect scores of 100, including the Samsung NZ36K788OUG (Lowe’s, $3,598). The feature you never knew you needed? It’s Wi-Fi-enabled so you can control it from your phone.