Trending in Kitchen Appliances: Induction Cooktops
Induction cooking may not use fire, but it does use one of the earth’s elemental powers to perform its magic: electromagnetism. An induction burner comprises an electromagnetic coil under a glass plate. The electromagnetic cycle that powers the cooking occurs through contact between the burner and the pot or pan, which itself must be magnetic. The heat occurs when electrons from the cookware align with the magnetic field in the cooktop. Electrical currents are created in the resulting oscillating magnetic field, and heat is rapidly and controllably generated. The process is fast, efficient and safe.
Experiment yourself, or set it up on your store floor for customers to see. You’ll find that a gallon or so of water boils in about four minutes on a typical induction stove, compared with about seven minutes on an electric range and eight minutes cooking with gas.
Simple Science: Powerful Results
Microwaves use energy waves. Traditional electric and gas ranges use radiant heat. Induction cooktops use electromagnetism. In fact, it is movement that creates the heat. The iron molecules in the cookware vibrate 20,000 to 50,000 times per second when the current is flowing, and that heat stays at the bottom of the pan. That’s why the cookware is hot and the cooking surface is cool.
The underlying technology is not particularly new. Induction cooking appliances have been available or 70 years or so, about the same length of time as home microwave cooking, and it has been pretty popular overseas for decades. Now, the introduction of induction stovetops as part of appliances that include convection ovens has helped drive their growing popularity in the United States.
They come in familiar configurations: four burners on a 30-inch stovetop is pretty typical. But the unique characteristics of electromagnetic cooking means the whole stovetop surface could be used, depending on where the elements are embedded. Some manufacturers already are working on models that have highly configurable heat zones across the stovetop. The vast majority of induction stovetops will look pretty familiar to the American consumer. It’s underneath that glass top that the differences lie. Here’s a closer look at some notable pros and cons to induction cooking.
- New Levels of Precision
The ability to deliver precise bursts of heat combined with intuitive, user-friendly digital controls provides unprecedented control to the experienced cook who wants to take advantage of that flexibility and to the everyday home kitchen chef who just wants to keep it simple and get it right.
- Kitchen Safety
There’s inherent safety to the induction method of heating. No pot on the burner, no heat generated. It’s that simple. You can leave the burner on all day long, it doesn’t matter. Nothing on it - nothing happens. They also generate no heat from the stovetop itself even when they are in contact with a magnetic pot or pan and turned on. The cookware gets hot. Not the heating element. In fact, unless the model has a light indicator showing the element is on, you wouldn’t know it just by looking.
Burns are also less likely from induction cooking. The burner stays cool the whole time, and the cookware instantly becomes cooler itself within a couple of seconds of turning off the burner.
- Energy Efficiency
Induction cooking uses less energy. That’s because it’s so much faster than traditional stovetop cooking, up to 50% faster for many meals. It’s also more efficient, using 90% of its energy for cooking, compared with about 65% for electric stovetops and about 50% for those using gas.
Because so much of the energy goes into the pot and not into the air, induction ovens also don’t warm the kitchen so much, either, which can make a real difference in commercial kitchens and in homes with galley or other styles of smaller kitchens.
- Cleaner Air
Besides the obvious environmental benefits of less energy use, less ventilation also is required to rid the room of the ambient heat and odors from cooking, since there’s less of it. They can simply make it easier, in general, to maintain a cleaner environment in the kitchen and the home.
Induction stovetops are generally more expensive than comparable gas or electric cooktops, sometimes by quite a lot. That’s changing as the technology advances and availability and competition grow, much like has happened with other new technologies.
They also require magnetic cookware. It’s not like the old days of putting metal in a microwave. Use an aluminum or some other alloy pot on an induction cooktop and sparks won’t fly; food simply won’t cook because there’s no magnetic alignment between pot and stove. The easy way to tell if you have the right cookware? Put a magnet on the bottom. Does it stick? It’ll work. Pots and pans marked “induction-compatible” also are now on the market.
That electromagnetic process can make a buzzing or humming sound, depending on the size and composition of the cookware. Heavier pans tend to make less noise than lighter ones and less noise is created if the pans completely cover the element ring. Thus, a 10-inch enameled cast iron pot is probably going to generate less hum or buzz than a 6-inch multi-ply stainless steel pan.
Interestingly, cooking on adjacent elements simultaneously also can produce that hum. That can be abated by simply lowering or raising the power level on one or both of the elements.
- Learning New Ways
Induction stovetops can require experienced cooks to change old habits. For instance, you can’t chop your zucchini and onions while you wait for the oil to heat up. Not if you already have the element turned on. You’ll also have to get used to the numbered dials. They offer a level of precision, however, often not as reliable from a traditional stove top.
You also might find that the latest digital thermometers don’t work as well in the electromagnetic field generated by an induction element. Old-school analog thermometers work just fine, however.
Remember, induction cooking happens fast. It can be easy to walk away and forget how long it takes that soup to boil or those potatoes to fry. Bottom line: Taking advantage of the benefits of this new cooking technology can require learning some new tricks and modifying some old habits.
HOW TO CARE FOR YOUR COOKTOP
Ease of cleaning is one of the distinct advantages that induction cooktops have over their traditional competitors. For starters, they cause less spattering and even fewer burned-on spills, so less cleaning is required from the get-go. When cleaning is needed, nothing more than a damp cloth or sponge usually does the trick. Plus, the controls are under the glass and use touch technology, so there are no knobs to clean under and around. The glass surface itself is easy to clean, of course, and it doesn’t get hot, so you don’t have to wait.
But keep in mind: this is a glass surface, so harsh abrasives, scouring pads, and ammonia-based cleaners should best be avoided.
Induction stovetops are easy to maintain. Some tips include not using it as a chopping block, because while the glass surface is tough, it can crack. Smooth-bottom pots and pans are recommended, too. It’s also best to keep magnetic items off the stovetop. Even smartphones and credit cards with magnetic strips can be affected by the electromagnetic field they create.
And a final reminder, be careful with abrasive cleaners and dropping heavy objects on it. This is a glass stovetop after all. It’s the magic that happens underneath that separates induction cooking from its forebears.