Boil a pan of water in under three minutes? Melt butter or chocolate quickly, yet without scorching? It's all possible with an induction cooktop.
While cooktops powered by induction heating have been favored across Europe for decades, they are now steadily gaining traction in the United States, where the National Kitchen + Bath Association expects them to eventually replace electric cooktops altogether, and market-watcher Technavio anticipates the induction cookware market will blossom to $1.38 billion by 2025.
Gas, Electric or Induction?
There are three main types of cooktops: gas, electric and induction.
If a cooktop is powered by gas or electricity, it relies on thermal conduction, either via gas flames or an electric coil. The heat source conducts heat to the burner itself and then to the pot or pan atop the burner. Whether the burner is an exposed circular heating element, or is covered by a glass or ceramic surface, it requires thermal conduction.
An induction cooktop, however, eliminates the need for anything to conduct the heat. There is not a heating coil, nor are there gas flames. This is because an induction cooktop does not rely on thermal conduction. An induction cooktop sends heat straight from the source to the item you intend to heat, eliminating the need for conduction — and this direct heat transfer is becoming a preferred method among chefs and home cooks alike.
How Does Induction Cooking Work?
An induction cooktop has a heat-resistant glass or ceramic surface that may look like an ordinary electric cooktop, but the similarities stop there. Underneath this smooth surface lies an electromagnetic copper coil and, when the heating surface is turned on, an electric current passes through this electromagnetic coil. This results in the creation of a multidirectional magnetic field, which radiates outward from the coil in all directions but which does not produce any heat.
And therein lies the kicker: an induction cooktop doesn't produce heat through its underlying electromagnetic coil until — and only until — a cooking pan is placed atop the burner.
When a pan or pot is placed on an induction cooktop, the fluctuating magnetic field interacts with the bottom of the pan, causing an electric current to flow through it. A fluctuating (or looping) magnetic field is known as an eddy current or a Foucault current, the latter named for the French physicist Jean Bernard Léon Foucault who discovered it in 1851. An induction cooktop creates a magnetic field between a cooking pot and the induction coil beneath the cooking surface, which then releases some of its energy as heat and heats the contents of the pot.
Benefits of Induction Cooking
Induction cooktops are more energy-efficient than other cooktop options primarily because they draw less energy to create heat. During induction cooking there is little heat loss, with up to 90 percent of the generated heat energy used to heat the contents of a pan instead of the atmosphere around it. A gas or electric stovetop, in comparison, loses up to 35 percent of the heat it generates during cooking.
An induction cooktop heats faster — and at more precise temperatures — than a gas or electric cooktop, making it a preferred method for professional chefs.
"Electric cooktops are generally known for hot spots on pans, and induction does not get hot spots like electric cooktops, while also allowing the same precision cooking experience usually associated with gas cooking," says Jessica Randhawa, head chef and recipe creator at The Forked Spoon, in an email interview. "I find that the precision is much more consistent [with induction cooktops] than gas cooktops, allowing for much better overall temperature control of the food being cooked."
Induction cooktops also have the potential to reduce burns and other-related injuries, in large part because the surface of an induction cooktop stays cool to the touch, even when the heating element is turned on.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, "Cooking is the leading cause of reported home fires and home fire injuries in the U.S., as well as a leading cause of home fire death." Even more prevalent? Non-fire cooking burns caused by "contact with hot equipment, hot cooking liquids or hot food." Of these injuries, making contact with a hot range is the most common source of non-fire cooking burns treated at emergency departments from 2015 to 2019.
"Gas is highly flammable, and the misalignment of a burner on low can create a situation where the flame goes out, and gas floods the kitchen or house; this has happened to me before," Randhawa says. "Both gas and electric cooktops get very hot when started and tend to hold their heat long after the cooking is done," she says, "whereas induction cooktops heat up only when the pot or pan is placed directly on the induction zone, and it also cools off quite a bit faster."
Downsides to Induction Cooking
Cost is one of the chief drawbacks of induction cooking, particularly for home cooks, with induction cooktop ranges averaging anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 — several times the approximately $500 cost of an average electric range.
And you may need to purchase a different set of pots and pans made specifically for an induction cooktop. Induction works only if a pot or pan is comprised of ferromagnetic metals, such as cast iron, enameled cast iron and some stainless steel pots and pans. Some stainless steel will not work with an induction stove if its composition is high in nickel, which can block the magnetic field necessary for heating its contents with an induction stove. In addition, older types of aluminum, copper or glass cookware are not compatible with an induction cooktop, although some manufacturers are now adding a magnetic layer to the bottom of these items.
"Induction cookware is also well known for its temperature acceleration, reducing the cooking times for simple tasks like water boiling by half," Randhawa says, which may help turn the tide for consumers who are wary of induction cooking.
If you're unsure whether your cookware will work with an induction cooktop, you can test it by holding a magnet near the bottom of the pan. If it adheres, it is magnetic and — as long as it has a flat bottom surface — will work well with an induction cooktop.
New cookware aside, induction may well be the cooktop of the future. Induction cooktops have long been employed in professional kitchens throughout Europe and have been gaining ground among professionals and enthusiasts alike throughout the United States as concerns about climate change move kitchen cookery from natural gas to all-electric — prompting city zoning ordinances in some locations to deny the use of natural gas lines in newly constructed homes.