6 things to know about induction cooktops

(The Washington Post)

Induction cooking has been around for decades, but it’s only in recent years that the technology has started to edge in on the cachet long reserved for gas stoves.

“I think induction is finally having its moment,” says Paul Hope, the home and appliance editor at Consumer Reports.

At first glance, induction cooktops look a lot like traditional electric models. But under the hood they’re quite different. While traditional electric stovetops rely on the slow process of conducting heat from a coil to the cookware, induction cooktops employ copper coils under the ceramic to create a magnetic field that sends pulses into the cookware. This causes the electrons in the pot or pan to move faster, resulting in heat.

If you’re considering making the switch to induction, or are familiarizing yourself with your new cooktop, here’s what you need to know.

In defense of the electric stovetop, the surface most American home cooks use

1

Induction cooktops are safer than gas

Induction cooktops boast some of the same broad strokes of traditional electric that parents, pet owners and those who just generally worry about safety appreciate: no open flames or knobs that can be accidentally turned. The only way a burner works is if there’s compatible cookware on top of it (more on that below).

Like traditional electric models, induction cooktops don’t emit indoor pollutants, which can be of concern with gas and have been linked to such health problems as childhood asthma. As more localities consider legislating the phasing out of gas in favor of electricity, with an eye toward sustainable and renewable energy sources, it’s probable that induction will show up in even more home kitchens.

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2

Induction cooktops can be hot to the touch

One of the most commonly cited advantages of induction is that the cooktop itself remains cool since the magnetic field works directly on the cookware. It’s a little more nuanced than that, Hope says. Heat can be transferred from the cookware back to the ceramic surface, meaning it can still be warm, or even hot, to the touch, if not as scorching as a regular electric or gas burner. So please, don’t place your hand on a just-used induction burner, and do pay attention to the indicator lights that tell you when the surface is sufficiently cooled off.

3

You have to cook differently on an induction cooktop

Even experienced cooks will experience a learning curve when switching to induction, as I found out when I started working in our Food Lab. One of the biggest advantages of induction is how quickly it heats up, Hope says. The flip side is that it can happen faster than you expect, without the buildup cues you may be used to — the slow increase in bubbles, for example, when boiling. (Yes, we’ve had quite a few boil-overs in Voraciously HQ!) Similarly, you may find yourself needing to use a slightly lower heat than called for in a recipe. And if you’re used to having to fiddle with other cooktops to keep a constant heat level, you may be surprised by how well induction can maintain a steady simmer. Keep in mind that, similar to gas, induction cooktops are very responsive to changes in the heat setting. Traditional electric models typically take longer to heat up or cool down.

Induction cooktops are also typically equipped with an automatic cutoff feature, which shuts them down if a certain temperature is exceeded. We’ve experienced this mostly with cast-iron cookware, which retains heat very well. We’ve also found that something hot or warm — water, a sheet pan just pulled out of the oven — coming in contact with the digital controls on the cooktop surface can trick them into turning on or changing settings, though the burners won’t stay on or heat up without the proper cookware on top.

4

Your cookware may be compatible with an induction cooktop

When questions about induction have come up among our readers, there’s frequent concern about having to buy all new cookware. “The truth is that there are pots and pans that you may have inherited from your grandmother” that are compatible with induction, Hope says. Primary among those is durable, affordable cast iron. Enameled cast iron, common in Dutch ovens, works as well. The majority of stainless-steel and clad pans also work on induction, Hope says. Aluminum, pure copper, glass and ceramic are not compatible, however. Definitely read any instructions from your cookware that you have, but there’s an easy way to check if it’s induction-ready. Hope says all you need is a magnet off your fridge. If it sticks to the bottom of the pan, you’re good to go.

You can safely use cast-iron cookware on glass cooktops, with a little care

And before you ask, yes, it’s okay to use cast iron on an induction cooktop. As long as you don’t drop or drag them, the heavy pans should not cause cracks or scratches (and superficial scratches should not affect performance).

5

Some induction cooktops are affordable

Manufacturers tend to put a premium price on tricked-out induction cooktops, and of course, these are what retailers are going to want to show you, Hope says. While a high-end induction model may be two or more times the price of a comparable gas or traditional electric option, at the entry level you can find induction cooktops for less than $1,000, putting them more in line with other ranges.

Moreover, the Inflation Reduction Act allocates money to states so that consumers will be able to claim rebates on the purchase of electric appliances, as well as additional compensation for converting from natural gas to electric. (The amount will vary according to location and income level.)

While induction is more energy-efficient than older gas or electric because the direct transfer of energy means no heat is lost to the air, keep your energy bill expectations in check, Hope says. You may see modest savings but nothing dramatic, especially as cooking appliances account for only about 2 percent of your household energy usage, he says.

6

Induction cooktops are easy to clean

Cleaning induction cooktops can be easier because there are no removable grates or burners to get under or around to scrub, and food is less likely to scorch and burn given the reduced surface temperature of the cooktop, advantages that America’s Test Kitchen executive editor of reviews Lisa McManus summarizes nicely. If you’re really interested in keeping anything off the ceramic, you can even cook with parchment paper or silicone mats under the cookware. Always read the manufacturers’ specific instructions, but generally you’re safe to use dish soap, baking soda and vinegar, and cooktop cleaners designed for ceramic surfaces.

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