Induction cooktops have been popular for many years in Europe and Asia and their use is now gaining ground in the United States. As word spreads and the cost of these cookers become more affordable, the number of US consumers purchasing these energy efficient appliances steadily increases.
Since this website has many induction cooktop reviews, it incumbent upon us to provide the pros and cons of induction cooking. This will allow you to make an informed decision as to whether this is the right appliance for your kitchen.
How Induction Cooktops Work
When people read or hear about this method of preparing food, they ask how an induction cooktops works. They are designed differently than conventional ovens that utilize gas flames or electric heating elements.
In short, the pots or pans on the induction hob cooking surface act as a heat source and transfers the heat to the food. This is accomplished by using the electromagnetic coil (usually copper), that is under the ceramic/glass surface of the cooking zone of the unit. Alternating electric current flows through this coil and creates a magnetic field. This field passes through the bottom of the induction compatible cooking vessel that is sitting on the cooking zone. A current is then generated in the bottom of the induction ready pan. However, the cooking vessel is resistant to this, so the electrical energy is transformed to heat energy. This heat energy is transferred from the cookware to the food.
What are the Advantages of Induction Cooking?
There has been a lot written about the induction cooktop energy efficiency. In terms of dollars, it is unlikely you will save much money on your electric bill by using an induction cooktop. (see our section titled “Induction cooking energy efficiency”). However, in the area of heat efficiency, little heat is lost to the surrounding environment since it is transferred directly to the pot. This allows the induction cooker to heat up faster than an electric or gas stove and to react more quickly to temperature changes. An added bonus is that your kitchen won't get so hot, which is great during the summer.
Another example that induction cooking is efficient is in terms of time. Most of us are looking for ways to save time. One way is to minimize the amount of time spent cooking and cleaning up afterwards. Food can be prepared quickly and cleanup completed in a short period of time. This eliminates the need to spend a big portion of the morning or evening in the kitchen.
Easy to Clean
All induction cooktops can be cleaned faster than electric or gas stoves. There are no corners or recesses where food items can get trapped or where spilled liquids accumulate. Messes are also minimized since most units provide the convenient protection of switching itself off in case a pot has become dry or a spill occurs. If food or liquid spills over onto the cooktop, it won't harden as the surface is fairly cool.
How to Clean an Induction Cooktop
- After the unit is cooled, use a moist paper towel or soft sponge to remove cooking spills.
- Sprinkle and gently rub a small amount of cooktop cleaner (see user manual for suggestions) on the surface with paper towel.
- Remove all the cleaning agent residue from the surface.
- Wipe the cooktop dry with a microfiber cloth or paper towel.
- Small and Compact
- Easy to transport or pack in a suitcase
- If someone uses a wheelchair, it is certainly easier to use a portable induction cooktop since it can be placed on a table enabling easy access since the user's legs can go below the table.
- No electrical heating element or flame.
- Cools down rapidly
- In most units, the power button has to be pressed for 3 seconds before the unit will operate.
- Child lock – prevents settings from being changed
Note: However, children still need to be cautioned not to turn the cooker on. If they do switch it on, the cooking heat will not become active unless induction ready cookware is placed on the cooktop.
- Overheating protection – if the cooking surface reaches a high temperature (varies according to unit) the device will turn off.
- Countdown timer- shuts unit off after a specified period of time
- Automatic pan detection system – shuts the unit down if no cookware has been detected for a period of time (generally a minute) or if the cookware placed on the surface is not induction friendly.
- Low and high voltage warning system-the unit will emit a tone and shut down.
- Diagnostic error message system allows you to troubleshoot
The number of people switching to induction cooking or simply adding a portable unit to their kitchen is increasing. Manufacturers have wisely designed these cooktops to be compact, sleek and elegant. They can be used to prepare a wide variety of meals or just to keep food warm. Many manufacturers include recipes in their user manual.
Potential consumers include those living in mobile homes, micro-apartments, tiny houses, micro-shelters or who travel in RVs. They find having this appliance is preferable to a full-size stove because they can cook their food more efficiently than with a traditional stovetop. An added benefit they don’t have to spend a lot of time cleaning the cooktop.
As the benefits of induction cooktops become more well-known, establishments such as food trucks, convenience stores, and restaurants are using commercial induction cooktops to prepare food. Portable induction cooktops designed specifically for commercial use are available as well as built-in and full-size units.
Employers could easily place an induction cooktop in the staff lunchroom. Individuals could cook a healthy and tasty meal for lunch quickly instead of microwaving a frozen dinner or buying fast food. This one-time minor expense would produce goodwill among the employees.
What are the Disadvantages of Induction Cooking?
Noise due to the cooling fan and the cookware is one drawback to induction cooktops. The cooling fan produces a humming sound which annoys some consumers while others are not bothered by it. The pots and pans on the cooktop may produce a whistling, buzzing or humming noise. GE claims cookware that covers the burner produces less noise. They also posit that the material, size, and amount of contents affects the sound level.
Other disadvantages are:
- Learning curve in terms of getting used to the temperature and power settings
- Most cookers automatically shut-off after 2 or 3 hours.
- If you don't have compatible cookware, then the additional cost of new induction ready pots and pans has to be factored into your decision.
- The full-size ranges are expensive. However, some consumers view it as an investment rather than a one-off purchase.
What Cookware is Compatible with Induction Cooktops?
To prepare food on an induction cooktop, the cooking vessel has to contain ferromagnetic materials (iron or a layer that has magnetic properties) such as steel, magnetized stainless steel, enameled cast iron and cast iron (glass, copper and aluminum won’t work).
It is easy to tell if your cookware is induction safe. Place a magnet on the bottom of your cookware and if it sticks strongly to the base, it will work. If the magnet has no pull toward the base of the pot or pan, then it doesn’t have the metals needed to create heat with an induction cooker. Additionally, check to make sure the pan doesn’t have any major dings or dents since cookware with flat bottoms will heat up faster and cook your food more evenly.
It is also important to use cookware that is the right size for your cooktop. The cookware size that can be used depends upon the particular cooktop model. However, in general, the base of the pots and pans that have a diameter of between 4.5 and 10 inches work.
Innovative cookware is being developed by many companies both in the USA (All-Clad) and abroad. One example is the manufacture of pots and pans that can be used on both induction and conventional stovetops. This is accomplished by placing a layer of magnetic stainless steel in the base of the cooking vessel. The consumer can now use it on several different heat sources.
Induction Cooktop Features
Power and Temperature
Although the range of power levels vary among portable induction cooktops, they are generally either 100-1800W, 200-1800W or 500-1800W. Some units have pre-set power levels, while others can be adjusted to the desired power setting.
Portable induction burners usually offer 10, 15, or 20 temperature levels. Examples of temperature ranges are: 140-460°F and 100-460°F. Temperature settings are available in varying increments. Some of the most common are 20, 25, and 30 degrees.
The most common modes available on single and double induction cooktops are manual, preset and timer.
The manual setting involves increasing and decreasing the temperature, so an accurate temperature can be selected. Most people find that when learning how to use an induction cooktop they experiment with temperatures for particular recipes. This mode allows one to do this.
Some models have pre-set, one touch functions such as simmer, boil, and keep warm.
A timer mode is a feature of most portable cooktops. The timer can be set in one minute increments in many units. Common maximum settings are 150, 170 and 180 minutes. While some models allow you to set a timer for ten hours, they automatically shut-off after two hours as a safety precaution.
Induction Cooking Energy Efficiency
The question as to whether using a single burner induction cooktop is less expensive than electric or gas stoves has been discussed on various review sites and forums. To answer this question accurately, we reviewed the results of a technical assessment conducted by the private firm, Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). The cooking appliances used were: full-size gas and electric ranges and two single burner induction cooktops.
Induction Cooktop vs Electric Test
Water was heated from 70° to 200° F to conduct the electric and induction tests. Three tests were completed, and the results averaged. In terms of electric vs induction, the results showed when the cooking vessel covered the burner, induction efficiency was higher (83.4% vs 77.4%). On the other hand, when the bottom of the cookware was smaller than the heating coil, induction was more efficient, (76.2% vs 41.5%). In the end, the amount you would save on your electric bill is negligible.
Induction Cooktop vs Gas Test
Since the EPRI test was conducted on a gas stove at 50°F and on an induction stove at 70°F one cannot make a direct comparison. However, the results do show the efficiency level of gas. When a vessel was used that covered the burner, the gas range was less efficient than induction cooktops (77.4% vs 35.2%). This was also true when the cookware was smaller than the burner (76.2% vs 30.2%). The EPRI finding concluded that the annual induction energy cost is slightly higher than that of gas (electricity almost always costs more than natural gas) even when a small vessel is used ($8.49 vs $7.05). 
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Why is there a price difference among induction cooktops?
Factors such as size, coil diameter, housing material, number of burners, cooking surface dimensions, power, safety features, timer capability, number of temperature and power levels and design when taken together determine the price of an induction stove or cooktop.
The smaller, more portable models are less expensive since they do not include all the features or have the capabilities that are found in a built-in or in a free-standing range that has a cooktop and an oven.
One feature alone does not determine the cost of a single burner induction cooker. Rather, it appears to be all the factors mentioned above, when taken in totality, that determine the price. The power levels of portable units range from 1300W to 1800W. We found that higher wattage does not necessarily mean higher prices. Units with 20 temperature and power levels do not always cost more than those with 15 levels.
Additionally, the amount of safety features included in the model is not always directly proportional to the price. Some units have more than others and cost less. However, those devices with the child safety lock do tend to be in the upper price range.
In terms of induction cooktops, it is easily understood why a full-size range costs more than a single burner cooktop. However, it is not a simple feat to sort out why one single burner cooktop costs more than another one based on one, two or even three features.
The History of Induction Technology
The induction cooker was originally produced and put on the market in 1933 at the World’s Fair in Chicago. During the fair, several demonstrations were conducted showing how to use the cooker, along with an explanation of the different types of cookware that can be used on an induction cooktop.
Then, in 1970, more modern developments of induction cooking developed in the United States. Since technology had moved forward, improvements were made, and the induction hob became a lot better and more popular with the general public. Westinghouse developed an induction cooker (including matching and compatible cookware) and started selling it to the public. However, there were many problems with induction cooker technology and the idea never really took off in the US during this time.
It has only been since the fan noise has been reduced in induction cookers that it has become more popular. While induction cooking failed in the US (during its first few years of being in the market), it thrived in Europe and Asia.
As technology began developing at a rapid rate, a few companies invested development money in the area of induction technology. Slowly, these products became more well-known and understood in the United States. Sales increased when companies reduced the fan noise (although not enough according to some consumers) and manufactured products with fewer reliability issues.
The concepts of minimalism and living in small spaces has given induction cooking more visibility. Appliances such as these are of interest to those who prefer a modern looking kitchen as well as those who are curious about products with newer technology.
There are many advantages to using an induction cooktop and a few disadvantages. Some of the reasons why people are choosing to use induction cooktops are safety, efficiency, convenience, versatility, and affordability. Induction cooking is a simple way of preparing your meals. Induction technology does take a little getting used to, however, given its benefits, it's certainly something worth considering.
The decision as to whether to add a portable single or double burner cooktop, a commercial induction cooker, a built-in unit or a full-sized induction range to your kitchen, boils down to your cooking style, budget, and what works best for you.
Note: There has been a lot of debate as to whether there is electromagnetic interference with pacemakers. It is wise for those who are fitted with pacemakers to consult with their cardiologist prior to purchasing an induction cooktop or rice cooker