Induction vs Electric vs Gas – Which is Right for You?

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If you are thinking about buying a new cooktop, the three standard types to consider are gas, electric, and induction. Although gas and electric cooking technologies are the most commonly used in the United States, induction cooking has been growing in popularity. This increased interest can be attributed to declining cooktop and range prices and increased consumer understanding of the technology.

This article compares induction, electric, and gas cooktops so you can decide which is best for your culinary needs and lifestyle.

In this post, we’ll cover the following:

  • Induction Cooktop Heating Mechanism
  • Electric Cooktops (Coil and Smooth Top)
  • Gas Cooking

Induction Cooktop Heating Mechanism

Induction cooktops use electromagnetism to heat iron or magnetized steel cookware. A bare-bones explanation of this process is: electric currents produce a magnetic field and this field excites the iron molecules in the pan which in turn heats the pan and its contents.

For those who are interested, here is a detailed explanation of the heating mechanism of induction cooktops. Others can jump to the types of induction cooktops.

induction cooking in action

A coil of wire (usually copper) sits below the cooking area of the glass-ceramic surface. When the cooktop is switched on, an alternating (changing direction many times a second) electric current runs through this wire. This electric current creates a fluctuating magnetic field above and around the coil.

When a pan with iron or a layer with magnetic properties is placed on the cooking zone, the magnetic field that has been fluctuating above and around the coil induces eddy currents in the pan.

These eddy currents are always swirling around in response to this changing magnetic field. They also generate a magnetic field that repels the original magnetic field. The eddy currents then transform the useful energy into heat. This heat is conducted through the metal of the pan and heats its contents.

Induktionskochfeld Spule

A coil inside an induction burner.

Image credit: Wdwd / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Induction Cooktop Options

The types of induction cooking appliances are a portable or built-in cooktop or a full-size range. Some single burner induction cooktops are designed to be used in commercial settings such as a convenience store, food truck, or restaurant. However, there are a few commercial units that can also be used for home brewing. You’ll want to check the electrical requirements before purchasing a commercial induction cooktop.

pot with food cooking on induction cooktop

Portable cooktops have either a tablet-like surface or a flat surface with a slanted display. The advantage of an angled interface is twofold: 1) lessens the chance of settings being changed and 2) liquid/food won't be as likely to spill over onto the display panel and damage the electronics. Typical features of portable induction hobs include temperature and power settings, child lock, and timer and one-touch settings.

built-in induction cooktop

Built-in induction cooktops have between 2 and 5 burners and the same features as a portable unit. Some models have a function that can be set to control two elements simultaneously. This is helpful if you have a large pan or long griddle. Other features are a pan presence sensor in which the elements heat to the size of the pan and automatic shut off if there is no pan on the burner.

stainless steel induction range

Full-size freestanding ranges have either a single or double oven and are generally either 30" or 36" wide with either 4 or 5 elements. In addition to the features of the portable and built-in cooktops, some full-size ranges have WiFi capability and two 8-inch synchronized elements. Some models have a 100W warming element and a 3700W element for boiling.

Efficiency

Efficiency is one reason consumers and some professional chefs are drawn to induction cooking.  Here are some ways in which induction cooktops are energy efficient.

  • Cookware is heated directly since the electromagnetic coil interacts with the iron in the cooking vessel. The process is direct and faster than with gas or electric stoves since you don’t have to wait for the burner to transfer the heat to the pan. This saves time and electrical energy.
  • There is no wasted heat when using an induction cooker since the heat energy is directly supplied to the cooking vessel. Since there is no intermediary, almost all of the energy gets transferred to the pan or pot.
  • Since heat does not escape to the surrounding air, you won’t have to use a fan or turn on the air conditioning to cool off the kitchen. This is especially important in warmer climates and commercial kitchens.
  • Induction cooking enthusiasts appreciate the immediate and precise heat control induction offers. When the unit is switched off, the heat transfer stops.

Safety Features

Induction cooktops offer safety advantages over gas and electric cooktops. The obvious ones are that since there is no flame and no exposed hot coil burner (coil top stoves) the risk of fire or burns is reduced.   

The cooking zones of an electric smooth top get hotter than those of induction cooktops. This is due to the difference in the heating mechanisms. Since the cookware is heated directly using induction technology, the only heat on the glass-ceramic surface is the small amount transferred from the pan to the cooking zone. However, this heat quickly dissipates making the unit safe to touch in a short time.

In contrast, the electric smooth top cooking zone is heated to the temperature set. Additionally, it takes longer for an electric smooth top stove top to cool down.

Another safety feature induction hobs offer is that they don’t heat up unless a suitable (one with iron) cooking vessel is placed on the cooking zone. For example, if someone accidentally (or a curious child) presses the ON button and there is no pan on the unit, it won’t heat up. 

The reverse is also true - the cooktop powers off if the pan is taken off the burner. Some cooktops have a 30 or 60-second delay before switching off. Other units shut off immediately when the pan is removed from the cooktop.

hand cleaning induction cooktop

Ease of Cleaning

The smooth surface of induction cooktops makes them easy to clean. Also, since heat is not transferred to the stovetop (except underneath the pan), spills and splatters won’t bake into the surface.

We have a step-by-step guide for cleaning your induction cooktop.

Cookware Compatibility

Since only certain types of cookware can be used on induction burners, it may be necessary to purchase a few pieces. Pots and pans made of cast iron, carbon steel, enameled cast iron, or stainless steel with a magnetic base will work with induction cookers.

If you aren’t sure if a cooking vessel is induction compatible, there’s an easy test. Place a kitchen magnet on the bottom of the pan and if it sticks strongly, then it will work on induction.

Induction Cooktop Noise

Questions and comments regarding induction cooktop noise level are asked cooking forums and commented on in consumer reviews. The most common noises are humming, buzzing, and clicking. For safety reasons, the fan runs during use and for a couple of minutes after the unit is turned off.

There are several steps cooks can take to eliminate or reduce the noise. They can lower the power level, use one piece cookware (cast iron, carbon steel), and ensure the pan covers the cooking zone and its handle is securely fastened.

Helpful Tips Chalk Illustration

Induction Cooking Learning Curve

There’s always a learning curve when using a new appliance. This is certainly true with induction cooktops and stoves. The best advice I have is to read the user manual before using your new cooktop. It will save time and aggravation. We put together a list of tips to improve your cooking experience.

  • Prepare your ingredients before turning on the cooktop as the pan heats up quickly.
  • Make sure your pot or pan is induction compatible.
  • Match the cookware size to the burner.
  • Place the cooking vessel in the center of the heating element.
  • The bottom of the pan should be flat and not wobbly.
  • Use an analog thermometer as the magnetic field may interfere with a digital one.
  • Don’t overcrowd the pan.
stovetop of an electric range with all the burners turned to high and glowing red.

Electric Cooktops (Coil and Smooth Top)

Electric cooktops heat by passing electricity through a heating element, a coil, for example, to the contents of your pot or pan. When the stove is switched on, an electric current flows through the wire of the coil.

The flat heating element becomes hot and converts the electrical energy flowing through it into heat. The heat radiates in all directions. When the heat is turned up, more electricity flows into the element, so it gets hotter. Conversely, when the heat is decreased, less electricity is provided, so the element is less hot.

Coil top (exposed coil) and glass-ceramic electric cooktops (coil beneath the glass-ceramic surface) both use coil heating elements. Smooth top stoves have placement guides on the surface so the cooking vessels can be centered.

Element Power

Most electric coil top cooktops have four heating elements with wattages of 1200-2500 (sometimes more).  Some units have two coils of one size and two of another size while others have one large coil and three smaller ones.

The most common glass-ceramic electric cooktops have two, four, or five heating elements. Some units have four coil sizes - large, medium, small, and two small-medium. A bridge element is a convenient feature of some models. It combines two elements (side by side) so an oblong pan could be used, for example.

The burners have different power levels so you can stir-fry vegetables on one burner and simmer a sauce on another simultaneously. The individual burners have the same power range as the coil top cooktops – anywhere from 1200W to 2500W or more.

energy efficiency

Efficiency

Electric stoves with coil top burners heat up faster than smooth top cooktops. However, the heat of a radiant heated cooktop is more concentrated than that of a coil top stove. Smooth top electric stoves cool down faster since glass does not conduct heat as well as metal.

Safety

The smooth top electric cooktops are safer than the coil top stoves since there is glass above the coil. Having said that, one still has to be cautious while cooking and for a short time after the burner is switched off.

Surface Durability

Coil top surfaces can handle any type of pot or pan – whether it is a heavy cast iron skillet or a light-weight aluminum skillet. A glass pan of lasagna hot from the oven can be set on the coils with no worries.

However, this is not the case with glass-ceramic surfaces. It is risky to use heavy cookware as the surface might crack. A cooktop with a glass-ceramic surface can also be scratched if a pan doesn’t have a smooth base and is slid across the surface.

Although a cooktop with exposed coils can usually withstand a dropped pan were this to happen on a smooth top cooktop, the glass might be cracked.

Variety of cast iron frying pans on a marble background.

Cookware Compatibility

All types of cookware can be used on coil top cooktops.

However, not all pots and pans can be used on smooth top cooktops without some risk attached. Cast iron, carbon steel, and porcelain enamel cooking vessels can be used but the glass-ceramic cooking plate might be scratched or cracked.

Stainless steel cookware with layers of stainless steel and aluminum or copper sandwiched together is a top pick to use with a smooth-top cooktop. The strength of stainless steel coupled with the heat distribution abilities of the aluminum and copper are a perfect match. Heavy-weight aluminum pans, as well as copper-bottom pans, can also be successfully used as they heat up quickly.

Ease of Cleaning

It takes more time to thoroughly clean an electric coil-top cooktop than an electric smooth-top cooktop since the coils, drip pans, and surface all need to be cleaned.

The coils need to be scrubbed to remove food and grease. Removing stains from the drip pans is not an easy task. The drip pans need to be soaked, scrubbed and rubbed with vinegar and baking soda or another solution.

It’s easier to clean them right away if you noticed spilled food or liquid on them. If they get too dirty, they can be replaced as they are readily available online or at a brick and mortar store.

Regardless of the type of cooktop you have, cleaning time can be saved by wiping the surface after it has cooled down, with a damp microfiber cloth or a sponge. Using a splatter screen reduces grease stains and not overfilling pots and pans minimizes spills.

Since a smooth electric cooktop doesn’t have drip pans and the heating elements are under one continuous piece of glass-ceramic, they can be quickly cleaned. One exception to this is if dried food is on the surface.

The use of abrasive cleaners, steel wool or scouring pads is not recommended as they might leave scratches or residue.

Pan fried salmon fillet and spaghetti on a gas stove in traditional home kitchen. Wood worktop.

Gas Cooking

Next we’ll talk about cooking with natural gas. Natural gas is comprised of many compounds – the largest one being methane and smaller amounts of natural gas liquids (NGL). It is used as fuel and to make products including chemicals.

Although propane and butane can be used for cooking, most people have natural gas piped to their homes.

How Does Natural Gas Get to our Homes?

The American Gas Association (AGA) describes the natural gas delivery system in this article. However, we’ll start at the point the natural gas reaches the local gas utility. Once there it usually passes through a “gate station” and then moves into distribution lines or “mains” that are buried underground.

According to Centerpoint Energy, a “main” is a common source of supply for at least one natural gas service line. The gas then runs from the “main” into the home or company in a service line (distribution line). These lines are connected to the meter outside the house.

The meter measures the volume of gas transferred to the customer. More pipes connect the meter to gas appliances, such as a gas stove or furnace.

Temperature Response and Control

One of the reasons gas cooktops are preferred by some chefs and home cooks is the quick response to temperature changes. The gas burners begin heating as soon as they are ignited. Cooks can control the heat since temperature adjustments take place quickly.

Chefs also like the flame of a gas cooktop since it allows them to see the heat levels while cooking.

chinese wok pan on fire gas burner

Cookware Compatibility

In terms of materials, cooking on a gas cooktop is easier if cookware that responds quickly to changes in heat and distributes heat evenly is used. Stainless steel with either aluminum and copper cores is a good choice. Another option is stainless steel with a copper disc on the base.

While cast iron cookware can be used on gas cooktops, it is not ideal since it is not responsive to temperature adjustments. The response to temperature changes in carbon steel is better than with cast iron.   

Woks are an especially good fit for gas cooktops.

Efficiency

According to a Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) report, up to 40% of the energy consumed is transferred to the food when using a natural gas range. On the other hand, a single burner induction cooktop receives up to 90% of the heat generated. EPRI also reported up to 74% of the heat transferred to the food using a coil top electric stove.

In terms of money saved, it is inconsequential, at a mere $8.30 a year if small cookware is used.

The greater issue with regard to efficiency is that the heat generated by the gas cooktop escapes into the air surrounding the pan. Using a gas stove in the summertime in warmer climates can be uncomfortable necessitating the use of a fan or air conditioner.

This video provides information about induction cooking and shows how long it takes to boil water on a power gas burner vs an induction cooktop.

Safety 

The open flame on a gas cooktop presents a potential fire hazard or accidental burns. Care needs to be taken not to leave a paper towel or dishcloth too close to the cooktop.

The flame of your gas cooktop or stove should be blue; if it is red, orange, or yellow, then it needs to be adjusted. Due to the lack of oxygen, more carbon monoxide is produced. A carbon monoxide detector is a wise investment in general but especially if you have a gas cooktop.

A gas leak is possible with a gas cooktop or stove. Other potential fire hazards are leaving the stove on and not lit.

Ease of Cleaning

It takes more time to thoroughly clean a gas stove than an electric smooth-top or induction cooktop. The grates and drip pans need to be soaked, scrubbed and rinsed. The burners can be cleaned while the grates and drip pans are soaking.  

Conclusion

When it comes to buying an induction, gas, or electric cooktop, there is no one "best" option for everyone. The choice is dependent upon your budget, available space, household members, and personal preferences.