Induction cooking can be a bit complicated for some when first beginning to shop around. Induction cooking can be as accurate and as advantageous as cooking with a gas cooktop, but as simple as using an electric one. There are several important factors to understand before deciding to go induction, and once decided upon, there are a few other items to bear in mind when trying to pick the right make and model.
How Does It Work? / What Are The Benefits?: Before making the transition to induction cooking, it is first important to know how it works, and what the pro’s and con’s are.
- Construction / Operation – An induction cooktop traditionally has a glass-ceramic plate covering its element, and can be housed in a number of different ways. There are some induction cooktops that are meant to be built into a countertop, some that are free standing, and there are even ranges with induction cooktops built-in. An induction cooktop will only “heat up” when there is a piece of cookware on it. The element is a tightly wound coil of wire that produces a magnetic field when alternating current (AC) passes through it. This magnetic field induces electricity into the pan, pot, or whatever cooking surface is resting over the coil, and is directly heated by its own internal resistance. The glass-ceramic is not a conductor, so the glass doesn’t conduct electricity (though it should be noted it will warm up when a hot pan rests on it). The coils heat up only slightly, however, since it acts as a step down transformer, it amplifies the current that is induced in cooking surface. Since there is such a drastically lower amount of heat produced by the coils, they can be housed much more easily than say a gas burner or a traditional coil burner.
- Cookware – Induction cookware, in a sense, cooks the opposite way than traditional cookware does. Induction cookware needs to have some internal resistance for the current to generate heat, and the higher a pan’s magnetic permeability (i.e. the more magnetic it is), the higher the resistance level will be. This is very much the opposite of traditional cookware; materials like copper and aluminum, which are normally great conductors of heat because of their low internal resistance, will not work on induction cooktops unless they are specifically made for induction cooking. Primarily stainless steel, carbon steel, and cast iron are used on induction cooktops, although some pieces of copper or aluminum cookware are specifically made with stainless steel bases which transfer heat to the other metals.
- Pro’s – There are a number of pro’s to induction cooking. Induction cooktops heat up incredibly fast, especially compared to other electric cooktops, yet they can still cook with pinpoint accuracy. Additionally, since there is no direct heating elements, induction cooktops can be installed in areas that may not permit a standard cooktop and are often easier to clean (as food will not cook on). The best feature may be that they do not produce any heat when pans are removed from the element, which can save on energy and prevent a potentially dangerous situation. Induction burners are incredibly efficient, and some can automatically shut off should a pan be drawing too much electricity.
- Con’s – Aside from the obvious con’s of all electric burners (susceptibility to power outages, surges, etc.), there are a few con’s specific to induction cooktops as well. As previously stated, induction cooktops are only compatible with certain types of cookware. Cookware must rest flat on the cooktop, as the induction element’s magnetic field drastically falls as a pan moves away from the surface. Induction cooktops monitor how much electricity is being absorbed, so should cookware not rest level, or at some point become empty, the burner will shut off. Pans such as woks (which do not have flat bottoms) often times must be used with specific induction burners manufactured for them, and usually require a specific wok to be used with the burner. The biggest hazard that can befall an induction cooktop would be to the surface; the glass-ceramic is susceptible to cracking or damage, and should aluminum foil come in contact with a burner while on it could melt on to the cooktop and do irreparable damage. It is important to treat the cooktop itself with care. It should also be noted that those with pacemakers should avoid using induction cooktops and they should be placed away from any sort of radio equipment as their magnetic fields can cause problems for these devices.
What Should One Look At When Shopping?: There are a number of factors to examine before purchasing an induction cooktop or burner.
- Volume – First and foremost, it is important to examine the expected volume that the equipment will be used. A large, multiple burner induction cooktop can be an expensive piece, and may not be the best fit for an operation that does a tremendous volume on the sauté station. Should cooks become reckless during a rush, the cooktop could be damaged if a pan were to be slammed onto the cooktop. Also, high volumes of cooking would require a large supply of induction cookware, which could end up a bit pricier than normal cookware. Smaller countertop induction burners can be significantly less costly, but obviously will not accommodate the volume of a larger cooktop.
- Size / Placement – To some extent, the size and placement of a required induction cooktop relates to the volume of use it will see. Larger volume kitchens will require more burners, and if there is a busy sauté station a centralized location for the burners is a must. In addition to overall size of the cooktop, the size of the burners must be appropriate for the cookware needed. Some induction burners will not heat pots and pans larger than the burner, so it is important to know what size burners will be needed.
- Electrical Operation / Wiring – Know how you want to power your induction burner or cooktop in advance. This means knowing if it will be powered by a standard 120 V outlet, 208 or 240 V plugs, or if it will be directly wired. Many cooktops and built-in units are directly for both convenience and safety purposes, as a plugged in unit could be a pain to service.
- Thermostat – Induction burners and cooktops have a variety of different thermostats to control their temperature. There are some models that have a manual style “Hi-Low” thermostat, others have notched dials with specific cook temperatures, and others have thermostatic or digital thermostats. These controls give induction cooktops the ability to cook at precision temperatures, something other burners cannot. This makes induction cooking perfect for cooking delicate items, or things that require precise cooking temperatures like candy making or frying.