Induction 101: Better Cooking Through Science

Induction cooking is superior to gas and electric in many ways. And it's finally trending in the U.S.

Credit: A.J. Madison
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If you thought gas and electric were the only ways to cook, we’ve got an update for you—induction is the fastest growing trend in cooking, according to the National Kitchen + Bath Association’s 2018 Design Trends study. Induction cooktops are masters of the quick change—gentle enough to melt butter and chocolate, but powerful enough to bring 48 ounces of water to a boil in under three minutes.

Although the induction cooking technology is already popular in other countries, until recently induction has been a hard sell in the United States. However, falling prices and growing consumer awareness are helping ranges and cooktops with this superior cooking technology gain a foothold.

Ffif3054td frigidaire boiling

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No stupid questions—what real people want to know about induction cooking

What is induction cooking?

Although they resemble electric smoothtop burners, induction cooktops don't have burners underneath the surface. Induction cooking uses electromagnetic energy to heat pots and pans directly. In comparison, gas and electric cooktops heat indirectly, using a burner or heating element, and passing radiant energy onto your food.

What an induction cooktop looks like under the hood
Credit: Bosch
Take a look under the hood of an induction cooktop and you'll see the electromagnetic coils that interact with the iron in your cookware, creating heat.

As you can imagine, it's far more efficient to heat cookware directly instead of indirectly. Induction is able to deliver roughly 80 to 90 percent of its electromagnetic energy to the food in the pan. Compare that to gas, which converts a mere 38 percent of its energy, and electric, which can only manage roughly 70 percent.

That means induction cooktops not only heat up much faster, but their temperature controls are also far more precise. "It's an instantaneous reaction in the cookware," said Robert McKechnie, product development manager at Electrolux. "With radiant you don't get that."

Induction cooktops can achieve a wide range of temperatures, and they take far less time to boil than their electric or gas counterparts. In addition, the cooktop surface stays cool, so you don't have to worry about burning your hand. It's even possible to put a paper towel between a spattering frying pan and an induction burner, though you’d want to keep an eye on that. Remember, the cooktop doesn't get hot, but the pan does.

On almost all counts, induction is faster, safer, cleaner, and more efficient than either gas or electric. And yes, we've done exhaustive oven testing in our labs to support that claim.

Induction-cooktop-melting-chocolate
Credit: Electrolux
With an induction cooktop, you can set the temperature low enough to melt chocolate without burning it. Notice that the chocolate outside the pan won't melt onto the cooktop, because it isn't metal.

Why is induction it better?

At Reviewed, we've rigorously tested the majority of top-selling cooktops and ranges on the market—including many induction models. Let's dig into the numbers.

In our labs, we record the time it takes each burner to bring six cups ounces of water to boiling temperature. Among all the gas ranges we've tested, the average time-to-boil is 8 minutes, 34 seconds, while radiant electric cooktops average 5 minutes, 47 seconds. But induction is the clear speed king, averaging a blistering 3 minutes, 7 seconds. And the newest induction cooktops can boil even faster.

In the course of testing, we also compile data on the temperature ranges of gas, electric, and induction burners. On average, induction cooktops reach a maximum temperature of 665.5°F, compared to just 428°F for gas. While radiant electric cooktops can get hotter—741.8°F on average—they take a lot longer to cool down when switching from high to low heat.

Induction ranges have no problem cooking low and slow, either. Turn an induction "burner" down, and—on average—it goes low as 100.75°F—and newer induction cooktops and ranges can go even lower. Compare that to gas cooktops, which can only get down to 126.56°F.

While we've found that radiant electric cooktops can get down to as low as 92.2°F, they lack the precise temperature control required for more delicate tasks. For induction, it's no problem. Induction’s direct heating doesn't fluctuate, so you can maintain a steady simmer without burning the food.

With induction, you don't have to spend too much time cleaning up. Since the cooktop itself doesn't get hot, it's easy to clean. "You don't get a lot of baked-on food when you're cooking," said Paul Bristow, product manager for cooktops at GE Appliances.

Why isn’t induction mainstream yet?

Induction is already popular in Europe. And its popularity is growing in the U.S. According to home remodeling experts Sebring Design Build, interest in commercial gas ranges seems to be fading, while more kitchen renos include induction cooktops.

Said GE Appliances Bristow, "If you go back to 2008, induction was around 5 percent of the electric cooktop market, but over time it's slowly grown to around 15 percent." (Note that since induction relies on electricity, cooktops using the technology are classified alongside radiant electric.) "I really do think that over time, and as costs come down, and as people become more aware of it, induction will grow to a much larger part of the market."

Will my pots and pans work on an induction cooktop?

Ferrous-pots-and-pans-on-Frigidaire-induction-range
Credit: Frigidaire
An induction range can only use iron or some stainless steel pots and pans. You can test your existing cookware with magnets. If a magnet sticks, the pot or pan will work on an induction range.

Cookware concerns may be one issue stopping some Americans from adopting induction cooking. Because induction relies on electromagnetism, only pots with magnetic bottoms—steel and iron—can transfer heat. The winners of our Best Stainless Steel Skillets roundup are induction-friendly. But that doesn’t mean you need to buy all-new cookware. If a magnet sticks to the bottom, your pots and pans will work with induction.

"There's a lot of misunderstanding about special pans," Bristow said. "Yeah, the bases have to be magnetic, but there's a lot of cookware out there now that supplies that demand. And the fact is, they're not specific to induction, so you can use those pans on other fuels."

Price has been another big stumbling block. While induction ranges still claim a smaller portion of the overall market, they are becoming more affordable. That alone may convince homeowners who have been sitting on the fence. Built-in cooktops and freestanding induction ranges—which include electric ovens—can be purchased for under $1,000. The Frigidaire FFiF3054TD induction range, which we love, retails for as low as $985.

A variety of manufacturers have introduced induction ranges, signifying their confidence in adoption rates in the U.S. Many have added appealing features like Auto-Sizing Pan Detection, where the range automatically detects the pan’s footprint, and heats only the area making contact.

Samsun-induction-with-virtual-flame
Credit: Samsung
You have more control over temperature on an induction cooktop than you have with a gas cooktop, but there is a learning curve. Samsung induction cooktops show a blue "virtual flame", which can help a new user visualize the amount of heat going to the pan.

Recognizing the consumer’s reliance on visual cues, Samsung offers LED lighting on its induction ranges, a feature that creates a bright blue "virtual flame".

Since the science proves that induction cooking is faster, safer, and more efficient than gas or electric, why the hesitation? As McKechnie pointed out, microwave ovens suffered from a similarly slow adoption rate through the 1970s, for precisely the same reason: People just didn't understand the science behind microwave cooking, or how it could benefit them.

Ultimately, it was the introduction of PR-friendly cooking demos, TV shows, and microwave dealerships that helped the technology take off. Induction cooking may require a similar strategy.

If that's the case, McKechnie thinks a bit of strategic rebranding might go a long way. "The word 'induction' doesn't help," he explained. "That's the scientific name—it's induction field technology—but a lot of people can't really relate to it. The nomenclature could probably use some help."


Still have questions? See our entire Induction 101 series and get answers.

Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.

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Our editors review and recommend products to help you buy the stuff you need. If you make a purchase by clicking one of our links, we may earn a small share of the revenue. Our picks and opinions are independent from any business incentives.
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