The Pros and Cons of Induction Cooking
Induction cooking may very well be the wave of the future. It has long been popular in Europe, especially in professional kitchens. Now, according to USA Today, due to concerns about climate change, cities and counties in California are adopting new building codes that ban natural gas in new homes and support all electric construction. There are also incentives and rebates for going electric. Despite opposition from the fossil fuel industry, it's likely the move away from gas will continue and expand—along with it, we'll likely see a transition from gas to induction cooking at home. So, how does induction cooking work and might it be right for your kitchen?
What Is Induction Cooking?
Induction is electromagnetic. Magnets excite metallic pans to create heat. Pans essentially become burners, eliminating heat transfer through the glass cooktop surface unlike regular electric cooking, thus making it more efficient and safer. Induction cooking is available in a single "burner" or heating zone, a cooktop with multiple heating zones, or a range.
Because electromagnetic waves are used to cook, induction cooking requires magnetic cookware. If a magnet sticks to a pan, it can be used with an induction cooktop. Cookware that is magnetic, and therefore compatible, includes cast iron, enameled cast iron, and stainless steel—fully clad cookware brands such as All Clad and Le Creuset have offerings that will work.
Advantages of Induction Cooking
Rachelle Boucher, executive chef, electric kitchens expert, and founder of Kitchens to Life, is an enthusiastic proponent of induction cooking. She points to several advantages over cooking with gas, and it all starts with air quality. Says Boucher, "Natural gas creates unacceptable amounts of pollution with methane and particulate matter in the air. With induction there's less need for air conditioning and ventilation."
In addition to a decrease in air pollution, Boucher says there's also safety to consider. With no flame, there is no fire, so you're decreasing the likelihood of kitchen fires and burns. Boucher prefers cooking with induction because it's faster and more precise. Not only does it heat two to three times more quickly than gas, Boucher says, but "you can choose a specific temperature and it's more consistent." Cleaning up is also much faster and easier with induction because only the pan is heating. The smooth glass top stays cool so drips and splatters don't stick and burn. Because the unused surface stays cool and is smooth, the cooktop effectively becomes additional counter space for cooking utensils, cookbooks, and other items you might not safely be able to place on a hot surface.
Because induction is more powerful than gas or traditional electric ranges, it is quicker, more comfortable, and ultimately makes cooking easier. It allows for manufacturer innovations. Monogram's sous vide probe ($154, homedepot.com), which requires no circulator and "smart cooking," is a good example. There's also Hestan Cue's smart cooking system ($499, williams-sonoma.com), shown above, which has an integrated cooktop, pan, and phone app.
Disadvantages of Induction Cooking
The prices for induction have come down, but this cooking method is still more expensive than low-end gas appliances. Additionally, there may be an added expense if you need to invest in new cookware. Non-magnetic cookware, such as copper, glass, aluminum, and ceramic, would be incompatible with induction unless they have a layer of magnetic material. If your favorite wok has a round bottom, you can't just add a ring to your cooktop—you'll need either a flat bottom wok or a special induction wok hob which is an added expense.
According to Boucher, "The biggest challenge is the need to try it." Well, that and the learning curve that comes with adjusting to any new way of cooking. While the speed of cooking is an advantage, the rhythm and pace of cooking is not the same with induction. A home cook may initially be befuddled with disappearing touchscreens, adjusting to the speed, and getting used to the fact that when pans are removed from the cooktop it turns off. While this is a disadvantage initially, many appliance companies provide loaners and the opportunity to "try before you buy" in a showroom kitchen.
Last but not least, while Boucher has not experienced it, she says because the cooktops are glass, there is a possibility they can scratch or break.