What is an induction cooktop?

An induction cooktop heats cookware directly using the principle of electromagnetic induction, unlike conventional electric or gas stoves, which heat cookware indirectly using an open flame or electric resistance coils. This magnetic field isn’t hot on its own, but when a piece of metal cookware enters this magnetic field, the molecules within the metal become agitated, generating heat within the cookware itself. Induction cooking wastes less energy, requires no open heating elements, and offers you precise control over the temperature of each pan.

Induction cooktops have been around for decades, especially among professional chefs, and they‘ve recently become more popular among US households. Induction cooking is a great way to convert the centerpiece of your kitchen to a cleaner, more efficient, safer way to cook.

Illustration of how induction cooking works.

With induction cooking, electricity flows through a tightly wound coil (1), which generates a magnetic field (2) at the surface of the stovetop. When a pot or pan made of ferrous (or magnetic) material meets the magnetic field, it agitates the molecules within the bottom and sides of the pan (3). The excited molecules result in heat (4)—but only within the material of the cookware itself. Any food in the pan will cook as expected, but all the heat comes directly from the pan rather than a heating element underneath.

Because no heat has to transfer between the heating element and the cookware, induction cooktops are incredibly efficient. This not only saves energy during cooking—it also saves time. Unlike a traditional electric stove, there is no need to wait for the heating element to warm up; the induction reaction begins immediately. Since all the heat is generated directly in the cookware, that energy is delivered to the food faster, too. A pot of water should come to a boil about 50% faster through induction cooking versus a traditional electric or gas stove.

Since non-magnetic materials aren’t affected by the magnetic field, the only part of an induction cooktop that gets hot is the area directly under the cookware. With no open flames or exposed heating elements, induction cooktops reduce the risk of fire and accidental burns in the kitchen—making them an excellent choice for families with small children.

Types of induction cooktops

  • Range: A combination of an oven with a built-in induction cooktop.
  • Built-in cooktop: Usually available in standard 30” or 36” sizes. Typically installed directly within the countertop.
  • Portable cooktop: A less expensive, smaller option, often with only one or two heating elements. Consider trying one out before committing to a full replacement.

Look below the surface

Though they might look the same, induction cooktops are different from modern conventional electric stoves with a glass-ceramic surface. Conventional electric stoves transfer heat from below the surface using electric resistance elements. Double-check that any stovetop you consider says “induction,” not just “electric.”

Electricity requirements

Most full-size induction units require a 240-volt outlet, which you will need to have installed if you don’t have one already. If you are replacing an electric range, you likely already have the necessary 240-volt connection.

Pro-tip: Most portable induction units only need 120 volts. By replacing your existing electric stove with one or more portable units, you could enjoy the same benefits of induction cooking without changing your 120-volt outlets.

You probably already have induction-friendly cookware

To make direct heat transfer between the two surfaces possible, induction cooking requires magnetic cookware. Simply put, this means it must contain iron. Most cast iron or stainless-steel pans should be compatible. To test your cookware in advance, try to place a magnet on the bottom of the pan. If it sticks, the pan is good for induction cooking.

No matter its material, your cookware must have a flat bottom to work with induction cooking. If it doesn’t—or if the magnet trick doesn’t work, as with a copper-bottom pan—an iron or steel plate can be added to the bottom to make it compatible with induction.

Additional features

When comparing induction cooktops, think about the features that matter to you. Some induction cooktops may generate heat slightly faster, but most options come down to personal preference. Features may include:

  • More induction zones to cook more items simultaneously.
  • Manual knobs instead of digital buttons for a more tactile feel.
  • Faux blue flame indicators to indicate that an induction zone is active.
  • Extra safety features such as an automatic shut-off when water spills or the pan leaves the surface.

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