Updated: Sep 18, 2020
Just like history, my cooking, too, has evolved over time. I remember starting with a microwave and a tiny electric hot plate (college), which graduated to a small apartment stove. Then I had my first grown-up standard gas range, and now my huge 1951 Chambers gas dream-stove, the classic Cadillac of cookery. So I was curious about what this newer induction cooking had to offer, and if I should venture there.
Could I successfully pull off my perfect Sunday omelet on an induction cooktop? How would it be different? How does the thing even work? It turns out; there is some basic science that every new induction cook needs to understand. Cooking does equal science, after all!
First, the induction cooktops and ranges look a lot like their traditional gas and electric counterparts, but how they work is entirely different. Hold on to your aprons - because this is about to get a little technical and a lot interesting!
Nope, not talking about your personality - although maybe that too. The induction cooktop works by transferring energy to the cookpot itself and heating the pot. The current of energy flowing through the pot heats it. A traditional stove heats the burner (by gas or electricity), and the burner, in turn, heats the pot. Induction stoves heat the pot itself, and won’t work unless a pot or pan is on the element. Also, it is essential to know that your induction burner is called a hob. Induction nerds like to talk about hobs, so we need to get the terminology down.
Because of the nature of electromagnetic induction, it only works with certain metals - therefore, not every cooking pot or pan will work. Using the wrong pan will affect performance and may not work at all.
The best pans for induction cooking are:
1. Flat bottomed: The bottom surface of the pan must make full contact with the hob to transfer energy efficiently. That means that the bent pot, the curved wok pan, etc. won’t work. Must. Be. Flat.
2. Ferrous metal: Remember high school science? Ferrous = containing iron.
Ferrous materials are magnetic, which is required for the induction technology to well, induct. No iron, no heat. To test your pans, you can use a regular fridge magnet and see if it sticks to the bottom of your pan. If it solidly sticks and is a little hard to pull off, then it is an excellent pan for cooking. If it sort of sticks, but slides off easily - then you will not have a great cooking experience. Cast iron, stainless steel, and enameled cast iron all work well. Some newer cookware is now marked “induction compatible,” so watch for that as well.
Because those flat-bottomed, ferrous metal plans are heated up by induction, there is no waiting time for a hot pan. The pan is heated much faster than a traditional range that first heats the burner, then that heat is transferred to the pan via conduction. Boiling water and heating oil take less time, and bam you are cooking. Induction is also more responsive when you dial back the heat, enabling you to cook with greater precision.
We can’t talk about cooking without covering safety. All cooking requires some caution - but induction cooking has some differences that you need to be aware of.
1. Electromagnetic field - We covered magnetism, and this comes with some cautions. Interference can damage some sensitive electronics such as TVs, radios, computers, and cell phones if they are very close to the cooking hob.
Home cooks with pacemakers need to be cautious as well. You should always check with your doctor before purchasing an induction product. Some pacemakers are fine around it; some are not. Know your situation.
2. No Flame - Since induction cooktops have no fire or heated element - there is nothing red or burning to indicate that it is hot. This means if you remove a pan and the top is still hot from residual heat, you may forget and touch it. Some manufacturers have started making their hobs with lights that indicate it is on and look like a traditional burner.
3. Safety Advantages -
Because the hob does not stay hot when the pan is removed - no more accidentally leaving the burner on when you are in a hurry!
An induction cooktop can be installed at any height, making it safer for cooks that need a different setup - such as being a wheelchair user.
Easy to clean - no greasy buildup in burner coils and wells.
The cooktop will not get as hot, nor stay as hot as a traditional stove. The kitchen does not get hot, and the rest of the top that is not being used is not hot, which is safer for those assistant cooks and little hands.
Also - goodbye sweltering summer cooking!
So, now that we know the basics about how induction works, what pans to use, and how to stay safe - I’m hungry! How can I make my best recipes just as tasty on my induction stove?
Timing is Everything!
You probably have a cooking style. One type of cook gets everything out for a recipe before starting, carefully preps ingredients, and measures precisely. The other type throws a pan on, chops while the oil heats, then grabs seasonings and other ingredients as needed. Perhaps you fall somewhere in between. No type of cooking is exactly wrong, but you will be more successful learning on an induction stove with an organized approach.
Because the pan will heat up quickly, and the temperature adjusts quickly - there is much less “down” time while waiting for things to simmer or boil. You will need to work more quickly, and if you aren’t prepped beforehand, you may burn your first attempts.
Learn the Controls
Typical induction cooktops have settings for soup, hot pot, water, fry, or stir-fry. These may vary slightly from model to model. They also have temperature levels, usually from 1-12. It will take a bit of practice to know what level to start on, or what level to keep food warm on. Your instruction book can give you a good starting place. If in doubt - start at about medium-high, or about an “8”.
Practice Makes Perfect
Before tackling that new magazine recipe you have been looking at, get to know your new appliance with some simple tasks. Boil an egg, cook pasta, make a grilled cheese. These experiences will give you a feel for your cooktop and help you make adjustments. Plus - we have all overcooked an egg or burned a grilled cheese. Cheap ingredients, and no big loss of time or money.
Now that you have the information you need to get started, grab that pan, prep your ingredients, and happy induction cooking!