Or, how to cook your food using magnets.
While induction cooktops have been around for decades, they’re still in far fewer homes than electric or gas stoves. Yet, with emerging research showing the many health and environmental downsides of cooking with natural gas—along with a proposed ban on gas stoves nationwide—home cooks are beginning to consider alternatives. This is where induction cooking comes in.
To help demystify this increasingly popular cooking method, we’ve put together a quick guide to induction cooking. Read on to learn all about the science behind induction, which cookware is induction compatible, and the many health and environmental benefits of using induction stoves.
Right away, you’ll notice that an induction cooktop looks dramatically different from a gas stove. Similar to an electric stove, induction cooktops have a flat, shiny black surface made of glass and/or ceramic, as well as four or more circular heating elements (though you can also find plenty of single-burner versions). Unlike a gas stove’s visible heating apparatus, an induction cooktop’s heating mechanism is less obvious. Underneath its glass surface, a hidden copper coil transfers heat directly to compatible cookware placed on top of it.
When you turn on your induction stove, the copper coil underneath the surface of the stove interacts with compatible cookware to produce an electromagnetic field, heating your pan up almost instantly where it touches the stovetop. Because less heat is lost to the atmosphere, this makes for a more direct—and more efficient—method of heating than gas or electric.
Induction cooktops offer a host of advantages over gas and electric stoves. From better energy efficiency to more precise temperature control, here are some of the main benefits of cooking with induction.
Better for Indoor Air Quality
Switching to an induction cooktop from gas can dramatically reduce indoor air pollution, according to a pilot program by WE ACT for Environmental Justice. The pilot found that households who switched from gas to induction stoves experienced a 35% reduction in levels of nitrogen dioxide, a gas linked to childhood asthma and other health issues.
Burning natural gas also emits large quantities of greenhouse gasses like CO2 and methane into the atmosphere, and is a major contributor to climate change. Since induction stoves heat more efficiently than gas or electric, they emit smaller quantities of greenhouse gasses.
Many cooks feel that induction stovetops make for more precise heating and better responsiveness to temperature changes. This means that it won’t take as long for your cookware to heat up, and the heat remains steady while you cook. In culinary terms, you’ll run less risk of overcooked eggs or scalded milk, even if you walk away for a few seconds.
Safer to Use
An induction cooktop literally won’t work unless there’s an induction compatible pot or pan on it, so you won’t have to worry if you accidentally leave it turned on. There’s also less risk of burnt fingers, as the cooktop itself never actually gets hot (this is particularly important if you’ve got children or pets running around!).
While an electric or gas stove will work with any kind of cookware, induction cooktops will only work if your cookware is induction compatible—i.e., made of ferromagnetic metals like Cast Iron, Carbon Steel, or Stainless Steel. If you’re not sure, you can check for an “induction compatible” symbol on the bottom of your pot or pan, which looks like a coil of wire, or for the word “induction” inscribed on it. You can also check the online product page for your pot or pan.
Another quick way to check for induction compatibility is to grab a magnet and see whether or not it sticks to the bottom of the pot or pan. If it sticks, then you’re good to go. Non-ferromagnetic materials like copper and aluminum are not induction compatible, which effectively rules out the majority of ceramic non stick. Some cookware—like Made In’s Stainless Clad Collection—sandwiches a non-ferromagnetic material like aluminum with a ferromagnetic metal like stainless steel in order to better circulate and distribute heat.
Because of the way induction cooktops are built, they function quite differently from gas or electric stoves. Here are some of the main distinctions.
Induction vs. Electric
Technically speaking, induction cooktops are a type of electric stove, as they need to be plugged in. However, because regular electric stoves produce heat in the same way as gas stoves—through thermal conductivity, or transfer of heat through direct contact—they lose heat to the surrounding air, making them less energy efficient than induction. They also heat less evenly and are less responsive to changes in temperature.
Induction vs. Gas
With flames serving as a clear visual indicator of how much heat you’re using, gas cooking can seem much more straightforward—not to mention exciting—than induction cooktops. However, induction stovetops can cook just as evenly and efficiently as a gas stovetop, if not more so, and tend to have even better temperature control.
Now that we’ve demystified induction cooking for you and explained what induction compatible cookware actually is, we’ve got a few recommendations for outfitting your kitchen.Our Stainless Clad, Carbon Steel, Cast Iron, and Non Stick pots and pans are all completely compatible with induction stovetops. If you don’t own any of these, we’d highly recommend trying out one (or all) of them with a chef-approved Cookware Set—no matter what kind of stove you have.