Would $60 be too much to spend to discover an optimal method of stovetop cooking? That $60 investment would reveal, to you, the cooking method of choice throughout Asia and Europe. It offers instant heating with a high level of precision. There is no wasted heat, reduced potential for burning because the stovetop stays cool, easier to keep clean, it is easily installed, takes up less room and is substantially more energy efficient than conventional electric or gas ranges. For that $60 expenditure you will discover the least-known but most remarkable cooking secret in the United States. It is induction cooking and it needs to become part of every American household.
These are bold words and ones that we don’t offer lightly. As we will explain below, anyone who reads this blog should purchase a portable induction plate — they are generally available for between $60-100 — and just try it for yourself. This modestly priced experiment will open up a new world of cooking, just as microwave ovens did in the 1970s. And you see for yourself how induction cooking will bring two quarts of water to a boil in about two minutes and offer a degree of heating control that blows away any conventional electric range. I purchased a Max Burton 6000 1800-Watt Portable Induction through Amazon; the cost was $78. I chose a more powerful unit than others offered at lower cost so that I’d get faster heating capabilities. Costco is now selling a decently powered Salton unit for $59.
Induction cooking uses induction heating to directly heat a cooking vessel, as opposed to using heat transfer from electrical coils or burning gas as with a traditional cooking stove. This induction cooker element is a high-frequency electromagnet, with the electromagnetism generated by electronics in the “element” under the unit’s ceramic surface. When a magnetic material – such as a cast-iron skillet – is placed in the magnetic field that the element is generating, the field transfers (“induces”) energy into that metal, causing the metal – the cooking vessel – to become hot.
An induction cooker is faster and more energy-efficient than a traditional electric cooking surface. It allows instant control of cooking energy similar to gas burners. Other cooking methods use flames or red-hot heating elements; induction heating heats only the pot. Because the surface of the cook top is heated only by contact with the vessel, the possibility of burn injury is significantly less than with other methods. Also, the induction effect does not directly heat the air around the vessel, resulting in further energy efficiencies. This two-minute video summarizes the technology:
Induction cooking is superior to conventional gas flame and electric cookers, as it provides rapid heating, improved thermal efficiency, and greater heat consistency, yet with precise control similar to gas. 40%–less than half–of the energy in gas gets used to cook, whereas with induction 84% percent (or, by many estimates, more) of the energy in the electricity used gets used to cook (and the rest is not waste heat as it is with gas). There are two important heat-related consequences of that fact: Because of the high efficiency, an induction element has heating performance comparable to a typical consumer-type gas element, even though the gas burner would have a much higher power input. Ironically, while more efficient, induction cooking is also substantially more powerful than gas cooking. It is almost like driving a Ferrari that boasts the 45 MPG of a Prius.
Induction cookers are safer to use than conventional cookers because there are no open flames. The surface below the cooking vessel is no hotter than the vessel; only the pan generates heat. The control system shuts down the element if a pot is not present or not large enough. Induction cookers are easy to clean because the cooking surface is flat and smooth, even though it may have several heating zones. Since the cooking surface is not directly heated, spilled food does not burn on the surface.
Induction cooktops are readily available and even induction ranges are becoming affordable. Some ranges are available for $1000 or less. Consumer Reports rates induction stovetops amongst the top of all of the cooktops that it rated, giving some of them a very rare 99 point rating; by comparison CR rated the best gas cooktops between 80-81 and its top-rated electric cooktops in the low 90s in its November 2013 ‘Best of the Year’ edition. But before you make that kind of investment, we strongly urge that you simply make the $60 investment in a portable induction plate and try it out for yourself. A cursory search on the Web will result in a bumper crop of testimonials and videos about the advantages of induction cooking, including this 2010 story in the New York Times.
Are there downsides to induction cooking? Perhaps. Electricity outages would render an induction stove inoperable. And you need to use cookware with magnetic materials. So glass, ceramic, copper or aluminum cookware cannot be used on induction stoves. But any ferrous metal such as cast iron or stainless steel pots will work perfectly. In fact, you can use any flat-bottomed cookware to which a magnet will cling. And induction ranges do tend to be more expensive than low-end gas ranges, so there may be a larger out-of-pocket cost. However, the higher upfront costs could conceivably be offset by lower energy costs. This calculation is somewhat complicated and the historically low current price of natural gas adds to this complication. Suffice to say that the energy efficiency and superior performance of induction cooking makes it cost-comparable to gas cooking albeit it perhaps not substantially cheaper.
Induction cooking is comparable to microwave cooking thirty years ago. Consumers were slow to adopt microwaves initially but now few kitchens don’t have one. No doubt there are some of you for whom induction cooking may not work, especially if you’ve heavily invested in non-inductive cookware or recently purchased a new range. But anyone who is thinking about finding ways of reducing energy costs while improving their cooking experience needs to take the $60 plunge into a world of vesting superior cooking.