Features

Induction 101

Demystifying induction cooktops and their cookware
By Sallie Moffat
February 23, 2010

Although it was first introduced in the U.S. in the 1980s, mystery continues to enshroud the induction cooktop. How exactly does it work? What are its benefits? And what types of cookware can be used? For answers to these questions and more, K+BB spoke to Malte Peters, cooking product manager at BSH Home Appliances, who knows just a thing or two about induction technology.


HOW IT WORKS

As opposed to traditional gas or electric cooking for which heat is generated by a flame or electric element, respectively, and transferred to the cookware, induction cooking "uses a power coil to produce a high-frequency electromagnetic field," explained Peters. This field then penetrates the induction-compatible cookware (more on this below) and "sets up a circulating electric current that generates the heat, which in turn is transferred to the cookware's contents." In a nutshell, electromagnetic technology allows the cookware itself to become the generator of cooking heat.

Because the cookware transfers heat directly to its contents—and because there is no open flame or radiant heat to dissipate—the cooktop remains cool to the touch. “Nothing outside the cookware is affected by the electromagnetic field,” explained Peters. “As soon as the cookware is removed from the elements, or the element is turned off, heat generation stops.” This brings us to the many benefits of induction cooking.


BENEFITS

In addition to a cool cooking surface with no open flame or exposed heating element (great for households with children), induction technology:

• provides rapid heating

• conserves energy—according to the Department of Energy, the efficiency of energy transfer for an induction cooktop is 90 percent, versus 71 percent for a smooth-top non-induction electrical unit. This equals an approximate 20 percent savings in energy for the same amount of heat transfer. Also, the cooktop will not heat up the kitchen, resulting in added energy efficiency.

• is easy to clean. Induction cooktop surfaces are flat and smooth. In addition, the surface will not get hot, so spills will not stick.

• has similar controllability to a gas cooktop, so the element does not require time to cool down or heat up.

• is more precise and more responsive than other cooking methods. Because induction cooking heats only the contents of the pan, noted Peters, “an induction cooktop can be adjusted to quickly go from a low simmer to a heavy boil in faster times than gas or electric cooking.”


COMPATIBLE COOKWARE

While these benefits could mean a more convenient and conserving kitchen, they won’t matter much if you’re not using the correct cookware. As Peters explained, “Induction cooktops are compatible with cookware made of magnetic (or ferrous) materials, such as stainless steel and cast iron.” Non-ferrous materials, such as glass, ceramic, copper and aluminum, will not conduct. Also, make sure the bottom of the cookware is flat. The more surface area touching the element, the more efficient the cookware (and cooktop!) will be.

For those who think they may have induction-compatible cookware already in their kitchens, there’s a very easy test: If a magnet sticks to the cookware, then it will work on an induction cooktop. If it doesn’t stick, it won’t.

Some homeowners may choose to use an induction disc (a ferrous disc placed between the induction element and a incompatible pot or pan—induction will heat up the disc and transfer the heat to the pan) in order to continue using their existing, incompatible cookware on their new induction cooktops. However, be aware that it may “prevent the cooktop from transmitting enough energy and ultimately can limit the cooktop’s performance,” cautioned Peters.

When shopping for induction-compatible cookware, look for notification on the product itself. “A lot of cookware is now sold with a label or logo saying ‘induction ready,’” said Peters. Short of shopping with a magnet in your pocket, simply look and see what the prospective pot or pan is made from.

Whether induction catches on in America this year or 10 years from now, it’s a technology with great benefits. As Peters said, “Induction cooking delivers precision, efficiency, safety and technology, as well as the cooking performance of gas combined with the cleanability of electric.” What’s not to love?


Searching for cookware options? Look no further! We've rounded up some cookware that's sure to work on any induction cooktop.
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