Induction cooktops have been available for some years now, but only recently have the prices come down enough to make them a viable consideration for home chefs. There is a fair amount of misinformation about induction cooking, so we thought a few basics would be helpful in determining whether it’s right for you.

How does it work?
Basically, cooking is applying heat to food. The traditional means is to create a heat source using a type of energy (wood, electricity, natural gas or propane) and direct that heat toward the food being cooked. For example, a gas burner ignites gas and uses the flame to heat the pot and the contents inside. An induction cooktop skips the middle part of creating the flame or heated surface and directs the energy directly to the cooking vessel, which heats the contents. The energy is created through the generation of a magnetic field using induction elements. A typical induction cooktop will hold 4-5 induction elements.

Because of the magnetic field, only iron or stainless steel pots and vessels will work on an induction cooktop. Aluminum, Pyrex or copper will not respond to induction magnetic fields. A simple test for induction cookware is to hold a simple refrigerator magnet to the bottom surface. If it stays on, the pot should work well on induction elements. Many brands label themselves as stainless steel but actually contain other non-ferrous metals, which will not heat magnetically. So if your cookware includes commercial steel or cast-iron, you’ll be ready to use induction. If you’ve got a serious collection of hard-adonized aluminum or copper cookwear, you may be looking at an additional investment.

Because only the pan or pot gets hot, induction cooktops can be considered safer for children, and anyone who might have balance or other physical challenges. Though the ceramic or glass cooktop will be heated during the course of cooking something, the residual heat is much lower than a conventional cooktop and contained in the pot or pan. Elements will not activate in most cooktops unless a large enough iron or steel item is placed on it.

Induction cooktops are also very energy efficient, as none of the energy used to heat the pan is lost. Induction cooktops can make for a much cooler kitchen as there’s no lost energy from gas flames or electric burners. All the energy is directly applied to the food through the pot.

Induction cooking been appealing to commercial chefs for many years because of the immediate controls that the magnetic fields offer. It’s the same immediate control that a gas or propane flame provides the serious cook, but without the wasted heat and potential fire hazard. Controls can be finely calibrated from a gentle simmer to power strong enough for high heat wok cooking.

The typical induction cooktop will feature black glass that is easy to keep clean, as its surface never gets hot. Spills will never bake onto the surface and wipe off easily. Induction can also speed up cooking, with faster boil rates for water (8.5 minutes compared to more than 12.5 minutes for gas or traditional electric).

Like any relatively new product, there are some fears about the way induction transfers energy to the pot. Most induction cookers produce a magnetic field that cannot affect medical equipment such as pacemakers or defibrillators because the device would need to be in close contact with the element.

Induction Cooktops and Ranges
Most manufacturers now offer an induction cooktop option, either as an installed countertop unit or as part of a free-standing range. Bosch offers some nice features on its Autochef ® 800 Series 36-inch induction cooktop. It has a CountDown Timer for each element so that a busy chef can multitask without worries and a powerful 4400 watt element for the high heat applications.

GE Profiles’ 30-inch range pairs an induction cooktop with a large, 5.3 cubic foot convection oven and a handy warming drawer.

KitchenAid’s Architect II five-element induction cooktop has a 34,000 BTU equivalent induction element and has a pan detection system combined with a bridge function that enables the cook to use larger pans and griddles. It is also available in two colors: black and stainless. Kitchen Aid has also launched a free-standing induction range that includes a low-heat self cleaning oven.