What Is Induction Cooking? All Your Questions, Answered

Induction is quicker, safer, and more efficient than gas or electric. Here’s what you need to know about this hot topic in kitchen appliances.

Induction cooking is causing a buzz in kitchen design. The magnetism-driven technology has been around for decades, but recent talk of banning gas stoves, and a desire for more efficient interiors and healthy homes, has many homeowners looking into induction. Interested in making the switch? Here’s what you should know about induction cooking.

induction kitchen stove top with gray cabinets
Michael Partenio

How does an induction stove work?

You’ll find induction options on a cooktop (also called a range top) or the top of a range (sometimes called a stove). While electric and gas burners frequently top these appliances, induction is another common option. Gas cooktops have burners and grates; electric cooktops have either coils on top or smooth surfaces with heated coils underneath. Induction cooktops always have a smooth glass surface. What’s different between induction and traditional electric cooking is how the energy is generated and transferred.

Induction energy is the result of magnetic currents. “When an induction-ready pot or pan is placed in the cooking zone, the magnet under the glass is activated and the molecules in the cookware are agitated,” says Sheri Mercadante, national product trainer for SMEG USA. “The agitation creates friction, which in turn creates heat. The cookware begins to heat up almost instantly.” The magnetic connection behind induction means the pan heats directly. This is unlike gas and electric, where the surface is heated and the energy then transfers to the cookware.

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Stacey Brandford

Induction Cookware

Induction-ready cookware is a key factor to how this technology works. Induction cooktops require pots and pans that are magnetic. “Basically, if a little fridge magnet will stick to your cookware, you are induction ready,” says Mercadante. This means that materials like copper, aluminum, ceramic, and glass are not compatible with induction. Typically, cast iron, enameled cast iron, and stainless-steel cookware will work, though there are exceptions, so it helps to check for magnetism.

The size of your cookware matters more with induction cooking, too. Ideally, induction pots and pans are flat bottomed and match the size of the cooking zone. Cookware that’s too small, or off kilter from the burner, runs the risk of not triggering the magnetic energy.  

While compatible cookware is widely available, you might find items touted as induction-friendly that are not actually a good fit. Reading the product description before buying online can help. You can also look for the induction symbol, which is a horizontal coil graphic, and/or the word “induction.”

Cooking with Induction

“Induction requires a bit of a learning curve to get used to,” says Nureed Saeed, owner and creative director of Nu Interiors. Overall, though, Saeed says induction is a comparable cooking experience with gas and electric.

There are some noticeable differences. Taking a pan off heat for too long, for example, causes the cooking element to turn off. Someone used to cooking by sight with gas flame will have to adjust to induction. Other differences might include fully electric touch controls—though there are models with knobs as well—and new indicator lights and error signals, such as an alert when a pot cannot be detected on the induction burner. 

Perhaps the biggest difference is the performance: induction is generally considered faster and more even cooking. “Because of the magnetic technology used to create the heat, [induction is] incredibly efficient in terms of time to cook. Boiling a pot of water or scrambling has never been so easy,” says Saeed. Consumer Reports testing found that induction outperforms others, noting that 6 quarts of water came to a boil 2 to 4 minutes faster with induction than gas or electric.

Induction cooking also tends to be more precise. When you turn the temperature down, the change is more immediate than with gas or electric. You also have more control over the temperature—some models even allow you to set it to an exact degree. This cuts back on overcooking or boiling over once you’ve gotten the hang of cooking with induction. Saeed points out that adjusting to the temperature and speed of induction is part of the learning curve. 

kitchen countertop with induction cooktop and stainless-steel range hood

Laurie Black

Environmental Benefits of Induction

Induction’s recent turn in the spotlight comes largely from its energy efficient features. Multiple cities, states, and building projects have discussed banning gas hookups and no longer allowing appliances like gas stoves. “In a few cities out here—San Francisco, Berkeley, and Oakland for example—gas cooking is no longer allowed in new builds,” says Saeed. This crackdown on gas is due to environmental and human health concerns.

Compared to gas and regular electric cooktops, induction not only requires less energy for cooking, it is also more energy efficient. Induction heats cookware directly, avoiding losing heat from flames or coils and eliminating the need to heat the surface around the energy source. According to Energy Star, “the per unit efficiency of induction cooking tops is about 5-10% more efficient than conventional electric resistance units and about 3 times more efficient than gas.” Induction’s efficiency reduces energy usage and lowers greenhouse gas emissions. Electric cooking methods like induction also result in better indoor air quality.

Pros and Cons of Induction Cooking

Induction is just different enough from gas and electric that it has a learning curve, but there are plenty of benefits to making the switch. Here’s what to consider if you’re looking into induction cooking for your home. 

Benefits of Induction Cooktops

Safety

Because induction heats the pan, there’s less surface area that gets heated during induction, meaning less area to potentially burn yourself or something set on the cooktop. Unlike gas, electric methods don’t have an open flame to potentially catch a fire. Also, it’s harder to accidentally leave on or turn on a burner, since the removal of cookware will cut the connection. Accidentally melting a spatula or singing an oven mitt might be a thing of the past with these models.  

Faster and More Efficient Cooking

The magnetic technology in induction cooktops means there's less of a wait for a pan or pot to get warm, having you boiling, sizzling, and simmering faster than ever. Induction also offers more responsive and precise temperature control. Induction’s lack of gas and highly efficient magnetic heating makes it better for the environment, too. 

Easier for a Kitchen Remodel

According to Saeed, relocating gas appliances during a major renovation can sometimes result in costly work relocating the gas line, including breaking into the concrete subfloor. Electric energy, on the other hand, eliminates that necessity. “You could opt for induction and cut this invasive and costly item out of your kitchen renovation budget," says Saeed.

Financial Incentives

Depending on where you're located, there might be some money in it if you go with induction. “In Northern California, there are financial incentives around the Bay Area to switch to induction,” says Saeed. The Inflation Reduction Act is another opportunity for rebates when you switch to induction. 

Easy to Clean

A flat, smooth surface (especially digital control models) means not having to clean around and under grates, coils, and knobs. Also, because the broader surface doesn’t heat, spills are less likely to get quickly (and stubbornly) baked onto induction cooktops.

Cons of Induction Cooking

Requires Specific Cookware

“The main negatives are that you need magnetic bottom cookware, so some of our pots and pans may need to be replaced,” says Saeed. This can be a substantial additional cost to the purchase of a new appliance. In addition to the right cookware, there’s extra attention needed to make sure the bottom of the pot or pan selected matches the size of the induction burner when used. 

Learning Curves

Adjusting to the speed, temperature, and technology behind induction is another major consideration. In addition, you might need to learn to cook with new cookware and alter some of your common cooking practices, like removing a pan from the burner for a significant amount of time. 

If you’re someone who likes to leave frequently-used pots or pans on the cooktop, you might need to consider changing your ways. Since induction technology is reliant on the cookware, you don’t want to accidentally turn on a burner and trigger it because the pan is already in place. 

More Expensive

Induction cooktops and ranges with induction surfaces are often still more expensive than gas or electric models. 

Visual and Audible Differences

With induction, you won’t have the satisfying sound that comes with lighting a gas burner, or the unconscious visual “hot surface” alarm like a red electric coil. Some users also note a slight buzz, rattling, or humming sound—sometimes even referred to as a high-pitched whine—at higher settings. This is generally explained as coming from the vibration of the magnetic energy. 

It’s Not a 1:1 Switch with Gas 

You can’t always just swap out a gas range or cooktop for induction; you may need a different connection for an electric model. “Be sure you have the space on your electrical panel to handle the new unit. It will likely need its own breaker,” says Saeed.  

Cooktops Can Scratch More Easily

Compared to the stainless steel of gas range tops, glass induction cooktops are more susceptible to scratches, cracks, or chips. This may make you wary of using a beloved but heavy cast-iron pot or pan.

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