Electric cooktops aren’t as instantly controllable as gas (with the exception of induction cooktops), but they’re particularly useful for cooking at very low temperatures, such as melting chocolate or for a long, slow simmer. The options for elements are:
Ceramic cooktops are coiled metal elements under tempered ceramic glass. The cooktop is fast, energy-efficient and has a continuous surface with few or no dirt traps. However, spills can bake on, so you need to wipe them up quickly, and there’s often no lip around the edge of the cooktop to contain them. Sugary spills will pit the surface if they’re not cleaned up immediately, and you may need a special cleaning cream to keep the surface streak-free. The ceramic glass holds the heat for a long time, so take care with delicate sauces and be careful after it’s switched off. Many have residual-heat warning lights that stay on till the surface reaches a safe temperature. ·
Cookware: It’s important to choose pans with a flat base for good contact with the surface for efficient heating. Make sure the base is free of grit or burrs that could scratch the cooktop. Aluminium and copper-based pans may leave deposits on the surface. You can use cooktop-safe glass pans, but cooking may be slower. ·
Typical price: Twin-element: $450–$1000+; four elements: $700–$1200+.
Halogen or semi-halogen
Some ceramic cooktop elements use halogen bulbs to create heat. Semi-halogen burners combine a halogen bulb with a coiled metal element. Their cooking performance, ease of cleaning and energy efficiency are similar to ceramic radiant cooktops, but they’re slightly more expensive. Try not to look directly at the element when it’s on, as it could harm your eyes.
Cookware: The same as for ceramic radiant, except that some manufacturers don’t recommend glass saucepans.
Typical price: The upper end of the ceramic radiant price range.
In fact you won’t find these as a separate cooktop nowadays — they’re limited to low-end stovetops. These coiled metal elements are cheap, have similar heat-up times to ceramic radiant cooktops and are slightly more controllable. The coils can be a hassle to clean; some can be unplugged and removed, others have a hinge so you can lift them for easier access to the drip trays underneath. They’re the most energy-efficient of the common electric types; only induction cooktops and gas are better. ·
Cookware: All types OK.
Typical price: Four-element, enamel upright stove: $650–$1000.
This is your cheapest option. Each hotplate is a solid metal disk that’s slower than other electric elements to heat up and extremely slow to cool down, making them the least controllable of all cooktops. They’re also the least energy-efficient of all cooktop types. They’re not too bad for cleaning because spills can’t get under their surface, though there can be a dirt trap where the hotplate joins the surrounding surface. Even on their highest setting they don’t glow red, so there can be a risk of burns.
Cookware: All types OK. A very flat base that makes good contact with the element improves heating efficiency.
Typical price: Four elements: $400–$700+.
These ‘elements’ use a magnetic field to heat up the pan, which then heats the contents, while the cooktop itself stays relatively cool. It’s the fastest cooking method and is just as controllable as gas. It’s expensive, though, and you can only use certain types of cookware — See more on induction cooking.
Typical price: Twin-element: around $1700; two radiant ceramic and two induction elements (as one unit): $1800–$2500; four induction elements: $3000–$4000+.