Is an induction cooktop for you? If you like the sound of a stove that stays cool to the touch while cooking your food in no time, then the answer may be yes. But how is this magic possible?
Video: What to look for before you buy an induction cooktop
How do induction cooktops work?
Induction cooktops produce a magnetic field around their glass surface, essentially turning your cookware into the heating element. While the stove stays cool-to-the-touch, the magnetism between the stove and cookware means your food is cooked super-quickly via the heat of the cookware, not from the cooktop itself.
Read on to find out if this bit of kitchen tech-wizardry is right for you.
What are the pros and cons?
Deciding whether an induction cooktop is right for you really comes down to your priorities and budget.
- Induction cooktops heat up extraordinarily fast, conveying energy to the cookware faster than any other method of cooking.
- When you change the temperature, this change is reflected immediately (like with gas), not gradually (as with a radiant ceramic element).
- It's a safer option - since the element itself doesn't get hot, it's safe to touch unless you've had a hot pan on it for a while.
- Most have automatic switches that detect when there's nothing on the element, meaning less energy is wasted from leaving them on.
- You need to make sure your cookware is suitable for induction cooking and may need to replace your pots and pans if they’re not suitable.
- You may notice some noise when cooking with induction – a whirring sound could be the fans working to disperse the heat or a clicking sound could be an indication that your cookware isn’t working well with the cooktop.
- More work may be required when it comes to installation.
Induction vs gas
Induction and gas are both great options but you need to weigh up which one you’d prefer.
- Induction is the fastest cooking method but when it comes to heat control induction and gas are much the same.
- Gas provides visual feedback when you raise and lower the flame.
- If you love to cook stir-fries many gas models come with a specially designed burner for woks.
- Cast iron trivets on gas cooktops can be bulky and difficult to clean whereas induction gives you a sleek surface that’s easy to clean.
- You need specific cookware for induction but this isn’t an issue for gas.
- Induction is generally the more expensive option of the two.
See our cooktops buying guide for more information.
Will an induction cooktop save me money?
When CHOICE compared induction to ceramic cooktops, we found there were no savings over the same period of time. Reduced cooking times may save a little money if you replace your electric cooktop with an induction – but the initial purchase price is still a big investment. However, this may change as they come down in price.
Do I need to replace my cookware?
Induction requires cookware to have a ferrous bottom so the heat can be conducted rapidly. Not only that, the pot bases need to be within the recommended size for each cooking zone.
If you need to replace all your pots and pans, factor this into your budget.
Check out our guide to buying induction-compatible cookware for more.
Which features are important?
This monitors the temperature of the bottom of the cookware, should an empty pan be left on a cooking zone that is on. It adjusts the power output to avoid damage to the cookware or hob.
This automatically turns the element off or down in the event of overheating, or if you remove a pan, or if a hotplate has been left on for an extended period of time. Most models have some form of this feature.
Auto heat-up allows the cooking zone to heat to a higher setting, then automatically turn down to a preset setting after a certain amount of time. This is handy if, for example, you're cooking rice via the absorption method, when you want to bring it to the boil initially and then simmer.
Similar to auto heat-up: the cooking zone will heat up food or liquid quickly at the highest setting, then automatically reduce the heat to a pre-selected lower setting.
Protection against overflows
The cooktop may shut down and a beep may sound should a spill overflow onto the controls. Clean the spill, then begin cooking again. (Also, consider how easy to clean the surface will be – are there cracks, lips or gaps where gunk might accumulate?)
This divides the power between two cooking zones in a pair. The power function increases the power to the maximum level for one cooking zone in the pair and automatically decreases in the second cooking zone to a lower power level. The display for the reduced zone alternates. If you want maximum power in two pans, they need to be in opposite zones.
The induction cooktop will not work if there is no pan on the heating zone or the pan is not suitable. Also, if the pan is removed from the cooking zone the operation is stopped and a symbol is displayed. The symbol disappears when the pan is put back to the heating zone and cooking continues with the power level set before. If unsuitable cookware is used, a symbol indicates this and after a short period of time the cooking zone switches itself off.
The danger isn't as high as with a gas or radiant cooktop, but you still don't want the littlies playing with hot pots, so look for this safety feature.
Digital control readings
Digital readouts give you temperature accuracy.
Buttons, sliders etc should be logical and not positioned too close to the elements.
Power on/residual heat light
These should be bright, and it's best to have one for each cooking zone.
This is essentially a simmer setting that can be used to keep food warm. Some can also use residual heat.
Any special requirements for installing one?
- Induction cooktops require a lot of energy and therefore many require special power connections. (Note that this doesn't mean they are inefficient.)
- A normal everyday home plug has a 10Amp connection, whereas an induction cooktop may require a 20A, 32A or even 42A connection. These will have to be hard-wired by a licensed electrician.
- To get a good installation price, get three different installers to give you a quote, but the price will depend on how difficult it is to install the dedicated circuit from the main board in your home to the kitchen.
- Induction cooktops require specific dimensions to be observed when installing and this will also cost you. This is due to the large amount of heat that the cooktop needs to get rid of during its operating. They generally also come with fans to disperse the heat so you'll hear a little noise during and after operation.
- Always follow the installation instructions closely and hire a licensed electrician. This will avoid any safety issues and ensure the long life of your cooktop.
Models in our latest test of induction cooktops range from $549 to $3190.