What are Induction Burners and How Do They Work?
A look at how induction uses magnetic energy to cook your meals, and what types of pans will work with an induction stovetop.
When it’s time to remodel your home kitchen, there’s a lot to consider— especially when it comes to replacing your age-old stovetop. The typical choice has always been fairly simple: gas or electric. However, in recent years, induction cooking has become a more viable and popular option. Not long ago, you’d typically only find induction stovetops and ranges in professional kitchens and culinary schools, but now, the consumer market is embracing induction cooking in the home kitchen. In 2010, The New York Times, likened induction cooking to being the “iPads of the kitchen”. Meaning, it’s a relatively new technology that consumers didn’t quite “get” until they “got it,” and found just how useful it could be in their everyday lives.
So, what is induction cooking and how is it different? Induction stovetops look very similar to glass-topped electric stoves, but they operate very differently. The induction stovetops are heated from an electromagnetic field under the glass top, while the electric stoves most commonly found in homes use radiant heat. Because of the way induction works, the type of cookware you use is a critical part of the burner’s functionality. According to GE Appliances, only cookware that contains iron works on inductions ranges. The iron in your pan is what allows magnetic energy to transfer from the stove to the pan. Electromagnetic energy is created when a copper coil beneath the glass is hit with an electric current. When iron-based cookware touches the surface, the heat is transferred directly to it. The iron vibrates 20,000-50,000 times per second, creating friction and yielding in heat. But here’s the nifty part—the surrounding surface around the cooking action remains cool, as the energy interacts directly with the pan and thus, only the pan gets hot. The induction burner will not heat until a pot is placed on the stovetop.
If you go to cook on an induction burner and find that it doesn’t heat up, you might very well assume that you have a dud stove on your hands. But remember, only certain materials will work for conducting heat on the burners. A trick to tell if your cookware is induction-friendly is to apply a magnet to the bottom and see if it sticks. While you can certainly buy cookware that is specified as “induction compatible,” chances are, you already have some pots and pans that will work fine. The cookware simply has to be magnetic in order for the induction stove to work. Good quality stainless steel pans will oftentimes work for induction, but only if they have magnetic properties. Should you find that your stainless steel pans don’t work, they may contain high amounts of nickel that blocks magnetic fields. Glass, copper, and aluminum also do not work unless they have been reinforced with some sort of magnetic material. To reiterate, these following types of cookware should work just fine with an induction burner:
- Magnetic stainless steel
- Enameled cookware that contains iron or steel
The advantages of using an induction burner or range is that it’s more environmentally efficient than using gas, it heats very quickly, it’s easy to clean, and you can control the heat precisely and consistently. Unlike traditional electric stoves, on which you can often see the heating coils underneath the pot, you will not see a glow from your induction stove indicating that it’s on and hot. However, since the induction burner does not heat unless an iron-based pot is on the surface, you run a lower risk of burning yourself from residual heat. (Newer models are being developed to provide a “glow” for safety measures.)