Until the mid-last century, gas or electric stovetops were pretty much the only way to equip a kitchen, in a restaurant or your home. Until induction cooktops showed up and started raising eyebrows.
The thing that gets many people fascinated by induction cooktops is that they don’t require an electric burner or gas flame. They stay cool and transfer energy directly to your cookware, heating it contactlessly.
But what do chefs think about them?
Some chefs like induction cooking because of the speed at which it heats their cookware, the precise control it gives them over the heat, and the easy cleanup that follows. Others think that this isn’t enough to justify the price—and swear by their gas stoves instead.
How Induction Cooktops Work
An induction cooktop works with the power of electromagnetism. When you turn one of the zones on, it won’t ignite a gas flame or heat an electric burner.
Instead, it will run an alternating electric current (AC) through a copper coil under the glass-ceramic surface, which creates an oscillating magnetic field over the zone.
If you place a pan or pot made of (or containing) enough iron on that zone, the magnetic field will induce an electric current in it. As a result, the iron molecules in your cookware start to move around aggressively—and much of the energy from their movement is converted into heat.
Induction cooktops, in other words, heat your pans and pots directly. Their predecessors in the form of wood-fired, gas-fired, and electric coil or glass-ceramic cooktops do so indirectly. This makes induction cooking highly energy-efficient and creates several benefits for the professional cooks who use them.
The Pros of Induction Cooking
Without a doubt, one of the most significant benefits of induction cooktops is precision. They heat your cookware directly, allowing you to choose from a wide range of high and low cooking temperatures.
With an induction cooktop, you can bring your pans and pots to heat as high as 500°F (260°C) and above, allowing you to sauté vegetables and sear meat over medium-high to high heat. At the same time, you can melt chocolate and cook delicate sauces at a temperature as low as 100°C (38°C).
Some chefs swear by the precise control over the cooking temperature that they get with induction. Others disagree—and claim that they can achieve a similar level of control with copper cookware on a gas stove.
“The speed and power are so exciting to use, but even more fun is the ability to achieve precise temperatures and hold temperatures perfectly,” says Rachelle Boucher, Executive Chef & Electric Kitchens Expert, for an industry magazine called Clean Technica.
“It is a quick transition from having to look at the flame and try and guess what that temperature is and to keep adjusting the flame up and down for many recipes to simply being able to select a number (much like a temperature setting for your oven) and know that you can maintain precise temperatures.”
Speed is another benefit of induction that’s worth mentioning. A cooktop of this type is so efficient in transferring energy, that it can bring a pot of water to a boil in almost half the time of its gas or electric counterparts.
Preheating pans and pots also takes significantly less time. And though this wouldn’t change much in your home kitchen, it could make a difference for the throughput of a busy restaurant mid-service.
Chefs often talk about the easy cleanup of induction cooktops, especially in the times when food spills on the cooking surface.
“Induction cooking offers the advantages of easy cleanup,” it’s written in The Professional Chef, a culinary & hospitality textbook by Wiley and the Culinary Institute of America, “because there are no nooks on the smooth surface of the cooktop in which spilled foods can get stuck, nor does spilled food cook on the cool surface.”
The Cons of Induction Cooking
The biggest drawback of induction? It only works with ferromagnetic cookware. “Ferromagnetic” means that the pan or pot should have a thick and heavy base, which contains enough iron for it to be reactive to the forces of magnetic fields.
Generally speaking, cast iron, carbon steel, and clad stainless steel cookware are induction-friendly. Unless stated otherwise by the manufacturer, non-stick and copper cookware typically isn’t.
Some chefs don’t necessarily see this as a problem. For others—especially those who cook with expensive heritage copper pans—it is. So they stick to gas cooktops and, in rarer cases, electric coil.
Another problem is that not all builders and contractors know how to wire a professional kitchen for the needs of induction, or how to install and maintain commercial induction stoves. This can make equipping a restaurant expensive and bring ownership costs higher up.
What’s the General Consensus Among Chefs?
So, what do chefs think about induction cooking?
The reality is that there’s no single answer to that question.
There are many roles in a professional kitchen. An executive chef equipping their new restaurant for today and the future will think very differently than a line cook used to preparing food the way they were taught.
Also, never forget that some people are more inclined to adopt emerging technology than others. And, when it comes to cooking, induction is as new a technology as they get. So some chefs are already convinced in the merits of induction and have equipped their kitchens with it, whereas others continue to work with gas-powered stoves.
One thing is for sure. When it comes to cooking, gas will slowly, but surely, become less prevalent. Even if, in some areas, more than 70% of households cook with gas, many cities and states are taking action to move away toward electricity.
In recent years, as reported by The Verge, more and more states have been passing laws to ban gas connections in new construction. New buildings are now being required to use electricity—turning electric and induction stoves into the go-to appliances for equipping kitchens.
As you can see in the clip, the transition is likely to take decades. Eventually, everyone predicts that gas stoves (and gas hookups in general) will be phased out of residential and commercial construction as a whole. Of course, some states will get there faster than others—and gas will remain the only choice for locations with an unreliable electric grid.
Half a year ago, I switched from a radiant electric to an induction cooktop. My experience with the change has been positive overall, but I don’t consider it something to die for. If I had to switch back to electric or go gas tomorrow, I wouldn’t have too much of a hard time doing so.
Since you’re here—and this is Home Cook World—I’m assuming you are a home cook. Thanks for reading this far, and congrats for doing your due diligence on induction cooktops, as you’re probably considering buying one.
While it’s always a good idea to look at professional kitchens, cooking at home is an entirely different story than cooking for tens of seated diners at a time. You may want to read one of my recent articles, “Are Induction Cooktops Worth It,” as a next step. There, I share the practicalities of owning one when you have young kids or elderly parents at home.
What do you think of induction cooking? Is it a “yay” or more of a “nay?” Share your thoughts with the rest of this post’s readers and me by leaving a comment in the form below.