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Equipment

Is Induction the Future of Cooking?

We’ve rounded up everything you need to know about induction cooking.
By Published Dec. 3, 2021

Induction cooking is well established in other countries but has only recently gained traction in the United States, growing 30 percent year over year in 2020, according to the Wall Street Journal.

There are pros and cons to cooking with induction. “I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all approach,” said Steve Sheinkopf, chief executive officer of Yale Appliance in Massachusetts. “The question I always ask is, how are you going to use [the stove]?”

Here's what you need to know about induction cooking, including how it works and factors to consider if you're thinking about trying it.

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How Induction Cooking Works

An induction cooktop without its ceramic-glass cover, displayed at the Yale Appliance store in Natick, Mass., shows the copper coils that generate a magnetic current in compatible cookware in order to heat pans.

While traditional stoves rely on gas flames or electric coils to heat pans, induction burners and stoves work by generating heat directly in the pans themselves. Under sleek glass surfaces, induction stoves and portable induction burners contain coils of copper wire. Electricity passes through these coils, which creates a magnetic field that induces (hence the name “induction”) an electric current in the metal of the pan, causing atomic-scale friction—which makes the pan hot. To be compatible with an induction burner, a pan must contain ferromagnetic metal, meaning that a magnet will stick to its bottom.

We talked to Saba Wahid, resident chef for Yale Appliance stores in Massachusetts, about the pros and cons of induction cooking.

Pros of Induction Cooking

  • Speed: Induction stoves heat compatible pans remarkably quickly. When we set 2 quarts of room-temperature water to boil in identical saucepans on gas and induction stoves, the water came to a boil on the induction stove in just under 7 minutes, while the water on the gas stove took 12 minutes.
  • Power: While individual stoves vary, some induction cooktops have extra-powerful burners that rival professional gas ranges. The most powerful gas stoves offer up to 20,000 BTUs in a single burner, while comparable induction ranges have up to 7,700 watts in a single burner, equivalent to about 26,000 BTUs (1 watt = 3.41 BTUs). (By contrast, our two winning portable induction burners, the Breville/PolyScience Control Freak and the Duxtop 9600LS Portable Induction Cooktop, have a maximum power of 1,800 watts, or about 6,100 BTUs.)
Saba Wahid, resident chef for Yale Appliance stores in Massachusetts, demonstrates how quickly cooking temperatures respond to dialing the heat up or down on an induction stovetop: Water that's in full boil stops instantly when the heat setting is turned down and resumes full boiling instantly when it's turned back up.
  • Responsiveness: “When you change the temperature setting, the electromagnetic current reacts immediately,” said Saba Wahid, resident chef for Yale Appliance (and the 2021 grand champion of the Food Network show Chopped). That’s because “the pan is what heats up and directly cooks your food, so there is no middleman.”
  • Fireproof: There’s no open flame or exposed coil.
  • Cooler Surface: The glass top of an induction cooktop gets warm from being under a hot pan, but it never gets as searingly hot as a glass-topped electric-coil stove, where the coil heats the pan through the glass.
  • Safe: In addition to having cooler surfaces, induction burners simply won’t turn on without a pan, and most induction stoves have lockable controls.
  • Steadiness: Induction stoves excel at holding steady temperatures such as a low simmer, though we have seen some portable induction burners struggle and scorch food on low settings.
Pan-seared scallops with a creamy shallot-and-dill pan sauce prepared by Chef Saba Wahid on an induction stove at Yale Appliance.
  • Precision: Turning on an induction burner or stove usually means selecting a number from zero to nine (or a similar range) rather than dialing to low, medium, or high as on traditional stoves. While there can be a bit of a learning curve in choosing numbered settings, we like that they are exact and repeatable.
  • Fuel Efficient: Compared with gas or electric cooking, induction cooking is more energy efficient because it heats only the pan, not the burner, so less heat is lost to the surrounding air and kitchens stay cooler. (See “Is induction cooking better for your health and the environment?”).
Induction cooktops are fairly easy to wipe clean after cooking, but to make it even easier, you can catch splatters by cooking right through a sheet of parchment or a silicone baking mat placed under the pan. Because they are not made of induction-compatible metal, they don't burn.
  • Easy to Clean: In contrast to glass-topped electric stoves, where burned-on food is a real problem to clean after you cook, induction stoves simply don’t make the glass as hot, so food doesn’t scorch and burn onto the glass. And unlike with traditional gas or electric-coil stoves, you don’t need to clean under and around grates and burners. You can even put parchment or silicone baking mats right under your pans while you cook to catch splatters.

Cons of Induction Cooking

  • Pan Incompatibility: Cookware must contain ferrous metal to work on induction stoves. You can’t use aluminum, copper, ceramic, or glass pans, and some stainless-steel cookware isn’t induction friendly. Cast-iron and induction-compatible steel pans work best. If your favorite pan is incompatible, an induction interface disk can help. (Our cookware reviews indicate if winners are induction compatible.)
How can you tell if your cookware is compatible? If it’s made of iron or magnetic gauges of steel, you’re set. But if you’re not sure, grab a magnet. If a magnet sticks to the base of a pot or pan, it’s compatible.
  • System Overload: If you frequently cook with multiple pans at high temperatures, this can overload the electrical system, making your induction stove shut down to cool off. Some ranges automatically lower burner power to avert shutdown, which can affect cooking results. Overloading also shortens the stove’s life span. “This is the worst-case scenario and doesn’t happen every time with every induction cooktop," Wahid said. "It depends on [your] frequency of high-temperature, multiple-pan cooking.” Ultimately, she explained, "A factor to consider with induction is the technology aspect and how it will impact your cooking style. Although induction is very precise, easy to control, and clean, I would not consider it a workhorse like gas cooking.”
  • Power Issues: Be sure that your home wiring can handle the amount of electrical power that an induction stove requires. You may need an upgrade, especially if you have an older home. According to Yale Appliance's website, which offers consumer advice, "Induction ranges use nearly 100 percent of your electrical circuit, so they can become vulnerable to voltage spikes and outages."
  • Breakable Top: Induction stoves and burners are topped with a glass-ceramic material. If you drop a heavy pan on the surface or drag the pan across it, it may crack or scratch, which is unsightly at best and may damage the stove at worst.
Chef Saba Wahid of Yale Appliance discusses how to change cooking techniques on induction stoves.
  • Need to Tweak Your Techniques: “You have to learn to turn food in the pan, rather than lifting or shaking the pan,” said Wahid. “Once the pan is lifted off the surface, it will cut off the power.” Plus, she explained, “The surface is typically made from glass-ceramic material, which is not as durable as cast-iron grates or electric coils, so it can chip or crack if something heavy drops, falls, or bangs on top. Another reason to turn the food in the pan rather than lift or shake.”  And don’t preheat empty pans on induction; they can warp without some oil or food inside to help even out the temperature.
  • Inoperable During Power Outages: If you lose electricity during a storm, your induction stove won’t work, unlike a gas stove.
  • Costly Repairs: “The percentages suggest you may need service within five years,” warns Yale Appliance’s website, where the company tabulates service calls. Induction stoves can be expensive to repair. 
  • You Can’t Use Warped Pans: If a pan warps, it’s no big deal on gas but bad on induction. “A warped pan will impact your cooking regardless of surface, but with induction, the uneven heat level of the pan will be more obvious than on gas,” said Wahid. "It will give you uneven results." As our science research editor explained, the magnetic field generated by the coil quickly drops off in strength the farther you get from the coil, and the field tends to take the shape of the part of the pan that is closest to it.
  • Limited Visual Cues for Heat Levels: It’s harder to tell when an induction burner is on and how hot it is. One model had flickering blue LEDs to mimic gas flames to help with this.
  • Noise: Some induction burners and stoves emit a high-pitched whine as they cook. 

Other Considerations

  • Medical Devices May Be Affected: Induction’s magnetic field can disrupt medical devices such as pacemakers and insulin pumps if the wearer stands close.
  • Some Digital Thermometers May Not Work: Our favorite digital thermometer, the ThermoWorks Thermapen ONE, has been designed to overcome this.

Is a portable induction burner as good as an induction stove?

Whether you choose a fully installed induction cooktop for your kitchen (left) or a single portable induction burner (right), you can enjoy the precise heating levels offered by induction cooking, but bear in mind that the portable burner will not have the speed and power of an installed cooktop. As a small appliance that needs to be plugged into a standard wall outlet, the portable burner has limited wattage, so it can't heat as quickly as a full induction range.

A portable induction burner is very handy as an extra burner in your home; a safe, faster, and more precise alternative to a hot plate; and sleek enough to use for parties to keep dip, fondue, or chili piping hot. But it doesn’t quite work the same as an induction stove. 

Because it’s a small appliance that plugs into a regular wall outlet, its power is limited compared with an installed induction stove, which draws much more power. That means the induction stove can bring a big pot of water for pasta to a boil in a few minutes, but your portable induction burner is equivalent to a traditional gas or electric stove. However, both portable induction cookers and induction stoves share some great attributes: They are easy to clean, have no exposed elements that can ignite nearby flammable objects, and are very precise.

Is induction cooking better for your health and the environment? 

The jury is out. Many municipalities around the country, starting in California, have banned or are considering banning natural gas heating and cooking from new construction, claiming that it is not a renewable energy source and that gas emits potentially unhealthy fumes in the home. Massachusetts recently passed a law calling for “make-up air” ventilation for gas stoves. That means you must install a powerful vent hood plus a system that pulls in fresh outdoor air in equal volume to what the hood is venting. Induction cooking requires far less hood ventilation to capture steam and cooking smoke than gas cooking because it does not generate as much heat or burn fuel in an open flame. 

And is induction, which operates with electricity, better for the planet? While gas is not considered a renewable resource, neither is electricity at this time. Only 20 percent of the electricity now generated in the United States is from renewable sources such as solar and wind power. The other 80 percent is still generated from coal, natural gas, nuclear power, and other nonrenewable sources. What’s more, home cooking makes up a relatively small portion of the power usage of a typical home

Note: Electricity generation from utility-scale generators. * Hydro is conventional hydroelectric; petroleum includes petroleum liquids and petroleum coke, other gases, hydroelectric pumped storage, and other sources. Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Electric Power Monthly, February 2021, preliminary data

Finally, induction cooking is considered energy efficient because it makes only the pan itself heat up, instead of a gas or traditional electric burner whose heat also escapes to the air around and above the pan. But until a larger share of the nation’s electricity is derived from renewable sources, the final verdict on which kind of range is best for the environment remains unclear.