Induction Stoves: How They Work and Why To Make the Switch

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Before you take the leap from a gas or electric cooktop to an induction stove, read our guide for the pros and cons of this latest cooking technology.

Thinking of switching from your old-school electric or gas stovetop to a next-generation induction model? You’re not alone. The increasing demand for energy-efficient and time-saving kitchen appliances has led many homeowners to take a closer look at these trendy — though costly — stoves.

Induction stoves may have hit the headlines just recently, but this type of cooking technology has been around for decades. Frigidaire was the first to demonstrate induction stoves in the 1950s, and Westinghouse released residential models in the early 1970s. Induction stoves have only really caught on over the last decade, however, as consumers become more energy-conscious.

“From a sustainability perspective, induction cooktops are the best choice,” says Matt Daigle, founder and CEO of the sustainable home improvement company Rise. “They are efficient and help lower your home’s power bills and footprint.”

Here’s what you need to know before deciding if an induction stove is right for you.

What Is an Induction Stove?

Electric and gas stoves work via thermal conduction. Heat is transferred from the burners to the cookware, warming both the pot or pan and the food inside.

Induction stoves, on the other hand, work with electromagnetic induction. When you switch on the power, an alternating electric current passes through copper heating coils installed underneath its flat glass or ceramic surface. Place a metal pot containing the right amount of iron on top, and voilà — you’ve activated a magnetic charge that heats the food while the cookware and stovetop remain cool to the touch. (Note, however, that the hot food can warm the bottom of the pan, which then heats the stovetop, causing the burner to remain hot after removing the pan. Some models include a red warning light to indicate heat and prevent burns.)

What does that mean? More heat goes to cooking and less into the stove, cookware and surrounding air. “Gas stoves only use 40 percent of the heat generated to actually cook food,” Daigle says. “Traditional electric cooktops use only 65 to 75 percent, while induction cooktops use 90 percent.”

Not only is there less heat dispersion, but the process of induction works much faster than conduction. That’s because there’s no wait for the burner to heat up the pan, which cuts cooking times significantly.

Induction Stove vs. Electric Stove

Electric Stove akova/Getty Images

Both induction and electric stoves sport a slick glass stovetop (although some electric models have coiled burners) and work with electricity, but their similarities end there. Here are some of the pros and cons of each.

Induction stove

Pros:

  • More energy-efficient, with less dispersion of heat for faster cooking times and a cooler kitchen.

  • Burners heat up and cool down immediately for more precise temperature control.

  • If the cookware gets too hot, the burners shut down. As chef and residential appliance technology specialist Andrew Forlines explains, “If an emergency pulls someone away from cooking when the heat of the cooking vessel goes above a typical cooking temperature, the induction burner will sense this and shut off.”

  • Burners only turn on when compatible cookware is placed on top, activating the electromagnetic charge.

  • Cookware and burners remain cool to the touch and can be cleaned immediately after use.

Cons:

  • Considerably more expensive than traditional electric stoves.

  • Can only be used with compatible post or pans, although “any magnetic metal will work with induction,” Forlines says. “If a magnet sticks to your cookware, the induction burner will work with it.”

  • Takes some practice to get used to. The shorter heating times may lead to overcooked food until you get the hang of it.

Electric stove

Pros:

  • More affordable to purchase, although you’ll spend more on electricity to power it over time.

  • Familiar to most home cooks and intuitive to use.

  • Any cookware will work with electric burners.

  • The residual heat of the burners helps you keep the food warm even after you’re done cooking, according to The Brilliant Kitchen chef Grace Woinicz.

Cons:

  • Less energy-efficient as you wait for the burners to heat up.

  • It takes a while to transmit heat from the burner to the cookware, increasing cooking times.

  • The same residual heat that keeps food warm presents safety issues. “You can’t touch or clean the stove for a while after cooking,” Woinicz says, “and it is also a risk if you have kids at home.”

Induction Stove vs. Gas Stove

Gas Stove Dmitriy Pridannikov / EyeEm/Getty Images

Induction and gas stovetops are distinctly different, with their own pros and cons.

Induction stove

Pros:

  • Energy efficiency, faster cooking times and precise temperature adjustment.

  • Safety features like automatic shut-off, hot-burner warning lights and controlled activation.

  • The induction method keeps cookware and burners cooler than with gas stoves (though sometimes, the burner can remain hot after use).

Cons:

  • Costs more to purchase and perhaps to operate; gas is less expensive than electricity in many places.

  • Only compatible cookware will activate the burners.

  • Less intuitive to operate than a traditional gas stovetop since there’s no visible flame.

  • The glass top can scratch or break.

Gas stove

Pros:

  • Less expensive to purchase and operate.

  • Easy to use because the level of the flame, and thus the intensity of the heat, is clearly visible.

  • Compatible with most kinds of cookware.

  • A durable metal surface that won’t easily scratch.

Cons:

  • Not a sustainable choice. “For homeowners who are mindful of their footprint on the planet, transitioning away from gas to electric appliances like induction cooktops should be a priority,” says Daigle.

  • Presents safety issues, from gas leaks to inadequate ventilation to the dangers of an open flame.

How Much Do Induction Stoves Cost?

Induction stoves begin at about $1,000 and most brands top out at about $2,500,  although you can splurge on a high-end stove costing more than $5,000. Traditional gas and electric stoves will cost you a few hundred dollars less on the low end, but a top-of-the-line gas stove can cost just as much as a designer brand induction stovetop.

How to Clean an Induction Stove

One clear advantage to an induction stove is the easy cleaning. The flat glass top lacks the nooks and crannies of gas burners that trap food, grease and other residue and are hard to clean completely without some disassembly. Plus, the surface stays relatively cool, so spilled and boiled-over food won’t cook onto the glass like it often does with an electric glass stovetop.

“Start by using a damp wipe to clean off any cooking spills,” Woinicz says. “Pour a small amount of induction cooktop cleaner on the surface and wipe it around with a wet towel. Now use a dry cloth to wipe off the cleaner.” And, she adds, avoid using any abrasive sponges or steel wool to wipe down an induction stovetop because they can scratch the glass.

Rebecca Winke
Rebecca Winke moved to Italy from Chicago in 1993 and shortly thereafter took a deep dive into country living by renovating a sprawling medieval stone farmhouse and running it as a B&B for 20 years. Today, she spends her time writing about travel, culture, and food (it's Italy, after all!) for publications like The Telegraph and Italy Magazine, as well as pondering the strange winds that blew an urban vegetarian to a farm in Umbria.