Thinking of buying an induction range? Read this comprehensive guide to induction cooking first.
Why should I care?
Induction range articles and reviews always mention that they’re faster, safer, cleaner, and more efficient than either gas or electric ranges. While true, this doesn’t tell the whole story. The closest they come to warning about a functional difference is when they say induction “heats the pan, not the cooktop.” But what does this really mean? How will it affect your day to day cooking? Here, I share my own experiences and lessons learned in the hope that other home cooks will be better able to transition from gas or electric to the exciting world of induction cooking.
How is induction cooking different?
Understanding heat transfer is the key to differentiating induction cooking from traditional electric and gas cooktops. Here’s how the cooktop technologies get heat into your pan:
- Induction: the range produces little to no heat outside of the pan itself.
- Electric: the element conducts heat into the bottom of the pan while moderately heating the air that rises around the pan.
- Gas: the flames radiate heat onto and around the bottom and sides of the pan while significantly heating the air that rises around the pan.
With induction cooking, the bottom of the pan behaves a lot like an electric element.
You read that right! Since an induction burner heats the pan directly, it turns the pan into an element that then goes on to conduct heat into the food or cooking liquid. Unlike with a traditional electric range, there’s no hot air heating the sides of the pan. And unlike gas, there’s no radiation and hot air heating the sides of the pan nor the air above it. This explains the primary differentiating characteristic of induction cooking: all of the heat comes from the bottom of the pan.
|Air above pan
|Responsiveness (heat source)
How does this affect my cooking?
In a nutshell: an induction range will blow your mind when it comes to cooking with liquids but you’ll need to approach thicker foods with caution. In the following sections, I break down what you need to watch out for with each cooking method.
Boiling, poaching, deep frying
No adjustment needed, other than being in awe. This is where induction shines the brightest! Boiling performance of induction is legendary for good reason. When heating a pot of water on maximum power, it boils from the bottom first, churning and swirling in a dramatic way never seen with gas or electric. I’ve actually had pasta water come to a boil before I had time to choose which pasta shape I wanted to pull out of my pantry!
- GOOD: Everything! Incredible speed for high heat. Amazing control for low heat.
- BAD: You may need to be more careful to avoid having the pot boil over when your back is turned.
- FIX: restrict maximum power to times when you can give the range your full attention.
Pan frying, stir frying
Small changes to technique are required. If you’re accustomed to using the sides of your pan to help cook food, like when cooking with gas, then you’ll have to adjust to the sides being much cooler. A wok is pretty much impossible to use on an induction cooktop by virtue of its small or non-existent base, so use a deep skillet for stir frying instead.
- GOOD: Intense heat means you can brown and sear even with an overcrowded pan BUT watch out for scorching if you set the (legendary) power too high.
- GOOD: Cool pan sides mean you can often rest a cooking utensil on the rim without it getting hot. I’m not endorsing this practice… just saying it’s possible. 😄
- BAD: Takes a little longer to cook food through because the heat really does come just from the bottom.
- FIX: add a little liquid to help distribute the heat around the food.
These are tricky. Even with a good nonstick pan, I need a certain amount of oil to prevent eggs from fusing to the surface. Unlike gas or electric, induction cooks the center of an omelette or pancake before the edges are fully set, which can make food harder to flip and more likely to stick in the middle. It doesn’t help that many pans are slightly domed, causing oil and food to pool at the cooler edges instead of the hot middle.
- BAD: Eggs and batters cook from the middle outwards.
- FIX: reduce heat and increase cooking time to allow the sides of the pan to warm up before adding food.
- FIX: use more fat to help distribute heat and reduce sticking.
Thick sauces and soups – Tomato sauce, béchamel sauce, chili, pea soup, etc.
Approach with caution! You will need to either use lower heat or stir the food sooner to avoid having it burn to the bottom of the pan. The surface can be deceptively cool while the bottom layer quietly fuses to the base. Even without actually burning, I recall a dramatic moment after a barrier layer of pea soup formed at the bottom of my pan, forming a dryish blanket that allowed the metal below to heat up much more than it would when exposed to water. When I scraped the bottom of the pan the more liquid soup above was instantly exposed to the hot metal, causing glorpy lava blorps to shoot up from the pan as superheated bubbles made their escape through the thick soup. The resulting mini geysers splattered pea soup all over my (delightfully easy to clean) induction cooktop!
- GOOD: Induction enables control at very low temperatures, which you can use to avoid burning your food.
- BAD: Thick foods can easily burn to the bottom of the pan.
- FIX: stir often to distribute the heat throughout the food.
- FIX: reduce heat and increase cooking time to allow the heat to propagate through the food.
Also approach with caution! Pressure cooking is a superb way to speed up the preparation of traditionally slow-cooked foods like soup, beans, and affordable meats. The entire sealed vessel becomes a cooking chamber, so it’s really no surprise that heating it just from the bottom will change its performance. If you’re cooking something like broth on high power, the pot can reach pressure while the top and sides are still cool, resulting in a lower than expected cooking temperature and a surprising reduction in pressure when the power is reduced even by a small amount. If you’re cooking something thick like beans then it can take forever to reach sealing pressure, increasing the risk of burning.
- GOOD: Instantaneous power control allows you to maintain pressure safely.
- BAD: Intense boiling near the bottom can cause the valve to seal while the overall temperature remains relatively low.
- FIX: reduce heat and increase cooking time to allow the food and vessel to warm up before the valve seals.
- FIX: delay closing the lid until contents are boiling, stirring often while coming up to temperature.
- FIX: try preheating the entire pot before closing the lid — place the lid loosely on top so the gasket and metal can warm up.
- FIX: try preheating the entire pot before using it — steam a little water and then discard it before adding the ingredients.
After making lots of mistakes adjusting to induction following 20 years of cooking with gas, I can say I really enjoy cooking with induction now. The cleanability of the cooktop, the responsiveness of the pot, and the efficient use of energy are all real benefits. Using the tips I’ve shared here, I can cook everything as good or better than I could before. Do I miss my gas cooktop sometimes? Yes, especially when cooking breakfast foods! But I recognize that burning fossil fuels is not the way forward for human civilization, and I fully believe induction cooktops will be the only option at some point in our future. Might as well do the right thing today!
I didn’t write this for myself, since I’ve already made the mistakes and learned from them. I wrote it for you, with the sincere intent that my tips and explanations will help soften the learning curve as you adjust to cooking with induction. I wish you the very best and hope you enjoy adapting to this new way of cooking!