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The What, Why, and How of Induction Cooktops (Plus 4 Compatible Metals)

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Our test kitchen hums along on induction cooktops, but what the heck kind of pots and pans work on them? Inspired by their clean, modern design and induction cooktops, we partnered with Bosch Home Appliances to give you a guide to which metals respond to induction—and ones that won't.

The Food52 kitchens run on induction cooktops, a method of heating food that I, before working here, knew virtually nothing about. To be honest, I still sometimes reach for the wrong pan, so in case your flummoxed too, here's a primer on the types of cookware that'll work with induction.

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But first: What exactly is induction?

Induction cooking is when a cooktop uses electromagnetic radiation to create heat. A ceramic surface covers the heating element, a wire coil underneath where a rapidly alternating electrical current flows.

According to Harold McGee in his book On Food and Cooking, this current causes a magnetic field to be generated, one that alternates at the same rate (somewhere in the field of 25,000 to 40,000 cycles per second) as the electrical current. It can also extend some distance beyond the coil. (Stay with me here—we're about to graduate from science class!)

And now: What kinds of pots and pans work on induction?

This is probably one of the most important things to consider if you don't want to buy an entirely new set of cookware! While most pans made of any metal will work on electric and gas stoves, they need to have a magnetic material to interact with an induction cooktop. When a piece of cookware with magnetic material in it is set on the area (a "burner") where the magnetic field has been conjured (turned on to a certain cooking temperature), the field helps to transfer the electrical current to the pot, to wake up electrons that will zip around and generate heat.

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Photo by James Ransom, Graphic by Tim McSweeney

Why would you choose induction over gas, or electric, burners?

McGee mentions in his book that there are two "notable" pluses to choosing induction.

  • It's more efficient—and it's arguably safer. All of the energy being produced is interacting only with the metal in your pot or pan, so as soon as the pot is removed from the "burner," the heating ceases.
  • The heat is concentrated. Only the pot and what's in it will feel the effects of the energy produced, because the glass or ceramic surface above the coil will generate heat only if there is magnetic material present. (The electrons can't move around in the magnetic field without it!) This also means that your food will cook more evenly, too, because the cooktop is coming into contact with the entire bottom of the pot, not just a portion.

What Works on Induction

Stainless Steel

Zwilling Aurora 5-Ply Stainless Steel Stockpot with Lid, 8QT

Zwilling Aurora 5-Ply Stainless Steel Stockpot with Lid, 8QT

From $99
Demeyere Apollo Saucepan with Lid

Demeyere Apollo Saucepan with Lid

From $149

Yes, the classic stainless steel cookware you invested in should work with an induction cooktop. The one thing thing to check is if the pots and pans have a magnetic material in them—this is the key to creating that bond between the energy-generating coil in the stove and the pan!

In general, this will be a given with any fully-clad cookware brand, but it never hurts to check. In some instances, stainless steel pans (like these!) have even been designed to be optimized for induction cooking—especially European brands, where induction is used regularly above gas and electric.

Cast Iron

Cast Iron Waffle Iron $24
Cast Iron Waffle Iron

Cast iron is one of the oldest metals used for cooking, and often, one of the most affordable. And lately, since it's back en vogue and it's made with the right material, you can pull out the skillets (or waffle maker) you stashed away from when Grams was unloading and plop them right on induction—to be magnetic pays off in this situation. (A little ironic that something that's been around forever works with one of the newest technologies in cooking!)

Something to be aware of with cast iron: It can sometimes scratch the glass or ceramic surfaces used with induction, so be careful how you play.

Carbon Steel

Mauviel M'steel Round Fry Pan

Mauviel M'steel Round Fry Pan

From $40
Mauviel M'steel Paella Pan

Mauviel M'steel Paella Pan

$90

Carbon steel sounds like a material you'd reserve for lightweight bikes or building material, but it's basically just a lighter version of cast iron—so it'll take nicely to induction (and won't require feats of strength to lift).

Carbon steel pans are excellent heat conductors, can withstand high temperatures, and become naturally non-stick after using (and seasoning) a few times. They're what French mamas grab to make a perfect omelet, and they're used by professionals all over.

Enameled Cast Iron

Food52 x Staub Oval Cocotte, 5.75QT

Food52 x Staub Oval Cocotte, 5.75QT

$249
Staub Fry Pan, White, 10"

Staub Fry Pan, White, 10"

$99

Enameled cast iron is ideal for induction cooking—the cast iron is a great material for heat distribution and there are no chances of scratching up your pretty cooktop due to the super-durable enamel coating gracing these beauties.

What Doesn't Work On Induction

Aluminum, Copper, & Glass

Sorry, aluminum, copper, and all-glass cookware—y'all don't have magnetic material in you, and therefore you can't close the magnetic field that's required to to kick up the electrons and create heat on an induction cooktop.

Unless, that is, you have a special disc made of steel that can be placed under the pot and directly on the heat source, which will create the same effect (heat!) as having a pot made of the right material.

The modern design of Bosch Home Appliances' induction cooktops inspired us to clear the clutter in our kitchens (they're a cinch to clean and extra efficient). And that's why we're sharing techniques, recipes, and tips to simplify your cooking and streamline your decor .

Tags: bosch, induction heat