Appliances

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

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November  5, 2016

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.

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.

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

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 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

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

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 .

10 Comments

Mahi S. April 18, 2018
I love Induction cooking, its extremely safe because there's no open flame or exposed heating element as compared to gas or electric. Many cookware options are available in market like Stainless Steel induction cookware, Cast Iron induction cookware, Carbon Steel induction cookware, Enameled Cast Iron induction cookware etc. Personally In like Stainless Steel induction cookware, Because it is very durable compared to other metal induction cookware. So If you want to buy Induction cookware, It must be made of a magnetic-based material.<br /><br />You can find here induction cookware Buyers and Sellers Business Classifieds :- https://www.exportersindia.com/indian-suppliers/induction-cookware.htm
 
Bridget L. November 18, 2016
I purchased two commercial induction cooktop burners for my renovated tiny house, to save space and it was cheaper than buying a two burner induction cooktop. Think about it, how often do you actually use more than two burners! I have a portable induction burner that I can pull out if needed. I did a great deal of research on the net, contacted a appliance store that had a video on YouTube for answers. The appliance store salespeople in my area had no idea what I was talking about (5 years ago) and a manufacture of the induction cooktops I purchased. I did have to purchase some new pots and pans. I had a pot my sister had given me that worked very well on the cooktops. The brand is Tramontina. I purchase a 12 piece set, at Walmart, for the cost of one pan from Allclad. More internet surfing, the reviews for Tramontina stated that they were very close to Allclad in all areas of the testing.<br />The biggest surprise was how easy the cleaning of the burners are. Hot soap water on a dish cloth, never paper towels, they can scratch the glass surface, a few swipes with a squeegee they are clean. Nothing cooks on the surface of the burners or the bottom your pans. If you are fearful of scratching the surface of the cooktops, put a paper towel between the cooktop and your pan, the paper towel will not catch fire or show any kind of burn mark because the cooktop never gets that hot. With the cooktops I have, you can cook by number or by temperature (F or C). If you remove a pan or the cooktop gets turned on my accident, it turns it self off. This is great for a family with small children. The burners may become warm, because of the pans, but never enough where anyone would receive even a first degree burn. <br />
 
diana M. November 9, 2016
:When you purchase new pans take a level with you. I spent almost $3000 on Thomas Keller version of All Clad. When I had service man out to see why my food was cooking unevenly he called Bosch Techs and they had him check my pans. None are perfectly flat to touch the glass so they have hot spots. I even had a video of bacon turning black on one side and pink on the other side of the pan. The pan that is the most even is my carbon steel 10" and least expensive. It was too much effort to argue with W-S and return the pans. I had already spent 2 mos. finding these, by buying and returning other sets. I have learned to adjust my cooking method. Huge learning experience!! But I still like the induction method.
 
Frank November 8, 2016
I have been toying with the idea of induction when I update my kitchen. Question- can I use the superior ability to set a certain degree with induction instead of buying a sous-vide immersion setup?
 
Lunco November 10, 2016
the most important part of a sous vide machine is circulation. the water needs to constantly mix or you get hot spots and cold spots. an induction burner will be easier to set up to hold a temperature compared to gas and electric, but you'll need to mix the water often.
 
M November 7, 2016
Forget scratches. The big challenge with cast iron + induction is the heat of the pan. Induction absolutely hates when cast iron is used for high-heat searing and cooking, which is arguably one of the biggest perks of using cast iron. Sensing the high heat, the induction cooktop will turn off. Turn it back on, and it will turn off again.<br /><br />I love induction, except for trying to sear more than one piece of meat, or multiple vegetables, etc.
 
Chocolate B. November 6, 2016
I have an induction cooktop (Wolf), a 6-burner gas Viking range and an electric cooktop (don't ask!). The induction cooktop is markedly superior to the other two. It is much more responsive (going from high heat to low heat extremely rapidly and vice versa) and cleanup is an absolute breeze. In addition, the induction cooktop uses less energy than the other two. I can't recommend induction enough.
 
Marit G. November 5, 2016
to simplify; If you can stick a magnet to the bottom of the pan it can be used on induction. If you buy induction, but can't afford to change all your pans you can buy induction adapter plates that you put under the pan and it will work
 
erin November 5, 2016
What is the dish featured in the thumbnail for this article? It looks like a chicken and bean stew...?
 
Connor B. November 5, 2016
Chicken, chard, and cranberry stew!! https://food52.com/recipes/25669-chicken-chard-and-cranberry-bean-stew