The Joy of an Induction Stove

Friday, February 3, 2012

I’m always looking to optimize. It’s probably an innate feature of being a bit of a geek.

I had a sign in my old office that read “Automate anything you do more than twice.” My home life corollary is that if I have to do something everyday, I should get awesomier at it.

We cook 2-3 meals a day at home. When we had to move a couple of years ago, I researched cooking equipment, and found an induction stove. I’m very happy I did.

What is induction cooking?

Instead of applying heat directly, like a gas burner’s open flame or an electric burner’s metal coil, induction stoves work by creating a magnetic field. The magnetic field causes the pan touching the surface to get hot.

Here’s a video from HGTV explaining how it works:

Why is induction cooking better?

It does its job really well

My induction stove is like one of the Patriots. It does its job – quickly, quietly, cleanly and efficiently. It hits its marks and improves my cooking. And, I totally Gronk the potholder when I’ve finished cooking a good meal.

It’s incredibly fast. It boils water in less than half the time of our old electric stove, and faster than our gas one. You grow to love this.

More important, you can instantly change the amount of heat you’re putting on the pot by changing the setting. In this way, it’s like a gas burner, in how it enables instant adjustments. I used to hate the electric burners which would take a while to heat up, and then a while to change temperatures. For any sort of meal where you’re changing temperatures quickly, the standard electric stoves are pretty useless.

For us, the induction stove also gets the pan a lot hotter then the electric stove or standard gas one. For us, level 10 is really hot. We sear meat quickly and beautifully.

It’s incredibly easy to clean up

Our cooktop is a smooth surface that wipes clean easily. I used to have chase crumbs and spills down the burners, and scrape the grates and the electric coils. This stovetop is so much easier.

Induction Stovetop

It’s safe.

The rest of the stovetop doesn’t get hot when things are cooking, and the stove itself cools down very quickly. (It still stays warm for a couple of minutes after you take the pot off, so you still have a pay a little attention.)

There’s also no open flame, which prevents me from reprising the Unfortunate Bruins Sweatshirt Incident of Aught Three.

Is induction cooking greener than gas or electric?

I wasn’t expecting it, but the induction cooking section of my going green essay drew the most questions.

“Is it more green” is an almost impossible question to answer. Like many things in the sustainability world (and, alas, the real world), the answer is “it depends.” The induction stove is powered by electricity, so its global footprint is a function of how green your power is. (Of course, you can always green your power as well.)

We do know that it transfers energy very efficiently, though (to the extent that anything sourced from a Wikipedia article can be truly known.)

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the efficiency of energy transfer for an induction hob is 84%, versus 74% for a smooth-top non-induction electrical unit, for an approximate 12% saving in energy for the same amount of heat transfer.

Energy efficiency is the ratio between energy delivered to the food and that consumed by the cooker, considered from the “customer side” of the energy meter. Cooking with gas has an energy efficiency of about 40% at the customer’s meter (energy purchased vs. energy deposited into the food).

It’s anecdotal, but I think that the lack of an open flame has greatly improved the air quality of the kitchen – in fact, of the whole first floor.

Do I need special pans for using an induction stove?

Yes. In order to use an induction cooktop, you need pots and pans that are magnetic. In general, this means that you should stick with stainless steel and cast iron cookery. Aluminum, copper and glass pots won’t work.

When you’re out looking for the pots, carry a refrigerator magnet along with you. If it sticks to the pan, then you’re good to go.

Over the years, we’ve accumulated a set of stainless-steel pots and pans from All-Clad, a couple of Lodge cast iron pans and a few Le Creuset enameled cast iron pans. These are expensive (and heavy!), but they last forever. If you get a chance, cruise the garage sales looking for these – sometimes you’ll get lucky.

Pans for an Induction Stovetop

One last thing, if you have a change your pots anyway, please consider avoiding non-stick pans. They’re really not very good for you.

Portable burners

We liked our stove so much that we got a portable burner. This is just a single burner than you can plug into the wall. I often use this to boil the water for the steamed vegetables. Getting this off the stove clears a lot of space for the main dish.

It’s also a great hot plate, without any of the fire risks of the traditional hot plates. When we’re planning this summer’s vacation, we might see if we can bring it along so that we can cook in our room and avoid eating out for every meal.

Standalone Induction Burner

Is it more expensive?

From two minutes of dedicated poking around at Sears, it looks like regular electric stoves are around $500, while induction stoves are a grand or two more. So, it’s a non-trivial difference.

We were selling our house in the midst of the worst housing recession of my lifetime – investing in a better stove was rounding error in that transaction’s red ink. Since we’re planning on staying here for the next 40 years, I’m pretty sure we’ll amortize the marginal cost.

So, what’s next?

Now that we’re settled in this house and the children aren’t babies anymore, I’m able to spend more of my time bringing the awesome to things I have to do anyway.

This spring? Rain Barrels. I think we can prevent our basement from flooding and use the rain water for the gardens.

What other tools should I investigate? Please leave a comment with ideas or drop me a line.

(And yes, I own the awesomier.com domain. I just need to figure out something (wait for it……….) awesome to do with it.)

p.s., I think I’m going to give myself a “hell yeah” for nesting parenthetical asides. Then, maybe I’ll go learn Lisp.

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