What Is an Induction Cooktop? The Hottest Kitchen Trend Since Sliced Bread

What is an induction cooktop? It’s a stove that uses electromagnetic fields to cause the pan or pot on top to heat up—meanwhile, your appliance remains cool, thus making this method of cooking safer, faster, and more energy-efficient.

While induction cooking technology has been around for decades and these stoves have long been common in commercial kitchens, they are now catching on like crazy in regular people’s homes. Here’s why, and what you need to know about this nifty kitchen technology.

What is an induction cooktop?

Unlike traditional electric or gas stoves, an induction cooktop’s “burner” doesn’t emit any heat when turned on. Instead, it emits an alternating electric current—which creates electric currents in the metal pot you’ve placed on top. This, in effect, turns the pot itself into the cooking surface.

“The early consumer models, back in the 1970s and ’80s, were a little temperamental, which is why induction didn’t take off then,” explains Dan DiClerico, home expert for HomeAdvisor.com. “But manufacturers have gotten the technology right, and the prices continue to fall, comparable to gas ranges, so induction’s become very hot in the last few years.”

The benefits of induction cooking

So what’s so great about an induction cooktop? Allow us to elaborate:

  • It’s fast: Consumer Reports calls induction cooktops the fastest option on the market, capable of shaving as much as 4 minutes off the time it takes to bring a pot of water to boil. When you’re trying to get your kids fed before a sitter arrives, those extra minutes can be priceless.
  • It may be safer: Induction stovetops dont start heating up until a pot or pan is placed on the burner, meaning that if it is turned on by accident with no pot on it, it wont get hot, says Joana Chatelain, senior buyer of large appliances at Overstock.com. Thats a great feature that helps prevents burns or potential fire hazards.
  • It’s accurate: The temperature control and response time are “incredibly precise, notes DiClerico, even more so than with gas burners. The better the model, the finer adjustments to temperature you may be able to make. If you’re pleased with your gas stove, think of it this way, DiClerico adds: “Induction can be thought of as the perfect combination of gas and electric, offering the performance of gas with the convenience of electric.
  • Less cleaning is involved: An induction surface stays cooler during cooking. That, combined with the smooth top (no crevices here!), translates into easier spill cleanup, says Chatelain. Most of the time, all you’ll need is a damp sponge. (Still, check with your manufacturer; at least occasionally, youll still need to pull out a special cooktop cleaner and cleaning pad.)
  • Kitchen temperatures stay cooler: Since less heat is emitted from an induction cooktop, you won’t have to sweat it out while slaving over dinner!

The downsides of induction cooktops

But induction cooktops aren’t perfect, of course. Here are some of the less savory points:

  • You’ll pay more: Depending on brand, size, and model, an induction cooktop could set you back as much as $5,000.
  • Not all your cookware will work: Only certain pots with a high metal content will work on an induction cooktop. That means you’ll need to check or test your stainless-steel or aluminum cookware to see if they are viable options. To do so, hold a magnet to the bottom, says DiClerico. If it sticks, youre good to go. All cast-iron pots and pans should be fine, but most nonstick cookware wont work, DiClerico adds. Make sure any new cookware you buy is marked as induction-capable.
  • Theres a noise factor: Consumer Reports cautions that induction cooktops are prone to clicking noises at low heats, humming noises when the heats turned up, and an internal fan running when it’s trying to cool itself down.
  • You have to be vigilant: True, you can leave things like soup stocks on for long periods of time without the worry of your gas going out, says Frank Proto, chef instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. But that doesnt mean you can just walk away. When cooking, your food needs to be attended to more, as it tends to scorch quickly, he cautions.

What’s the best induction cooktop?

Like so many kitchen appliances, it comes down to personal preference, not to mention how much you want to spend.

Chatelain recommends the GE Café Series (Overstock, $1,813), which includes a built-in kitchen timer and the ability to sync two burners together to create one large cooking surface.

The GE Cafe Series 30-inch Built-in Touch Control Induction Cooktop
The GE Cafe Series 30-inch Built-in Touch Control Induction Cooktopoverstock.com

Proto favors the GE Monogram, which he uses at home (Monogram, $3,300). The ability to fit five pots on it is a plus, he says.

The Monogram 36-inch Induction Cooktop
The Monogram 36-inch Induction Cooktopmonogram.com

And Consumer Reports gave three induction cooktops perfect scores of 100, including the Samsung NZ36K788OUG (Lowes, $3,598). The feature you never knew you needed? It’s Wi-Fi–enabled so you can control it from your phone.

Samsung 36-inch 5-Element Smooth Surface Induction Electric Cooktop
Samsung 36-inch 5-Element Smooth Surface Induction Electric Cooktoplowes.com