Boiling water is quicker in Paris than it is in Buffalo.
It takes less time to sauté vegetables, brown chicken and bring soup to serving temperature, too.
It has nothing to do with location, of course, and everything to do with technology, specifically the induction cooktop. This type of stove is pretty rare in America but is common in European restaurants and homes, and it has little in common with electric and gas. Induction cooking uses electromagnetism to heat pots and pans, and it accomplishes the task significantly faster.
But speed is just one of the benefits. So, if induction cooking is so great, why isn't it everywhere? Price, mostly. Still, as people begin to put more money into their kitchens and the prices of induction cooktops start to inch downward, the U.S. has taken notice.
Here, five reasons why a lot of people are willing to spend more on this piece of cooking equipment, beginning with what's probably the most practical one: Induction, as we already mentioned, is really fast.
One of the biggest selling points of the induction cooktop is speed. It simply takes less time to cook food because the pan heats up quicker. That's because while both gas and electric cooktops use a middleman to transfer heat to the pan -- flames and an electric burner, respectively -- an induction cooktop generates heat directly in the pan.
Electromagnetic activity in the cooktop triggers electromagnetic activity in the pan, and the pan itself heats up (see How Induction Cooktops Work for more on this process). The pan is the starting point of the heat. Since there are fewer steps involved in heating the cookware, it takes less time for the heat to get to the food -- 25 percent to 50 percent less time, on average.
It's this direct approach that gives induction most of its uniquely impressive qualities, including the one up next.
It's pretty easy to see why induction cooking would be more efficient than gas and electric if you think about the heating processes involved. A gas flame is going to release lots of heat around the pan, and an electric burner emits radiant heat at any point where it's not in direct, firm contact with the pan. When heat is generated within the pan itself, as with induction, more of that heat gets to the food, and less of it warms up your kitchen.
The most obvious result of this increased energy efficiency is reduced energy consumption, meaning lower power bills and a healthier environment. Less concrete and more personal, though, is the greater comfort in your kitchen: You won't sweat as much when you cook.
Another benefit of reduced accidental heat loss? The reduced possibility of accidents â€¦
The stove top is easily one of the most dangerous places in the kitchen. It's where grease fires begin, where the gas gets left on, and where little hands make contact with very hot surfaces.
First, the most obvious: No flame means no grease fires, and no gas means no gas leaks.
But the induction cooktop has another safety feature: It typically doesn't get all that hot, since the heat is created in the pan itself. This means it would be far less likely for the cooktop to cause a burn. What's more, the pan's response to a turn of the dial is practically immediate, so as soon as you turn off the heat, the pan cools down. This makes it a lot more difficult to burn yourself as you pour your sautéed vegetables onto a serving plate.
It makes it easier to get those vegetables just right, too ...
For people who love to cook -- or at least love to eat great home-cooked food -- control is probably the most important feature of a cooktop. It's why many serious cooks prefer gas to electric: Gas burners are more responsive when you adjust the dial. The temperature change is fast.
Induction cooktops are as responsive as gas to a turn of the dial, and they've got another thing going for them, too: more settings. Induction allows for much more precise control of heat, with more temperature increments and better performance at very low heat settings. In this way, induction makes cooking delicate sauces or just keeping food warm a lot easier than with a gas flame, which can often falter on the low setting.
And finally, a benefit that rivals speed for practicality ...
Quicker cooking is great. Less-wasteful, safer and better cooking is great.
Cooking that's easier to clean up after is, we dare say, greater.
If the main purpose of your cooktop is to get dinner on the table faster and do it safer, it goes without saying that a quicker, less-intensive cleanup would be a big draw. Since an induction cooktop seldom gets very hot, food doesn't burn onto it. This means a splatter, a spill or a pasta-sauce pop calls for a quick swipe of the sponge, not a good, long scrub.
Even with ease of clean-up -- even with speed, energy efficiency, safety, control and easy clean-up -- induction cooktops may not be able to overcome the price issue for some. They're still significantly more expensive than gas and electric, up to a few thousand more for a top-of-the-line model. Factor in the new cookware you might need to buy, because your current stuff might not have the magnetism required to work with the cooktop, and it's a big investment.
But if you're doing one of those increasingly popular $10,000 kitchen remodels, or even a $5,000 appliance upgrade, an induction cooktop should be at the top of your "look into" list -- even, or perhaps especially, if all you do with your stove is boil water.
For more information on induction cooktops, kitchen appliances and related topics, look over the links on the next page.
HowStuffWorks gets cooking with the Instant Pot, the next generation of the pressure cooker.
More Great Links
- Gerbis, Nicholas. "How Induction Cooktops Work." HowStuffWorks. (Sept. 20, 2011) https://home.howstuffworks.com/induction-cooktops.htm
- Induction Cooktops: The Hot New Appliance. Residential Design + Build Magazine. May 2007. (Sept. 20, 2011) http://www.rdbmagazine.com/print/Residential-Design-and-Build/Induction-Cooktops--The-Hot-New-Appliance-/1$483
- Severson, Kim. "Is Induction Cooking Ready to Go Mainstream?" The New York Times. April 6, 2010. (Sept. 20, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/07/dining/07induction.html?pagewanted=all