A New Way to Cook: Introducing Induction

Maybe it's magic? The pot and the food get hot on an induction cooktop but the surface stays cool — and the technology's only getting more popular.

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Induction cooktops — with which only the pot and the food get hot rather than the heating surface — may strike clients as some kind of voodoo magic or George Jetson approach to cooking. But in fact, these high-tech products are becoming popular in many areas of the country because they offer few downsides and plenty of benefits.

"The induction cooktop, while not yet a part of most households, is becoming increasingly accepted as a useful, energy-efficient method of preparing food," according to a fact sheet produced by the Department of Electrical Engineering at Michigan Technological University. Induction cooktops (see image 1) contain coils made of a magnetic material. When current passes through the coil, it produces a magnetic field that transfers to the pan above it. The pan and its contents heat up — but neither the cooktop nor the air above it becomes hot. When the pan is removed, the energy transfer stops.

"We like to encourage induction cooktops for our clients because they offer one of the most efficient ways to cook electrically," says Mary Fisher Knott, head of Mary Fisher Designs in Scottsdale, Ariz. This is particularly true for her market, she notes, where many homeowners have all-electric kitchens due to limited natural-gas distribution.

The cooktops provide a number of benefits, Mary notes. Foremost is safety, especially in homes with children, since there is no heat on the cooking surface, only in the pan. Energy consumption can be cut by 10 to 20 percent by using an induction cooktop rather than a more conventional type of stove, again since only the pan is heated, according to a study by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Other benefits please cooks: The electric current operating the magnetic coil's intensity can be finely controlled, allowing a low simmer to be maintained. Because the coils are embedded below the smooth cooktop surface, the products also are easy to clean.

There are only two drawbacks to consider. The first is pricing, which tends to run approximately 20 percent higher than more conventional stoves, Mary estimates. But she has found that for most clients, especially in the mid- to upper-end kitchens, that incremental addition isn't a deal-breaker. "Most clients are looking to upgrade their kitchens when they remodel, and they are looking for better performance rather than the cheapest price. I've never found induction cooktops to be a hard sell when they see what they provide."

The other drawback is that only magnetic (i.e., steel) cookware can be used. The steel content of the cookware can be tested by taking a small magnet to the store. But, Mary says, clients don't bat an eye at this limitation, either. "Today, cooking has become an important part of the social activities of the home, and good cookware is part of that. Often, buying new cookware is part of the kitchen remodel anyway. We explain that the cooktop and cookware are part of a complete cooking system, so they plan on that."

Few homeowners are aware of the cooking technique, she notes, which requires designers to explain its operation and benefits. "People are becoming used to new technologies and accept them, once we explain that the concept has been around since the 1970s."

Mary expects induction cooktops to grow in her market and across the country. "It's a great way to cook, and those who have purchased them with our projects have liked them very much. They're going to be a very viable product category in the future."

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