Induction stoves are not new; a patent for an induction stove was issued at the turn of the 20th century. Frigidaire did a splashy demonstration of induction cooking at the 1933 “Century of Progress” World’s Fair. They also manufactured concept units in the 1950s for their traveling appliance show.
Westinghouse introduced the first consumer induction cooktop in the late 1960s, featuring a white Corning ceramic smooth-top. Named the Cool Top 2, the stove was unsuccessful as it was under-powered and could be temperamental. In addition, it cost over $10,000 in 2023 dollars. The US stopped manufacturing induction cooktops in the late 1990s as their slow sales didn’t justify further investment.
Europe has embraced induction cooking due to its energy-saving and cool operation, and about 35% of European homes and restaurants use induction cookers. Advances in solid-state circuitry dramatically decreased the cost of induction cooking and introduced inexpensive portable cooktops. Portable induction burners have become popular in Asia. Additionally, the Middle East and Africa are warming to induction cooking.
I became interested in induction cooking over 15 years ago and purchased an inexpensive tabletop burner to check it out. I was so impressed that I ditched my gas stove and bought an induction range. That stove lasted ten years before an irreplaceable motherboard crashed. I’m now cooking on my second induction range. Additionally, I use a portable cooktop in my camper van.
Due to personal interest and affiliate programs, I have tested many other induction cookers. If you are interested in induction cooking, I suggest you read this post, which summarizes and clarifies much of the information on this topic.
I’ll start by exploring more traditional cooking methods and then move into a detailed look at induction cooking and its many benefits.
The US fossil fuel industry successfully promoted gas ranges and has coined several catchphrases, like “Now you’re cooking with gas.” Gas stoves have been criticized lately as they produce some potentially dangerous byproducts, including a group of gasses called NOx gasses, which contribute to asthma. This is especially concerning in newer homes, which tend to be sealed/insulated for energy-saving purposes. Despite what you may be hearing from political opportunists, the federal government is not banning gas stoves. However, you should be aware that they do pose some health risks. Around 40% of US households use gas stoves.
Gas stoves provide instant heat and can be adjusted almost instantly. They have a flame that can be seen easily. Some cooking techniques, like charring peppers, require an open flame (although there are techniques to approximate this on other stoves). In some states, gas stoves may be less expensive to operate compared to electric cookers.
Gas stoves produce toxic gases. They have an open flame and pose a fire hazard. They can leak gas, which is explosive. Burning fossil fuels contributes to climate change. Gas stoves are very inefficient. They are 40% efficient, meaning 60% of the energy is wasted and heats up your kitchen. Boiling water is slowest on gas stoves compared to other types of stoves. Cleaning spills can be a major chore.
Standard Electric Ranges
The electric range was patented in the late 1800s and started to compete with gas stoves in the 1920s. Heavy advertising made them common in the 1930s. Today, electric ranges account for around 60% of the stoves used in the US.
Electric ranges are much more efficient than gas stoves, with 60-70% (or more) of their energy being transferred to the cooking vessel. However, using a flat pot and entirely covering the heating element is important to achieve such efficiencies. Electric ranges boil water faster than a gas appliance.
Electric elements are slow to react. They take longer to adjust, especially evident when reducing the heat on a burner. You must adapt your cooking style if you move from gas to electric. The heating area is very hot and can be a fire hazard. It is possible to get a bad burn if you touch a recently used burner. They can add heat to a room, but less than a gas stove. Electric stoves need 240 volts. If your house is not equipped with 240 volts, you may need to call an electrician to install the correct power supply and outlet. Operating cost vs. gas stoves varies from state to state; in some states, using an electric stove is less expensive, and gas stoves offer a better value in others. However, the difference is marginal in both instances.
Countertop Induction Burners
Most people want to try induction cooking before buying a large, expensive induction stove. Although I will reference induction stoves, I’ll mostly discuss tabletop burners. The main difference is that a stove needs 240 volts (typical house current in the US is 120 volts), and some cooking elements are larger and provide more energy output on a stove. The output of most tabletop units is roughly the equivalent of the smaller burner on an induction stove. Buying a 240-volt tabletop unit with double the heating power is possible, but those units are mostly used by restaurants equipped for commercial appliances.
A note about radiation, which is a confusing topic for some. Ionizing radiation is the stuff that happens when an atomic bomb explodes. This type of radiation can be dangerous to living cells as it can damage genetic material in the cell.
However, other types of radiation are low energy and do not damage cells. The light bulb next to me radiates light, a radio station transmitter radiates radio signals, and virtually every electrical appliance in a house radiates some RF energy. Induction cookers radiate electromagnetic energy, which is not ionizing and does not damage cells.
Induction burners produce strong magnetic fields that, in theory, could interfere with medical devices like a pacemaker. However, there has never been a reported case of someone wearing a pacemaker who had an adverse event due to an induction cooker. As with all medical concerns, ask your doctor if you are unsure about using an induction cooker.
How Does An Induction Cooker Heat Food?
The cooker’s electronic circuitry pulses electric current through a special copper coil at a high alternating frequency. This creates a strong magnetic field that passes through the cooker’s glass ceramic plate and interacts with the cooking vessel. The majority of burners require that you use pots that have magnetic properties. For instance, pots made from cast iron, steel, and magnetized stainless steel. The alternating magnetic field creates eddy currents in the pot, which agitates its metal molecules. By the process of friction, heat is generated. More energy equals more agitation, which equals more heat. Since the magnetic field directly interacts with the pot, Induction cookers are the most energy-efficient cooking method. Depending on the methodology, these cookers can effectively use 85-93% of consumed power. The small percentage of lost power is mostly due to the heat generated by the unit’s electronics.
With the advent of advanced semiconductors, the cost of manufacturing an induction burner has dropped dramatically. I have reviewed over a dozen unit’s internals; all use the same standard design approach. However, they are not clones of each other.
A simple control board shows the operator information, like the power level of the cooker. It also sends the user’s command to the main board’s microprocessor. The main board contains the microprocessor (brains of the unit), the power supply, and the circuitry that energizes the magnetic coil. A solid-state rectifier converts AC house power to the DC power used by the cooker, and a switching transistor powers the magnetic circuitry and does this thousands a times a second. The rectifier and the switching (IGBT) transistor generate a lot of heat as a byproduct, so they are cooled under a heat sink to prevent them from burning up. A small computer-like fan is used to cool the unit further.
Here, I’m using a pressure cooker with my original induction range. That unit had ten power levels, and I could do any cooking with that amount of control.
If a magnet sticks to the bottom of a pot, it will work with an induction cooker. You probably already have induction-ready pots. Cast iron, enamelware, enameled cast iron (like Le Creuset), and many newer stainless steel pots are induction-ready. In addition, aluminum pots fitted with a magnetic disk on the bottom are also induction-compatible. You can buy induction-ready pots everywhere, including big box stores. Induction-ready cookware sets can be had for as little as $60, but like any cooking system, better pots usually perform better.
The most expensive part of a cooker is the induction coil, which uses a special copper wire called litz wire. Consumer portable cookers have a magnetic coil around 5 or 6 inches in diameter. Many commercial cookers have a coil that is between 7-9 inches. Maximum power is produced in a donut shape at the midway point of the coil. A six-inch coil will produce a three-inch ring of heat, and an eight-inch coil will produce a four-inch ring. Critics have noted that this leads to uneven heat in a pan. However, this effect happens when you run the unit at full power, which you only do when boiling water. When boiling water, the water itself equalizes the temperature. If you heat a pan on medium heat, the bottom will have time to equalize, and your pan will heat evenly. This is no different to what you need to do with other types of stoves. Never heat a dry pan on high heat, as the difference between the hot and cold parts of the pan could cause it to warp. This is not an issue if you have anything in the pan. If you must heat a dry pan (for instance, to sear a steak), start on medium and switch to high to allow the pan to warm up.
Power, Power Levels, and Temperature Levels
The maximum power that a home 120-volt AC outlet can deliver is 1800 watts. Any 120-volt tabletop induction unit that claims to deliver a power higher than 1800 watts uses hyperbole.
I am a typical home cook. I make food from scratch, but I’m a basic cook. I grill sandwiches, do stir-fries, boil water, make bacon and eggs, fry pancakes, and cook soups and stews. The simplest induction cooker I have used was an Aroma brand that I bought for $19 on a closeout. It was rated at 1,500 watts and only had six power levels. There were no temperature controls. I was able to cook anything that I wanted with that unit. I have also used a pro-level Vollrath burner with 1800 watts, 100 temperature settings, and 100 power levels. I could cook anything on that burner, too. In some ways, I preferred the Aroma as it was simpler to operate. However, the Vollrath unit would have shined if I was into cooking delicate foods where temperatures needed to be controlled exactly.
Overall, using power levels is exactly the same as cooking on a conventional stove. If the pan is too cold, you turn up the power; if it is too hot, you turn it down. Easy.
Temperature levels allow you to set a pan temperature, which is also useful. However, the temperature sensor on most of these units is below the ceramic glass. This means that the sensor is reading the temperature of the glass that is heated by the pot. That doesn’t exactly reflect the temperature of what is cooking in the pot. However, with a little experimentation, it is still useful. A simmer is between 180-205F. However, you may have to use a temperature setting higher or lower than that to obtain a controlled simmer on your induction burner. A few induction burners have separate temperature probes, but they are rare.
The firmware of some induction burners is basic. If you select 200F at the start of cooking, the cooker may heat at full power until it reaches 200F. That could cause scorching. A workaround is to use power levels (instead of temperature levels), and when you get close to a your desired temperature, switch over to temperature control to maintain that temperature. Some burners approach this problem more logically, and it may be possible to use temperature levels from the start in these cookers.
Then there is the question of power. In an induction burner, the pot becomes a part of the electrical circuit. High-quality pots that cover the entire magnetic coil will yield a higher wattage output than a small cheap pot at the same power level. Additionally, a unit may say it delivers 1800 watts at maximum power, but it may have only yielded 1200 watts when I tested it with a watt meter. The highest power I recorded with an induction burner was 1650 watts from an 1800-watt burner.
Lower power output is less of an issue than you may think. You never cook food at full power, so burners that produce fewer watts and those with higher power cook similarly. The only time that I use full power is to boil water. You will hardly notice a difference if you boil pasta for two or a few cups of water for a French press. If you are boiling gallons of water, you will be hard-pressed to use any of these units as they are not powerful enough. You would need a 240-volt professional burner. Remember that the simple act of covering your pot will dramatically decrease your boil time.
The bottom line is that for most cooking jobs, don’t worry about the stated wattage of the unit, as it is probably inaccurate anyway.
Early cheap tabletop units produced lower power levels by cycling full power on and off. The bottom of the pan would go from scorching hot to cold repeatedly. This was not conducive to good cooking. Newer induction cookers use a combination of cycling on and off with lower power levels to achieve lower temperatures. This process works much better.
You may ask if brands matter. Probably less than you think. All of the consumer units that I was able to check had very similar internal parts. They were all capable of performing well. Any differences were in cosmetics or in the unit’s programming. However, based on these differences, you may find one unit more to your liking than another.
Burner “A” may have eight power levels, whereas burner “B” may have fifteen. Burner “A” may have a slanted control panel, whereas burner “B’s” control panel is flat with the cooktop. Burner “A” may use standard red LED indicators, whereas burner “B” may have fancy blue icons, and so on.
The above factors are not very important to me but may be important to you. Let’s say you love making complicated sauces. In that case, fine-tuning your temperature would be more important than my basic cooking needs.
Pros of Induction Burners
Induction cooktops are cool to the touch; the only heat on their surface is the heat reflected back from the pan. Even when hot, they cool down quickly. They are the most energy-efficient cooktops, with 85-93% of their energy directed into the pan. They heat up and change temperatures faster than any other stove type. They are lightweight and store easily. They boil water faster than any other stove type. Most units can be adjusted either by power level or temperature level. They are very inexpensive. They are very easy to clean. They have built-in safety features that prevent operation unless an appropriate pan is on the unit.
Cons of Induction Burners
A fan runs when operating. The fan sound is similar to a microwave oven fan. You must use pans that have a magnetic base. Some pans may buzz on high power. These cookers only work if a proper pan is placed on them (see pros). If you like to lift a pan to toss its contents, this may be a problem, as some cookers could go into standby mode. However, some models delay standby for 60 seconds, allowing you to toss a pan’s contents. Theoretically, a cooker’s magnetic field could affect medical devices like pacemakers. However, there is no evidence that this is the case.
Consumer Level Induction Burners
Consumer-level induction burners can be purchased for under $40 to just over $100. The exception is the outrageously expensive but interesting Breville Control Freak, which sells for $1,500.
Consumer-level cases are made of heat-resistant plastic. This makes them very lightweight. In addition, They are fairly thin, so they can easily be stored in a cabinet or often a drawer. Since plastic is molded, consumer units can be formed in a variety of shapes as well as in different colors. However, using a pot that overhangs the unit may melt or deform the plastic base.
Differences in a unit’s control surface or operating software may make you prefer one burner. However, all of the units are more similar than different.
Consumer units typically have magnetic discs that are 5″ to 6″ in diameter and produce a 3″ “donut” of concentrated power. However, this hotspot is less of an issue if you heat a pan more slowly and use pans with thick bottoms. The maximum usable pot diameter is around 10 inches.
I found several references of people using the same burner for five years, suggesting surprising reliability for such an inexpensive small appliance.
Popular brands include Duxtop, Max Burton, and Nuwave. Reviewers often give Duxtop units top marks.
You can also buy dual burner tabletop induction burners. They are governed by the 1800-watt maximum power that standard AC outlets provide. Different designs handle this limitation differently. Some have power-sharing circuits, and others lower wattage on their burners so that their total does not exceed 1800 watts. Over the years, I have discovered that most home cooking can be done with two burners. One of these units could provide an effective kitchen set-up for a basement or studio apartment.
Commercial/Professional Induction Burners
Some single burner professional units can sell for around the same price as a top-of-the-line consumer unit, but others can cost several thousand dollars. Unfortunately, there is not much information on how these units differ. Premium professional units likely use high-tolerance components, allowing them to be run continuously in a potentially abusive kitchen environment. In addition, they may have more sophisticated software yielding more power levels and complex algorithms that control heating and temperature levels.
But what makes a lower-end professional unit different from its consumer-level sibling? The most obvious differential is the case, usually larger and made of stainless steel. This allows the unit to accept heavier pots and potentially makes the device more durable. However, it also makes these units much bulkier and more difficult to store in a home environment.
I tried several lower-end professional units; some used controls and firmware borrowed from their consumer counterparts. I couldn’t tear down these units to examine their components, so I had to rely on experimentation. My observations are based on only a few units. Beyond the stainless-steel case, I found two main differences between these low-cost pro units and their consumer counterparts.
Using flour burn tests, these units appear to have larger magnetic coils in the 7″-9″ range, with my best estimate of 8″ to 8.5 inches. This would make them more compatible with 12″ pans, whereas consumer units top out using 10″ pans.
Most consumer units have noisy, high-pitched fans similar to cheap computer fans. Some commercial units that I tested have two fans, and others have fans that sound quieter and appear to be higher-quality components. Fans can be a failure point, so having a better fan would be crucial in a unit that is run many hours a day.
A pro unit could be considered if you plan to leave your induction burner on the counter or if you often use large-diameter pans.
If you are your house’s cook or like gadgets, I urge you to consider trying a tabletop induction burner. There are many good consumer units in the $40-100 price range. It is likely that you already have some induction-ready pots. Induction cooking is safer, saves money and time, and benefits the environment.
You can make full meals with a single burner if you are creative. I make spaghetti with my van’s single burner. I boil, drain the pasta, and transfer it to a covered bowl. I then heat up the sauce in the same pot and return the pasta a la casserole-style for a nice spaghetti dinner.
Double burners are reasonably priced and could be your only basement or studio apartment cooking surface. They are limited by 1,800 watts, which must be shared between the burners. With that said, I have used induction burners that only generated 1,000 watts with perfectly good results.
Professional burners can be very expensive, but some are only slightly more costly than an upper-level consumer model. Pro-level cookers offer a larger, more solid stainless steel case that can hold heavier pots. However, these units are better left out on the counter, whereas many consumer units can easily be tucked away in a cabinet.
My indirect testing suggests that the lower-end professional models I tested may have larger magnetic coils that support 12″ diameter pots (as opposed to 10″ pots on consumer burners). In addition, pro models may have multiple or better-quality cooling fans.
Join the induction revolution. A small investment may convert you into an induction fanboy like me!
Photos used in this post are my own, from Amazon and Aliexpress product pages, from .gov sites, and from the Wikipedia article on induction cooking by Bill Moreland & Terry Malarkey,