Induction Cooking and the All-Electric House
by Christina Nagy-McKenna, Enerdynamics Facilitator
Wander into the commercial kitchen of most restaurants, into “chefs’ kitchens” of residential new construction, or into the kitchens of many serious home cooks in the United States, and you will most likely find a natural gas-fired stove. Ask a chef to give up their gas cooktop for an electric one and be prepared for serious resistance.
Does natural gas make someone a better chef? I can only answer that in my case, thousands of hours of cooking have done more for my cooking chops than my four-burner gas stove. However, my deep affection for grilling peppers and flatbreads directly over the blue flame keeps me fiercely loyal to my gas cooktop. But what if the choice to use natural gas in my kitchen were to go away? In two recent Enerdynamics articles, Are Natural Gas Bans the Next Energy Trend? and Gas Utilities Must Manage the Transition to a Low-carbon World, we explored the growing movement to eliminate the use of natural gas in certain parts of the U.S.
Where does this leave commercial kitchens and home chefs? The answer can be found in a piece of kitchen equipment that is decades old but not well known: the induction cooktop. While powered by electricity, this technology is far beyond the standard electric stove.
At first glance, an induction cooktop looks deceptively simple. Hidden under a sleek glass cooktop lies a metal coil. When the cooktop is turned on, electric current flows through the coil and creates a magnetic field around it. The fluctuating magnetic field generated by the alternating current heats a magnetic pan when placed on the cooktop. Remove the pan and the heat disappears, creating a safer cooking space for all chefs.
And while cooking quickly may not always be the goal when preparing food, according to Consumer Reports, an induction cooktop can boil water significantly faster than a gas range. Need to maintain a low temperature to melt chocolate? An induction cooktop can do that as well without burning such a sweet. The smooth glass cooktop is also considerably easier to clean than a gas stove. The technology is efficient, responsive, and safe – so why is it so unknown?
Induction cooking can be complicated and expensive, which has kept it out of the mainstream in the U.S. First, the cooktop will only work with pans that contain enough iron to generate a magnetic field. Copper and aluminum pans will not work. If you can place a magnet on the bottom of your cookware and it stays in place, you can use it on an induction cooktop. However, it can be daunting and pricey for consumers to purchase all new cookware when they are already buying a new cooktop. Second, the technology is still expensive. Induction cooktops usually begin at $1,000 for a base model, significantly more than an entry-level gas or electric cooktop. Lastly, the electromagnetic field associated with the cooktop may also cause problems for pacemakers and digital thermometers.
Restaurants and home chefs in areas of the world where natural gas is limited have already embraced induction cooking. On one end of the spectrum, international retailer IKEA offers a modestly priced single-burner induction cooktop as well as a full induction cooktop on its website to millions of consumers worldwide.
IKEA's single-burner induction cooktop, source: IKEA.com
On the other end of the spectrum, cooking academies such as the Culinary Institute of America and Le Cordon Bleu teach their students to also use induction cooking equipment as they prepare them for careers as global professional chefs.
As we see American cities moving in the direction of all-electric buildings, it is likely that we will see more professional chefs and home cooks looking for alternatives to traditional gas and electric cooktops. As the induction cooktop market grows, prices should drop to make the technology more affordable for the average home cook. In the meantime, hold on to your traditional cast iron cookware as it will work as well in the future as it does today.