Boston, MA – September 20: Water boiling on a Wolf Induction cooktop. (Photo by Barry Chin/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
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As energy efficiency goals and financial incentives proliferate, more consumers are warming up to the benefits of induction cooking.
Induction is not a new technology, but US consumers, unlike their European counterparts, have been slow to adopt, according to Rachelle Boucher, senior lead of culinary events and experiences at the Building Decarbonization Coalition, a non-profit that seeks to remove fossil fuels from buildings. Popularity within the US is now growing, for several reasons, including consumers’ growing concern for energy efficiency and safety. Induction cooking is poised to become even more prevalent thanks to financial incentives that make adoption more compelling.
There’s a lot of confusion around induction, however, leaving many consumers wondering how and if it could work for them. Here are some things to know about induction cooking.
How an induction cooktop works
Induction cooking relies on electro-magnetic energy. A coil of tightly wound copper wire beneath the glass cooktop replaces the traditional gas or electric burner. Turning on the control knob sends electro-magnetic energy through the coil, making a magnetic connection with most cookware. This causes the pot or pan to heat up, which in turn cooks the food.
Energy efficiency benefits
Conventional residential cooktops, which typically use gas or resistance heating elements to transfer energy, are roughly 32% and 75% to 80% efficient, respectively. That’s according to ENERGY STAR, the government-backed program that promotes energy efficiency. Residential induction cooking tops, however, transfer energy with about 85% efficiency, according to ENERGY STAR data.
In addition, because the cookware is a heat source, the cooktop surface stays cool to the touch, which means less heat is lost to the surrounding air. This offers an additional energy efficiency benefit — reduced workload for a home’s HVAC system.
Many pro chefs prefer it
While conventional electric ranges have often gotten a bad rap from cooks, professional chefs often favor induction cooking. For one, food cooks more quickly using induction versus gas or a traditional electric cooktop.
Everything else being equal, if a person boils water with a gas range it would take six to eight minutes, whereas it might take 12 to 15 minutes with traditional electric, said Christopher A. Galarza, founder and culinary sustainability consultant at Forward Dining Solutions, which develops and implements commercial electric kitchens. Using an induction cooktop, a person could accomplish the same task in 90 seconds to two minutes, he said. The taste of the food isn’t altered using induction, he said, and cleanup is quicker.
Another benefit to using induction: only the bottom or the sides of the pan get hot. “Heat transfer still happens, but there’s no food touching the handle, so the handle doesn’t get hot,” Galarza said.
Induction also addresses the safety and environmental implications of cooking with gas, Galarza said.
Costs can be high, but are coming down
An induction range typically costs more upfront than traditional electric or gas — retail prices run into the thousands of dollars — but consumers also need to consider safety factors and future energy efficiency savings, which can be hard to quantify, Boucher said.
What’s more, prices for induction units have been edging down and there are comparable options, said Sam Calisch, who leads technology development at Channing Street Copper Company, which sells a battery-equipped induction range.
Prices will vary depending on factors such as the manufacturer, burner output and other features. Current cooking setup, and whether a complete kitchen remodel is being done, are also factors. For a home that currently has an all-in-one unit combining cooktop and oven, the whole unit would need to be replaced with what’s called an induction range, which includes an electric oven (gas oven is not an option). If the cooktop is currently separate from the oven and there is no larger remodel underway, then it could be a less expensive upgrade, just the induction cooktop, which can range in price from around $800 to $2,700, based on features and quality and retailer.
Carbon Switch, which covers home energy, surveyed the best-selling all-in-one range models at Home Depot, Lowes and Best Buy, and its analysis showed prices between $1,100 to $4,400 for popular models. Calisch said he is seeing lower-end induction range options for around $1,000.
Potential rebates and incentives can help
Rebates and incentives from federal, state and electric utilities can offset some of the cost, said Madeline Fleisher, an Ohio-based environmental and energy lawyer who runs a clean-energy website.
Notably, the Inflation Reduction Act — the massive climate, tax and health legislation enacted last year — includes $4.5 billion in funding for states and tribal governments to provide rebates for new electric appliance purchases, including ranges, cooktops, and wall ovens. States are still setting up the programs, and the Department of Energy expects households to be able to access these rebates in much of the country later this year or early next, according to a rebate program FAQ. The money will be limited to low-and-moderate income households, but eligible consumers could save up to $840 on a new electric stove, cooktop, range or oven.
There are also income-qualified rebates for electrical upgrades that might need to be done in connection with an electrification project like switching to electric cooking — that can be up to $4,000 for a panel upgrade and up to $2,500 for electrical wiring.
Induction ranges are more precise than conventional cooktops, one reason why professional chefs often choose them. But it also takes time to learn to cook with induction because it’s more precise and responsive, Calisch said. It also doesn’t work with all pots. Aluminum, for example, won’t work with induction — unless it has a special coating — because of its magnetic and electrical properties.
A good test for whether your cookware will work with induction is to stick a fridge magnet to it. “If a fridge magnet sticks to it, it will work with your stove,” Calisch said.
Homeowners should check to see if their electrical panel is sufficient to handle the additional load induction requires and whether other rewiring may be necessary. Another option would be to consider a model that allows the use of induction technology with a battery, circumventing the need for electrical upgrades.
Consumers who are on the fence may have the option of trying out induction inexpensively by buying a single burner portable unit, or by borrowing or renting an induction hotplate, Fleisher said. A simple Google search may produce some viable options in your area.
Once consumers try induction, Boucher said they will not want to return to their previous cooking methods. “Would you go back to a rotary phone after using an iPhone 10?”