Now You’re Cooking … With Magnets!

Geek Culture

induction cooktopinduction cooktop

The September issue of Wired magazine has a review of four hot pots—you know, those electric kettles that boil water faster than a kettle on the stove. I had one when I was in college over a decade ago (it came in handy for making ramen in a dorm room with no kitchen) but hot pots have come a long way since then. These four are all $100+ and have fancy features like temperature control and LED displays. Their editor’s pick was the Cuisinart PerfectTemp, with the fastest time for boiling a liter of water: four minutes, nine seconds.

I can beat that by about two minutes on my stove.

Whoever said “a watched pot never boils” didn’t have an induction cooktop. It works on a similar principle as the hot pots, but as a cooktop it’s a little more versatile. Instead of coils that heat up due to resistance, the induction stove uses powerful electromagnets to generate an magnetic field. When a ferrous object (for instance, a cast-iron skillet) is placed in this magnetic field, the field causes the iron molecules to excite, which heats them up, which leads to bacony goodness in a short amount of time. What’s particularly interesting, though, is that induction cooking heats up the pot directly, rather than a heating element which transfers heat to the pot. In fact, when the glass cooktop is hot, it’s because the pot heated it up, rather than vice versa. It’s much more efficient, and also extremely responsive — the cooktop is cool enough to touch pretty soon after you turn it off, and the pots and pans heat up more evenly.

My wife and I have been working on a home remodel (going on two years now, but that’s another story) and we’ve been trying to make the house as energy-efficient as possible. One thing we needed was a stove, since the previous owners took theirs with them. When I first started reading about induction stoves, I was really curious but most of them seemed out of our price range. But now you can buy an all-in-one induction stove and, while they’re still pretty pricey, are at least within the realm of possibility. We opted for the Kenmore Elite 9991, which we managed to get on sale for a bit less than the $3,000 retail price. There are also plenty of options for getting just a cooktop which can be installed in a countertop without an oven underneath. A quick scan on Amazon shows a wide range of induction cooktops, from stand-alone single burners for $70 to the high-end, break-the-bank Viking Professional for $6,600.

Of course, since the stove uses magnets, your cookware has to have enough iron content to make it respond, which meant all of our aluminum cookware that we’d had since we got married was out. I’m sure you can imagine how disappointed my wife was when she realized she’d have to go shopping for new cookware. (Note: it’s always handy to bring a little magnet with you while shopping for cookware — if the magnet sticks, it’ll work on an induction stove; if not, it won’t.) Another big disadvantage for me is that I can’t use my wok anymore — the flat surface at the bottom simply wasn’t large enough for the setup we have. I’ve looked into wok adapters or even specialized wok induction cooktops, but many of those are still in the thousands of dollars, for one single-purpose burner. No thanks.

The first time we put a pot of water on to boil for pasta, we were simply amazed at how quickly it was ready. A single serving of ramen takes about five minutes from start to finish. We got a nice little kettle and we can boil a liter of water in just over two minutes; but since my wife is usually just making one cup of tea, she boils less water and it’s done in about 30 seconds. We gave away our old hot pot.

I’m sure eventually the novelty will wear off and we’ll just get used to cooking. So far, it’s been a lot of fun to show off and to explain how an induction stove works. It’s not new technology by any means, but it’s less common in the U.S. than in Europe and Asia. I’m sure as more manufacturers start including these in their lines, the prices will continue to drop and the number of different options will increase. So when it comes time to replace your old stove, you might just want to consider an induction range, because cooking with magnets is a pretty geeky way to go.

The Induction Site is a great resource for more information about how induction cooking works, options for cooktops, and even cookware that will work with induction.

Wired: More energy-efficient than gas, more responsive than electric burners, and glass cooktop is a cinch to clean.

Tired: You’ll have to replace all that aluminum cookware you bought in college. Well, maybe that’s a good thing.

Photo: Jonathan Liu

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