Cooking with Magnets!? It’s Like Magic

When I first started Amazing Braising, I knew that my kitchen did not have room for me to take pictures as I cooked. I went looking for a portable solution that allowed me to cook on my dining room table. I first learned about induction cooking a few years ago, but I never really had a reason to seriously consider purchasing an induction cooktop.

While my first recipe did not require a cooktop of any type, when I went to make my Cinnamon Saffron Braised Sausages, I knew that I needed to bite the bullet and purchase a burner that would let me cook outside of my kitchen. I ended up with the GreenPan Induction Cooktop.

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Induction cooking was first made commercially available in the mid-1970’s, but it wasn’t really available for most households until the last few years thanks to breakthroughs in induction technology that allowed it to be more inexpensively produced for home cooks. It is rapidly gaining popularity in some areas because the cooktop produces virtually no excess heat by itself and offers precise control.

So, What Is It and How Does It Work?

Induction cooking works by running an electric current through an electromagnetic coil. This creates a fluctuating magnetic field. By itself, this doesn’t create heat that can be used for cooking. When certain types of metal are placed within the magnetic field, it creates smaller electric currents, creating heat. Since iron does not conduct electric well, these currents produce heat. Please forgive me if my explanation is inelegant or missing some facts, I am not a physicist.

This method of heating a pan is more efficient than other forms of cooking because energy is applied directly to the cooking vessel, meaning that energy is not wasted heating a coil or escaping around the pan as with gas cooking. This means that the pan essentially becomes the “burner” instead of being heated indirectly.

Just How Efficient Is It?

When I was initially researching induction cooking, I kept seeing the claim that induction cooking will boil water in half the time of gas burners. Well, I was skeptical, so I set up a test: I measured 4 cups of water to be boiled in the same pan on both an induction cooktop and a butane gas burner.

I started a timer when I turned each burner to the highest setting and measured at three stages of boiling water.

Bubbles develop at bottom of pan:

Induction: 1 min. 30 seconds Gas Burner: 2 min. 15 seconds

Gentle Simmer:

Induction: 2 min. 15 seconds Gas Burner: 4 min. 0 seconds

Rolling Boil:

Induction: 3 min. 30 seconds Gas Burner: 6 min. 0 seconds

So, It’s Perfect?

While I was surprised that it almost lived up to the boast of so many advertisers, there are some fairly significant limitations that can be overcome but take some practice. First, not all cookware care be used on an induction cooktop, just those that are ferrous, or contain iron. The easiest way to test if your cookware is compatible is to see if a magnet will stick to it, if so it will work. You can purchase an induction plate that can help copper and aluminum cookware work on an induction burner, but that is not a perfect solution when making a decision about what type of cooktop to purchase.

Magnet on Pan

In addition to only working with certain types of pans, it can be less intuitive to work with. When working with an electric or gas burner, it is easier to turn up or down a knob to control the heat. Induction cooktops usually allow you to control the temperature within 5° and sometimes 1° in very expensive models, but that takes time to learn.

There are reference charts you can find to give you an idea of how you should set your burner when cooking with induction heat, but it takes some memorization and relies a bit less on your senses to control the heat.

The Bottom Line

Induction cooking can be a very energy efficient way to cook. So, if you have a need for an extra burner, and you are ok investing the time it takes to learn to master a new method of cooking, it is a great option.

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