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Is It Time to Switch to an Induction Stove?

Moving from gas and electric to induction cooking has a number of environmental, safety and cooking advantages, but is it worth it?


spinner image a red kettle on an induction stove
Douglas Rissing / Getty Images

As gas stoves flicker out of favor due to environmental and health concerns and some consumers complain that electric stoves take forever to warm up and cool down, is it time to get on board with induction stoves?

There are many reasons to embrace the trend that’s taken off in Europe and Asia (if not quite in the U.S. yet).

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But there are some things to consider before you switch, including cost. Here’s a rundown of what to know before you drop your gas or electric stove and start cooking with induction. 

Understanding how they work 

Gas stoves heat pots and pans using a direct flame. If you’ve got a gas stove, it’s probably hooked into a utility’s natural gas line, making it relatively convenient. (In rural locations, an external propane tank may be the gas source.) Gas stoves are prized for how quickly they heat up.

Ranges and Stoves and Ovens, Oh My

Choosing a new stove can be confusing. Typically, a freestanding appliance with a cooktop and a built-in oven underneath is referred to as a range. Alternatively, it’s commonly called a stove, indicating it includes a stovetop and an oven. In such a configuration, an induction range uses induction on the cooktop and has a standard electric oven underneath. There are often additional options and features.

Electric ovens may include an air fryer feature, convection cooking (which circulates the air) and even steam cooking. Models with all these features usually cost a bit more. You can also purchase induction cooktops that can be installed in a countertop, then get a separate in-wall oven. Your preference — freestanding or built-in models — will probably depend on the size of your kitchen and how much you have to spend on the installation.

Traditional electric stovetops, by contrast, have coil elements that heat up, usually concealed under a smooth glass cooktop. They first have to heat the surface of the stove, which then heats a pan, which then heats the food in the pan. Consequently, electric cooktops take longer to heat up and stay hot long after they are shut off, making it difficult to adjust the heat when you’re cooking.

Induction cooktops work differently. They use electricity but not to directly heat the stovetop. Instead, induction elements under a cooktop’s ceramic surface create a magnetic field that doesn’t heat the cooking surface but rather generates an electric current when a pot comes in contact with the cooktop. The electric current excites electrons in pots and pans that contain ferrous metal (more on this below), which is what creates the heat in the cookware — while keeping the stovetop cool. 

Energy, efficiency, safety

The way induction works means it heats faster — even more quickly than gas — and can be more precisely controlled by instantly reducing or increasing the amount of current in the pot or pan. Boiling water, for example, takes induction about half the time it takes a standard electric stovetop to accomplish the same task.  

Better still, induction stovetops are inherently safer than either gas or old electric stoves. The open flame of a gas stove can quickly light up any nearby inflammable material, and an electric stove that remains hot even after it’s turned off can burn your hand. Induction doesn’t present any of those dangers. The reason is that without a pot or pan on the burner to complete the electromagnetic circuit, it won’t get hot. The cooktop remains cool (aside from the warmth created by the pan).  

“And if you remove the pan, some induction stoves have a sensor that can automatically turn it off,” so it won’t even waste electricity, points out Anolon’s Holyoak.  

Induction technology is more efficient because 90 percent of the energy it uses is transferred to heating the food, versus 74 percent for traditional electric stovetops and a meager 40 percent for gas, according to findings published in the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s “Summer Study on Energy Efficiency in Buildings.” That means less heat escapes into the kitchen, which in turn reduces the need for expensive air conditioning. The safety aspects eliminate the dangers associated with forgetfully leaving a cooktop on.  

Cleaning

On the purely convenience side, cleaning up after induction cooking is easier than with gas or electric. On gas stoves, you have the spills that have to be retrieved after you’re done, waiting for the grill to cool and scrubbing the surface and grill.  

Electric smoothtops are arguably worse. Spills burn into the hot cooking surface and have to be carefully cleaned later using special cleaners to avoid scratching the surface and damaging its heating abilities.

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Induction elements don’t present cooks with the same challenges. Holyoak points out that if a pot boils over or spills, food will not get burned into the induction surface because it never gets that hot, making cleanups fast and easy.

Pots and pans

One other thing to consider: You might have to invest in new cookware if you switch to induction.

Though induction cooktops work with most pots and pans, they do not work with all cookware. The metal in the cookware has to contain magnetic ferrous material. Cast-iron fry pans and Dutch ovens work perfectly, as do most stainless steel pieces. Pure copper pans and aluminum pots do not.  

“I had a couple of nonstick pans that did not work,” said Jeff Sigelbaum  of New York City, an experienced cook and foodie who switched to induction when the gas was shut off in his co-op, “and one pan that had warped a bit over the years would not work at all on the induction.” Pans need to have a flat bottom and be magnetic.

Sigelbaum said he used a magnet to test all of his pots and pans, and Holyoak agrees that’s a great way to do it. It can also reveal which pots have a fully magnetic base plate rather than just a small center area that’s magnetic. If only a small area of a pot’s bottom is magnetic, that can create a cooking hot spot, which will tend to burn food in the center of the pan.

If you have to get new cookware, induction compatible models are available in a variety of styles and price ranges that are comparable to traditional cookware.

The cost 

The main reason many people may be hesitant to switch to induction is the perceived expense. But depending on your situation, the cost versus a regular stove replacement may be minimal — or several hundred dollars. 

First, there’s the price of the ranges themselves. Induction models used to command a price premium over regular electric and gas stoves, but that is gradually changing. A 6-cubic-foot gas range from Samsung (Model NX60A6511SS) with a convection oven and air fryer is $1,034 in retail, compared with $1,099 for a 6.3-cubic-foot induction range from Samsung (Model NE63B8211SS/AA). However, you can save by buying a basic bare-bones electric stove, such as a 6.3-cubic-foot Samsung glass top (Model NE63A6511SS) for $799.  

Even if an induction stove is priced close to a gas or electric stove, you have to consider what the installation might cost. If you are switching out an electric stove, the expense may be minimal. Induction stoves require a 240-volt outlet (40 or 50 amps at the circuit box), but so do most electric stoves, so no additional work may be required.

Gas stove owners, however, will have to arrange to have a 240-volt line installed — as well as get a professional to cap the gas line. It can cost as little as $300 to do this, according to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. The folks at Lemcke TV & Appliance in St. Louis usually tell customers it could cost $400 to $500. It could cost considerably more if the electric circuit box in your house is far from your kitchen or doesn’t have a 40- or 50-amp circuit available.

The environment 

People may switch off the gas for another reason: Gas stoves are bad for the environment — indoors and out. Varying amounts of gas leak from all home stoves, even when they are switched off. A study of 69 homes in Boston by researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that unburned indoor natural gas contained 21 hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, which can cause cancer and birth defects. Electric and induction stoves pose no such risk. 

So it’s not surprising that related concerns about climate change have spurred many municipalities to encourage the use of induction stoves by banning gas. New York City banned the use of gas stoves and heaters in construction, in part because gas stoves emit methane, a major contributor to global warming. It’s a significant move because, according to the nonprofit environmental coalition New York Communities for Change, the city accounts for 5 percent of all gas consumed in buildings nationwide. Seattle and other cities have followed suit. 

Tied to an old flame

In spite of the overall advantages, the U.S. has been slow to adopt induction stoves, so they might not be something you’re seeing your friends and neighbors embrace.

“From the consumer side, interest has been really lukewarm,” says Walter Taffarello, director of new business development and strategic partnerships at Panasonic.

“There is a romantic idea that if you cook with a flame, the food will taste better,” he says, citing the reluctance and expense for people to switch from gas to induction. “But sooner or later, it’s going to happen.”

Though New York banned gas, some states are trying to put the brakes on adopting the technology. Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee passed so-called preemption laws that prohibit the institution of such bans.  

Unfortunately, not everyone can switch, even if they want to.  

Amateur cook Sigelbaum wanted to convert to an induction stove, but “the building wouldn’t allow it.” He says his co-op told him it couldn’t support the necessary wiring.

Undaunted, Sigelbaum occasionally cooks on two portable Duxtop induction hot plates, which cost less than $70 apiece. They are particularly handy when he has to cook a lot of food that’s going leave an odor in the kitchen; then Sigelbaum takes the induction plates outside to cook for dinner guests. “You can’t do that with a gas stove.” 

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