Choosing a hob
What’s the difference between induction and conventional electric or gas hobs? We look at the pros and cons to help you decide if your next cooktop should be induction
People are warming to the idea of induction hobs. They’ve been available for years in high-end kitchens but only now becoming popular as prices have fallen and technology improves. Keith Myers, founder of The Myers Touch in Winchester, which specialises in the design of luxury kitchens, said 80 to 90 per cent of his projects feature induction hobs. “People like the cleanliness, the power, performance and energy-efficiency but we are a contemporary studio.”
How do induction cooktops work?
Traditional electric cooktops work by converting electricity directly to heat and then conducting this heat up through the hob into the bottom of the saucepan (steel, iron, aluminium, glass, ceramic). Using this heat conducting method, everything gets hot. With induction cooking, the electricity is initially converted into an oscillating electromagnetic field. This electromagnetic field is not converted into heat as it passes through air but only when it passes through a steel (iron) saucepan. Because of this, the only thing that gets hot is the steel saucepan and the food inside.
Induction hobs look very similar to any ceramic cooktop. The surface is usually made from a toughened, heat-resistant glass. Inside the glass there’s an electronically-controlled coil of wire. When the power is turned on, an alternating current (one that reverses its direction many times a second) runs through the coil and produces a magnetic field.
What are the pros and cons?
Induction hobs are more environmentally-friendly than most other hobs. It’s an energy-efficient way of cooking as heat is produced in the pan and not the cooktop. By comparison, gas and electric hobs waste energy heating up the air around the pot. The energy requirements of an induction hob is 15 to 50 per cent less than that of a conventional gas or electric hob, according to the Carbon Trust.
Speedy cooking is another advantage. Cooking with induction is faster than then any other hob. Very rapid increases in temperatures can be achieved because inductive hobs directly heat the pot.
When you change the setting it’s instantaneous like gas, not gradual as with an electric hob. This makes it easier to adjust the temperature during the critical moments of cooking. It’s possible to go from boiling to simmer in just a few seconds.
The sleek, streamlined surface is extremely easy to wipe clean. “There are no twiddly bits that have to go in the dish washer like with a gas hob,” said Mr Myers. Unlike an electric ceramic hob, the surface doesn’t get hot, so spills are less likely to burn. And there’s no need to wait for the surface to cool before wiping clean.
Until recently price was the biggest obstacle. While a top-of-the range induction hob can cost £4,000-plus, it’s now possible to buy a budget burner for as little as £129. Brands, such as Indesit and Bosch, start around £229-£300 (prices correct January 2019). Gas is usually the cheapest type of hob. Induction cookers are marketed on their energy efficiency but don’t switch expecting to slash your fuel bills as cooking represents only a small amount of energy consumption in the home and any savings will be modest.
A drawback is you may not be able to use the pots and pans you’ve already got. Induction cooking requires pots containing iron as that’s the only metal to efficiently heat from magnetic fields. Cast iron, steel and some stainless-steel pans with an iron base will work but copper, aluminium and glass cookware won’t. To check if your existing cookware is suitable, place a magnet on the sole of the pan. If it sticks, it’s fine; otherwise you will have to invest in a new set of pots and pans, bumping up the overall cost.
Luxury models include a flexible cooking surface, so you can place pots and pans almost anywhere on the hob and they will heat exactly where they stand. This makes it possible to cook with the smallest pans or largest skillets, conserving energy and enhancing even cooking results. There are also hybrid induction cooktops available which combine two cooking styles. It’s possible to choose either a hybrid induction electric cooktop or hybrid induction gas cooktop. “People sometimes like to add a wok burner to an induction hob for stir frying,” said Mr Myers.
Some higher-priced induction hobs come equipped with a built-in extractor fan in the surface to suck up steam and cooking smells. It combines two appliances in one, so there’s no need for a separate cooker hood. Venting hobs can be suitable for a kitchen island and wall positioning. The venting hob design means the fan will automatically turn on at the most suitable speed and adjust to suit the cooking level. So, you can’t forget to switch the extractor fan on or off.
Should you buy an induction hob?
If the price is not a problem and you like the energy-efficiency, speed and easy-to-clean convenience, an induction hob might be worth considering. Plus, it will make your kitchen worktop look ultra-sleek and modern.