Published on September 12th, 2020 |
by Joe Wachunas
September 12th, 2020 by Joe Wachunas
A coalition of nonprofits called The Electrification Coalition is hosting a webinar on induction stoves with a live cooking demonstration on September 23. Join us!
Induction stoves are an important technology that allow consumers to happily leave behind fossil fuels in the kitchen. They cook food faster than other types of stoves, turn heat up and down instantaneously, offer precise temperature control, only work when a magnetic pan is placed on top of them (no more accidentally leaving the burner on), and thus are extremely safe, and perhaps best of all, are powered by clean electricity.
Like so many technologies in the electrified home of the future, induction stoves are relative newcomers on the scene. But they are a powerful development because they change the rules of the game and cut out one more gas industry argument for why we need methane (aka “natural” gas) in our lives at all. [Editor’s note: From a user’s perspective, induction stoves are amazing. They are becoming the norm in Europe now. They are so much better than electric coil or gas stoves. I’d highly recommend them from a user perspective alone. —Zach Shahan]
Before induction, the two choices facing cooking consumers were to use either gas burners or electric coils, and in that scenario, gas seemingly had the upper hand. Its cozy blue flame hearkens back to something prehistoric in us, a cave person’s love of fire. Plus gas flames are easily manipulated, able to be turned up or down and quickly control cooking temperatures.
Next to this blue flame, electric resistance coils look less than ideal. They are inefficient, take forever to heat up and cool down, and make controlling temperatures a challenge.
Recently, it has become clear that there are some hidden (literally invisible) costs to gas that we weren’t always factored into our equations. An accumulating body of research shows how cooking with “natural” gas can release many types of toxins like nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and carbon dioxide, all of which exacerbate asthma and cardiovascular illness. Indoor pollution from gas thus negatively affects us all, most especially vulnerable populations like children and lower-income households which tend to have more people and less ventilation in the home (read a really good report on this topic here). And the evidence is accumulating that due to fracking, and the higher than accounted for leaks in the distribution systems, natural gas is similar to coal in terms of its climate warming impact.
But, luckily, the whole equation has changed dramatically with induction. With this premium, new cooking technology, which has all the good qualities of gas and none of its drawbacks, we have one more reason to switch our homes to be fully powered by clean electricity.
How Induction Works
Induction stoves, like microwaves, seemingly work by magic. The technology creates a magnetic field that directly heats iron in pans, so rather than heating the space under a pan like a traditional stove, the heat comes from within the pan itself. (If you’d like more information about the actual process, go here — you’ll learn about eddy currents, induction hobs, and varying magnetic fields.)
Induction stoves are also more efficient than gas or electric coils. Energy transfer is around 84% compared to 74% with the older technologies. Cooking doesn’t account for a lot of energy use in the home, so the typical person probably won’t save a huge amount of energy and money, but it’s nice to know that when you do cook, you’ll be doing it more efficiently. The important thing to keep in mind about induction is that it debunks the gas industry argument that we need gas in our home for cooking.
Speed and control
Induction stovetops match and exceed gas in their ability to quickly change and control heat. There is no lag time with induction cooking like there is with electric resistance. Sauce bubbling too much? Lower your heat setting and it’ll be instantly simmering more slowly. Induction offers excellent low heat settings that gas burners typically struggle with — no more burned rice on the bottom of the pan!
Induction also cooks far more quickly than other technologies and can boil six cups of water in two minutes. I’ve done demonstrations on my induction stove to family and friends to amaze them with just how quickly a watched pot boils on an induction stove. Your cooking style changes with this increased speed and responsivity, because you no longer have to plan something else to do while you wait forever for pots and pans to arrive at the desired temperature.
Induction stoves are also the safest cooking technology available. The cooktop only heats magnetic pans and pots and turns off automatically after 10 seconds when it doesn’t detect a pan. No more accidentally bumping the stove and turning on burners (something that happens to my parents all the time).
And because induction cooking heats the pan itself rather than underneath the pan, the entire surface is also much less hot and much less of a risk. There are strange YouTube videos of people frying bacon on induction stoves with their pan resting on top of dish towels that are not harmed in the process.
This increased safety is huge for a family like mine with two toddlers. 300 children go to the emergency room every day with burns, and the reduced risk offered by induction stoves brings a peace of mind.
Because the surface is literally a sheet of glass that does not get hot, this also means that your cooktop is more like an extension of your countertop. Unused “burners” can be used for preparation or serving.
The cost of induction stoves seem to be the greatest challenge to their full-scale adoption. The good news is that Consumer Reports has observed a decline in prices, with several models coming in at $1000 or less. This is still more than low-cost electric or gas stoves, but you’re paying for an improved cooking experience. Keep in mind you’ll also have to make sure your pots and pans are magnetic. Yale Appliances has some excellent buyers guides and reliability information that it has compiled through thousands of induction range and cooktop installations.
Spread the word
In these times of fires, elections, and pandemics, a topic like “what stove you’re using” can seem trite and unimportant next to some of the larger challenges we’re facing. But don’t be mislead by the humble nature of this subject — these stoves matter! Electrify everything is our best strategy to solving our climate crisis quickly, and “cooking with gas” is one of the primary methods that the gas industry uses to convince consumers that we can’t live without it. The more people who prove that argument wrong and use induction cooking, the faster we can transition off fossil fuels.
Currently, only 1% of stoves in the US are induction — meaning we’ve got work to do to get the word out about the all-electric kitchen. Buy and experience one of these great stoves yourself (my family did!), talk to your communities about induction cooking, and help make our kitchens safer, cleaner, and better.
And if we still haven’t convinced you, check out our upcoming webinar on induction cooking where we’ll have a professional chef do a live cooking demonstration.
Related report: Gas Stoves: Health and Air Quality Impacts and Solutions 2020
Featured image courtesy Kitchen Aid
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