About seven years ago, my parents let go of their beloved 40-year-old restaurant gas range and invested in an induction stovetop. My mother was thrilled with this new electric cooking experience. A big vat of water for pasta boiled in less than two minutes rather than the five to eight minutes it used to take on her gas stove. She loved how easy it was to clean the flat surface — no more lifting up heavy metal grates and moving the ringed drip pans into the sink for cleaning. And she loved the evenness, predictability, and speed of the heat. According to the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, induction cooktops heat up 50 percent faster and are substantially more energy efficient than gas or traditional electric stoves. And of course, my mom loved not burning fossil fuels to cook. (My mom’s induction stove is fueled by the solar panels from her roof. If you install an induction stove but do not have solar, there is a good chance you will still be using fossil fuel-based energy to power your electric range.)
For those who don’t know how induction stoves work (I didn’t), let’s start by saying that they are not your grandmother’s electric range. They are more powerful, more energy efficient, and safer. Basically, induction stoves harness magnetic energy. Each one has a heat-proof glass-ceramic surface that sits above a coil of copper wire with a low radio frequency alternating electric current passing through it. The resulting electromagnetic field induces (thus “induction”) an electrical current to the vessel sitting on the glass-ceramic surface.
Induction cooking is not new. It was first patented in 1900, the technology debuted to much fanfare at the World’s Fair in 1933, and in the 1970s, Westinghouse Electric Corporation’s Research and Development Center introduced a more modern iteration of induction cooking machinery. It wasn’t until about twenty years ago, however, that induction stoves gained any notable popularity, and even then, they were quite expensive. Today, you can spend as little as $1,100 or as much as $10,000 or more on an induction range, but we’ll talk more about costs in a moment. As for safety, the surface is not hot to the touch! It will automatically turn off if there is no pot on the surface conducting the energy. Nor will the stove continue to run if there is nothing left in the pan. As Ken Crane of Crane’s Appliance told me, “The pan might get warm, but once there is nothing to excite in a pan, the magic is over. No danger of fire.”
Clearly, induction stoves have a lot going for them, and cities like New York have mandated that all new stove installations be electric or induction. Nonetheless, like many avid cooks, I wasn’t convinced that an electric stove would be right for me. I love my gas stove for its powerful heat and the ability to tweak the heat ever so slightly.. This said, I was willing to keep an open mind. If my mom (who’s an amazing cook) could be converted, then it was possible I could too.
I reached out to chef and cookbook author (and Bluedot Living contributing editor) Catherine Walthers to get her take. I knew she had been cooking for several years on an induction cooktop at a client’s house and that she was planning to make the leap to induction cooking at home when she and her husband, builder and HERS rater David Kelliher, finish building their new house. (HERS is short for Home Energy Rating System. A HERS rater is a qualified professional who evaluates a home’s energy efficiency and health.)
Like my mom, Cathy liked the efficiency of heat from her client’s induction cooktop and the rapid response it had when she turned it down. “With gas, it takes a moment,” she said. “On an induction stove, it’s instant. I also liked that I could find a place where there was a real simmer. With my gas stove, I’d turn it down and sometimes, it would go out three or four times before I got it right, which was a pain in the neck. People have this idea that to be a chef, you need to cook on gas, but that is just not true anymore.” She tells me that she can tweak the heat as well as she could on her gas range and, like my mom, she also appreciated the ease of cleanup: “I can wipe it down and it looks beautiful.” But the most compelling argument for Cathy is the health aspect of induction cooking. “I was unsure about the decision until my husband came home with his multi-functional air quality monitor and measured the air in our old home. I was cooking and the machine said we were in the red as far as being exposed to harmful gas emissions. I reflected on the hundreds of hours I had spent being exposed to harmful chemicals while working at my stove. That meter sealed the deal for me.”
While of course I understood the general climate change implications of burning gas in my home, I had not thought about the emissions. Now I’ve learned that cooking with gas generates a number of invisible by-products. Scientific American reports that the biggest concern for human health is nitrogen dioxide (NO2). This gas is produced when natural gas is burned at high temperatures in the presence of nitrogen in the atmosphere, according to Josiah Kephart, an assistant professor in the department of environmental and occupational health at Drexel University. “We’ve known for a long time that [nitrogen dioxide] has many harmful effects on health,” he says. The EPA regulates outdoor nitrogen dioxide emissions, but does not regulate indoor exposure, even though their literature states that “breathing air with a high concentration of NO2 can irritate airways in the human respiratory system.” And it turns out that gas stoves release harmful gases even when their burners are off: Stanford University found that even turned off, gas stoves release 2.6 million tons of methane into the air each year — an amount equal to the greenhouse gases released annually by a half a million cars.
I called Cathy again to further discuss the gas stove emission realities. She agreed that the numbers were a compelling argument for switching to electric. We also agreed that we didn’t fully understand the ins and outs of induction cooktops, the complications (if any) of repair, and any other pros and cons of induction stoves. So Cathy arranged for us to meet with Brendan Crane, a fourth-generation family member of Crane’s Appliance, who agreed to show us a range (sorry) of induction stove options and walk us through the mechanics.
We greeted Brendan and salesperson Brandon Brooks in the Vineyard Haven showroom. “We’re so excited by the sheer amount of induction options we can now offer our clients,” Brendan told us as he pointed from cooktop to range to cooktop. (A range includes an oven as well as a cooktop.) He showed us the high end ($5,000-$6,000) Bertazzoni and Verona Ranges, then a $3,500 Wolf cooktop — the same kind that Cathy has been using at her client’s home. We moved on to an LG slide-in induction range that sells for about $3,000, and finally, a $1,000 Fridgidaire cooktop. The higher end range and stove top cost is roughly comparable to a high end gas range or stove top, but the lower cost induction ranges and stove tops are more expensive than the lower end of gas ranges. To offset this, The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center (MassCEC) offers a $500 rebate for anyone investing in induction technology. To take advantage of this savings, visit masssave.com to get pre-qualified.
We asked Brendan what the most common service call was for an induction stove. He referred us to his uncle, Ken Crane, who runs the service department. To say that Ken Crane is a huge fan of induction cooking would be an understatement. He tells me, “I don’t think I would ever have a gas stove in my house again. The induction technology is just that good. I’d love to have a pro chef cook on gas and an induction cooktop side by side and compare the two. I guarantee you they’d choose induction.” Ken has an Electrolux stovetop in his home. “The biggest issue we see with induction stoves,” he said, “is that the customers do not invest in good induction cookware.” Good induction cookware, he explained, is iron-based; a magnet will adhere to it so strongly that it’s hard to remove it. “There are a ton of companies selling cheap induction cookware,” he noted, “but because it is not good quality, the stove underperforms. For an induction stove to work at peak performance, the pot and stove need to have intimate contact. If you don’t have this, it is like running a microwave without food in it. It wears the technology out.”
He offered an example from his own experience: “I make three gallons of ice tea a week in two 4 quart induction pans. One pan, a Thermador, is an extremely high quality induction pot, and it makes the tea in half the time of the other. On the same setting! So I tell my customers: work with manufacturers, don’t trust that just because it says induction cookware on the box or on the website, that it’s good induction cookware. Buy the pots in person, maybe even with a magnet. If it’s a good induction pan, the magnet will jump to the pan like a long lost family member.”
Clearly, when thinking about upgrading to induction, you need to factor in the added expense of upgrading your pots and pans. Classic aluminum or aluminum clad, copper or copper clad, glass, ceramic and some stainless steel pots will not work, but a flat bottomed (no ridge!) cast iron pan will. So will pots made of carbon steel and enamel-coated metal pots like those made by Le Creuset (though Ken cautioned that enamel coated metal pots are not as good as the super steel, high quality induction pots).
Asked whether repairing induction stoves is complicated, Ken replied, “There’s a tremendous amount of technology below the glass surface. The stove is as reliable as the company that makes it. It’s way more reliable than it used to be.” And sure, the glass surface can break, but Ken noted that most stove glass breaks are caused by items falling out of the cabinets above the stove. “These breaks can be avoided by just changing what you store in that space,” he said. I love it when good old fashioned common sense can prevail and prevent expense!
Ken offered one final selling point for induction stoves: “In the old days, everyone had gas stoves so they could cook even when the electricity went out. Now, that rationale doesn’t work. The ability to manually light a gas stove has been engineered out of the design.”
When I checked in with electrician Wagner Pereira about retrofitting a gas kitchen with an electric stove or new induction installation, he told me, “I love induction technology. Retrofitting for an induction stove or range is easy. And it’s the future.”
While I don’t think our family (or any family) should immediately jump on induction when we still have a good working stove in our house, I do think that when our stove dies, induction is our future.
Tips for buying an induction stove
- As with buying any appliance, do the research. Read Consumer Reports, talk to appliance salespeople and service people, and consult your friends with new stoves.
- Have a budget that includes GOOD pots.
- Know your kitchen’s spatial restrictions.
- Line up your electrician to help you install it.
- Line up a responsible way to dispose of your existing appliance.
- And then, get cooking!