What Is an Induction Cooktop?

Kettle on an induction cooktop
Maurice van der Velden / Getty Images

When you're cooking up your favorite recipe, the last thing on your mind may be energy efficiency. But opting for an induction cooktop may not only ensure a more precise heat but could save you money in the long run because your cookware gets most of the heat rather than the air around your cooktop. An induction cooktop uses an electromagnetic field to heat up a pan while leaving the cooking surface cool to the touch and without heating up the kitchen.

Even high-end gas or electric cooktops can't make the same claim.

Induction Cooktop Efficiency

With induction cooking, your pan is heated by a magnetic field instead of having its bottom sitting on a flame with a gas cooktop or on an element with an electric stove. With an induction stovetop, the entire bottom of the pan actually heats up, and there's no need to fit your pan to the burner.

Induction cooking is actually 60 percent more efficient than with a gas stovetop. With a gas stovetop, a lot of the flame actually heats around the pan rather than on your cookware bottom.

Cooking on an induction stovetop beats an electric stovetop in the efficiency category by about 40 percent. Plus, you don't have to worry about heating the kitchen while waiting for the electric element to cool down. 

Induction Cooktop Safety

Because the surface of an induction stove or cooktop doesn't get hot, you—or your curious youngster—can touch it with your fingers without getting burned.

This also means that if you splatter sauce onto the cooking surface, it won't burn, making cleanup easier.

Induction Cooktop Speed

Induction cooktops heat more quickly than gas or electric, saving energy as well as time. A 12,000-BTU gas burner takes 36 minutes to boil 5 gallons of water, but an 1,800-watt induction hob, or heating element, will boil the same 5 gallons in only 22 minutes.

If you're wondering, a watt is equal to 3.4 BTUs, so even in absolute terms, induction is still faster. Plus, induction cookers respond immediately to temperature adjustments, so when you lower the heat, you'll see the results right away—just like with a gas range.

Induction Cooktop Requirements

Induction cooktops can only be used with cookware that is made of ferrous metals such as steel or cast iron. Aluminum cookware won't work, nor will glass or ceramic. Here's a simple test to see if your cookware is induction-compatible: If a magnet sticks to it, it'll work with an induction stove.

Induction Cooking Equipment

Induction cookers are available in countertop models that allow you to cook with various pot sizes. Most units feature safety functions so that they'll shut off if a pan isn't present or if the pan is empty. Some even provide burner lights that simulate the glow that comes with gas burners. Drop-in units (which are installed directly into the countertop) and slide-in units (with an oven built in) are also available.

You might experience sticker shock initially, but you'll recoup that over your appliance's lifespan in energy savings.