All About Induction Burners
Last week it was really warm here in the Philly area so we decided to eat outside. I had prepared an incredible Quinoa with Sweet Peas side dish that my wife pulled out of the Wall Street Journal and one I will post soon. I served the Quinoa with pork tenderloin that I sliced into medallions, flattened and sauteed in my stainless steel fry pan outside with my sort of new induction burner. I purchased it last year but only used it once.
This was the first time I used the induction burner outside and I thoroughly enjoyed being in the open air, cooking like I was inside at my stove top. I suppose I could have grilled the pork but I really wanted to try this out for future meals and it worked perfectly. Best of all, I didn’t have to heat up my kitchen on this uncommonly warm evening. Can’t wait to cook some more dinners outside using the outdoor wood burning oven, my grill and now my induction burner.
Most of us are familiar with gas or electric burners. Gas burners use a gas flame to heat the pot you’re cooking in. Electric burners use resistance to generate heat to cook your food. While there have been some tweaks to these systems, including flat-top electric stoves, these two methods of heating food on a stove top have remained basically the same for decades. Induction cooking is a whole new ballgame. Induction cooking is truly an exciting revolution in cooking.
What Is An Induction Burner
An induction burner is not really a ‘burner’ at all. Rather, an electromagnet inside the burner generates a magnetic field that can be strengthened or weakened at the turn of a knob. Turn on an induction burner and put your hand on it. No heat. That’s because the electromagnet does not heat up. Put any sort of pot made at least in part of iron (cast iron, stainless steel) on the burner and the electromagnet excites the iron molecules in the pan, causing the pan to get hot.
Advantages of Cooking with an Induction Burner
Although induction cooking has been around since the early seventies, it has only been in the past ten years or so that it has really come into its own. Induction burners are widely used by progressive chefs in commercial kitchens, but the home cook will find many advantages to using an induction burner instead of a conventional stove for many cooking tasks.
- Induction cooking is efficient. Studies have shown up to 85-90% efficiency, compared with about 50% efficiency for gas burners. This makes sense since the electromagnet only heats the pan; all the heat is channeled into cooking the food. Cooking times will be shorter and you will ultimately use less energy for cooking.
- No more foods burned on the sides of your pans. Since there is no open flame to lick up around the sides of your pans while you are cooking, you won’t have to worry about foods getting burned onto the sides of the pans. This is particularly helpful when making delicate sauces or when working with boiling or caramelizing sugar.
- Your kitchen will stay cool! We often talk ourselves out of cooking in the summer because we don’t want to heat up the kitchen. Again, with induction cooking, the only thing that heats up is the pan. So, break out your induction burner and get cooking!
- Induction cooking is safe. Even flat-top electric stoves can get dangerously hot away from the burners. Since the only thing to heat up is the pan, the burner itself stays cool (except for directly under the hot pan). If you were to cut your skillet in half and place it on the burner and then crack an egg so half is in the pan and half on the burner, only the egg in the pan will cook. The egg that is directly on the burner will stay raw!
- Induction burners are powerful. Portable induction burners are to portable electric burners what flamethrowers are to candles. Most induction burners are rated between 1400-1600w, equivalent to a gas burner with between 10,000-11,500 BTUs. And because they are more efficient than gas burners, you’ll reach optimum cooking temperature more quickly.
- Induction burners are very responsive. Since turning the knob on an induction burner controls the strength of the electromagnetic field rather than the height of a flame or the resistance in a coil, it is possible to raise or lower the temperature of the cooking food almost instantly. No more removing the pan from the heat to wait for a burner to cool down. Just turn the knob, and you are good to go. Keep a stew at a steady simmer or instantly reduce the heat so your pasta doesn’t boil over.
- Induction burners are portable, so if you have power outside (or an extension cord) take your burner outside and cook by your grill. Now you won’t have to run back and forth between what’s on the stove and what’s on the grill””you’ve brought the stove with you!
Nothing Can Be That Good. What Are the Disadvantages?
Induction cook tops and ranges are still comparatively expensive, but you can purchase a portable single element induction unit for between $150-$500. I can only think of two drawbacks to owning and using an induction burner.
- Technology is currently being developed that will allow the use of pots and pans made of any material to be used on an induction burner, but currently, only pots containing iron will work on these units. This should not be much of a drawback to you, unless you only own anodized aluminum, copper or glass cookware. If you have cookware with an aluminum or copper core clad with stainless steel, you are good to go.
- Although an induction burner does not get hot, fans are used to cool the electromagnet. The sound of the fan might take a bit of getting used to, but it is certainly no louder than the exhaust fan on your hood.
As prices come down and more and more companies manufacture these efficient burners, now is a great time to try an induction burner out for yourself. I know that once you try one, you will love it and will wonder how you ever made do without one. I know I will be doing a lot more table-side cooking this summer under the stars.