An induction cooker transfers electrical energy by induction from a coil of wire into a metal vessel that must be ferromagnetic. … The eddy currents flow through the electrical resistance of the pot to produce heat through Joule heating; the pot then in turn heats its contents by heat conduction.

Buying a new range or cooktop is intimidating enough, but especially so if you’re considering switching to induction. The new, buzzy type of range has gained popularity for its quick cooking times, energy efficiency, and safety: but how exactly does induction work, and is it worth the steep price tag? The truth is: it depends.

Induction cooking takes place on a flat glass surface equipped with heaters. The heating coils are powered by electromagnetic energy that’s only activated by the iron in cookware. When the iron makes contact with the active heaters, the iron particles agitate causing the pan to heat up quickly. This is different than what happens with an electric or gas range because a transfer of heat from the burners to the cookware does not take place: instead, the pot or pan heats up while the cooktop remains cools – and safe to touch! This process takes place more quickly than electric or gas because there’s no waiting for the burner to heat up first. Here’s what you need to know before you make the switch:

Pros of induction cooking
Induction stoves and cooktops heat faster than electric and gas counterparts. That’s because with induction, you don’t have to wait for the heating element to transfer to the pan. Instead, the pan heats up directly and super quickly — our tests have shown that induction cooktops can boil six quarts of water in under 15 minutes.

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Induction stoves and cooktops offer precise temperature control. Electric cooktops take a lot of time to heat up and cool down, and it’s difficult to hit a precise temperature with gas ranges. But with induction, you’re afforded super precise temperature control which allows for more controlled cooking. When you turn the burner off, heat transfer stops immediately, so there’s less of a chance of foods boiling over or overcooking.

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Induction stoves and cooktops are more energy efficient than electric or gas because heat isn’t lost in the transferring process. With gas and electric ranges, a lot of energy is lost to the air around the pots and pans. With induction, only the cookware heats, which ultimately translates to energy- and cost-savings (and, of course, faster cooking times).

Induction stoves and cooktops maintain a cool cooking surface. Since only the pan gets hots, a hot element will never be exposed, preventing fire hazards and the risk of burns in the first place. This also allows for quicker cleanup. Some people claim this makes it safer to cook around children, but keep in mind that the cookware (and food inside it) still remains very hot.

Induction stoves offer a safer way to cook than electric or gas. It doesn’t emit gas into the air, and it won’t catch objects, like dishcloths, on fire because it only heats items with iron particles in it. It also turns off when the cookware is removed from the heating element so there’s little risk of accidentally leaving it on when you’re done cooking.

Cons of induction cooking
Induction stoves are traditionally more expensive than their electric and gas counterparts, since the technology is relatively new. It’s an investment, but if you’re in the market for a new range, this will pay off in the long run: An induction model uses 10% less energy than a smooth-top electric range. Plus, as induction becomes more mainstream, the cost is starting to decrease.

Induction stoves and cooktops require specific cookware. While most cookware, especially stainless steel cookware, is compatible with induction, your older cookware may need to be replaced if you’re going with induction. Induction-safe cookware contains iron particles, which activate and create heat when they interact with induction heaters. Make sure new pots and pans are marked “induction safe.” If you’re unsure about older ones, do the magnet test: If a magnet sticks to the bottom, it can be used with induction.

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Induction stoves and cooktops have a learning curve. The right sized cookware must be placed in the center of the heating element in order for it to be properly activated. The pot can’t be too small, off-center, or wobbly, so flat-bottomed pots and pans work best. While most induction cooktops have a lock setting that allows you to freely shake your pan around while cooking, during testing, we found the learning curve to be a little frustrating: the heating element sometimes cuts off prematurely or shuts off without warning.

Induction stoves and cooktops can overcook food at first because they heat food faster than traditional cooking methods. Remember that when cooking with induction, cookware doesn’t need as long to preheat and a lower heat setting is needed to maintain the temperature of food. The trade-off is a speedy cook time.

Induction stoves and cooktops sometimes cause a rattling sound, which is a result of the high energy transferring from the coil to the pan. This whirring sound often goes away when you turn down the heat or add food to the pot or pan, but it can be annoying for some users.

Induction cooktops scratch easily. While electric and gas ranges have a grate or heat element that can withstand more wear and tear, inductions are made with smooth glass, which makes them more prone to scratching. Induction cooktop manufacturers suggest using cookware with clean, smooth bottoms, and avoid sliding your pots and pans around on the surface. It’s also advised to not use sharp tools or abrasive cleaning materials on your range.