How an Induction Stove Works, and the Right Pans to Use

How an Induction Stove Works, and the Right Pans to Use

Janice Lawandi
Apr 16, 2015
GE Profile Stainless Steel 30" Electric Induction Cooktop
(Image credit: Sarah Coffey)

Many in the market for a new stovetop shy away from induction cooktops because they think they will need to buy whole new sets of pots and pans.

But actually, that’s not entirely true: If the pots and pans you use for stovetop cooking are magnetic, then you can consider buying an induction stovetop without worrying. Here’s more about the magic of induction, and the science of how it works!

Regular stovetops heat pots and pans through contact. Flames or electrical heating elements of regular stovetops generate heat, and that heat is transferred through contact from the burner to the base of the pot in a process known as “thermal conduction.”

Induction cooktops, on the other hand, do not generate heat. Induction burners have a coiled wire just below the ceramic surface, which generates an oscillating magnetic field.

The key to induction cooktops is that the pots and pans you use must be made from a magnetic material to work with this system. The induction cooktop will induce the electrons in a magnetic material to move, creating an electric current in that magnetic material. That current generates heat in the pot.

If you place your hand, or a glass pot on an induction cooktop, neither will heat up because they are not magnetic and therefore not affected by the alternating magnetic field of the induction burner.

The Pot Materials that Work With Induction

Magnetic materials that work well with induction cooktops are cast iron, steel, and magnetic stainless steel (the stainless steel must contain some iron). Ceramic-clad and enameled pots and pans, like Le Creuset cookware, work with induction stovetops because hidden within the ceramic layer is an iron pan, which is magnetic.

The Pot Materials that Don't Work With Induction

Aluminum, glass, and copper pans don’t work with induction stoves, unless they are made with a layer of a magnetic material on the bottom.

How to Tell If Your Pots Will Work with Induction!

If you aren’t sure if your pans are magnetic or not, or what material your pans are made of, here’s an easy trick: Grab a magnet from your fridge and hold that magnet near the bottom surface of the pan. If you let go of the magnet and it sticks to the base of the pan, the pot is magnetic, and therefore will work with an induction stovetop.

Why Switch to Induction?

The great thing about induction burners is that they are efficient: only the pot on the stove heats up. Plus the burner itself doesn’t warm up much, except from contact with the hot pan, so there’s less risk of burning yourself, and you are unlikely to accidentally to melt a plastic grocery bag placed on a recently used induction burner (which is something I do frequently with regular ceramic cooktops when I’m not thinking).

Would you buy an induction stovetop if you found you could use the pots and pans you already have? Or have you switched already? I'm curious what you think of it!
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