Induction Cooktop Buyers' Guide
Induction cooking has been popular in European restaurant kitchens for decades, but slow to catch on in the states. Although this method does require a different way of thinking, chefs who make the leap appreciate the technology's speed, efficiency, and safety. This primer aims to help you understand how a commercial induction burner works, what it's good for, and ultimately help you decide if it might be a good fit for your restaurant.
How Induction Cooking Works
The science behind this cooking method comes down to electromagnetism, the same type of energy that accounts for everything from visible light to microwaves and radio waves. In a commercial induction range, electricity flowing through a dense copper coil inside creates a magnetic field just above the cooktop's surface. When that field comes in contact with an induction-ready pan, electrons in the pan's metal begin to move around rapidly. The resulting friction creates the heat you cook with.
Commercial induction cooktops are valued over traditional cooking equipment for a number of reasons.
- It's highly energy-efficient. Because as much as 90 percent of energy used is turned into heat that cooks food, compared to the less than 40 percent of gas and the 74 percent efficiency of traditional electric equipment, a commercial induction range is the most energy-efficient cooking equipment you can buy.
- It keeps your kitchen cool. Because induction cookers generate heat only in the pan you're cooking in, less ambient heat escapes into the air. Translation: your kitchen stays cooler than it would if you were using any other source of heat to cook with.
- It's safe to use. The surface of the range stays relatively cool, even if it's just been used to bring a stock pot to a boil. Only some residual heat transferred from the cookware may remain. Induction helps keep your staff safe from burns.
- It offers quick response. Electronic controls let users make instant changes to pan heat levels. That precision control makes a commercial induction cooktop suitable for applications that require close control over temperatures like melting chocolate.
Types of Induction Ranges
Commercial induction cooktops come in several different forms. You can use induction as a primary means of stovetop cooking, but if you don't have a lot of room to spare, there's still a way to incorporate this technology in your kitchen.
Induction hot plates account for the smallest equipment of this type. These consist most often of a single burner, although two-burner front-to-back and side-to-side configurations aren't uncommon. They sit on your countertop and are great for supplementing a larger kitchen range. Their lightweight designs also make them a popular choice for cooking demonstrations and caterers. They can be taken on the go and their smooth surfaces make cleanup a breeze.
If you want to go all-in on a commercial induction range and make it your primary way to cook, a floor model range is the way to go. Like traditional gas and electric ranges, these come equipped with half a dozen or more burners, with individual knobs on the front to control the heat of each. They can be ordered with an oven or storage cabinet base.
If it's just the cooktop you're after, and you don't need a full range with the base and all, consider a drop-in induction range. These can be built into an existing countertop or used in new construction. The thin profile of a drop in cooktop means you can build just about anything into the space underneath it, including refrigerated drawers for holding your common ingredients.
All induction-ready cookware has one ingredient in common: iron. The presence of iron is what makes cookware react to the electromagnetic field and generate heat. That means one candidate for induction cookware is good old-fashioned cast iron. All cast iron cookware can be heated with a commercial induction cooktop, including enameled pieces, which are protected from the discoloration that occurs on a gas range with induction.
Another favorite induction-ready material is a close cousin to cast iron. Stainless steel, because it is made by combining iron and a couple of other elements, can be used with great results. In addition, cookware that isn't made entirely of stainless steel can often be used as well. Copper-clad cookware often contains a layer of stainless steel on the inside. That setup makes the cookware suitable for a commercial induction burner.
A simple but effective method for checking to see if your cookware is induction ready is to touch it with a magnet. If the magnet sticks, it can be used just as it is. If not, you still may be able to use that particular pot with the aid of a special tool called an induction interface disc. These workaround items sit between the range surface and the pot, heating up and then transferring that heat via conduction into the cookware, much the way a traditional electric cooktop works. While you'll be able to cook just fine with these devices, you'll lost some of the speed and energy-efficiency of using induction-ready cookware.