While many home chefs may still prefer cooking with gas, there’s no denying that induction is a faster and more energy-efficient method for heating pots and pans. In pretty much all online tests, induction has proved to be far and away the fastest method to boil a pot of water. In fact, according to a recent Which? experiment using a large pan of water, gas took 9.69 minutes to bring it to the boil, electric ceramic took a surprisingly faster 7.47 minutes but induction annihilated both with a boiling time of just 4.81 minutes.
Induction hobs are also quick to respond to temperature adjustments and, while they are capable of reaching higher cooking temperatures than gas (around 315˚C), they never get as hot to the touch as their gas or ceramic counterparts so you could feasibly touch the surface of an induction hob after the pot has been removed and not require a visit to A&E. This makes induction hobs the safest cooking method for anyone with children and inquisitive cats.
However, there are some elements of induction that are not so widely known and mistakes can be easily made when choosing a model for your needs. That’s exactly what this article is about.
These, then, are the three most frequent mistakes people make when choosing or using an induction hob.
1. Be aware of the induction hob’s electrical requirements
You would think that buying an electric induction hob would be a simple case of selecting the best one for your needs, stumping up the cash and getting an electrician in to wire it up to your existing kitchen ring main. Wrong!
Let me tell you a cautionary tale. A couple of years ago I ordered the most powerful and fully-featured AEG induction hob I could afford. It duly arrived but when the electrician came round to instal it, he first had a look at our mains box and came back in the kitchen with the look of someone about to break grave news. ‘Er, I’m sorry but your existing mains cable isn’t sufficient to carry the greater electrical load required by this hob. I could use the standard diversification method but if you use all the hobs at once while the oven’s also on, the cable may melt and catch fire’. Lovely news.
I’m no electrician but, in a brief-ish nutshell, it seems that a high-end five-zone induction hob with about 7.4kW of power installed above an existing electric oven should ideally be wired to the mains box using 10mm cable and a 45amp fuse. My old flat had a 6mm cable and a 32amp fuse so the electrician suggested a new ring main which added about £400 to the cost – along with having my tiled floor taken up. Be doubly aware of this, especially if you live in an old house or flat and you’re moving from a gas hob to an all-electric system comprising an induction hob and electric oven. This is because, a) the existing ring main may have been installed decades ago when domestic appliances drew less power and b) the electrician may have installed a lower rating cable because the hob used gas which was the most efficient cooking fuel at the time.
There is a practical solution to this power consumption conundrum and it comes in the form of a plug-and-play hob which uses a standard 13-amp mains socket instead of the hob having to be hard wired into the ring main. Many manufacturers like Neff, Bosch, Siemens and Zanussi produce a range of lower-power 13-amp induction hobs but what they don’t always tell you in large, hard-to-miss lettering is that you can’t use all the hobs on full power at the same time. In fact in many instances you can only boil water at full power on one zone at a time. The others would need to function at half power or lower. If using a ‘boost’ function, only one zone can be used, period. That said, you’re rarely likely to be boiling two pots at once – in most cases the other zones will be on half power or lower like, say, when simmering. In that respect, a plug-and-play model will suffice for all but the most discerning of chefs.
The upshot of all this is that it’s extremely important to call in an electrician before selecting an induction hob so he or she can work out the load your electricity supply is capable of handling. You may have to pay a small call-out charge but what price peace of mind?
2. Choosing the right cookware
Unlike ceramic or gas hobs that heat the entire pot or pan which in turn transfers the heat to its contents, electric induction hobs heat the ingredients directly using the invisible powers of magnetism. In fact, with the induction system, the pan itself becomes the heat source or element – electromagnetic waves magically penetrate the base of the pot and begin to agitate the electrons in the ingredients, which in turn creates heat for cooking.
Now, since magnetism is the main ingredient here, it stands to reason that the base of any pot or pan used on an induction hob should be made from a ferromagnetic material like cast iron, stainless steel and carbon steel. In short, if a magnet sticks to the underside of the pot or pan, it’s ‘induction ready’. If your existing pans are made entirely from aluminium, copper and, er, glass you will have to bin them or give them to someone who uses gas or ceramic.
However, not all induction pots are made the same because some bases comprise a number of different metals including non-ferrous aluminium and copper which also happen to be excellent heat conductors. In this writer’s experience, pans made almost entirely from stainless steel or cast iron are the best types of cookware for induction hobs.
Cast iron takes longer to heat up but the whole pot retains heat for much longer than stainless steel. This makes cast iron the best material for cooking slow-and-low hob-based casseroles and stews (thing Le Creuset) but not, conversely, for anything that requires constant temperature fluctuations. For that you need stainless steel. Since stainless steel has low heat conductivity, many manufacturers apply very thin sandwich layers of aluminium and/or copper to the base of their pans so they have excellent magnetic properties along with superb heat conductivity. To date, our favourite – ie the fastest and most efficient – stainless steel pots and pans are those that hail from the Cotswolds-based Robert Welch stable. We reviewed the company’s Campden 3-Piece Saucepan Set last year and were mightily impressed by the speed with which they boiled water – surprisingly, they were faster to boil than most of our other induction ready pans. Robert Welch saucepans use a base layer comprising a combination of stainless steel with sandwiched layers of aluminium and copper for maximum conductivity. This writer’s been using them regularly for the past year and they still look brand new.
When it comes to the best non-stick frying pans for induction hobs, we’ve been equally impressed by the Samuel Groves Tri-Ply Stainless Steel Non-Stick Frying Pan and the Le Creuset Toughened Non-Stick Shallow Bring Pan.
3. Cleaning your Induction hob
This may be like teaching grandma to suck eggs, but don’t under any circumstances use a scourer to clean your induction hob. This is because all induction hobs have a glass surface that is easily scratched. You’re much better off cleaning the glass top with a damp sponge, a few drops of washing up liquid and a good dose of elbow grease. Then finish it off with a good buff using a soft dry microfibre cloth.
If the hob is especially grubby or shows signs of pot stains that can’t be removed using washing up liquid, try the vinegar and baking soda method. Combine one part baking soda with one part white vinegar in a bowl or spray bottle and apply it to the hob. Leave for 30 minutes, wipe off with a damp sponge and give it a buff with a dry cloth. Job done.
Since an induction hob's surface never gets hot enough to set fire to anything, another good tip – thanks John – is to place a piece of kitchen paper towel (Blitz is best) or even a thin tea towel under the pot or pan to protect the hob's glass surface and at the same time mop up any inevitable spills when boiling obstreperous ingredients like rice and pasta.
Want to swat up a little more on the subject? Read our guide to the best induction hobs