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In a recent post on MOTHER EARTH NEWS, Paul Scheckel touched on the benefits of induction as a highly efficient way to cook. But he brought up a common complaint: Induction cooktops are really expensive.
If you've been considering investing in induction cooking for its considerable eco-friendly benefits (close to 90% efficiency is pretty impressive), but have been stonewalled by the $1,200 to $3,000 price tags, then I have good news. There are ways to integrate the hottest new technology in cooking into your kitchen without winning the lottery.
First things first though, let's review the benefits for Mother Earth of this method of cooking.
Energy Efficiency. Induction cooking heats the cookware itself, not the stove top, making the pot or pan the heating element. This is where the optimal efficiency comes from. The U.S. Department of Energy determined the efficiency of energy transfer for an induction cooker at 84%, versus 74% for a smooth-top, non-induction electrical cooker. This isn't a huge difference, but when compared to 40% efficiency of gas, which is often touted as the eco-friendly cooking option, the difference is more than noteworthy. Additionally, gas cooking generates substantial ambient heat, often requiring extra energy be expended on cooling the kitchen.
Speed. It's the speed of induction cooking that is a big selling point both for chefs and eco-warriors. The ability to boil a gallon and a half of water in half the time of gas or electric saves precious resources, and time. That speed also means a faster heat response - when cooking with the correct cookware - all without the unpleasant byproducts of combusting gas in your home.
Durability. The glass ceramic cooktop of an induction cooker is much easier to clean than a gas hob, and because it is never hot itself, no burnt-on food will destroy the cooktop or the cookware, as can happen with regular electric. This means less waste and less need to manufacture replacements.
Downsides: That glass ceramic cooktop is more susceptible to scratching and breaking, and cookware needs to be ferromagnetic. If your current pots and pans aren't cast iron or stainless steel you may have to buy all new ones. Additionally, non-flat surface cookware like woks don't work well, because the induction only works through direct contact. If you like to stir-fry your food in a wok, you probably won't like induction.
Now, back to our main point: How do we benefit from all this eco-goodness without going bankrupt? By downsizing.
Induction cooking is not new - it's the manufacture of full-size induction cooktops that is the recent development. And, as with all new technology, soon it will become more affordable. In the meantime however, you can use one of these three options to both benefit from the technology and see if it's the right fit for you while you wait for those prices to plummet.
1. Install a two-burner induction cooktop like this 12 in. Summit Radiant Electric Cooktop ($289) next to your current stove. This way you can benefit from the speed and efficiency of induction in tandem with your current setup.
2. If going whole hog and cutting a slice out of your counter is too big a step, consider a combination countertop/freestanding cooktop such as this 1650 watt Countertop Cooktop ($99). It can either sit on the counter or be built in, allowing you to test it out first then install it more permanently if you decide you like it.
3. The cheapest and simplest option is to buy a portable micro-induction cooktop like this $58 SPT Countertop Induction Cooktop and set it alongside your current set up, using it for high-energy needs such as boiling water.
If you can afford a shiny set of new pans and a grand or two for a fully-fledged induction cooktop, then induction is the clear choice for ultimate energy efficiency while cooking. But if the price tag is too steep, investing a small amount now in trying out the technology in your kitchen will benefit you immediately, and prepare you for when the prices inevitably plummet.
Jennifer Tuohy writes about new technologies in the kitchen, including induction, for Home Depot. A large selection of induction ranges can be viewed on the Home Depot website, as well as a full selection of induction cooktops.