Induction hobs are the future of stove-top cooking. CookServeEnjoy spoke with top chef Peter Sidwell about how you can find the perfect induction-ready pan to take your home-cooked heroics up a notch.
- What is induction cooking?
- The pros and cons of induction pans
- What to look for when choosing your induction pan
- The best induction pans
- Top tips for using your induction pan
- How to clean an induction pan
What is induction cooking?
Induction cooking is a type of stove-top cookery that uses magnets to heat your pan.
Unlike conventional gas or electric hobs, an induction hob doesn’t actually generate any heat by itself. Instead, it’s filled with special copper wire coils that create a magnetic field which gets the metal molecules in your pan moving — and fast! That molecular movement makes the metal hot, ready to cook all your favourite dishes.
That’s right: you can use molecular physics to cook your food now.
But before you go about throwing all your old non-sticks atop a shiny new induction hob, you should know that not all pans work with induction tech. For that, you’ll need a pan that’s ‘induction-ready’.
What’s the difference between an induction pan and a normal pan?
The key difference between an induction pan and your standard shop-bought pan is the materials with which they’re made. “Induction pans are magnetic,” says Peter Sidwell: “that’s how the energy is transferred.” Induction-ready pans are simply those that are made with magnetic materials.
But while it might seem obvious that metal pans will react to magnets, that’s not always the case. That’s because metal is only magnetic when it’s ‘ferrous’; that is, when it contains iron. And pans today are made with a bunch of different metals — not all of them ferrous.
Ferrous metals (will work on induction hobs)
- Cast iron — Turns out this old-school material really is future-proof! Your trusty cast-iron pans are chock-full of ferrous material, so it’ll work perfectly with your induction hob.
- Stainless steel — While not all stainless steel is magnetic, many stainless steel pans are. That’s because stainless steel is an alloy of iron and chromium; if there’s enough iron in there, you’ll get a magnetic reaction. Try sticking a magnet on your stainless steel sets; this is the easiest way to find out if it's induction-compatible.
Non-ferrous metals (won’t work on induction hobs)
- Copper — Copper pans certainly look the part, but, sadly, they don’t perform without a conventional gas or electric stove top. Technically, copper is magnetic, but the force is so weak that it’s basically useless for induction cooking.
- Aluminium — So here’s the thing: aluminium itself isn’t magnetic. It’s a non-ferrous metal that doesn’t react to magnetic fields, so in theory, this won’t work on induction hobs. However, that’s not quite the whole story...
Why are some induction pans made of aluminium if it’s not magnetic?
Aluminium induction pans can still work on induction hobs because, well, they’re not just aluminium. They’re actually made with an iron or steel insert in the base, which reacts to the magnetic coils in the hob — this is what generates the heat.
And despite its lack of raw magnetism, aluminium is a first-class energy conductor, so the whole pan heats up fast.
Peter actually prefers aluminium pans over cast iron for induction cooking. “While cast iron will work well on induction hobs,” he says, “these pans tend to use a lot of energy getting hot. Cast aluminium induction pans are much better.”
How can I tell if my pans will work on an induction hob?
If you don’t happen to have a degree in metallurgy (like us), there are — thankfully — a couple of ways you can quickly determine whether your existing pans are induction-compatible.
- Do the magnet test — Got an old fridge magnet lying around? It should stick to the underside of your pan if it’s induction-ready. If it doesn’t stick or the attraction is weak, it’s probably a no-go.
- Check for the induction symbol — In the last few years, manufacturers have added a helpful symbol to the base of induction pans so users can quickly spot whether they’ll work. It looks like this:
The pros and cons of induction pans
- Efficiency — “Induction pans use far less energy to heat up than conventional pans do,” says Peter. They emit less waste heat than gas and electric hobs too.
- Safer — While induction hobs make pans nice and hot, they don’t emit heat themselves, so they’re a lot safer than gas hobs. “There are no naked flames,” highlights Peter: the only thing to watch out for is the residual heat from the hot pan that’s been resting there. Even then, the hob cools quickly. That’s sure to be a relief for parents with kids who don’t understand “Do not touch”!
- Better heat distribution — “Magnetic heating means there are no ‘hot spots’ you find with normal pans,” says Peter. Everything in the pan cooks at the same rate so you won’t have parts burning and parts undercooked.
- High performance at light weights — You don’t need to strain your wrist with heavy cast-iron pans to get a good sear with induction cookware. “Pans can be lightweight yet still perform at a high temperature using induction.”
- Needing to buy new pans — If your existing pan collection is all copper and aluminium, you might need to buy a whole new set. And while some might relish the excuse to treat themselves to some shiny new pots, it can burn quite the hole in your wallet if you’re strapped for cash.
- Getting used to the cooking speed — Peter warns that induction pans heat up far more quickly than normal pans. “Many people find it difficult to get used to the speed of heating up, or they undercook everything.” Induction pans don’t heat at the same rate as normal pans because of the way the energy is transferred into the pan. You might have to experiment with heat settings before getting comfortable with it fully.
What to look for when choosing your induction pan
1. A flat, wide base
“Choose a solid pan with a flat base so it has a good connection to the hob,” advises Peter.
Advanced induction cooktops “couple” with pans up to a couple of centimetres above the surface. A pan with a curved bottom could prevent that coupling from happening; you’ll often find this problem with older pans that have warped.
It’s worth investing in new pans if your existing cookware is warped, even if it’s cast iron or induction-ready. A completely flat base will return the investment in spades!
2. Go for something lightweight
Let’s face it: cast iron is always in vogue. The problem is that it’s punishingly heavy, which isn’t ideal for everyone: have you ever tried tossing vegetables in a cast iron skillet?
“The pan should be the right weight for the individual — lightweight if needed,” says Peter.
Luckily, induction pans offer plenty of outstanding lighter options. He recommends stainless steel and induction-ready aluminium pans for your everyday cooking; keep the cast iron for special occasions.
3. Invest in quality
Well-built pans can last for years if you look after them. Going for cheap pans puts you at risk of shoddy cooking, owing to materials that quickly warp (so you stop getting that good energy distribution) and the non-stick coating coming off within a handful of uses.
The good news is that most induction cookware works on gas and electric hobs as well as on your magnetic coil. That means even if you’re worried about switching back to conventional stoves later, you’ll still get your money’s worth from a good induction-ready set.
It’ll save you loads in the long run from having to purchase replacements — not to mention all the spoiled meals you’ll avoid!
What are the best induction pans?
Best all-rounder: MasterClass Induction-Ready Ceramic Frying Pan
MasterClass Ceramic Non-stick Eco 30cm Fry Pan
“I personally love the Masterclass Smart ceramic pans,” says Peter. “They’re lightweight, easy to clean, and come in an array of sizes.
“These pans work like heavy cast-iron skillets but without the unnecessary weight, and they heat up much more quickly. The ceramic coating combined with the induction technology means that nothing sticks and it’s always super easy to clean.”
Best Value Set: KitchenCraft Non-stick Induction Pan Set
KitchenCraft Non-Stick Induction Frying Pan Set (28cm and 20cm)
If you’re a chef that likes to have options (and let’s face it: who doesn’t?), you’ll do well to invest in an induction-ready pan set — and this one from KitchenCraft is just the ticket.
Here, you get two induction frying pans in one great-value package: a larger pan at 28cm for your entreés and a smaller 20cm for that on-the-side sauté. Stainless steel bases generate the heat while the aluminium body keeps this lightweight, and the non-stick coating makes for easy cleaning.
Best for stir frying: MasterClass Stir Fry Induction Wok
MasterClass Stir Fry Pan / Wok For Induction Hob (28cm)
The experts at MasterClass have designed this wok to mimic the robust, high-temperature cooking of professional cast-iron stir fry pans.
The secret ingredient? Cast aluminium. It’s strong and lightweight with best-in-class heat conduction to get things sizzling in no time. It’s good enough to handle flash-in-the-pan chow meins and fried rice dishes that’ll satisfy even the heartiest of appetites.
Top tips when cooking with induction pans
1. Keep your eye on the heat
“Induction is fast so keep your eyes on your pan to begin with when heating up,” Peter recommends. You might want to try a thermometer the first few times you cook cuts of meat in your induction pan to spot when it’s cooking too quickly on the outside.
For this reason, it’s also a good idea to prepare absolutely everything before you start cooking. After all, you might not have as much time to leisurely chop as you’re used to. The last thing you want is to rush around the kitchen in a mad panic because your onions have gone from ‘caramelised’ to ‘burned’ before you could get to them!
2. Use the full pan
Induction heats every inch of your pan evenly. That means there are no hot spots to worry about: everything will cook at the same rate. This is particularly useful when you’re cooking larger dishes like paella, but also if you’re cooking multiple cuts of meat on something like a griddle pan.
3. Preheat to medium and adjust as needed
While you might be used to going straight for high heat when a recipe tells you, it’s wise to err on the side of caution the first few times you use your induction pan.
Start on a medium heat and monitor the speed of the cook. You can always increase the heat if needed; the temperature switches very quickly with induction hobs.
4. Keep the lids off
“Don’t put a lid on your induction pan while you’re boiling sauces or broths,” suggests Peter — “you need to be able to see what’s happening.”
Keeping the lid off helps you spot if the liquid isn’t boiling, which is a great way to highlight any problems between the pan and the hob.
5. Make sure the base is flat
“You need a flat base on your pan — even on a wok — because induction hobs need that surface area to properly connect”. Without a flat base, your pan won’t heat up properly. It’ll leave you with undercooked food — and no one wants that.
You can do a simple test for flatness by popping your pan upside-down on the counter top and then the straight edge of a ruler on top of it.
Not got a ruler? Bring some water to the boil in the pan and keep an eye on the bubbles. Good, flat cookware will have an even distribution of bubbles over the bottom surface area.
How to clean your induction pan
“Induction pans are super easy to clean as the heat is always distributed evenly,” says Peter.
That great heat distribution means you won’t get odd spots where heat build-up has stuck the food firmly to the pan — so no more elbow grease! “Just wash in hot soapy water or rinse and put it in the dishwasher.”
The vast majority of induction pans are dishwasher safe, since most today are made from cast aluminium or steel. If you’re cooking with cast iron, though, you’ll want to avoid the dishwasher and wash by hand instead. It takes time to build a non-stick surface on iron cookware, and dishwasher detergent will quickly strip it away, leaving your pan vulnerable to rust.
Choose your new favourite induction pan today
Induction offers so many advantages to home chefs that it’s undoubtedly got a big future in kitchens across the country.
Get on board now with an induction-ready pan that can handle everything you throw at it, whether you opt for the classic cast-iron models or something more lightweight and nimble. Whatever your choice, it’ll be a great addition to your kitchen!