CHAPTER 4: HOW TO GET OFF GAS
If you’re planning to go all-electric, you’re going to need an electric cooktop. However, like any major appliance purchase, it requires plenty of research and thoughtful consideration. If you cook often, energy efficiency is sure to be on your mind. An induction cooktop may be a wise choice because it not only ensures a more precise and even heat, but it can also save you money in the long run because the cooktop heats the cookware directly rather than through a glass surface.
Not so long ago, electric cooking meant the familiar 1960s element-style cooktop with all the downsides that went with that: slow response to turning the heat up or down and the consequent risk of burnt fingers (or melted implements) as the elements stayed hot for a long time after being turned off. Many keen cooks favoured gas cooking for these reasons—but induction cooktops are changing that.
Other electric cooking options include built-in ovens, microwave ovens, and a wide range of portable appliances such as rice cookers and sandwich grills.
Conventional electric and gas cooktops both work in the same way: they become hot and then this heat is transferred to your pot. Induction cooktops use electromagnetic energy to heat the pot itself. An electric current is passed through a coiled copper wire underneath the cooking surface, which creates a magnetic field that induces (hence the name) a high electrical current throughout the cooking pan to produce heat. This results in greater efficiency, a particular benefit during hot summer months when you don’t want your kitchen heating up from your cooking activities. Induction energy coils below the cooktop’s surface produce a current that reacts only with magnetic metal – so if you place a metal pot on the cooktop, it will become hot. But if you place your hand or a tea towel (or anything non-metal) on the surface, nothing will happen.
Katy Daily demonstrates induction cooking.
Induction cooktops can achieve extremely high temperatures in a very short amount of time; during cooking, heat adjustments are almost instantaneous and quite precise. Gas ranges also boast precise heat adjustments, but their burners take longer to heat the pan to the initial temperature.
An induction cooktop’s electromagnetic projection evenly penetrates the entire surface of your pan, with no warmer or cooler spots, so there’s no need to shift the pan’s position while you cook. The temperature can have temperature sensors, while others have fixed power outputs. Certain brands offer induction cooktops with Auto Sizing Pan Detection that places heat where it’s needed and automatically adjusts to match the size of the cookware.
Induction cooking can take some getting used to – since induction cooktops heat up so quickly and maintain their temperatures so evenly, they can cook much faster than you may be used to. It’s very easy to accidentally overcook or burn even a familiar dish on an induction cooktop if you’re not careful, so watch the clock and consider cooking on a lower setting until you’re used to the induction style.
The price of induction cooktops and ovens has also come down considerably in recent years compared with when they were introduced as a new technology. Today, induction cooking appliances are available in a wide range of models and price points to suit every household. Induction cooktops range greatly in price depending on brand, efficiency, power levels, number and flexibility of cooking zones, safety features and warranties.
Design preferences are also playing a part in the growth and popularity of induction cooking. Growing adoption of innovative smart kitchen appliances has been contributing to the growth of the household induction cooktops market. Appliance manufacturers are focussing more on connectivity benefits for their offerings. Recent introductions have paired induction cooktops and rangehoods for smart sensor operations. Another benefit is timely alerts to the owner’s phone if a cooktop is left on unattended or needs service.
A potential cost is that you may need an upgrade of your electrical switchboard or the wiring to your kitchen. Induction cooktops have varying power requirements, but all are likely to require 20 amps or higher, up to 42 amps.
Countertop, oven unit or portable?
The first consideration is what type of cooktop you want. Do you want it as part of a freestanding oven or built-in to a countertop—or are you looking for a plug-in portable option? You’ll have the most choice if choosing a countertop option.
If you have an existing freestanding oven with gas or electric cooktop, you will need to replace the whole unit, either with a separate oven and cooktop or with a new oven/induction cooktop combo (though there are fewer models like this available). The size of induction cooktops may not fit the existing gas cut out so you may have to shop around for sizing appropriate to the existing benchtop. For the best environmental result, you may want to delay the change-over until the oven has reached its end of life or is not performing well. If the oven is in good nick, look for reuse options, or recycling otherwise.
A portable induction cooktop is great value for people who are renting, or not in a position to replace a gas cooktop.
A portable induction cooktop can be a great way to see whether induction cooking is for you but be mindful of generating e-waste if you’re planning to replace it with a full cooktop. Perhaps you could share a portable cooktop with your local community for trial purposes.
Most people will likely choose a countertop cooktop. For this, you’ll need to check both the width and height of the space. Induction cooktops sit recessed into your countertop and though they are as little as 50mm thick, they need space underneath for ventilation—you need to check the manufacturer’s installation specifications for ventilation requirements. You’ll also need to keep in mind that if you’re installing the cooktop above an oven, the oven must also have a cooling fan.
The two most common cooktop widths are 60 cm and 90 cm. A 60 cm cooktop comfortably accommodates three to four cooking zones, a 75 cm can have four zones, while five cooking zones work well with a 90 cm unit—anymore and the cooking area can get cramped, particularly as the controls are generally on the cooktop surface. Your choice may be constrained by the space available, particularly if you’re replacing an existing cooktop.
Rangehood or downdraught
You will still need an extraction fan with your induction cooktop. Even though it won’t generate the combustion products from burning gas, there is still a lot of steam produced from boiling, and smoke from frying that you’ll need to extract from above the cooktop to avoid condensation or smoke build-up in your kitchen. A conventional rangehood will work; the allowable height range for your rangehood above an induction cooktop can vary from that required for a gas stove, so remember to check. There are even cooktops that communicate wirelessly with the rangehood to automatically turn it on and adjust the power according to what’s happening on the cooktop.
Alternatively, some cooktops come with a downdraught extractor which sits under the cooktop. Separate downdraught extractors are also available to add behind existing cooktops if space allows. These look like a narrow extension of the cooktop, until they are turned on.
Maintaining Your Induction Stovetop
Admittedly, cleaning an induction cooktop is simple and straightforward – just spray with your favourite detergent and wipe-down. There are a few points to keep in mind when looking at long-term care.
- Don’t drop heavy items on the induction cooktop – the glass/ceramic surface is tough but can crack.
- Make sure the cookware you use is smooth and flat-bottomed. You shouldn’t need to slide your cookware about too much on induction, and uneven surfaces can leave scratches.
- Don’t use the cooktop as a chopping block. A flat induction cooktop can double as kitchen workspace but take care of the surface – use a chopping board on top if chopping food!
- Keep magnetic items off the cooktop’s surface. This includes cutlery, certain kitchen foils, or credit cards with magnetic strips
- Clean up spills straight away. Food is less likely to bake onto an induction cooktop, but it can still happen due to the residual heat, and it’ll be much harder to shift later.
- Don’t use abrasive cleaning materials such as scourers. These can scratch.
Ceramic Electric resistive
Ceramic cooktops may look like induction cooktops, with a smooth glass surface, but have resistive elements or hotplates beneath the glass that glow red when hot. They allow use of a range of cookware (glass, ceramic, metal). While ceramic cooktops are cheaper to buy than induction, they are more expensive to run, less responsive and harder to keep clean, as the higher glass cooktop temperatures tend to burn food into the glass more so than induction cookers.
Whilst induction stoves rely on high-frequency electromagnets to generate heat, ceramic cooktops produce heat by passing an electric current through elements located beneath the ceramic glass surface. A ceramic cooktop comes in few different forms, solid plate and ceramic.
A ceramic cooktop refers to any cooktop with a smooth surface made of tempered ceramic glass rather than the workings of the stove itself. Though you’ll usually find all ceramic smooth tops lumped together on the sales floor, there are actually a few different options to pick from:
- Radiant uses coils of resistive wire or strip under a sheet of ceramic glass;
- Semi-halogen uses a combination of coils and halogen bulbs;
- Induction uses magnets, which interact with the metal in your cooking pans, to generate heat.
The practical differences between the first three are minor. Halogen bulbs light up right away, so you always know when the cooktop is on, and the heating elements tend to cool off a tiny bit faster compared to the other radiant cooktops. Other than that, they all cook the same and offer all the same conveniences.
What are the benefits of ceramic cooktops?
Easy cleaning, faster cooking, high-tech safety features, simple installation. The smooth, sealed heating elements make it easy to wipe up spills with just a damp cloth or soft sponge.
Lots of ceramic cooktops include features that make cooking easier and safer too. Many have heat indicators that show when the stovetop is hot, and induction cooktops don’t even heat until a pan has been placed on them. Some ceramic cooktops even turn off automatically after a set period — which helps with child safety. Ceramic cooktops also eliminate the need to run potentially dangerous gas lines through your kitchen — all you need is an electrical connection to make them work. The reduced risk of gas leaks can make your whole home much safer in the event of an earthquake, storm, flood, or fire.
Ceramic cooktops may look like induction cooktops, with a smooth glass surface, but have resistive elements or hotplates beneath the glass that glow red when hot.
What about ovens?
While gas may have the edge in terms of heating speed, electric does tend to offer a quicker cooking experience. Electric ovens tend to distribute heat more evenly, particularly fan-assisted ovens. This allows the hot air to be circulated around the oven, surrounding the item and cooking the food from multiple angles. In this way, electric ovens can take a long time to heat up, extending the cooking time by potentially up to 30 minutes.
It’s important to remember that electric ovens are different from gas ovens as electrical wiring and components are used instead of gas. Many assume that, because their gas cooker plugs into an electrical socket for ignition, a normal socket will suffice for an electric oven. However, electric cookers require a significant current supply to run. Changing from gas to an electric oven will require a wiring upgrade, which requires a certified electrician.
To see if your home already has a circuit to support an electric oven, check the fuse box. If there’s a circuit labelled ‘cooktop’, your home is already equipped for an electric oven. If there was originally an electric cooktop and a gas oven then the circuit will be sized for the cooktop only, If you don’t see this label, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have the right circuit.
Another key indicator is a large – often red – switch adjacent to the oven, so check if you have one in your kitchen. These are often installed in nearby cupboards, so don’t forget to look there.
If you still haven’t located a switch, try looking behind your oven to see if there’s a dedicated cooker connection point.
Is your circuit powerful enough for an electric oven?
When obtaining quotes, ask the installer for advice about your kitchen power circuit and the size of the hole in your benchtop. If you find that you do have a cooker circuit, it’s important to check what its rating is. Most cooker circuits are installed at 30/32A which is sufficient for most electric ovens. Your breaker box should be labelled with the power of the circuit.
When you know your circuit’s rating, you’ll then know what model of cooker it will support.
Here’s a rough guide:
- 32A Circuit suitable for cooker up to 7.5kW
- 40A Circuit suitable for cooker up to 9.5kW
- 45A Circuit suitable for cooker up to 10.5kW
- 50A Circuit suitable for cooker up to 11.5kW
Whether you’re looking for a single- or double-oven cooker, it is worth doing your research on these appliances as they are critical to your cooking routine and will last your household for 8-10 years. If you don’t find yourself baking or broiling two things at once very often, single-oven models will typically save you some money. They’ll also save you from bending as low as you’d need to with a double-oven range, which typically has its main compartment closer to the ground.
Comparative benefits and efficiency of electric cooking
There are a range of pros and cons for gas and electric appliances in the kitchen, and some are better suited to commercial purposes than others. It’s well-known that the food service industry works on very thin margins, which accounts for part of this technology’s appeal to its practitioners. With compatible cookware, induction transfers energy with approximately 85% efficiency. This, plus the fact that food is heated up much faster, so the appliance doesn’t need to be on for as long, means that they are generally considered to be the most energy efficient option. All energy is transferred into the food, so the money spent on power is going directly into cooking.
This results in a cooler, more comfortable working environment for kitchen staff. It also makes the cooking process faster. Some tasks — such as boiling water in large volumes — can be done in half the time. Home chefs value time and energy efficiencies too.
In terms of energy efficiency, Renew’s analysts have found induction comes out on top, just ahead of ceramic electric resistive cooktops, and with both these electric options ahead of gas hobs (input: induction 600 MJ/year, ceramic electric 667 MJ/year, gas 1200 MJ/year, all for the same energy output of 480 MJ/year).
Renew energy analysts estimate that energy use for an average household with a gas cooktop and oven is 2000 MJ/year—less than 4% of the average household’s energy use. By contrast, an induction cooktop and electric oven come out at 1000 MJ/year, 50% less.
Cooking tips to make your induction cooktop even greener
There are many ways to save in the kitchen. Just a few simple changes to your cooking habits could reduce the energy consumption of your cooktop:
- Cook with a lid when appropriate (preferably glass so you don’t have to keep taking it off);
- Choose pots and pans with flat bases to maximise the surface area in contact with the cooktop;
- Use a smaller pan if you’re cooking for one or two people
- Try to match the size of the pan’s base with the size of the burner/zone;
- Turn the heat down – cook with the lowest power possible to achieve the result you’re after.
Induction cooktops require flat-bottomed, iron-rich cookware made from a ferromagnetic material such as stainless steel, carbon steel, or cast iron. To test your existing cookware, use a magnet – if it sticks to the base of the pot, it will probably work. Aluminium, copper and glass cookware are not effective, and some of these soft metals sometimes leave marks on the hard cooktop surface that are nigh-impossible to remove.
A common misconception is that Woks cannot be used on induction cooktops. You can either buy a flat-bottomed wok, or, if you do a lot of wok cooking, fit an induction cooker with a wok burner, which is basically a concave burner the same shape as a wok. These are slightly more difficult to locate but can be purchased to deal with this issue.