Induction Cooking Redux

Published at 18:50 on 3 January 2015

Back when I first moved to Bainbridge Island, I made a post about my experiences with cooking on an induction stove. The alternative was the electric stove my new apartment came with. The latter was not only an electric stove, but the very worst sort of electric stove, a flat-top electric stove.

Take all the lack of responsiveness of a coil stove, then add to it a fragile glass top that’s easily fractured by dropped pots, won’t work properly with anything other than an absolutely flat-bottomed pot, shows every last speck of grime in great detail, and which is virtually impossible to keep grime-free, and you have the flat-top electric stove. The appliance industry’s answer to the question: how can we make electric stoves suck even more than they already did, yet charge more for them?

But I digress. There was an escape from the fate of having to cook on that thing, and it had the form of an induction cooktop which plugged into a normal wall outlet. Naturally, I ordered one. And I was glad I did.

But, unlike the majority who give induction a try, it still left me wishing I had a gas stove again.

First, there’s the obvious matter of only flat-bottomed magnetic pots working. I like to cook with a wok, and that’s basically a non-option on induction. Sure, there’s a few expensive induction stoves that have a recessed burner capable of accepting a wok, but they’re both few and expensive and the few reviews I’ve found of them generally indicate that woks work far better with gas.

Finding replacements for my non-magnetic pans was an exercise in frustration. I would go to the store and see something I liked, but it wasn’t magnetic. I’d see something magnetic, but it wasn’t to my liking. I’d see something to my liking that was magnetic, but it was the most expensive pot in its class and something I’d use only infrequently (so the cost would be hard to justify). Finally I’d find something that seemed suitable, only to discover it’s only available as part of a larger set (which needlessly duplicates things I already have) and not individually.

Instead of knobs, the induction cooktop had touch controls. Like all touch controls, they were finicky and often did not register a touch or erroneously registered one twice. It’s far simpler and quicker to use a knob instead of having to do minor battle with a poor human:machine interface each time I adjust a stove setting.

Its surface was shiny, so it showed every last spill and fingerprint, thus demanding frequent cleaning. It wasn’t nearly as bad as a flat-top electric stove which both has this drawback and bakes the grime on, thus making it impossible to remove, but it was still annoying. It begged for cleaning much more than any gas stove I’ve used.

When I performed those frequent cleanings, the touch controls would get triggered by my wiping and the stove would be beeping like crazy and flashing error messages because there were no pots on it. Harmless, I know, and easily remedied by turning it off afterwards, but needlessly annoying. A gas stove doesn’t needlessly beep at me when I clean it.

It had a mind of its own (and a very bossy one at that). That missing-pot detection ability I just mentioned means you can’t do things like lift a pan to distribute oil or melted margarine on it. At least, you can’t without the stove first scolding you for your transgression with beeps and flashing lights and then (a few seconds later) punishing you for it by shutting the burner off. Then I would have to fight with the finicky touch controls to get it back as it was.

I didn’t want a finicky techno-toy that tries to boss me around. I wanted something simple that works with any pot made and which does what I want. That’s gas, and that’s what I had installed in my new kitchen when I bought a home last fall.

Apparently that makes me the minority. From what I’ve been able to gather by looking around the Internet, most who are used to cooking with gas who try induction like it and never go back to gas.

I find that puzzling (given my experiences), but then again, I often find it puzzling about how so many people buy and use high-tech gadgets without going through a process of evaluating how said gadget will actually improve their lives. For many, the snob appeal of being able to show others how they can afford all the latest gadgets apparently has significant value in and of itself.

That’s not the whole story here, of course. For example, most people in the USA never use a wok, so the fact that induction works poorly at best with a wok is a non-issue for them. But I rather suspect it’s a big part of the story.

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