Learning to Love an Induction Stove

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The other day, unprompted, the phrase “be kind, rewind” began to bounce around in my head, and it struck me that I am of the last generation who will instantly understand what it means: it refers to the antediluvian VHS tape, which was supplanted by the DVD and then by streaming technology. The much less literal phrase “a watched pot never boils,” in contrast, is seemingly timeless, and yet I realized recently that it, too, could be rendered obsolete by technology. Of course, a watched pot does boil, eventually, but I’d never seen it happen so fast that my eyes didn’t glaze over—until I got an induction stove.

For a long time, I thought the biggest problem with my old stove (installed when the kitchen had last been renovated, in the nineteen-eighties, and presumably manufactured then, too) was that it had become a hotel for mice. It was very large—a stand-alone “cooktop,” as opposed to part of a range—and cavernous, encompassing four “unsealed” burners (meaning that you could see right down into the plumbing and wiring) and a broiler drawer. The mice liked to snack on the bits of food that inevitably fell into the unsealed burners and were near-impossible to retrieve, and then to relieve themselves in the roomy broiler drawer. One of the four spark igniters worked only some of the time, but this seemed like a mere annoyance; if it clicked for too long without a flame appearing and I started to smell gas, I’d just grab a long-necked barbecue lighter and get it going manually.

When we finally decided to replace that stove, in early 2021, I didn’t think twice about what we would buy: another, newer gas stove, with sealed burners. And then a casual conversation with a friend—a writer on climate change—gently blew my mind. She mentioned that she was trying to figure out how to switch her own gas stove “over to induction.” “Why do you want to do that?” I asked. “Because it’s so bad for climate and for health!” she replied, before sending me links to articles titled “Your Gas Stove Is Bad for You and the Planet” and “Gas Stoves Can Generate Unsafe Levels of Indoor Air Pollution.”

Although I thought of myself as relatively well versed in the concept of greenhouse gases, I had never really grappled with the idea that I was sending them directly into the atmosphere every time I fried an egg. Moreover, the idea that doing the same meant that I was polluting the air inside my home was shocking. A study published in January by climate scientists at Stanford delivered the most damning conclusions yet: each year, gas stoves release 2.6 million tons of methane, more than three-quarters of which leak from the appliances when they aren’t even in use. Until this year, these leaked emissions—which are roughly equal to the amount produced by five hundred thousand cars, and are in addition to the stoves’ release of 6.8 million tons of carbon dioxide annually—were not tracked by the E.P.A. The E.P.A. doesn’t maintain standards for indoor air quality, but in 2010 the agency set a one-hour outdoor-exposure limit of a hundred parts per billion for nitrogen dioxide, a by-product of gas combustion that increases the risk of asthma. According to the Stanford study, in-use gas stoves in poorly ventilated kitchens can cause nitrogen-dioxide levels that readily exceed that threshold.

Only a third of American households use gas stoves, and this makes it easier to imagine a world without them. But, before I parted ways with my old stove, I had never lived in a home with an induction cooktop, and I’d been conditioned to think of it as automatically inferior. I had cooked on electric cooktops, at the homes of both of my grandmothers, where the burners seemed to heat up unevenly and were difficult to precisely control; it felt much more effective to watch a blue flame expand and contract as you turned a gas knob than it did to approximate the desired temperature with an electric hob that couldn’t respond visually. Cooking with fire is literally what first distinguished humans from other species of primates; it feels ancestral, elemental. Until my search for a new stove, I was only dimly aware of what the word induction meant in the context of a kitchen. I’d once lived for a few weeks in an apartment in Montreal that had an induction stove, but the interface was so confusing that I couldn’t figure out how to turn it on, let alone determine how it compared with gas.

But, as I was fretting over whether I was willing to sacrifice a superior cooking experience for the health of the planet and—theoretically—of my family, I started to reconsider induction technology on its own terms. It was popular all over Europe, I learned, not to mention Montreal. An electric stove uses thermal conduction to transfer heat from burner to pan to food. An induction stove, meanwhile, relies on electromagnetic currents, which are passed through copper coils hidden beneath a glassy ceramic surface that interacts with pots and pans directly—so directly that if an induction burner does not have a pot or a pan sitting atop it, it will not get hot at all, and it will turn off automatically if you remove a pot while the appliance is on. This means that cookware heats up much more uniformly and evenly, and also much more quickly and efficiently.

It also means that you can’t use just any pot or pan; the composition of your cookware must include ferromagnetic materials, which is to say, they must contain iron. A common concern about switching to induction is that it requires replacing all of your cookware, but there’s an easy way to test whether or not what you already have is compatible: slap a kitchen magnet against the bottom of every pot and pan you own. If the magnet sticks, it’ll work on induction. Generally speaking, cast iron (enamel-covered or not) and a lot of stainless steel (depending on the exact makeup) are induction-compatible; aluminum, copper, and glass are not. While vetting my own collection with a magnet, I was delighted to find that almost everything—from my pricey set of All-Clad stainless steel (an extremely generous wedding gift) to ancient cast iron inherited from my grandmother—was induction compatible. The only things that I’d have to divest of were a pair of very inexpensive nonstick pans, made of coated aluminum, and a beloved but easily replaceable saucepot with a copper bottom.

While reading an Architectural Digest article about the renovated home kitchen of two of the New York City chefs I most admire, Jody Williams and Rita Sodi, the couple behind Via Carota and the recently opened Commerce Inn, I spotted an induction stovetop, as sleek as a monolith. “It is so fast, cleaner, cooler and safer,” Williams responded, when I wrote to ask her about it. “Just last night our cat was trying to nap on one side while we cooked asparagus on the other.” Safety is another huge advantage to induction—because of the electromagnetic technology, induction burners cool down almost as fast as they get hot, and though the ceramic in between the copper wires and your pans retains a little bit of heat after you’ve used a burner, it dissipates swiftly and the rest of the cooktop doesn’t get warm at all.

Williams and Sodi do not use induction in their restaurant kitchens. Induction, Williams told me, does not allow for “the same style of cooking; those pan flipping-shaking techniques you use on gas could crack your top.” Without an open flame, you can’t char peppers or tortillas the way that some chefs, and even home cooks, do using a gas burner. It’s better for “gentler technique,” she said, “like stirring,” and noted that she and Sodi don’t cook much at home.

I spend a lot of time eating at restaurants, and ordering takeout. When I do cook at home, I tend to use the gentler techniques. I can’t remember the last time that I shook a pan, and I don’t have the skills (or the wrist strength) to flip anything without using a spatula. Charring a tortilla over an open flame has always seemed unnecessarily risky to me, especially considering how beautifully a tortilla takes to a very hot cast-iron pan, and, in my experience, the broiler does wonders on peppers and eggplant. The factors that pushed me over the edge, though, were twofold. There were induction stoves, I realized, that were designed to sit completely flush in a countertop, and this meant, theoretically, more counter space, a hugely appealing prospect in any New York City kitchen. (Manufacturers don’t exactly advise using them this way, because the glass can break, but so far I’ve been very careful and had no trouble.) And then I went to an appliance showroom for a demonstration. An employee filled a saucepan with enough water to cook a pound of pasta. I watched the pot. Within seconds, it was boiling. I was stunned, later, to learn that the expression “now we’re cooking with gas” originated in the nineteen-thirties as an advertising slogan for the natural-gas industry.

For a long time, induction stoves were more expensive than gas or electric. But in recent years more comparably affordable models have joined the market, and, in theory, a higher demand for them could lower prices across the board. In 2019, the city of Berkeley, California, passed legislation banning natural-gas hookups in new-construction buildings, and several other cities followed suit. Last December, New York City did the same, and, in January, Governor Kathy Hochul proposed taking the ban statewide. Single, portable induction burners are much less expensive than cooktops and ranges, and there’s an argument to be made for treating your stove as you would, say, a blender, removing it from the counter when it’s not in use to free up space. While scrolling through Instagram recently, I noticed that someone I follow was using a stand-alone appliance called the Breville PolyScience Control °Freak Induction Burner, which allows you to calibrate exact temperatures (and clocks in at a cool fifteen hundred dollars, for now). You can even buy a special induction burner with a deep depression for a wok, the one piece of cookware that I thought could never be made quite induction-compatible, because of its concave shape.

I’ve been using my induction stove for about eight months now. My conversion is complete. To replace my nonstick pans, which I keep around for eggs and tofu and tahdig, I bought an induction-friendly pair from Food52, a cooking Web site that also sells home goods. Each of my five burners has nine numbered settings, which allow for a great deal of control. The biggest adjustment that I’ve had to make is remembering to actually watch my water boiling: if I use the “power boost” setting, designed specifically to bring something to a boil quickly, the process happens so fast that sometimes I’ll turn away for what feels like just a second, only to hear the liquid bubbling over onto the surface. ♦

The photograph accompanying an earlier version of this article did not depict an induction stove.

Sourse: newyorker.com

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