The Cooktop Showdown: Gas vs Electric vs Induction

gas electric induction cooktop

A cooktop/oven combination or a range is at the center of almost every kitchen, both aesthetically as well as practically.

It is therefore understandable that you would want to make sure you pick the right one for your needs and purposes.

To be able to make an informed decision you need to understand what the main differences are between the different kinds, in this case cooktops.

Incorporate this knowledge with your personal taste, cooking style and level of expertise and you will be able to buy whatever is perfect for YOU! 

So let me explain the basic differences with pros and cons of gas, electric and induction cooktops.

In this article I will discuss:

What is an induction cooktop?

Most people have heard about induction cooking, but not so many understand exactly what it is or how it works.

As opposed to heat transfer from the cooktop to the cookware by means of convection or radiation, induction is being used.

In short, an alternating current is passed through electromagnetic coils under the ceramic cooktop surface.

This in turn produces an oscillating electromagnetic field at the cooking surface which induces an electrical current in the base of your cookware given they are manufactured from the right type of metal. 

Due to electrical resistance, the base of the cookware heats up. The cooktop surface itself does not get heated except for heat transferred to it by heated cookware.

Since ceramic glass is a low conductor of heat, the cooking surface will not stay warm for long once the cookware is removed. 

Due to the base of the cookware being heated instead of the cooking surface, the power channeled to the cookware can be changed almost instantly.

This gives the cook the potential to rapidly change the running temperature of cookware.

Because of this induction cooking is being hailed as one of the fastest and safest ways to cook.

Do you need special cookware for induction cooking?

Because electrical currents can only be induced in certain materials like steel, cast iron and some types of stainless steel, you need cookware that is made from these materials.

Aluminum, copper and glass unfortunately won’t work.

Newer aluminum cookware could work due to some having layered bases.

To test if any cookware is compatible, simply see if a magnet will stick to its base.

If it does, chances are it will work. If not, you have an excuse to go cookware shopping!

When you do go shopping it is not necessary to look for cookware that specifically states it is induction compatible.

It will be a bonus if it does and it is whatever you wanted to buy.

Just test whichever pots or pans you want with the magnet-test and if the base is ferrous, it will most likely work.

The advantage is that this cookware will not just work on induction cooktops, but on others as well.

If you do, however, have several pots and pans that are non-ferrous, don’t despair.

You get induction discs, usually made from stainless steel, that you can sit underneath your non-ferrous cookware and these discs can be induced and heated up.

In turn, they will heat up your cookware by radiation.

Pros

  • Only the cookware gets heated so less chance of accidents on a heated cooktop surface
  • Safer due to no open flames
  • Spills can be cleaned faster because they don’t burn that quickly and you don’t need to wait for the cooktop surface to cool down
  • More energy efficient than other cooking methods. Induction transfers approximately 85% of its energy to the food compared to about 40% for gas and 70% for electric cooktops
  • Very responsive – Heats up quickly and cools down quickly
  • Better spread of heat depending on the quality of cookware
  • Greater temperature control compared to electric cooktops
  • Sleeker looking due to the flat surface
  • Easier to clean

Cons

  • More expensive in general. Prices do seem to be more competitive over the last few years
  • Specific cookware is required
  • Induction cooktops is newer technology which means there is more to it in repairing them
  • Induction cooktops are noisier during operation especially with the fan needed for cooling
  • People with pacemakers need to keep a distance of at least 30 cm from the cooktop due to electromagnetic fields
Gas Electric Induction cooktop
Electric cooktop

What is an electric cooktop?

Electric cooktops (and ranges) are by far the most common.

There are two different kinds of electric cooktops, Ceramic radiant and Hotplate or Coil cooktops.

Ceramic radiant cooktops

Halogen lamps or coiled elements radiate heat from below the ceramic glass surface and heats up zones on the glass top (usually those four large circles on the cooktop surface). These zones in turn heat up the cookware.

Pros

  • Easier to clean
  • Works with any type cookware
  • Sleek aesthetics
  • Can change temperature reasonably fast compared to hotplate and coil cooktops

Cons

  • Can be more expensive and complicated to repair
  • More expensive than coil and hotplate cooktops
  • Ceramic glass tops can crack more easily

Hotplate or coil cooktops

These are the old-fashioned exposed coil element or solid plate cooktops.

An electric current run through these and due to their high electrical resistance, they heat up to a red glow.

When it comes to electric cooktop temperature control, especially with hotplates and coil cooktops, you need to understand that the element has basically two settings, on and off.

It regulates temperature by using a thermostat, like a hot water system. So when you set a temperature, you actually set a temperature range.

The element will switch on and keep heating up until the desired temperature is reached.

It then switches off and starts cooling down until it reaches a certain minimum and then switches back on again and repeats the process.

It is due to this that electric cooktops do not have as good temperature control as gas and induction cooktops and you find more fluctuations in temperature.

When using electric cooktops is recommended to use cookware with heavier bases when more steady temperatures are required.

These will act as a buffer by absorbing more heat and leveling out the temperature fluctuations in the food.

Pros

  • Works with any type cookware
  • Better at lower temperature cooking and simmering than ceramic radiant cooktops
  • Cheaper to buy and repair
  • More durable

Cons

  • Less responsive temperature control
  • Slower to heat up
  • More energy inefficient
  • Harder to clean
How to choose a gas cooktop
Gas cooktop

What is a gas cooktop?

With a gas cooktop an open burning flame generates heat which heats up the cookware.

These flames can be easily adjusted in size to control the amount of heat. They run on combustible gasses like natural gas or LPG.

Gas cooktops are powerful, fast and efficient and often the choice of professional chefs.

If you consider buying a gas cooktop, I recommend you read my article about the best gas cooktops.

Pros

  • Excellent control over heat output. You can literally see the flame change in size as you adjust the output
  • No special cookware required
  • Reasonably cost effective, more so than electricity, especially if you already have a gas connection
  • More durable than ceramic and glass cooktops

Cons

  • The open flames of gas cooktops require better ventilation
  • If no gas connection is available, additional cost will be incurred for installation
  • More difficult to clean
  • Higher vertical clearance above the cooktop is required