By Steven V. Philips –
Advanced studies indicate that if you ever, ever will use your range to cook Holiday meals, instead of using the phone for reservations, it’ll be this month and next. Thus, as another F&M Educational Service, here’s the history of cooking from caveman to Bobby Flay.
First it was lightning hitting a woolly mammoth (Hey Thor, meat better hot, no?), then a wood fire, then a wood stove, moving on to a coal stove, to a gas stove and today, gas and electric.Tomorrow, you ask? The future is definitely induction cooking. You should be so lucky that I’d stop here. But nooooo….
Difficult to believe now, but I spent my early years as a toddler. The first cooking thingie I remember was a tall structure. On legs, it had a big, closed up hot-box and red-hot coils on top. Fire-snakes as far as I knew. Verboten to be near. That admonition has lasted to this day. I’m a talented eater, not a gifted cook.
Actually that tall kitchen forbidden thing was a 1929 Hotpoint electric stove. Shockingly (pun) your snazzy new electric cooktop/stove has pretty much the same heating coils. A bit more efficient, probably hidden under a smooth top, but no change in how they work.
To the obvious, cooking is commonly defined as using heat to prepare food for consumption. And only humans do cooking stuff. For at least a quarter of a million years! “Cooking Gave Humans the Edge Over Apes” proposes the Christine Dell’Amore article in the February 2009 National Geographic News. Really? Now we know why you may find apes swinging from pot racks but never cooking.
But hark, before I digress into ape lore, stick with me because I’m going to try to explain induction. It’s the future method of cooking, presaging the inevitable end of gas cooking.
First of all, for cooking, any fuels’ energy (electricity or gas) is converted into heat. Which heats the pot, pan or skillet. Which then heats the contents/food. But dang-nab it, the problem with energy sources of traditional electric or halogen bulbs or even gas? HAH! With every one of them, lots and lots of energy/heat goes to heating the kitchen, heating the cooktop surface and heating unnecessary parts of the pot (handle, for example) but not the contents. The truth is revealed!
Serious cooks do love, love! gas cooking. Unlike conventional electric that warms up slowly and is not instantly variable, gas “on” is on and “off” is off and you have immediate and infinite ranges of heat. BUT, the DOE estimates only 40% of gas energy you pay for goes to heating food. Just FORTY! 60% ends up heating your room and your fevered brow. So we mathematicians have calculated that out of your hundred-dollar gas bill, sixty bucks goes bye-bye.
A bit more energy efficient, traditional electric uses 70% of the energy you paid for (30% wasted). But it’s not as precise as gas. However TA-DAH, use electric induction and 84%, or maybe more, is used. 16%, or less, is wasted! Yes, I found these facts in a Department of Energy survey so don’t snicker.
Now here’s the specific miracle. With induction cooking, energy is transferred directly to the cooking vessel by using a magnetic field. Magnetic magic, with no detours onto the surface, into the air or onto your brow. That’s why you waste so little of the electricity you paid for, plus-plus-plus still get that instant and infinite ability to crank the “heat” up and down. You can also maintain a barely low-low-low simmer.
What other magic? Golly kids, the cooktop doesn’t even get hot. Really. So more baked-on pea soup spills. If a pot stood cooking over one half of the induction heating area, an ice cube wouldn’t melt on the other half. Yes. So no kids’ cooked fingers. And a cooler kitchen. And Fido will stop panting. So will your husband.
- Tech Talk: Memorize thoroughly: The cooktop’s electronics power a coil that produces a high-frequency electromagnetic field which penetrates the ferrous metal and creates a circulating electric current, which generates heat, which then cooks the contents. The “heated” field is retained by the cooking vessel. Remove pot, or turn off element and heat generation stops. Quiz on this later.
- Induction cooking electronic units have really huge brains that think all the time figuring out how much ferrous metal is sitting there and if not enough, no heat action. So rings, coins, forks and your nephew’s sweaty hand won’t start the heating process.
- Yes, it may be time for new cookware. Induction pieces have to have a certain mass and be of ferrous metals. Stainless and cast iron will work IF it’s “approved for induction.” As though I know anything about anything: “ferrous metal” is a metal that a magnet will stick to. So definitely no gold, no copper, no aluminum, no moon rocks cookware, and note that the adapters sold to convert non-ferrous cookware, are useless.
- Testimonial: Reader Elenor suggested discussing induction since she has a new induction cooktop that replaced her electric drop-in range. “We had all intents to replace with a gas unit but the sales rep made a convincing case even though the $2,300 was twice our budget! And ours is only a GE, not a Gaggenau! Also our pure white kitchen negatively reminded me of my mother’s sorta hazy white kitchen from her gas cooking. But finding cookware was no big deal and the best part of induction is the rapid up-to-speed heating. Just make sure the new stove fits where the old unit was!”