Induction Cooking, Day One

By Steve Schaefer

My wife says she will part with her professional-grade six-burner Viking gas cooktop over her dead body. I don’t want that, so I have decided not to fight that battle in the war for a cleaner world and home.

Why even talk about replacing it? Well, as part of the effort to reduce CO2, there’s a movement towards all-electric homes, and to stop burning natural gas in home furnaces, hot water heaters, dryers, and stoves. And the star of the kitchen for electric is induction cooking.

Unlike the flat spiral burners on the electric stove you had growing up (or still have), induction “burners” use electromagnetic energy to transfer energy directly to the pan, which makes them more efficient and flexible. You do need to use the right kind of pan or pot, though–it has to have iron in or on it–aluminum, glass, and copper won’t work.

With no hope of replacing my wife’s otherwise awesome range, for my recent birthday, I requested a single-unit electric induction burner, and yesterday I opened the box, set it up, and we cooked dinner together to test it.

The box arrived a few days ago, but I left it sitting there in our entryway to lose any contagion it might have collected on its journey–and because I was busy until the weekend.

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I opened the box and set up the unit in an open spot in my kitchen. Sadly, this area is usually where the dirty dishes go, so I’ll have to put my new toy away after using it (until, I hope, it proves its daily usefulness and gains a permanent spot in our crowded kitchen).

I read through all of the instructions for the China-built appliance, which were, to my surprise and delight, clearly written in understandable English. The slim booklet began with the lawyer-generated copy: a long list of things to avoid (immersion in water, moving it when it’s on, letting children play with it, etc.) Then came a short section on the basic use of the controls. With only a few buttons and a small display, it’s pretty foolproof.

For our first project, we chose a nice bag of cranberry beans (not cranberries). It was one of the items we grabbed quickly when shopping several weeks ago, when it looked like the stores would be picked clean. The beans looked like something that would last awhile if we needed them to. It turns out that Bob’s Red Mill is a long-established, quality operation.

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We got out my wife’s shiny new stock pot–which she told me was induction-ready–so it was the pot’s first outing, as well.

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I chose the Duxtop induction burner because it was recommended and the $162 price seemed reasonable. And it looked easy to use. The only big decision you have to make is whether to cook in power mode (by watts) or in temperature mode. Each has its use.

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We decided to cook the beans based on power level. To prepare them, we turned  on the unit and pushed the “Boil” button, which sets it up for full blast (level 10), and sets a 10-minute timer. When it buzzed, we didn’t have a boil yet, but with a reset a few minutes later we did.

Then, we added some extra goodies, including garlic, shallots, a carrot, rosemary, and a couple of bay leaves. We also dropped in a Parmesan cheese rind for flavor–it’s the vegetarian (not vegan) equivalent of a ham hock.

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With a new appliance, you need to learn how to translate the settings into what you want. The recipe said to “simmer” the beans, so I tried the Simmer settings, from .05 to 2.0 (there are 20 settings–1 to 10, divided in half). I moved it up to 2.5, the lowest “Low” setting, and although there were a few tiny bubbles (we didn’t want boiling), it seemed pretty still. The only sound was the fan in back of the unit keeping it cool.

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The kitchen started smelling very good! I thought that the simmering needed a boost, so I tried moving it up to 3.0 and 3.5 with little apparent change. But, after quickly checking a YouTube video on the difference between simmering and boiling (it’s significant), I tried a thermometer, and darned if that 2.5 setting didn’t have my beans at the right simmering temperature, around 175 degrees (boiling is 212). I think that maybe cooking looks a little different when you’re using induction, but time will tell.

My wife thought that having a dial with unlimited levels/degrees would be better, since the levels are stepped and the temperature range is in 20’s — 120, 140, 160, etc. We’ll see how that shakes out over time.

Once the beans were done, we added a little turkey sausage and some fresh French bread in bowls and sat down to enjoy our handiwork.

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I look forward to doing more with my new cooktop. It was easy to use and certainly to clean–just wipe off the surface. It does remain a bit hot after cooking, but not for very long, and anything near it wasn’t affected at all. That’s because induction heats just the pot–not the air around it–so it’s less intrusive. I was able to carefully touch the top after just a few minutes.

We used the cooktop during the afternoon, when the sun was up, so I figure we cooked with the sunshine that was hitting my solar panels today. It’s a good feeling.