How do induction cookers work?

"How do induction cookers work?" is such a common question, that we thought we'd better answer it for you

How do induction cookers work
(Image credit: Getty Images / jivz)

"How do induction cookers work?" we hear you cry! Well, it's easier than you think, but definitely worth knowing. That's because, when you’re choosing a hob, it’s not just about deciding between gas and electric – there’s a third option, induction, which promises the best of both worlds. With an induction cooker, you get the power and control of gas with the convenience and easy cleaning of electric hobs. 

If that sounds too good to be true, it really isn’t – induction hobs are brilliant. However, there are a few things you need to know about before you decide whether an induction cooker is right for you, including finding the best induction pans.

What are the benefits of induction cookers?

Induction cookers are very efficient, very fast and very safe – they don’t get hot like other hobs do, so you’re less likely to burn yourself on them (although the pans can get very hot, so you still need to be careful). It's one reason why many people prefer induction, in the induction hob vs gas hob debate.

Induction hobs offer total control over the temperature, including very low and high temperature settings. With a normal electric or gas hob, it can be tricky to turn things down low enough to simmer a delicate sauce or to get things hot enough quickly enough for seared steaks or stir-fry. Induction cookers are great for both.

Induction hobs are also very easy to clean. There are no fiddly burners to clean around, and because the hob itself doesn’t get hot, spilled food and liquids don’t tend to get burnt on. That means cleaning is just a matter of waiting for the residual heat from your pots to cool down and then wiping the glass surface clean.

How do induction cookers work?

Normal hobs produce heat. Whether it’s the heating elements inside or on top of an electric hob, or the flames from a gas hob’s burners, heat is produced in the hob and that heat warms up the pot or pan that sits above it. 

Induction hobs are different, because they don’t produce any heat at all.

With an induction cooker, it’s not the cooker that heats up – your pots and pans heat up instead. To make that happen, the induction hob passes electricity through coils that are just underneath the surface. That creates a magnetic field, and when you put suitable cookware on top of it, that magnetic field makes the pot or pan heat up. 

It’s a bit like a microwave oven – it jiggles molecules around to make them heat up, but where a microwave does that to water molecules in your food, an induction hob does it to your wok, frying pan or soup pot.

Do I need special induction pans for an induction cooker?

Not necessarily. Any pot or pan that’s made from a ferrous material – cast iron skillets, many stainless steel pans and anything a magnet will stick to – will work fine, and many pots and pans made from non-ferrous materials have a plate on the bottom that makes them suitable for induction hobs. Without such plates, copper, glass, aluminium or hard anodised pots and pans won’t work. 

If you like to stir fry, you might need a new wok – traditional woks have curved bottoms, which are great for using over gas burners, but they’re not good for induction. You’ll need a flat-bottomed wok instead.

If you’re unsure whether a pan will work, you can see what happens if you bring a fridge magnet to the bottom of the pan – if it doesn’t stick, then the pan probably won’t work. If you don’t have a magnet, many manufacturers print a coil icon on their pans to show they’re induction-compatible. 

Are there any other considerations for induction cookware?

Be careful with non-stick cookware, because induction hobs can make them much hotter than they’re designed for. Non-stick coatings are usually made to withstand temperatures of up to 260ºC. Induction cooking can achieve temperatures of 300ºC.

Are induction cookers cheaper to run than gas or electric?

Induction cookers are much more efficient than gas cookers – around 80%-90% of their energy goes straight to heat your food compared with around 50% for gas and 60% for standard electric hobs. They’re faster, too, so you can boil water much more quickly than with other kinds of hobs. However, that efficiency isn’t going to slash your electricity bills dramatically because right now gas is so much cheaper than electricity. According to the Confused About Energy website, for the same amount of cooking, an electric hob costs about £53 a year to run, an induction one £37 and a gas one £16.

Writer and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been writing about all kinds of technology since 1998. Carrie’s CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programs ranging from T3, Woman & Home, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend, and she offers straight-talking tech advice on BBC Radio Scotland every Monday. Carrie has also written thirteen non-fiction books and ghost-written two more, and she has also been the co-writer of seven books and a Radio 2 documentary series. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, will be published in late 2022.