At first glance, induction technology seems to be the perfect cooking method. It’s lightning fast and offers precise temperature control at the twist of a dial or press of a touchpad.
It touts unparalleled energy efficiency because it’s either on or off and all energy goes into the pan and subsequently, the food. Induction appliances put off less heat in the kitchen than traditional gas or electric, resulting in less load on the exhaust hood and air-conditioning, and cooler cooks. The smooth cooking surface is cool to the touch even while cooking on it (except for the area directly beneath the pan), and attractive enough for the front-of-house. And because there’s no flame and no heat at the cooking surface, there’s far less risk of fire or injury to chefs and customers. Induction also gives you the ability to get cooking wherever there’s a power outlet nearby, anywhere around the kitchen, dining room and even offsite.
It’s an impressive list. So why hasn’t induction cooking taken the foodservice world by storm? Why has it so far been limited to specialty applications?
A lot of it is simply habit, say manufacturers and marketers of induction cooking equipment. “Most chefs are trained in the traditional manner with gas ranges, where you can see in the flame the amount of power you’re using,” says one maker. “With induction, the heat source is the pan itself, not what’s heating the steel. So, there’s an adjustment period. But the next generation of chefs coming in already have the product line available and will migrate more easily toward the ‘touch’ world, since their phones and everything else already have touchscreens.”
Once cooks try induction cooking, many appreciate its speed, precision and convenience. And as mentioned, a kitchen that uses induction cooking also tends to be a cooler, more comfortable environment for workers. From the point of view of restaurant owners, that can mean lower turnover.
Induction cooking and holding are far more widely accepted than they were even a few years ago, for a couple of reasons.
For one thing, the range of appliances and applications available is far greater today. “Induction is displacing many traditional commercial kitchen appliances,” says one manufacturer. “We see induction technology applied in hot wells, braising pans, kettles, steamers, ovens, fryers, ranges with oven bases, rice cookers and much more.” And the future? Eventually, he believes, “induction will replace any equipment in commercial kitchens that produces heat, as it’s the most efficient way known today to do this.”
“There’s now a deep range of products using induction heating technology, and that’s expanded dramatically in the past five years,” adds another maker. “Some of the ideas in play for using induction in the future are way out there—like applying induction to booster heaters on dish-machines.”
One manufacturer recently released an induction cooktop that accommodates any type of pan, not just ferromagnetic pans. Traditional induction burners generate magnetic energy of 20 to 30 kHZ, but this burner’s internal copper-wire coil generates up to 120 kHZ, enough to heat a reducer plate that transfers heat to non-magnetic metal pans, including aluminum and copper.
New and improved products are the “push” side of advancing technology, but there’s also plenty of “pull” from trends in the marketplace. As cooking theater in the front-of-house becomes more important, consumers demand flexible menus, and kitchen space continues to get smaller, anything as versatile as induction cooking and warming will continue to rise. Among the most enthusiastic adopters of induction equipment are colleges and universities, caterers and food trucks. But even QSRs are reaping the benefits; after Panda Express switched from water-based steam table food displays to induction wok warmers, employees changed their ranking of “cleaning the case display” from the worst job to the one of the best.
Operators are using induction ranges more and more for front-of-house action stations, such as omelet bars and stir-fry stations, while induction warmers are eliminating the need for open-flame chafers and steam wells. Portable induction units and drop-in mobile cooking and mobile buffet stations make onsite catering safe and easy. For the future, one maker sees growth in back-of-house use. “As the technology becomes more affordable and the power of electronics evolves you’ll see higher-power induction cooking applications—high-power stock-pot ranges, woks and griddles for large-volume, main production kitchen applications,” he says.
Before Buying Induction
It may be time for your operation to add or upgrade induction equipment in the back-of-house, front-of-house or both. Consider these points when specifying induction products:
• Begin by analyzing your cooking needs. High-capacity restaurants will require a dual- or multi-hob unit (or multiple single hobs). For à la carte cooking, using small pans for short periods, consider a hob that can accommodate multiple small pans and will detect power requirements based on pan size. Volume cooking will demand use of higher-power models. For batch cooking, you’ll probably require a 5kW or 7kW unit. If all you’re looking for is a buffet warming station, options are usually below 1kW.
• Think beyond standard flat-top hobs. For instance, applications in which more than a single flat surface is heated—like woks and some soup wells—offer three-dimensional capacities. Use an induction braising pan for braising, grilling, shallow frying, pasta cooking, etc.
• Available power supply will be your main limitation. For a 120V outlet, you’re limited to 1,800W maximum (less in some jurisdictions) and only one hob per dedicated circuit. If you have a 208V outlet, your options open up.
• Air flow matters. If there’s not enough air flowing around the induction unit, or if the kitchen is extremely hot, it may fail. Induction is completely electronic and the wires and circuitry need to stay “cool.” Allow for adequate clearance; follow the manufacturer’s guidelines.
• For drop-in units, consider the cabinet. Proper sealing will ensure that no water or liquid can get into the cabinet or the inside of the induction unit. Design and install the air inlet and exhaust clearance underneath in accordance with the equipment manual. Construct the cabinet according to electrical code and have an electrical authority inspect it.
• For cooking, you’ll probably need a hood. It’s the smoke and grease coming off the food that you need to worry about, the same as with any other cooking method.
One exception is a manufacturer’s downdraft ventilation module that has a food guard and a vent that draws effluent through grease filters and a particle/carbon filter.
It can be used as a portable front-of-house cooking station with no hood overhead. Some jurisdictions don’t require a hood for low-powered induction cooktops. For equipment used purely for hot holding, such as a buffet warmer, a hood is often not required (again, depending on the jurisdiction).
• Durability matters. In a kitchen environment where cooks bang pans around, the surface of an induction cooktop could chip or crack. The cooktop can be replaced, although of course that means taking the unit out of service for a while. A thicker, tougher surface (look for 6-mm-thick ceramic glass) is less likely to be damaged in the first place.
• Consider value-added control and safety features. These include a timer to allow you to walk away and safety features that shut the unit off if it detects no pan or detects something small on the surface, such as tongs or other utensils. Some units will shut off if the unit overheats or the pan contents are absent or boil dry. Other useful features include self-correcting electronics, which monitor the temperature of the cooking vessel and adjust the power output to maintain cooking consistency; and a “hot” warning that displays until the surface is safe to touch. A temperature probe allows you to set a precise temperature that the unit will maintain regardless of the pot or pan size, type of food or the amount of food in the pot or pan.
• Programmable or not? Internal programming of induction units has become more sophisticated, but what about the user controls? For some chefs, the beauty of an induction hob is the simple touch or knob control that allows the user to set a precise heat level and change it at will. But programmable controls allow cooks to store cooking programs for different recipes and program different stages in a cooking cycle. At least one maker offers a PC-based software program, allowing you to create recipes on a computer and upload them to an induction cooktop using a USB port.
• Listen. Cooks are sometimes bothered by the noise of the fan within the unit. Better sound insulation means little to no fan noise. Some fans run constantly while the unit is on, while others only come on as needed.
• Check the warranty. At least one company now offers a two-year warranty. A one-year warranty is standard, but some manufacturers exclude damage to the glass surface of the unit. Read it through.
• Make sure your pans will work with induction. Traditionally, induction cooktops require ferromagnetic pans (pans than contain iron) and unless you invested in the new model that accepts any type of pan, you’ll want to check your inventory to make sure it works. Check to see if a magnet sticks to the surface of your pans and if it does, you’re good to go. If you’re buying pans online or from a supplier and don’t have a sample to test, check with the manufacturer of your induction range; some pans marketed as induction-friendly really aren’t.
• There are ways to get around the need for ferromagnetic pans. An induction disk accessory can be used with any induction cooktop to heat the surface and, in effect, become the heat source for any pot or pan—even one made of glass or ceramic. (You do lose some of the energy efficiency benefits of induction with the disk, however.) For best results, invest in the right pans.
To get a deep-dive look at some of the latest technologies, check out the Induction Gallery below.
How Induction Works (It’s Not Magic)
Induction is a form of electric heating, but not in the conventional sense.
“The science behind induction is not new,” says one maker’s business development manager. “The principle is well known, tried and tested. In every aspect of our daily life, the relationship between magnets and electricity plays out.”
An induction range begins with a coil of copper wire. When electrical current runs through the wire, it generates a fluctuating electromagnetic field. When an iron or steel (ferromagnetic) pan is placed on the surface above the coil, the rapidly alternating magnetic currents in the coil create many electrical currents in the pan; molecules get scrambling, heating both the pan and its contents. The surface an inch or so above the coil, on which the pan is placed, doesn’t heat up or give off ambient heat; the pan itself is the heat source.
“Induction offers better energy efficiency than either gas or electric,” he explains. “Induction ranges are 80%-95% efficient; electric ranges are typically only about 40%-50% efficient, while gas is down at around 35%. So, with gas, for every $10 in utility cost, roughly $6.50 worth goes into the air. Induction offers better culinary performance—and can be gentle, too.”
A Chef’s Perspective
Chef Jonny Hunter of the Underground Food Collective, which operates a restaurant, meat market and catering business in Madison, Wis., uses nothing but induction cooking in his businesses.
He says his love affair with induction began seven years ago: “We saw that it was becoming a thing in kitchens, we needed a cooktop and bought an induction version, and immediately decided we wanted to use this for everything.” Chef Hunter values induction cooking primarily for its precision. “You don’t have to worry about medium or high flame; there’s a 1 to 100 dial, and you always know what a 67 is and how that interacts with your pans and ingredients.” He also likes the speed of induction cooking, its cleanliness, the lowered fire risk and the fact that portable countertop hobs and ranges can be moved around the kitchen as needed to any spot where there’s an electrical outlet and an exhaust hood.
Today, Chef Hunter and his staff use induction cooktops for all sorts of restaurant needs—searing meat, sautéing, boiling liquids. The kitchen also employs induction-powered hot-holding soup wells to cook delicate products like eggs, to slow cook grits or porridge, and to sous vide-style cook at 165°F. “With the thermometer probe, we have super-accurate temperature control, which helps ensure the protein doesn’t overcook during the sous-vide process,” Chef Hunter says.
For the catering operation, induction is particularly valued for its ability to bring a lot of food up to temperature quickly. “And we can set up a mobile kitchen in the middle of nowhere,” Chef Hunter adds. “We have the same capacity we do at the restaurant.” Breaking down the buffet goes quickly too because the equipment is cool in minutes and easy to clean.
*These companies introduced products at or after The NAFEM Show 2015.
EQUIPEX INDUCTION GRIDDLES
Equipex offers versatile Induction Griddles in multiple sizes for serving a wide variety of operations. A traditional griddle needs 15-30 min. to reach the desired temperature, and you need to keep it on high to ensure the temperature recovers quickly when you lay on cold or frozen foods. The Equipex induction griddle reaches 500°F in 2 min. and recovers instantly since the custom griddle plate does not need to store heat, like a traditional griddle. Chefs can cook with precision at lower temperatures, dramatically enhancing the taste and quality of the food because the temperatures you can achieve with induction help retain the flavors and juices often lost at high temperatures. Two zones permit cooking at different temperatures on the same surface, without transfer of flavors. Model GLP6000 measures 271/3-in.W x 18½-in.D and 102/5-in.H. Choose from 12 temperature levels (122°F-536°F).
GARLAND MODULAR, BUILT-IN INDUCTION BRAISING PANS
Garland’s Modular, Built-In Induction Braising Pans are powerful (7kW or 10kW) and can heat to maximum temperature in less than 4 min. Multi-sensor technology underneath the grill plate ensures even and accurate temperature control. Regulate temperature precisely from 95°F-450°F; the unit has 2 cooking zones. The Induction Braising Pan is versatile: great at grilling, braising, steaming (with the lid on), shallow frying, pasta cooking, sous vide and more. The braising pan’s coved corners and smooth surface make cleanup easy. Choose from 3 pan capacities: 5, 8½ or 13 gal. Safety features include the RTCSmp electronic temperature control, which monitors the state of the induction coil, heat sink and electronics as well as the energy supply, limiting it at peak load.
HATCO RAPIDE CUISINE COUNTERTOP INDUCTION RANGE
Hatco’s Rapide Cuisine high-powered/heavy-duty induction range offers 1 of the higher power levels in its class (maximum is equivalent to 31,000 Btu). It has 4 surface temperature sensors, a food temperature probe and a high-resolution color display showing precise 1%-100% power levels, temperature and time controls. User-programmable presets make repeat menu items and consistent cooking cycles easy. Use the USB port to download updates or additional operating modes from the manufacturer. Pan-sensing technology activates the unit only when a suitable pan is placed on top, and an automatic shut-off prevents overheating. The unit has heavy-gauge stainless housing and a durable, fully sealed, patterned glass-ceramic top. Units measure 13⅞-in.W x 18½-in.D x 3¾-in.H; maximum pan size is 14-in. diameter, minimum pan size is 4-in. diameter.
LANG ELECTRIC INDUCTION TOP RANGE
Lang’s Electric Induction Top Range with Convection Oven Base has a durable, 6-mm-thick tempered glass top; the cooktop features 4 8-in.-diameter, 2.6kW induction burners. No flames or hot coils means safer, cleaner cooking as well as a cooler kitchen. Controlled heating allows for precise, consistent cooking. The compact, 30-in.W range incorporates a half-size convection oven that accommodates 6 13-in. x 18-in. pans. You may also choose a standard oven vs. a convection oven base.
MONTAGUE LEGEND HEAVY-DUTY INDUCTION RANGE
Offering the energy efficiency of induction in a heavy-duty application, this Induction Range delivers high performance and maximum reliability. It features 4 heat zones with a maximum 3.5kW each and a durable 6-mm-thick Ceran plate. Use separate power (on/off) and heat set controls with digital 0%-100% power LCD readouts under glass. Pan detection and temperature sensor automatically shuts off the hob if an unsuitable, empty or overheated pan is detected. Range surface area measures 26-in. x 28-in. Cooking compartment measures 26-in.W x 28-in.D x 10-in.H. Cast-iron burner totals 32,000 Btu/hr. The heavy-duty counter-weighted oven door has no springs.
PANASONIC INDUCTION COOKTOP WITH MET-ALL TECHNOLOGY
Panasonic’s Met-All KY-MK3500 induction cooktop allows cooks to use induction with all metal pots and pans, including aluminum and copper—not just the special iron or stainless pans that other induction units require. Efficient, 1200 copper-wire coil detects different pan types and generates energy up to 120 kHZ (versus 20 to 30 kHZ with traditional induction units) to heat only the cooktop area in contact with the base of the pan. State-of-the-art features include a patented IR sensor that monitors and adjusts the heat within the cooking vessel to promote optimal performance. A Luminous Circle in the cooktop glass glows when heated (above 122°F). The cooktop features 3,500W maximum power, 20 power levels, a timer, memory, 22 temperature adjustment levels and LED displays.
SPRING USA SM-300CR HOLD-ONLY UNLIMITED INDUCTION RANGE
Using edge-to-edge technology, this patented, hold-only 300W, 2.5-amp Unlimited Induction Range can read any configuration of pans regardless of their position on the heating surface. Choose from 4 temperature settings, ranging from 145°F-185°F. A power receptacle in the back allows up to 5 units to be daisy-chained together into 1 120V circuit. The unit is available for countertop or built-in applications; controls are removable. Countertop unit measures 14-in.W x 14-in.D x 3⅝-in.H.
TABLECRAFT CW40196 BUILT-IN INDUCTION COOKTOP
TableCraft’s CW40196 Commercial Built-In Induction Cooktop is a single range for use with induction-ready cookware. The control panel allows users to adjust temperatures from 140°F-440°F for cooking or warming applications. The cooktop features 1,800W of power at 120V/60Hz; it measures 12½-in.W x 12⅖-in.D x 4-in.H (with feet). The drop-in design can sit on a counter or be installed into a recessed surface. The unit also drops into TableCraft’s New Aluminum Action Stations, allowing users to create a portable made-to-order station for serving lines or breakfast buffets.
VOLLRATH INDUCTION WOK RANGE
Vollrath’s Induction Wok Range, combining the high efficiency of induction technology with the performance of its gas counterpart, features 100 power settings and a turbo button for immediate, fast heat, offering precise cooking control. The bright digital display is easy to clean. The standard-size, impact-resistant induction ceramic bowl works with most 14-in. carbon steel or induction-ready stainless wok pans. (Unit includes 1 wok.) Safety features include over-heat protection, small-article detection, pan auto-detection function and empty-pan shut-off. Use the wok as a countertop unit or as a drop-in unit with an optional stainless Induction Wok Drop-In Template accessory sold separately. Unit measures 17-in.W x 20⅛-in.D x 8¼-in.H.
WARING INDUCTION RANGE SERIES
Waring’s Induction Range Series sports easy-touch controls with 12 temperature settings from 120°F-500°F, large 11-in. x 11-in. Schott ceramic glass cooking surfaces, stainless construction, 10-hr. timer, and a small-object/empty-pan detection. The WIH400 has 1,800W of power at 120V and measures 13-in.W x 16-in.D x 4-in.H. The WIH800 has 3,600W of power at 208/240V and measures 28½-in.W x 13-in.D x 5¼-in.H. The innovative step design on the WIH800 provides safe and easy access to the rear burner while the front burner is in use.