Pro-style gas ranges have been the top choice of serious home chefs for decades, and for millions of other homeowners who learned how to cook over a flame, but that is slowly changing. Induction cooking is edging up on gas’ lead and is poised to overtake it in coming years.
The major trends driving the newfound success of this century-old technology are twofold: Wellness design and sustainability. It’s possible that its safety, performance and ease of use – i.e., its wellness design benefits – have the edge today, as users find it to be an incredibly family-friendly way to get dinner on the table.
In the next two decades, however, barring massive and unforeseen political shifts, sustainability is likely to be the reason it dominates the cooking category as the largest market in the country, California, moves toward a residential gas phase-out.
If this technology is new to you, you might be wondering what the hype is about. Induction cooking is based on magnetic conductivity between the burner and a pot or pan, and is considered safer, more energy efficient and faster than gas or electric.
As Frigidaire, one of its earliest manufacturers, explains on its website: “An electric current is passed through a coiled copper wire underneath the cooking surface, which creates a magnetic current throughout the cooking pan to produce heat.” This results in greater efficiency, a particular benefit during hot summer months when you don’t want your kitchen heating up from your cooking activities.
Induction does require use of magnetic-based cookware, such as cast iron or stainless steel. An early barrier to its adoption was the belief that you’d have to “throw away all your pots and pans” in order to use it. This isn’t necessarily the case, as many homes already have conductive cookware. To determine whether yours is induction-friendly, hold a magnet to its bottom. If it sticks, it will work with an induction cooktop or range.
So why has it taken a century for this innovative technology to become popular? First patented in the early 1900s, induction made a splashy World’s Fair debut in 1933. According to the Appliances Connection blog, Frigidaire brought it to market in the 1950s and Westinghouse did the same in the 1970s. At more than $8300 in today’s dollars, according to the blog, failure was probably inevitable.
Over time, though, it gained popularity in Europe and Asia, where small kitchens and energy saving concepts were more widespread than in the United States. With greater availability came cost savings. And with a growing focus on sustainability in the U.S., plus its appeal among professional chefs, among other popular trends, induction was ripe for a reintroduction.
Hospitality Industry Appeal
It’s well-known that the food service industry works on very thin margins, which accounts for part of this technology’s appeal to its practitioners. Trade magazine Food Service and Hospitality explained it this way: “One of the many benefits of cooking with induction is efficiency, both in terms of reducing energy costs, and also reducing cooking times.” Quoting pro sources, the publication adds, “All of the energy used is transferred into the food, so the money spent on power is going directly into cooking.”
This results in a cooler, more comfortable working environment for kitchen staff. It also makes the cooking process faster. The magazine quotes a chef observing, “Some tasks — such as boiling water in large volumes — can be done in half the time.” Home chefs value time and energy efficiencies too.
Safety is another reason for induction’s popularity in the food service industry. Since the technology uses no flame, the all-too-common risk of kitchen fires is dramatically reduced. It also only heats the cookware, not the countertop or kitchen, resulting in fewer burns and heat tolerance issues for staff. This too is a benefit for home chefs, especially in these scorching summer temps and rolling blackouts when cooking can create an uncomfortably hot kitchen for a household.
Performance is another major reason for pro chefs embracing induction; without it, no amount of efficiency or safety would likely matter. This technology allows for fast, precise and extensive temperature control beyond gas’ or radiant electric’s capabilities.
Induction is also incredibly flexible, serving both breakfast buffets and back of house pros exploring molecular gastronomy, the trade publication notes. Food service professionals are adopting it in ever-larger numbers as its power and quality increase and prices drop.
In much the same way, induction is also a boon for busy parents who want to get dinner on the table faster during school nights, and want to keep their children as safe as possible.
Design Industry Appeal
The National Kitchen & Bath Association, one of the leading trade organizations in this space, shows induction surpassing electric cooktops in popularity and coming within three percentage points of gas in its 2021 Design Trends report.
There are several potential reasons for this growing trend. KBV Research points to smart home technology as a force behind a 5.1% compound average growth rate in induction sales between 2017 and 2023. “Growing adoption of innovative smart kitchen appliances has been contributing to the growth of household induction cooktops market,” the group declares.
Appliance manufacturers are definitely focused on connectivity benefits for their offerings. Recent introductions among several brands have paired induction cooktops and vent hoods for smart sensor operations. Another benefit is timely alerts to the owner’s phone if a cooktop is left on unattended or needs service.
Style is another reason for induction’s growing appeal. In recent years, kitchen design has broadly moved toward more transitional and contemporary styles – especially popular with Millennial and Gen Z buyers – that favor the sleek glass lines of induction over chunky pro-style gas ranges or cooktops.
Do kitchen designers or educators have concerns about induction’s possible health risks to either pacemaker or pregnant users? “I heard back from two of our faculty members who are certified designers with years of experience, but neither of them knew of any concerns about pregnant women using an induction cooktop,” responded Design Institute of San Diego’s director of academics Natalia Worden. There’s still fretting about pacemaker use among some design pros (as seen in industry conversations online), but that’s often because of lack of access to the latest research. In both instances, electromagnetic frequency (EMF) radiation is the reason for concern. Scientific research in cardiology and obstetrics on their theoretical health risks have not shown actual evidence of harm, according to both obstetricians and cardiologists.
California’s planned phase-out of natural gas in residential construction by 2045 is not a foregone conclusion, but it is a significant trend, and dozens of golden state cities and counties are already tightening rules on its use in new homes.
The initial gas reduction focus is on home heating technology. As a senior California Building Industry Association executive told Scientific American, “The writing’s on the wall. They’re going to want electric space and water heating come 2026.” The trend doesn’t stop there either. As the publication noted, the powerful California Air Resources Board is urging “stronger kitchen ventilation standards and electrification of appliances, including stoves, ovens, furnaces, and space and water heaters, in the 2022 code cycle for all new buildings.”
Thanks to the state’s largest-in-nation market size, what happens in California rarely stays in California. Water-saving toilets, faucets and showerheads mandated in the state’s last major code update are now stocked in home centers around the country.
Will this propel induction use past gas cooking? It has the potential to do so, particularly among the environmentally-conscious massive Gen Z and Millennial homebuying segments. These are also highly-enthusiastic home technology buyers, modern style enthusiasts and heads of extremely busy, wellness-conscious families. All that speaks to induction being the dominant cooking technology in the very near future. Perhaps it speaks to your purchase plans too.
If you’re not ready for a remodel, or for trying a new way to cook full-time, a portable induction burner can be a good way to try this technology. At the very least, it gives you additional cooking power when you need it for home entertaining.
There are numerous models available, some even including a conductive pot or pan if you don’t own any now. Cooking magazine Epicurious published this recent category guide.