What I learned about induction stoves in French cooking school

induction cooking
CC BY 2.0 Didriks

Everyone knows that real cooks only want gas stoves, mainly because of the instantaneous control over temperature -- with no lag time as ceramic or coil elements heat or cool -- and the continuous adjustment capacity to set exactly the correct heat level.

The day I was invited to a class at a French cooking school in Paris changed that for me. Imagine my surprise when our group was asked to gather around an induction stove!

The chef explained that the school opted for induction because it offers the same instantaneous control over heat delivery, with a passel of other advantages: safety, ease of cleaning, and less heating of the ambient environment in particular. For the first time, I considered induction as an alternative to gas.

Shortly thereafter, I purchased my first induction stove, a free-standing unit fit for putting the concept to the test. It changed my life. I will grant that induction may not be better than gas in all applications. But for the average person trying to put food on the table in spite of a busy life, induction is where it's at.

The electronic controls offer the main advantage. You can throw some onions in a pot to sweat first thing in the morning. The timer will turn the heat off even if you get distracted by the cute things your kids are up to or an important exchange with a spouse or roommate. Toss in a couple more ingredients with another dose of heat before you leave the house, and your evening meal is already on its way to having that mellowed, slow-cooked flavor that a 30-minute recipe never seems to achieve. Pop the pot out of the fridge and onto the induction hob first thing after arriving home and a couple more 5-minute interventions later, a meal is ready. A huge variety of home-cooked sauces, stews, and soups can be cooked with no more effort than convenience foods, and a lot more flavor!

Portability provides advantages too. In a small kitchen, the free-standing induction unit offers an expansion of cooking surface or tucks away to leave counter space free. Moving on to the dining table to cook for a big meal makes it easier to share the cooking with a team of helpers.

I would change one thing if I could, though. Induction stoves have noisy fans for cooling. On the positive side, you won't accidentally forget you left the burner on. But since that benefit is of little value if you always set the timer for safety, I think the designers could do better. Remember how noisy your laptop used to be, with the fan always running?

I would also caution designers and consumers to think about things like the number of settings available for heat control - you don't want to be cooking crepes that need a setting halfway between level 3 and 4. And I can say from experience that you don't want a fancy design with pretty framing around the induction top: a large pot can throw off enough heat to warp or crack these. Stick with an all-glass surface for the best lifespan.

Of course, induction does require the use of special pots. But this can be considered in the advantages column too. A good pot is a thing of beauty that will last a lifetime, while most of the pots that are not usable on induction stoves are the kind that have short lifespans. Which brings me to the last advantage: cleanup.

The induction stove top cleans up with a swipe. Because there are no hot spots on the device itself, you don't get that crusty, cooked on residue that is so hard to remove. And, somewhat surprisingly, the pots seems to clean up easier too.

If you are weighing the pros and cons of induction, but are not yet convinced, consider buying a stand-alone unit. Even after you become convinced and install induction cooking in your kitchen, the test unit will not go to waste. Take it along to the next pot-luck dinner or community meal event: the extra cooking capacity will be welcome and the plate can be used as a warmer as well. Or be thankful to pull it out at Thanksgiving.

Tags: Cooking | Kitchens | Paris

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