Product 101 / By Charlotte Barnard / February 24, 2017
Cooktop 101: Basics on the Gas, Electric and Induction Cooktop
If you seek flexibility and a custom look in your kitchen, you may want to consider a cooktop and wall oven instead of the all-in-one range. Why not go the à la carte route and up the efficiency quotient? A separate cooktop gives you more choices for size and placement to suit the unique configuration of your cook space. What’s more, you can double up on cooking stations—say, one on a counter against a wall and one in an island—a big help if you have multiple chefs in your household or you entertain often. You’re then free to place that wall oven where you want, too, and even double up.
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Which type of cooktop is the one for you?
There are three types of cook sources most commonly used today: induction, gas, and electric. Besides the type of power you may already have in your kitchen, there are other factors that each of these cooktops offer that will drive your decision. Read on:
Enthusiasm for induction cooktops has really begun to heat up in the last few years, thanks to their convenience and precision in heating. This cooktop is sometimes called electric induction because electricity powers the energy source but it’s not your mother’s electric cooktop. Heat occurs during the interaction of the cookware with electromagnetic elements under the glass top. This is probably the most efficient way to cook since there is no flame or exposed coil that dissipates energy; heat is transferred directly to the pan. And since it’s the pan that heats, any part of the surface not in use remains cool, greatly reducing the risk of an accidental burn. Some models include touch and swipe controls for extremely accurate temperature control. Induction may require a different set of cookware than you already have; glass and ceramic won’t do. How to tell? Apply a magnet to your metal pan’s bottom. If it sticks, the pan works. A seamless smooth glass surface assures easy daily maintenance with the swipe of a cloth; no corners, grates or coils to capture or baked-on food.
This classic cooktop style is sought for its classic good looks, responsiveness and the touch of drama it brings to cooking. Gas provides instant heat that’s easy to adjust. Models today typically include five burners—two on each side and one in the middle. Most of these cooktops will offer one high-powered burner to quickly boil water and one that goes very low to simmer or to warm foods. Look for sealed burners to simplify maintenance and continuous grates that let you slide over a heavy pot. All types of cookware are suitable. You still need to be careful of the open flame, and this style works only with an overhead ventilation system. As with ranges, do not place the cooktop under a window or near a door; drafts are a fire hazard.
You can still find the electric coils you remember from childhood, and they still operate with radiant heat, but they’re now at the super-budget end of the spectrum. If electric is for you, seek out cooktops that come topped with glass surfaces for a sleek, contemporary look and easy care, as well as an option for touch controls—though classic knobs can be found too. Look for models with four elements, with at least two offering expansion to a large cooking surface. An indicator will tell you when the surface is still hot. A good choice for the thrift conscious, keep in mind it will take awhile for this cooktop to cool down once you’ve turned off the heat.
Pointers on placement
First, take into account existing electric or gas lines. For example, if you are remodeling and wish to move your cooktop to a work island, you will have to pay an electrician for the power to be run to that new location. When placing the unit on a countertop, keep it clear of upper cabinets and plan for landing space on at least one side of the cooktop. If installing in an island, position the cooktop so the chef can face the room and its guests. Avoid potentially drafty areas, near a window or doorway. The open space under the cooktop is handy for storing cooking pots, so plan for a cabinet with wide doors. A drawer won’t work due to the power lines, but an open slide out shelf will work, and still allow access to those lines.
Consider the ventilation options
Remember to plan for how you will vent from the cooktop. Like with ranges, do not place the cooktop under or near a window, as drafts are a fire hazard when food is cooking on a burner. An island cooktop can take an overhead vent projecting from the ceiling (and a gas cooktop requires overhead venting), but then the vent will stand out in the kitchen, possibly more prominently than you wish. The alternative, for electric induction only, is a downdraft vent. Concealed in its location along the back of the cooktop, a downdraft vent rises electronically from its recess with the flip of a switch. It then pulls cooking fumes downward into a grate and recirculates the air after removing odors and moisture. When not in use, the vent can be electronically lowered back into the recess in the surface where it is installed. Some cooktop models come with this feature included, or you can purchase and install a vent separately. Downdraft will never be as powerful as overhead, but it does help to eliminate odors and airborne moisture and grease when cooking.
Choose your size and functions
If you are replacing an existing cooktop, you may be stuck with that model’s size unless you have budgeted to replace the surrounding cabinets and countertop too. Happily, manufacturers offer gas, induction and electric cooktops in a range of dimensions that include more features as the width increases. Where once four burners were the norm, more homeowners are opting for six burners, which offer greater flexibility—like expandable heating elements that can handle extra-large pots, or griddles, or a super low-heat warming burner—so you can have more pans cooking all at once. You can still enjoy a super-size experience if your kitchen is small. Both gas and electric units with 5 burners come in a 30-inch size, which will fit in many small cook spaces. Electric radiant cooktops with a glass surface topping four burners can also be found in 24-inch widths.
If you’re thinking of renovating a kitchen, our budget guidelines is a must-read.
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