Induction cooking works by setting up a magnetic field that causes the electrons in iron or steel cookware to vibrate, which creates heat. Because iron-containing cookware has a relatively high resistance to electricity, the vibrating electrons cause the pan to heat instead of the element on the stove. The process creates heat rapidly, allowing induction cooking to rival a gas range for speed.
For a pan to work on an induction range, it must be magnetic. Manufacturers market special pans designed for use on a induction cooktop, but any cookware that attracts a magnet works with the unit, including cast iron, porcelain-coated cast iron or stainless steel. However, copper, aluminum or glass cookware does not work with an induction-heating element.
The even heating of induction cooking allows the creation of sauces without use of a double boiler. Cooks are able to bring water to a boil much quicker than with other types of cooking and there is less heat buildup in the kitchen than with gas or electric units. However, cooking stops almost immediately upon removal of the pot from the heating element, so recipes that depend on residual heat require adjustment.
The units are more popular in European and Asian countries than in the United States. While manufacturers market induction cooking as an energy-saving option, cooking accounts for a relatively small amount of the energy consumption in the average home.