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Induction Cooking Is Way More Efficient, And Even Faster, Than Gas

An experiment in waiting for water to boil yields surprising results.

[Video: Flickr user Cruz Alonzo]

Cooks love gas. The flame under your pan responds instantly to a twist of the dial, and you can eyeball it to know exactly how much heat it’s pushing into your food. Electricity, on the other hand, offers no such feedback and is slow to respond, so you’re forever fussing with the knob to get the right heat.

The third way is induction, which offers the control of gas. And although it has even less visual feedback than the glowing red plates of an electric stovetop element, at least you can finesse the dial by looking at the reaction of the food as it cooks. But gas is still better, right? It’s more efficient to burn it right there than for some power plant to turn coal to electricity, and then turn that electricity back to heat. Well hold on just one second there, chef: It turns out that induction is better all around.

Paul Scheckel of Home Energy Pros decided to test induction against gas for energy efficiency. And he found that induction is faster and uses much less energy, which led to a surprise bonus for his off-grid lifestyle.

[Photo: Flickr user Juhan Sonin]

To test the two kinds of stovetop, Scheckel did the simplest, easiest-to-measure experiment possible—he boiled a quart of water. This was done in the same pan for both tests (one thing to note: not all pots work with induction stovetops).

For gas, Scheckel’s 7,000 BTU burner boiled the quart of water in 8 minutes and 30 seconds. That works out to 992 BTUs of energy.

The 1,300-watt induction cooker boiled the quart in 5 minutes and 50 seconds, which is a little more convenient, but it did it using 0.126 kilowatt-hours of electricity, or 430 BTUs of heating energy. Scheckel compares this to a theoretical 100%-efficient method, which would use around 317 BTUs.

To recap, the ideal would be 317 BTUs, the induction cooker used 430 BTUs, and gas used 992 BTUs. That’s a pretty big difference. A big part of this efficiency is the induction method itself, which effectively turns your pot or pan into a heating element, whereas gas (and conventional electric hotplates) makes heat which in turn heats the pot. And as we know, gas also heats the room, which is a big waste of energy. In fact, many professional kitchens have switched over to induction precisely because it doesn’t heat the kitchen directly, making it more comfortable for the chefs, and requiring less power to cool the kitchen back down again.

Whether or not induction saves you money will come down to the cost of gas and electricity in your town, but the energy saving is quite clear. And while primitive gas is certainly more appealing, it also has a tendency to leak and explode. At the very least, if you move into an apartment or a home that isn’t plumbed for gas, you should probably consider induction.

And what about that surprise? Scheckel found that induction cooking is so efficient that, on sunny days at least, he could run his cooker off solar power. Cooking with the sun. It’s hard to get more back-to-nature than that.

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