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Jun 22, 2009 02:20 PM

Induction cookware --- cheaper is better?

Greetings! I am in the process of selecting cookware for use with induction stoves. Are there significant differences in the usability of various "induction-compatible" pots & pans?

There are many high quality cookwares out there --- 18/10 stainless, multiple layers, aluminum core, and all the features that have traditionally made them great with gas stoves. However, I can't help but think that these same features are nothing but a hindrance to the induction cooking process. I'm thinking that a simple cast iron pot, for example, would work far more efficiently than a fancy pot with an aluminum/copper core and a 18/10 stainless steel layer.

Am I wrong? What characteristics should I look for in selecting cookware that will be used exclusively with induction stoves?

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  1. The most expensive pan that I bought with the induction burner in mind is a Fagor pressure cooker. It is steel with an aluminum core.

    However what I use most are inexpensive enameled steel (blue speckled campware). Enameled tapas pans also work well. I also have a couple of stainless steel mixing bowls that also work.

    For the simple task of boiling, the lighter weight compatible pans work nicely. But they still can have hot spots, or rings, depending on the design of the burner's induction coils. Mine is an inexpensive table top unit, with a single coil about 6" in diameter. I can see that from the pattern of bubbles in water as it comes to a boil. That pattern is also evident when using a cast iron skillet.

    1. Hi, Hipster.

      I've been using an induction cooktop for 3 or 4 years now. IME, plain and enameled cast iron pots and pans and carbon steel frying pans work great. I did manage to warp a cheap, thin carbon steel frying pan, but haven't had any problems with a thicker, better quality one. Even slightly warped pans are really irritating on a flat induction cooktop.

      Regarding stainless steel, I think that it's important to buy good quality cookware with a thick aluminum disk or core. I believe the induction coil under the glass top is only about 7 inches in diameter, so you need cookware that will efficiently spread the heat laterally or you'll find that the edges won't get up to temperature quickly.

      Hope you find these comments helpful.

      1. hipster.doofus, we have used an induction cooktop for over a decade now, and the answer to your question is complex.

        Good heavy-gauge cookware is important no matter what the energy source. Thin-profile pots and pans get hot spots and lose their shape when they warp.

        That said, we have found excellent cookware and better-than-excellent cookware. Unfortunately, the very best we ever found is Mauviel Induc'Inox, and that no longer is made or sold. C'est dommage.

        We have three pieces of Demeyere Apollo, one (saucier) with aluminum sandwich construction throughout, one (saucepan) with a thick aluminum sandwich bottom, and one (mussel pot) with a thin aluminum sandwich bottom. All are excellent. Enameled cast iron (Copco and Descoware) and naked cast iron work very well on induction, irrespective of purchase price.

        No, heat-spreading technologies are not a hindrance to induction. Even the magnetic fields generated by an induction inverter are less than completely uniform. Put a damp thin-bottom pot (such as single-layer enameled steel) on an induction burner at low heat to evaporate dry, and you will see the evaporation take place in patterns of concentric circles; an aluminum or copper disk bottom smooths out the differences between the temperature peaks and valleys of those patterns. Put an 11-inch cast iron skillet on a 7-inch induction burner, and it will get hotter in the middle than it does at the edges, despite cast iron's deserved reputation for evenness of distribution of heat, but put a pot with a copper or aluminum disk bottom on a too-small induction burner, and some of the heat in the center will get distributed beyond the boundaries of the induction inverter.

        In short, when shopping for pots to use with induction, look for the same qualities you look for in cookware of any kind: heavy-duty construction, fit and finish, and the presence of materials that will distribute heat where and when you want it, and will insulate -- or at least not send the heat into the room -- where you do not want heat distributed (up the sides of a straight-sided saucepan, for instance).

        Good luck.

        12 Replies
        1. re: Politeness

          Thanks for the input, everyone. I didn't realize that induction stoves can still induce localized hotspots on flat-bottomed cookware. I was under the illusion (delusion?) that induction cooking plays by a different set of rules. Apparently not!

          One question regarding Politeness's well thought-out comments though: I had always assumed that maximizing heat distribution was ideal for all cookware. Pots and pans wtih a tri-ply construction, for example, would distribute heat more evenly than cookware with only layered bottom discs. And yet the comment was made about minimizing heat distribution up the sides of a pan. I'm afraid that seems counter intuitive to me. I would think that pots & pans would benefit from having similar heat intensity from the sides & bottom.

          But I've been using cheap pots & pans from Wal-mart since I got out of college... so I'm not exactly an expert when it comes to quality cookware, heheh.

          1. re: hipster.doofus7

            "I would think that pots & pans would benefit from having similar heat intensity from the sides & bottom"

            If you're cooking and the food is actually *touching* the sides of the pan, for example if you're making soup, then having a pan that conducts heat up the sides may speed up cooking a bit. But remember that while the inside of the pan is touching the food, the outside is radiating heat into the kitchen, so about half of the energy that travels into the pan's sides is lost.

            But usually, most of the cooking done in a pan takes place on its bottom, so you want to concentrate the heat there, where you can use it. Having the sides of the pan get hot is pointless and wasteful when you're sauteing, or searing a steak, or frying an egg.

            The only thing I'd add to Politeness' last paragraph is to test a pan before you buy it to make sure it will work with induction. It's not necessary for cast iron (it all works), but not all stainless cookware is created equal, and some stainless pans don't work on induction. Take a magnet with you to the store (or just find one in the store, a refrigerator magnet will work and can usually be found where cookware is sold). If the magnet sticks to it, it'll work.

            1. re: hipster.doofus7

              Under the surface of the burner there are one or more coils of wire which produce a varying magnetic field. That field in turn produces electric currents in the pan bottom, producing heat. The metal that is closest to the coil get the strongest magnetic field, and hence the greatest heating. Some manufacturers may use multiple coils, but with a large enough pan you still can have regions beyond the reach of the magnetic field.

              That limited range of the field is plus when it comes to heating the sides of the pan - they don't heat up much. I can boil water for my coffee in a small sauce pan, and still touch the rim of the pan. I can even tough the burn top an inch or so from the pan. So there is little heat lost to the surroundings - a big plus in an un-airconditioned summer kitchen.

              Regardless of the pan, heat travels the short vertical distance to the food much better than a longer horizontal distance to the outer edges of the pan. Part of produces more even heating with a gas flame is the spread of hot gasses under the pan and up the sides. You don't have that effect with an induction burner.


              1. re: hipster.doofus7

                hipster.doofus7: "I would think that pots & pans would benefit from having similar heat intensity from the sides & bottom"

                It used to be that Demeyere had a very good explanation on its site of why the intuitive response is not true. Here is part of it: Unfortunately, since Henkels acquired Demeyere, the site has more sizzle and less steak, so you cannot get as much education from reading the current edition of the Demeyere site.

                (1) Stainless steel is not a good conductor of heat. The efficiency of materials that are good conductors of heat -- silver, copper, aluminum -- is affected by the thickness of the material. Thus, even though a stainless-aluminum-stainless sandwich conducts heat much better than a sheet of only stainless steel, because the layer of aluminum in the middle of the sandwich is (typically) fairly thin in the walls of a straight-sided saucepan, the conduction up the sides is not great, just good. (That is why, by the way, aluminum disks on disk-bottomed saucepans need to be thicker -- typically 5 to 7 mm -- than copper disks on disk-bottomed saucepans (typically 2 mm or 2.5 mm): the copper needs less thickness to conduct heat efficiently than aluminum does.

                (2) Heat may be conveyed from place to place by (a) conduction, (b) convection, or (c) radiation. Usually conduction is the slowest of the three methods. Water, which is usually a primary component of foods being cooked in a saucepan, is both a decent (not great, but decent) conductor and an EXCELLENT convector of heat. If you are trying to get heat up to the top of a quantity of liquid in a saucepan, the fastest, most efficient means to do so is by heating the water at the bottom of the saucepan and letting the water convect itself up to the top (whence the heretofore cooler liquid is displaced and convected downward to the bottom of the pot where it can get heated efficiently). Stirring the liquid can make the process even more efficient, especially if the liquid is viscous.

                (3) Heat always flows from warmer to cooler, but also, it flows preferentially where the temperature gradient is higher. To take an extreme example, if you have a pot encased in ice at 32° F and boiling water at 212° F. inside it, if the conduction up the sides has not yet raised the temperature of the material of the sides of the pot above 212° F., then the side of the pot will actually draw heat out of the water inside of the pot, cooling the contents of the pot. Once the side of the pot reaches a temperature above 212° F., it will still send more of the heat that has been conducted up its side outward, toward the ice -- where there is a high differential of temperature -- than it will inward, toward the boiling water, where the temperature differential from the temperature of the side of the pot is less than the temperature differential of the icy side.

                1. re: Politeness

                  I just want to add a point about woks. For use on an induction burner I believe it is better if the 'more conductive' material goes all the way up.

                  Here is an example:

                  I can be convinced otherwise as I've only used an induction burner on a few occasions.

                  1. re: Paulustrious

                    Hey Paul,

                    That wok you put up is made of 18/10 stainless steel. I believe 18/10 is a very weak ferromagnetic. Technically, all metal have a magnetic susceptibility, but in daily practice, some are so weak that we do not considered as magentic and 18/10 stainless steel is as such, which is why Calphalon stainless steel cookware cannot be used on an induction cooktop. All Clad has 18/0 on the exterior and 18/10 interior.

                    In short, my guess is that this cookware will not work well on an induction burner. I also share a different philosphy in woks. I do not think a extreme high heat conductivity is important for wok because it is not necessary to spread the heat out. For example, I do not believe an aluminum wok is better for that reason. Most wok cooking involves moving foods very fast in the cookware such that heat spot is not a problem. In fact, the whole point of a wok is to have one focus heat spot at the bottom. A wok which spreads the heat evenly across its surface will be at a lower temperature than a wok which is focus heated at the bottom. Like you, I can be convinced otherwise.

                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                      I believe you are spot on about 18/10, in which case there is no nickel on at least one layer or there is something else in the plies as it is strongly magnetic. The lid on the other hand is completely non-magnetic as are the handles. I do have this pan so this is empirical.

                      In terms of wok philosophy I guess we shall agree to differ. I have black iron, aluminium and this one - and I have gas. I use them for different things. So I agree with you some of the time. I do use them for some odd things, like reducing tomato sauce because of the large surface area.

                      1. re: Paulustrious


                        You are probably right. No idea about the materials of the 5 ply. It is good that the lid and the handle is non magnetic.

                        Oh yeah, a more even heating surface is better for reducing tomato sauce or making roux or any sauce, in my opinion.

                        1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          My best pan, for even heating, is cast aluminum with steel dots in the base. Even the rim gets hot via conduction from the base.

                2. re: hipster.doofus7

                  Induction cooking does not heat the pan; it heats the contents of the pan, so there is no energy transfer up the sides of a pot that would would get on an electric or gas cooktop.

                  1. re: pikawicca

                    pikawaka: "Induction cooking does not heat the pan; it heats the contents of the pan"

                    Methinks that you have induction confused with microwave. Induction _does_ heat the pan; that is why it is necessary that the pan have at least a layer of magnetic material. What induction does NOT heat (at least not directly) is the cooktop; the energy transfer from cooktop to pan is unlike resistive electric or gas, where the energy already is in the form of heat before it is transferred to the pan. With an induction cooktop, the energy transfer from cooktop to pan is in the form of a magnetic field that rapidly reverses polarity, which causes the ferrous material of the pan to heat up. From that point on, the pan heats the food.

                  2. re: hipster.doofus7

                    That depends on your content. If you have low viscosity liquid, then liquid will self-circulate in your pot (convection).


                    However, for high viscosity liquid, convection will be poor.

                    Essentially, the biggest chanllenge usually comes from visous liquids not the thin liquid. I don't even worry about the low viscosity liquid as a consideration. You don't often burn thin soup, do you?

                    For high viscosity liquids, think thick starch sauces or honey. For very visous liquid, it is a very big problem. As the bottom liquid get heated it get less dense, but it cannot move up and break through the surrounding colder and more viscous liquid. The surrounding liquid is much denser, more visous and stronger. It basically holds the bottom liquid down. By the time, it finally can break through, it has already burnt. I am sure you have seen it. This is one reason why thick sauce get burn easily. As mentioned, the other reason is that visous sauces usually burn at a lower temperature by their contents. Now, there is nothing you can do about the second properity. They are what they are.

                3. I just moved into a place that has an induction cooktop. This is a first for me and should be a fun adventure. Some of my cookware works with it and some doesn't. I probably won't be in this house that long, so I don't want to spend a lot of money on new pots and pans.

                  What doesn't work are some Macy's Tools of the Trade 18/10 stock pots and a few sauce pans, including a 2 qt. pan that I love and a couple of smaller ones than that.

                  Is there such a think as a magnetic intermediary "disk" that I can put on the burner that's induction friendly and that could heat my incompatible cookware? I realize that this is not optimal, but I'd like to have the option, especially for heating a pot of water for pasta, beans, lentils, stock, etc.

                  I called Sur La Table and Wiliams Sonoma and they aren't aware of anything like this. Anyone out there know of such a thing?

                  Otherwise, I'd like to buy at least a medium sized stock pot and a 2 qt. saucepan because I can't function without them. I'd get some of the name brands mentioned here, but don't want to do that now, at least until I know I'm going to be using the induction method for a longer period. Any recommendations on less expensive pots if I need to buy them?

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: maigre

                    maigre, yes, Demeyere does make a disk to place atop an induction unit that effectively converts the induction unit into a radiant electric burner. It is expensive. If you were going to go that route, you would do better buying the Demeyere Maxigrill (gasp - $235) instead, which would serve the same purpose and you would get an excellent griddle in the bargain. I am not a betting person, but if I were, I would bet that you could replace that 2 qt. pot that you love with a superpot for a lot less than you would pay to jerry-rig the induction cooktop with a converter disk.

                    As for your angst about buying good induction capable cookware when you do not know how long you will be cooking on an induction cooktop, you can put your worries to rest. As I am sure you know from the reverse direction, any good induction-capable pot is simply a good pot, period, and will work well with a gas cooktop or with a resistive electric cooktop. If you get a good new induction pot, then you will be able to use it "forever" even if you are pried kicking and screaming away from the siren call of your current induction range. Check out the Chantal Copper Fusion line on Amazon; it would be an excellent choice with any energy source.

                    More specifically to your question about cheap induction-capable cookware, if there is a Tuesday Morning outlet/remainder store in your area, you should be able to find some induction-capable Berndes pots and pans there for a song. The ones you find at Tuesday Morning are likely to be the made-in-China ones and not the more desirable made-in-Germany Berndes lines, but the Chinese Berndes lines will not put much of a dent in your wallet.

                    1. re: Politeness

                      Thanks for this, Politeness. I'll look into these things, including the Tuesday Morning outlet.

                      I realize that buying good cookware will work well with any future cooktop. It's just that I have no wish to spend the money at this point.

                      1. re: maigre

                        Have a look at the Tramontina tri-ply in Walmart. It is now induction ready and Cook's Illustrated rated it highly, comparing its quality, performance and construction with All-Clad. I have both, and I can tell you the Tramontina is amazing, with VERY low prices at WalMart. Definitely induction ready.

                        1. re: knet

                          I'll check it out. I've NEVER even entered a WalMart, let alone bought something there. :-)

                          1. re: knet

                            Walmart in Canada do not sell Tramontina - at least I cannot see it on their web site. (mmm I wonder why it is 'on' a web site rather than 'in' a web site)

                            The selection in the US seems a lot greater. I wonder why?

                            1. re: Paulustrious

                              You are correct. I searched for it, and contacted WalMart but they do not sell in Canada. I had to get mine in the US. I was intrigued by the Cook's Illustrated high rating of it and their conclusion that it came very close to AC performance, quality and construction. I love my AC but if the Tramontina can supplement at much less cost, it's definitely the first choice. My new problem is how to get my hands on the Tramontina jumbo saute pan also only available in the US!

                              1. re: knet

                                Just a suggestion, I have bought various different brand name stainless steel pots clearly marked that the cookware is induction compatible. All of them make a bit of hmmmmm noise (some more serious than the other), the only exception is the one I tried in Tokyo at a Muji store using their Muji induction cooker as an experiment (I was travelling there). I have to return all the pots or send it to someone as I can't stand the hummmmm noise. Cast iron cookware does not present this problem to me.

                                Lesson I learn: It's better to see the return policy. If it's a final sale on outlet, don't opt for the expensive items.

                    2. Hipster,

                      You are on to something, but it is not bad to have a heat conducting layer, like aluminum. Induction cooking also need a highly conductive surface for two reasons. First, there is the spatial discrepancy. The bottom of your pan will not be heat up entirely the same, therefore creating heat spots. Second, induction cooking is through alternating magentic field. Currently, almost all induction cooktop adject power by changing the alternation speed. In other words, it is a on-off-on-off method. Now, you can see there is a temporal dimension, right? Having a high heat capacity material like aluminum even out this temporal difference. A difference in space and a difference in time.

                      To specifically answer your question: "I'm thinking that a simple cast iron pot, for example, would work far more efficiently than a fancy pot with an aluminum/copper core and a 18/10 stainless steel layer.

                      Yes, you are absolutely correct because that aluminum/copper core pan with a 18/10 stainless steell layer will not heat up at all on an induction cooktop. Whereas 18/10 stainless steel is prized in traditional radiation cooking, 18/0 will serve you better on an induction cooktop. A cheaper metal can work better -- not always, but sometime.

                      You seem to know a lot more than many people already and probably should be teaching us instead of asking us for advises. :)