Q: While shopping for a kitchen range, I came across an induction unit. How does this technology work? A: Although still relatively unknown...

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Q: While shopping for a kitchen range, I came across an induction unit. How does this technology work?

A: Although still relatively unknown in the United States, induction cooking has been popular in Europe and Australia for years. It is sometimes referred to as “heatless cooking,” as it doesn’t require an open flame or hot electric coils. Heat is instead generated by electromagnetic currents in the “burners” that respond to metal cooking vessels.

When you cook on an induction cooktop, only the vessel and food contained within it become hot — as soon as the pot or pan is removed from the burner, the cooktop surface becomes almost cool to the touch. Therefore, safety is a big selling point with induction cooking. The burners also won’t heat up your kitchen, which appeals to many caterers and restaurant chefs.

Induction cooktops can achieve extremely high temperatures in a very short amount of time; during cooking, heat adjustments are almost instantaneous and quite precise. (Gas ranges also boast precise heat adjustments, but their burners take longer to heat the pan to the initial temperature.)

There are some drawbacks to induction cooktops. They tend to be more expensive than gas and electric units, starting around $1,500 for a four-burner range. If you previously cooked with gas, you may need to rewire your kitchen to accommodate the 240 volts required for most induction cooktops.

Only ferrous metals, which are magnetic, will work with induction heat. If you cook with copper, you’ll need to trade your pots and pans for stainless-steel or cast-iron ones. (Not all stainless-steel vessels are fit for induction, though. They should work if a magnet sticks to the bottom of them.) Also, pan size can be an issue; the magnetic coils may not work properly when paired with pans that are much smaller or larger than the burners.

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