We talk about induction cooking a lot here at Reviewed.com. The technology powers many of our top-ranked ranges and cooktops, and it's no wonder: Induction is faster, safer, and far more efficient than gas or electric cooking.
That's because it uses magnetic fields to directly generate heat within the cooking vessel. But there's one little problem: Not all cookware is magnetic, and pots and pans that aren't simply won't work on an induction cooktop. It's one reason why the tech has been slow to catch on in the U.S.—shoppers don't want to buy all new cookware to match their new range.
But what these shoppers may not know is that a lot of the cookware already found in American kitchens will work with induction. Read on to find out what works, what doesn't, and how you can tell the difference.
The Guaranteed Winners
While there are plenty of finer points to consider when shopping for induction cookware, there are a few clear rules.
Here's a big one: Cast-iron cookware will always work with induction, 100 percent of the time. Your skillets and dutch ovens may be big, heavy bruisers, but their all-iron composition guarantees magnetic cooking compatibility.
The only downside? Cast iron can easily scratch the glass surfaces common to induction cooktops. To keep your glass looking pristine, you can just cook with something thin between the burner and the surface. We've heard of people using paper towels, newspaper, parchment paper, and even silpat mats. Since induction uses magnetic fields, the cooking surface itself doesn't get hot and the paper won't burn, allowing you to keep your cooktop scratch- and splatter-free.
(Of course, the pan itself does get hot. While we haven't heard of paper spontaneously combusting during induction cooking, you should remain vigilant if you choose to use it.)
Carbon steel cookware—basically just a lighter kind of cast iron—also works with induction cooktops. Then there's enameled cast iron cookware (also called "enamelware"), which also plays nicely, as does graniteware (made of steel, despite its name).
If you already own one or more of these kinds of cookware, double check them with a magnet, but you should be in the clear—go ahead and upgrade to induction! But if you're cooking with a lot of stainless steel or aluminum pans, keep reading.
Let's start with aluminum. Most aluminum cookware will not work with induction, since aluminum doesn't include any iron-based compounds. However, some aluminum pots and pans feature an iron core, which should mean they'll work with induction. Sadly, even then it's not a given.
If the iron plates in your aluminum cookware aren't large enough, they still won't work. You'll likely need to try all your iron-core aluminum cookware on a case-by-case basis to find out what works and what doesn't.
Most copper cookware won't work either. The only exception is a line of special, very expensive copper cookware from De Buyer. These pieces are made of 90% copper, with a ferro-magnetic bottom that lets them take advantage of induction.
The same general principle applies to ceramic cookware; it'll only work with induction if it has an iron or steel base.
Then there's the elephant in the kitchen: stainless steel.
On the face of it, stainless should work just fine with induction. Steel is magnetic, right? Well, yes and no. As it turns out, there are multiple types of stainless steel. Scientific American has a great explainer on what makes stainless steel magnetic, but the short answer is that it depends on what the alloy is made of. If it's made with iron, then it's magnetic; if it's made with nickel, it's non-magnetic.
But how can you tell?
Tips and Tricks for Confusing Cookware
The first thing you should do is check the underside of your cookware. Some cookware manufacturers, such as Calphalon, stamp or print an induction logo right on the pan. If there's no handy logo, simply get a magnet and see if it sticks to the bottom of the pan. If it does, it should work with induction.
There's one other issue you might run into: cookware with rounded bottoms, like woks. Since physical contact with the cooking surface isn't strictly required, these may still work, but a flat bottom does provide the best transfer of electromagnetic energy.
If you want to get the absolute best performance with a wok on induction, you'll need to either invest in a flat-bottom wok or look for a (likely very expensive) rounded wok induction cooktop.
If you've exhausted all of these tips and tricks, still want an induction cooktop, but don't want to buy all new induction-ready cookware just yet, there's one last option: You can pick up an induction disk.
These magnetic plates sit on top of your cooktop and act as DIY burners that will heat up, transferring heat indirectly to your non-magnetic pots and pans. Yes, it kind of defeats the purpose of induction, but it can ease the transition if you're unable or unwilling to change over wholesale.
Buying for Induction
If you do want to buy induction-compatible cookware, there are a number of brands you can choose from at a variety of price points. All-Clad, Cuisinart, Duxtop, Le Creuset, and Mauviel are just a handful of brands that make induction-ready cookware.
Some retailers provide more guidance for induction shoppers than others. Macy's, for instance, has a great induction cookware section at its online store. Surprisingly, traditional kitchen supply stores like Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma don't have dedicated induction sections; you'll need to peruse individual products' specs to figure out whether they'll work.
If you shop at a brick and mortar store, just check the product's packaging—most induction-compatible cookware will be clearly marked as such. (Or just carry a magnet in your pocket!)
By now you should know exactly what will and won't work with your new induction cooktop. So go try it out! Once you get used to it, you'll probably never want to go back to electric or gas.