Induction cooking began in Europe and Asia but has become popular throughout the world in various applications, including catering and buffet lines. Operators can use induction ranges for traditional gas and electric units. Induction units plug into almost any electrical outlet and are suitable for display cooking.
This equipment is suitable for a variety of applications, including boiling, cooking, reducing, sauteing, searing and holding. Induction ranges provide both heating and cooking modes.
With this cool heating process, the pan serves as the heating element. Induction equipment contains a magnetic coil, which produces radio frequency to create a magnetized field. When metal containing iron is placed on the cooking surface, the magnetic field reacts with the pan’s iron molecules. This creates friction, which produces heat.
Some operators find this low-powered equipment more accurate than fuel-based heat sources and a good alternative for operations that are prohibited from using open flames. In addition, induction cooking helps prepare food quickly in front of guests, can reduce day-to-day operating costs and may improve aesthetics on the buffet line thanks to the ranges’ low profiles.
These units also operate with 85% to 90% percent efficiency, depending on the unit. The ranges heat fast, and because there is no radiant heat, induction units do not affect atmospheric temperatures or raise air-conditioning costs. These units also help save energy because once pans are removed from the cooking surface, no heat is produced.
All inductions have three basic components. Sensors that read pan temperatures are located under the glass surface. A copper coil creates a magnetic field, while a control board with a central processing unit (CPU) controls all the inputs and outputs of the unit. Most induction units come with a rotary switch that sets the power level. Many manufacturers also offer temperature control settings, but this feature’s reliability depends on the type of pan and quantity of sensors used.
Lower-wattage induction ranges have a fixed number of temperatures. These units require minimal power, with a single 20-amp circuit accommodating three warmers. Generally, municipalities do not require ventilation units when working with induction units. Some operators place higher-wattage induction units in island buffets as part of a saute station where display cooking of foods such as eggs, pasta and stir-fry occurs. Typically between 1400 and 1800 watts, these systems appear identical to the lower-wattage version. Aside from the wattage, the biggest difference is that higher-wattage units offer more control settings for various cooking applications. It is important to note that, in buffet settings, 1800-watt induction ranges typically require lengthy extension cords and sufficient amperage for proper use.
Induction ranges come in built-in and portable models; which is more appropriate depends on the application and various other factors.
In terms of features, look for induction ranges with easy-to-use controls, such as dials that can adjust temperatures easily and rapidly. An automatic shutoff option stops the induction unit’s operation when the item on top gets too hot.
Operators can choose from countertop and drop-in versions in single- and double-hob models, which offer a front-to-back or side-by-side configuration. These come with the more familiar flat top cooking hotplates or as a round bowl wok unit. There also are griddle-top models with hidden warmers to heat through the countertop.
Power options vary by unit, ranging from 450-watt warming units up to 10 kW stockpot versions. Units up to 1800 watts generally utilize 110/120 volt power, while those that consume more than 1800 watts typically use 208- or 220-volt circuits. Lower wattages, those units up to 1500 watts, are suitable for food warming. Units ranging from 1800 to 2500 are better suited for breakfast preparations, while 3500 watts and higher induction ranges are geared for more extensive commercial cooking. Higher-wattage ranges also are used with 60-quart stockpot applications.
Single-hob induction ranges typically measure 13 to 15 inches wide, 15 to 17 inches deep and 3½ to 5 inches tall. Double units measure 27 to 30 inches deep. The hobs generally will hold a 14-inch-wide vessel. Typical stockpot capacities range from 24 to 40 quarts, but can be larger. High-powered induction ranges that must accommodate stock pots and braising pans will tend to grow in size with power level.
Induction range materials vary. Exterior construction includes either plastic or aluminum housings with tempered glass tops at the low end to more costly heavy-duty stainless-steel housings with ceramic-glass composite tops at the high end.
For front-of-house warming, consider an induction warmer rather than a range top. Warming units typically operate on 600 watts and have a thermostat that goes up to 250 degrees F.
If an induction range is built into a countertop, ventilation underneath will be necessary.
Cleaning and Maintenance
When working with induction ranges, utilizing induction-ready pans that have even bottoms is important since uneven pans will not cook uniformly and may damage the cooktop.
Units flush-mounted to countertops tend to be pretty easy to clean before and after use. Allow the tempered glass cooking surface to cool prior to wiping clean with a mild dishwashing detergent.
Keep induction ranges clean and free from food debris. If the underside has an air intake, regularly inspect and clean it in accordance with manufacturer guidelines to ensure proper cooling of the unit’s internal components.
Operators should use these appliances in an ambient environment less than 104 degrees F. Induction cookers have ventilation and intake ports designed to keep the internal electronics cool, but these need to be kept clean and unobstructed. In addition, operators should avoid using these ranges in close proximity to high grease- or moisture-producing appliances.
A number of induction cooktops include self-diagnostics that will indicate if there is something wrong with the unit, such as an issue with the electrical supply, blocked grease filters or overheating. When an older or heavily used induction cooktop is not operable, its service life has most likely ended, and it should be replaced.
If the range fails to maintain temperatures or can no longer read an induction-ready pan, it should be retired. Also, if the surface of the induction range is damaged or cracked, operators should immediately disconnect the range from its power source and replace the unit. Finally, if the induction range fan stops working, replacement is also most likely warranted.
As with any appliance, induction ranges will eventually require servicing. Most manufacturers recommend induction ranges be examined once a year by an authorized technician, who should test its operation, inspect the cooktop and correct deficiencies.