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Induction cooktops: how fine is the control? (lots of levels?)

J S
2 years ago
last modified: 2 years ago

Hi Houzzers,

We're facing the gas-versus-induction question in building a new kitchen, which I know many of y'all have faced before. It seems there's a whole lot to like about induction -- low lows, high highs, fast boils, less heat, no combustion byproducts, etc. But specifically, I'm wondering about the level of practical temperature control you have with induction. Many people do indeed praise these cooktops for their supposedly fine control. But as someone with minimal experience cooking on induction, I have trouble understanding how that can be true based on what I read. I'm hoping someone here can educate me!

On basically all the induction cooktops I read about, the control over the burner's energy output is discrete (e.g. 1-10 in whole or half-number increments), rather than continuous (any arbitrary level between the min and the max output, based on where you turn the dial). Some have 9 or 10 settings, and even the very expensive cooktops (Gaggenau) don't seem to have that many levels, e.g. 17.

I understand that there's no universally valid mapping between pan temperature and the energy output of an induction burner, that it depends on cookware, etc -- but just for the sake of argument, suppose that on a given pan, the min output of the burner corresponds to about 100 degrees and the max to about 500. Even 17 levels gives you intermediate steps that are approximately 25 degrees apart. That doesn't seem like very fine control to me. For many sauces, especially thicker ones, I imagine that 25 degrees might be the difference between "unable to maintain a simmer" and "boiling away and scorching the bottom." For example, I have a cheap portable unit that is great for boiling a pot of water on the high end, or melting butter on the low end. But there's no setting that will cook rice adequately -- one setting is too low, takes forever, and gives me gummy rice; while the next level up means I get semi-burnt rice stuck on the bottom of the pot. I know that's a cheapo unit, but I find myself wondering whether any induction burner with widely spaced discrete settings will -- to one extent or another, for one application or another -- suffer from a version of the same problem.

I'm much more used to cooking over gas, and I really like the effectively continuous control over the burner's energy output. On the low end, depending on the thickness of a sauce or liquid, you can find exactly the right setting for a simmer. And on the high end, with enough practice on your burner, you can find the right level for a high-temperature stir fry that will not exceed the smoke point of your oil.

So I guess my questions are:

1) Am I simply wrong? For those that use induction, does it feel in practice like you have a level of control that is reasonably similar to a gas burner? Maybe e.g. the increments aren't linearly spaced, but chosen intelligently to cover common cooking situations, denser at the bottom end, etc. (If so, which cooktop do you have?) Or instead do you encounter dishes or situations where one setting is too low, the next too high, and you're gritting your teeth for lack of an intermediate setting?

2) I know there are some very expensive portable units that have extremely fine control over energy output (Breville Control Freak has 1 degree increments, some Vollraths have 100 levels between min and max, etc). These are so finely spaced that they become effectively continuous, like gas. But those are portable units and they're very, very dear -- what about in a built-in cooktop? Are you aware of models that have especially fine control over energy output?

Thank you very much for taking the time to read, ponder, and share your knowledge and experience. Like I said, I don't cook with induction, so I'm eager to be told I'm wrong by those that do!

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