Electric induction cooktops use a magnetic field to heat cookware rather than the cooking surface itself. This magnetic field is harmless and imperceptible -- until you put a metal pan on the burner. When that happens, the magnetic field reacts with iron molecules in the pan, exciting them and generating heat. The stronger the magnetic field, the hotter the pan gets and the faster food cooks.
Because heat transfers directly, induction cooktops are nearly twice as energy efficient as gas or radiant electric cooktops, meaning they heat up in far less time. They're also safer. If a child accidentally moves a pan, the pan heat immediately decreases, and the elements themselves stay much cooler than a traditional electric or gas burner.
Still, there are a few drawbacks. For starters, some users say their induction cooktops make a slight humming sound when in use. Also, these cooktops are more expensive on average than other types, starting at around $1,200 -- about what you'd pay for a top-of-the-line electric smoothtop. But perhaps most important, induction cooktops require magnetic cookware to work. Cast iron and most kinds of stainless steel are okay, but not copper, glass, ceramic or aluminum. If you are considering an induction cooktop, we cover some induction-friendly cookware in our cookware report.
In professional testing, the 30-inch GE Cafe CHP9530SJSS (Est. $1,800) earns outstanding marks for its performance on both high- and low-heat settings. This 30-inch induction cooktop is made of grey ceramic glass with a beveled stainless steel edge that makes cleanup easier.
The CHP9530SJSS features four induction burners that range in size from 6 to 11 inches and in power from 1,800 to 3,700 watts. Glide Touch controls let you set heating levels precisely with one swipe. Other features include a SyncBurner mode that operates the two 7-inch burners together for large pots and pans, or rectangular cookware, such as a griddle (and one is included with the oven); a melt setting; and timers that can display cooking time remaining for each element. Safety features include a control lockout to prevent accidental operation and hot-surface lights for each burner.
Professional and user reviews are strong. The GE Cafe CHP9530SJSS is the highest rated 30-inch cooktop in one large, independent test and earns Recommended status. It scores nearly perfectly there -- 99 out of a possible 100 points -- for its ability to deliver "precise simmering and fast heat."
The cooktop is also available in a 36-inch model as the GE Cafe CHP9536SJSS (Est. $2,100). It's identical save for the addition of a fifth element (8 inches, 3,200 watts).
Given the pricing, it's not surprising that owner feedback for the GE Café induction cooktop is limited, but what's there is overwhelmingly positive. Considering both the 30-inch and 36-inch versions, we see roughly 20 user reviews overall at HomeDepot.com (including some originally posted at the GE website). Ratings are 100 percent positive -- mostly 5 stars and no rating lower than 4 stars when we checked -- with every owner saying that they would recommend their induction cooktop to a friend.
If you'd like to experience the joys of induction cooking, but don't have the budget for the GE Café, the 30-inch Frigidaire FGIC3067MB (Est. $1,300) looks like a bang-up choice. It's one of the lowest priced induction cooktops reviewed by a large testing organization, but doesn't score that much lower than the top rated GE Café. On the performance front, it keeps up with the GE very nicely, earning the same top grades whether cooking at high heat or low, and an overall Recommended status.
You do give up a little in the features and styling department with the Frigidaire, however. While performance is good nonetheless, the maximum element power of this four-element model is 3,400 watts. There are also some missing niceties, like the ability to bridge elements and individual timers for each element. The cooktop is basic black, without the added pizazz of the stainless steel trim.
Users like the FGIC3067MB very much. We spotted over 15 user reviews at HomeDepot.com (including some originally posted at Frigidaire's site) and more than a dozen more at Amazon.com -- all unique to that site. The only sub 4-star review (at Amazon.com) was over a shipping issue. Otherwise, all seem to truly love (or at least like very much) their cooktop.
The 30-inch KitchenAid KICU509XBL (Est. $1,550) splits the difference, more or less, between the GE and Frigidaire induction cooktops in terms of price and features, and is also worth considering. This induction cooktop gets a glowing review at Reviewed.com, including Best of the Year and Editors' Choice honors. It performs on a par with other top induction cooktops the site has tested, and has useful features like the ability to bridge elements (just like the GE Café). It also has some features that the GE cooktop lacks, such as Performance Boost, to increase heat output above an element's rating for short periods of time for more rapid boiling.
User feedback, however, while a little more plentiful than for either the GE Café or Frigidaire cooktops, is not quite as uniformly positive. That said, its 4.2 star score at HomeDepot.com based on nearly 50 reviews indicates that more users are satisfied than not. However, we did see some complaints of cooktops that failed soon after installation.