What the best cooktop has

  • Easy cleanup. Look for removable knobs and an upswept lip or rim to contain spills. Smoothtop electric models may require special cleaners to prevent scratches. On a gas cooktop, look for sealed burners and grates that are dishwasher-safe.
  • The right types of burners. Many cooktops come with burners specifically designed for low-heat tasks (like simmering) or high-heat tasks (boiling). Reviewers say these features are handy for people who cook frequently or for large groups. Infrequent cooks might not need such features, however.
  • A useful burner layout. Make sure there's enough space between burners to use several pots at once without juggling them. Smaller burners should be in front so that you attend to tasks that require close attention, like simmering.
  • Easy to use controls. Cooktop controls should be  easy to access and legible. Touchpad controls are easier to use than knobs or dials, but they're more likely to malfunction. On the other hand, knobs on the front of the cooktop (rather than the top) are easy to bump and reset by accident. They are also easier for children to reach; some models have a control-lockout feature for safety.

Know before you go

Will you need new cookware? Induction cooking requires magnetic cookware in order for the pan to heat. Cast iron, enameled cast iron and stainless or enameled steel with an iron core or base are okay; copper, aluminum, glass and stainless steel without an iron component are not. Many owners recommend taking a magnet with you when shopping for new cookware -- if the magnet sticks to the bottom, the pan will work on an induction cooktop. Other types of cooktops have no special cookware requirements. More information on the different types of cookware can be found in our cookware report.

What about venting? If you currently have a range, it probably uses existing venting. If you want to install a cooktop in another location, such as a kitchen island, you'll need to find a way to vent it so that you can clear the air of cooking odors and smoke. This is especially important if you choose a gas cooktop, since its flames produce carbon monoxide.

Venting options include overhead, chimney-style vents (either freestanding or wall-mounted), range hoods mounted under a cabinet, or downdraft vents (the least effective type). Some cooktops have a downdraft venting built in. Chimney-style vents are the most expensive, costing well over $500. You can find a good under-the-cabinet vent for less than $200. You can find more information in our separate report on range hoods.

Gas, electric or induction? According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, there isn't a huge difference between types in terms of efficiency. In general, gas is cheaper than electricity. However, cooktops don't use a lot of energy to begin with, so overall the difference is negligible. Instead, choosing between the different types of cooktops, experts say, is largely a matter of personal preference.

All three types of cooktops have pluses or minuses that can help you choose.

Gas cooktops require a gas hookup. They're also harder to clean than smooth electric cooktops, and tests show they take longer to reach a boil and cannot maintain a consistent low temperature as well as their electric counterparts. Some are concerned with safety, fearing issues such as gas leaks. However, many cooks prefer these cooktops because they can see the flame, which can make it easier to make temperature adjustments.

Electric smoothtop cooktops are easy to clean because, unlike gas cooktops, they have no grates or burner wells to trap spilled food or grease. They also excel at simmering, according to reviews. However, they are vulnerable to damage from dropped pots or spills of sugary liquids, which may burn onto the cooktop surface. Many owner reviews complain that while these cooktops look great new, normal use can lead to staining that's hard to remove without scratching the glass top.

Induction cooktops heat much faster than traditional gas or electric cooktops. They are also very responsive, quickly adjusting the heat as needed for delicate tasks such as simmering sauces or melting chocolate. However, these cooktops are on the expensive side and require magnetic cookware made from cast iron or steel, so users must replace any aluminum or copper pots and pans.

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