Gas, electric or induction cooktop?

Gas cooktops, which require a gas hookup, typically measure 36 inches wide with five burners, but 30-inch versions with four burners are also available. Many cooks prefer these cooktops because they can see the flame, which can make it easier to make temperature adjustments. However, gas cooktops are 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 electric counterparts.

Electric smoothtop cooktopshave four or five radiant-heat elements housed under a layer of ceramic glass. You can still find electric cooktops with coils, but only at the low end of the price spectrum, and professional reviewers don't test them. Smoothtop electric 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. Most electric cooktops measure 30 inches wide, but it's possible to find 36-inch models or professional-style cooktops over 40 inches.

Induction cooktopsare another option. These models look much like any other electric smoothtop cooktop, but instead of using radiant burners that heat the cooking surface, induction cooktops use electromagnetic technology to heat pots and pans directly. 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, starting at around $1,200 -- about what you'd expect to pay for a high-end electric smoothtop or a mid-range gas cooktop. Induction cooktops also require magnetic cookware made from cast iron or steel, so users must replace any aluminum or copper pots and pans.

Experts suggest you consider the following criteria before you buy a gas, electric or induction cooktop:

  • 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.
  • Cooking style: 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 may not need such features, however.
  • 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.
  • Controls: Make sure they're 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.
  • Your 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.

Notes on venting

One additional consideration is ventilation. 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). Chimney-style vents are the most expensive, costing well over $500. You can find a good under-the-cabinet vent for less than $200. To learn more, see our separate report on range hoods.

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