Electric induction cooktops use a magnetic field to heat cookware rather than the cooking surface itself. This magnetic field is harmless and imperceptible -- unless 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, smoothtop or electric coil 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. More importantly, induction cooktops require magnetic cookware to work. Cast iron and most kinds of stainless steel are okay, but not copper, glass, ceramic or aluminum. These cooktops are also 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.
In professional testing, the 30-inch GE Profile PHP900DMBB (Est. $1,700) earns outstanding marks for its performance on both high- and low-heat settings. This 30-inch induction cooktop is made of black ceramic glass and is also available in a version with stainless-steel frame as the GE Profile GE PHP900SMSS (Est. $1,800).
Both GE models feature four induction burners that range in size from 6 to 11 inches and in power from 1,800 to 3,700 watts. Each burner has 19 power settings for precise temperature control. Other features include touchpad controls with a child lockout, hot-surface lights for each burner and a sensor that automatically adjusts the heating element to the correct pan size. The cooktop comes with a one-year warranty.
Professional and user reviews are strong. One professional reviewer bestows a high overall score and a recommended rating on the GE Profile PHP900DMBB. Reviewed.com also rates it highly (in this case, the stainless-steel trimmed PHP900SMSS), though it reserves Editors' Choice honors for a different induction cooktop.
As a group, owners seem very pleased, and we saw better owner feedback for this GE Profile induction cooktop than for competing models. At HomeDepot.com, for example, we found more than 130 user reviews between the all black and the stainless-steel-trimmed versions. The black version gets the lions' share of these, with nearly 100 reports, a 4.6-star rating, and a 92 percent recommend rate. The stainless-steel version scores just a tick less. (4.5 stars and 91 percent, respectively).
If you want or need a 36-inch induction cooktop instead, the GE Profile PHP960DMBB (Est. $1,900) is very similar, but adds a fifth burner -- 8 inches, 3,200 watts. No experts have weighed in, but it gets positive user reviews at most retail sites. HomeDepot.com once again is where you can find the most feedback, though that also includes reviews from the GE site. Overall, the PHP960DMBB rates 4.6 stars following more than 40 reviews, with 93 percent saying that they would recommend it to a friend. A stainless-steel version, the GE Profile PHP960SMSS gets even more reviews (nearly 70) and just slightly better feedback at 4.7 stars.
If your budget is a little tighter the 30-inch KitchenAid KICU509XBL (Est. $1,550) is likely your best alternative. This induction cooktop gets a glowing review at Reviewed.com, including Best of the Year and Editors' Choice honors. Performance is why, as it just slightly edges out the GE Profile GE PHP900SMSS in that site's cooking tests. However, user feedback is scant -- no more than one or two reviews at most retail sites. We did see a somewhat larger accumulation of reports at KitchenAid's own site, where it earns a 4.2 rating after fewer than 20 reviews.
Other induction cooktops get mixed or incomplete feedback. For example, the 30-inch Kenmore 43800 (Est. $1,300) also performs very well one professional test, with overall scores nearly as high as the GE Profile's. This 30-inch induction cooktop is made of black ceramic glass with a stainless-steel frame and electronic touch controls. It has four heating elements ranging in size from 6 to 10 inches, each with 15 heat settings. Each burner automatically senses the presence of magnetic cookware and adjusts its size accordingly. Other features include hot-surface indicators, a control lockout, an automatic shutoff and a warming setting that lets you hold cooked food at the temperature you want. The Kenmore cooktop has a one-year warranty.
However, owner reviews for the Kenmore 43800 are scarce and mixed. This induction cooktop is only available at Sears. While the body of user reviews is small, feedback is not encouraging as owners are nearly as likely to rate the cooktop 1 star or 2 stars as they are to grant it 5 stars or 4 stars. Long-term reliability seems to be the source of most of the unhappiness.
Ditto for the Whirlpool GCI3061XB (Est. $1,300). It earns Best Buy honors in one professional review, which judges it to have excellent high heat and low heat performance. But while the number of user reviews are limited, owners are less happy. Lowes.com this time has the most feedback -- but just about 10 reviews altogether (including those from Whirlpool's site) -- and a rating of only 2.8 stars. Negative reviews outweigh positive ones. Some of the issues cited seem to relate to learning how to use the cooktop, but others warn of durability problems.
Elsewhere in this Report:
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