When on the road or in camp there are usually only three options for dining: Go out (expensive); buy and then heat up pre-made foods (expensive and often with unwelcome additives); or cook for yourself from quality ingredients. (A fourth option is to shamelessly schmooze the neighbours for a dinner invite, but how to do so is not today’s blog topic!)
Until recently, the greatest challenge for those of us who want to cook from our galley-on-wheels has been the heat and required ventilation with open-flame propane cooking. Thanks to the marvels of modern day science, we now have the option of using a cooktop that consumes less energy, cooks faster, doesn’t use an open flame, can be used indoors or out, cools down almost immediately, and costs less than $100.
Induction cooking has been around for nearly 100 years and was first introduced at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. We’ve also heard that NASA developed an induction cooker for its space program. Induction cooking has had greater rates of acceptance in Europe and Asia (especially in commercial kitchens) but is certainly gaining traction in North America. The New York Times has reported that a respectable percentage of respondents to a survey about induction cooking stated that their next cooktop would be induction. Acceptance of induction cooking is strong among younger people setting up their first serious kitchens, who are more interested in environmentally sound design and less tied to the popular style edicts of cooking with gas. We’re also seeing induction cooktops being installed in newer RVs and trailers instead of the traditional propane-only option.
Induction has several advantages over propane: It is safer (induction cannot leak gas), and unless something is magnetic it cannot heat up on an induction cooktop. (Towels or plastic ware inadvertently placed on top of an induction cooking surface cannot be heated up or start a fire, as there is no magnetic component to cloth or dishware.) The cooktop is flat, so it may be (gently) used for other purposes, and it is simple to keep clean. Induction cooking is fast and has the same ease of use as gas. You no longer have to worry about the volatility of propane gas and possible carbon monoxide dangers. Accidentally touching the cooktop will not result in being burned like traditional cooktops, making it safer to use in the presence of children, seniors, or those with mobility issues.
Cooking on portable induction cooktops can be done either inside the RV or outdoors. If cooking outdoors on a picnic table with an extension cord, ensure that children know not to fool around with it, or trip on the cord. Induction cooking may safely be done under an awning, even in the rain.
If cooking indoors, using a portable induction cooktop immediately creates more counter space because you can place it anywhere you want to cook, including the kitchen table. You can even use the induction cooktop on top of the propane cooktop cover.
How does induction cooking work? Instead of heat being created by burning gas or electrically heating an element, induction cooking uses the cookware itself as the source of heat, electro-magnetically exciting the molecules in the metal contained in the cookware.
To successfully make the transition to cooking with induction technology, you may need to make some changes.
1.You may need to replace your cookware
You must use cooking vessels made of ferrous (magnetic) metal such as steel or iron to sustain the magnetic field.
Aluminum, copper, glass, and Corning Ware can’t work on induction because they are not magnetic. Buy flat-bottomed cookware and use a fridge magnet to test the bottom of the pot. If the magnet sticks to the pot, you can use the pot on your induction cooktop. Although we love cooking with a cast iron (see our blog on cooking with cast iron) (insert link here), avoid the cast iron pots with raised decorative rings on the bottom. Although nice to look at, these rings lift the large flat surface OFF the induction burner and create hot spots that lead to uneven, unpredictable cooking. You can buy good cast iron at reasonable prices at HomeSense. An excellent stainless steel starter set is at Costco, with a Kirkland brand 5-pot and lid set costing less than $200.
Here are some photos of cookware we’ve found work well on induction burners – note their absolutely flat bottoms!
2.You may experience a steep learning curve
Because the induction cooktops cook faster than traditional ones, you will need to pay more attention than usual to prepare, measure, and arrange your ingredients ahead of time. Using an induction cooktop forces you to remember the adage that the last thing a good cook actually does is cook. Planning and preparation are critical when using induction: You have to pay attention to what’s in the pan rather than do the things around the pan such as cutting your onions, removing the anima from the garlic, peeling tomatoes, or searching for that herb or spice in your pantry.
Other newbies to induction cooking have reported that because a large spaghetti pot of water takes only five minutes to come to a boil and a smaller pan only a minute or two, they no longer walk away waiting for things to boil. Others found that because they had been used to cooking on high temperatures, they had to try cooking on Medium to prevent boil-overs or burning their food. Except for using High to bring water to a boil, their advice to first try to cook at medium temperatures until you get used to how induction works best for you is sound.
Another benefit to induction cooktops is that if you want to speed up the cooking, simply increase the temperature setting. If what you’re cooking needs to cool down quickly, remove the pot from the burner for a few seconds to dissipate the heat, lower the temperature setting on the cooktop, and then continue cooking.
3.Care and cleaning of your induction cooktop
An induction cooktop is as easy to clean as an electric ceramic cooktop and certainly much easier to clean than an open-flame cooktop where you need to take the stove top apart to clean up the boil-overs.
As soon as the induction top has cooled down (usually less than a minute), wipe up any spills with a wet sponge or cloth. Although commercial ceramic cooktop cleaners work well for cleaning up bigger spills or caked-on messes, we recommend the gentler approach of a bit of dish soap mixed with water, vinegar, and elbow grease.
As with ceramic cooktops, it is easy to scratch the surface of an induction cooktop. Although for the most part the scratches won’t affect the performance of the induction unit, we recommend picking up the pot and moving it to a different spot on the cooktop rather than sliding it across the surface. Always use non-abrasive cleaners and cleaning cloths.
4.Induction cooking requires 120 AC Power
In contrast to cooking with gas, induction cooking requires a reliable power source (either shore power at the site, use of a generator, or maybe even those solar panels we’ve heard about that can power up a toaster). Induction cooktops certainly require less energy than toasters, but the time of day and one’s latitude could make a difference to the viability of using solar power for the cooktop.
Based on our experience, combining an induction cooktop (or two or three) with a convection/microwave oven plus the fallback to propane when needed, allows for a practical and flexible kitchen on wheels. We have three portable induction cooktops (purchased at Loblaws for about $85).