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New Cooktop Options

Q — I am remodeling my kitchen and I would rather use a separate stylish
electric oven and a cooktop instead of a range. Which element types are easiest
to cook with, safest, and most efficient?-Kate H.

A — Separate cooktops and ovens are becoming more popular because of
convenience, comfort, and efficiency. It makes sense to locate your hot oven
away from your kitchen work area, especially during the summer, or you will
just end up setting the air conditioner thermostat lower to stay comfortable.
Locating the cooktop near the countertop food preparation areas is also more
convenient.

The three basic types of electric cooking elements
used in modern cooktops are induction, halogen, and radiant. Nearly all of these
are mounted in easy-to-clean smooth black or white glass cooktops that look
similar. You really cannot see what type of element is below the surface. Many
cooktops use a combination of various element types to provide more flexibility
in cooking and reasonable cost.

Electric induction elements provide the best cooktop
performance, safety, and efficiency. Over the past several years, fewer manufacturers
have offered induction elements, but manufacturers have indicated there is a
resurgence of interest in them. Induction ranges have only one or two induction
elements, typically coupled with several radiant elements.

Unlike other electric elements, induction elements
provide precise temperature control, equivalent to gas burners for gourmet cooks.
Small single-element induction units are available that mount either in a cooktop
or countertop. Plug-in lightweight, portable models are also available for use
anywhere. Induction elements heat the cooking utensils by creating a simple
magnetic field through the cooktop. When a metal (iron or steel) pan is placed
on the cooktop, this magnetic field passes through the pan causing the molecules
to move, which creates heat in the pan and not to the cooktop. This makes induction
elements very energy efficient. When you turn the dial down, the magnetic field
is reduced and the heat to the pan immediately decreases, just like with a gas
flame. With all other types of heating elements, the element and the cooktop
get hot and then transfer the heat to the pan on top of it.

Magnetic waves have no effect on skin or anything
other than magnetic materials such as iron and steel. If the pan is accidentally
removed from the cooktop by a child, no more heat is created by the magnetic
field and the cooktop is not as hot as with other elements. The only drawback
to using induction elements is they are more expensive than other element types
and you must use iron or steel cooking utensils on them.

Electric halogen elements come up to temperature
quicker than standard smooth-top radiant elements. These elements include a
high-intensity halogen light to heat and radiate energy to the cooking utensil
for quick start-up. They are not as popular as they used to be because the newer
ribbon-type radiant elements also heat up very quickly.

Radiant elements, which glow red, are the most popular
and reasonably priced. The standard ones (not ribbon types) heat up slower initially
than induction or halogen elements and lack rapid, precise temperature control.
The cooktop area above them gets very hot and stays hot for a long time. You
can often pick the type of elements you prefer in many models, so ask for the
ribbon radiant elements instead of standard ones if you have the option.

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