Prior to the 1800's, it was necessary to be up at 5 in the morning to stoke and feed the dying embers of the massive fire place in your kitchen just to get some breakfast ready. You would need to continuously fuel the fire to keep the cooktop hot for lunch and dinner and do it all again the next day. The hearth was hot and very smoky but through the haze of burning hickory the electric, gas and induction cooktop were being envisioned. Unlike the huge kitchen fireplaces, cooktops today are sleek and maximise the space available in the kitchen. Modern cooktops have changed the way we live and even what we cook! Cooktops are designed to pair up with wall ovens, giving your kitchen a spacious designer look and can be installed next to your fridge to speed up cooking prep time. Whether you love to spend all day in the kitchen or cringe at the very thought of picking up a wooden spoon, you won't find many homes without a cooktop.
Your available space and power connections may limit you to the type of burner you can buy, and you may need to install a rangehood if you don't already have one (see our buyers guide for Rangehoods). Gas cooktops have the advantage of giving the user heat control and the burners cool down quickly once you have switched it off. Gas models require an existing natural or LPG connection unless you are planning on renovating and intend to install a gas outlet. Electric cooktops have different styles and can be found with coils, solid plates, ceramic and tempered glass surfaces and some styles can be easy to keep clean and maintain. Induction works by using a magnetic field to heat your cooking pot or pan giving it even heat distribution. Induction burners are the fastest to heat up compared to the heating times of gas and other electric versions. Electric, gas and induction cooktops all have their pro's and con's so it’s important to make an informed decision before purchasing one so that you don't feel any unnecessary sizzling in your pocket.
Gas cooktops are perfect of you require instant heat control and the flame provides the user with a visual aid to help assess the heat level. Gas cooktops are one of the most popular on the market and as such you will find that there is a wide variety of styles and finishes to choose from. People who regularly cook with a wok can find models that have a burner specifically designed to hold the wok. Gas is an environmentally friendly energy source and is more cost effective, however if you don't already have a gas connection in your kitchen, the installation can be costly. Keep in mind that if natural gas is not readily available in your area, you may need to hire a licensed contractor to convert you to LPG. One downside to owing a gas cooktop is the cleaning. Models with cast iron trivets are heavy and bulky making them more difficult to clean, burners will need to be removed and the glass and stainless steel finishes may require a little more than just a wipe clean.
Before purchasing a gas cooktop you should consider the following:
Burners - How many gas burners do you need? Do you need a burner that is designed to hold a wok? If you plan to use a hot plate or grill, do you need an oblong shaped burner?
Cast iron vs enamel - Cast iron trivets are heavy and bulky but they are less likely to be damages are much sturdier. Enamel on the other hand is lighter but is not as sturdy as cast iron trivets.
Flame safety - A safety feature fitted to each burner which will shut off the gas supply in the event that the flame goes out.
Electric cooktops are usually the most affordable models and are straight forward to use. Best suited for people who are on a tight budget and don't have a gas hook up in their kitchen. There are a large variety of styles to choose from depending on your needs and budget. Some styles are easier to maintain and clean than others and heat up times vary depending on the style. Electric cooktops maintain a constant and even heat during cooking.
Heat coil - This style of electric cooktop is cheaper to purchase than other electric models and features an exposed coil element. There are not many models of cooktop that feature the radiant coil as they are more commonly found on stovetops. Coil cooktops are more energy efficient however are much harder to clean. Some models have a hinge to allow you to clean the drip tray beneath while others need to be unplugged and removed for cleaning. As the heating element is exposed and glows red hot, you should always be very careful when operating this unit especially if there are children in the house.
Solid hot plate - Solid hotplate cooktops are one of the most affordable on the market. The entire metal plate heats up within a few minutes, but can take quite a while to cool down meaning that temperature control is much harder with this style of cooktop. On the plus side, unlike the heat coil cooktops, cleaning is much simpler and spills cannot fall anywhere as there is no gaps nor a drip tray. These solid hotplates do not turn red once the heat is on and extra caution should be used to prevent accidental burns.
Smooth top - Smooth top cooktops are sleek and stylish, a beautiful addition to your kitchen. As the name suggests, these cooktop models feature a flat continuous surface. This means that cleaning this style of cooktop is as easy as wiping down the flat surface, however spills will need to be cleaned up immediately as some foods will bake on to the surface making cleaning more difficult. This model of electric cooktop is great for melting chocolate as it has the ability to work on lower temperatures. Once switched off, the surface will still continue to hold the heat as it gradually cools so care must be taken once the unit is switched off. This also means that it may take time to reduce the heat while cooking so keep that in mind.
Induction cooktops work by turning your pan or saucepan into the heating element meaning that your food is cooked by the cookware itself and not by the cooktop. This works by the cooktop creating an electromagnetic reaction from the induction cooktop cooking area directly to the cookware itself. Due to this, you will find that you will need induction safe cookware to match your induction cooktop. Induction cooktops models are the higher end products of the electric cooktop range and you can expect them to be more on the pricey end of the scale. Induction cooktops heat up extremely fast compared to other electric and gas models. To give you an idea, 1 Litre of water boils on a gas or ceramic cooktop between 6-8 minutes and on an induction cooktop you're looking at around 2 minutes! Unlike other electric model varieties, as your cookware becomes the heating element you will notice that the cooktop itself will be cool to the touch unless your hot pan has been sitting on there for quite some time.
Induction cooktops have an array of features compared to other electric models. For instance, these cooktops can sense if there is no cookware on the cooking zone while in use or if the cookware is not induction safe, the cooktop will display a symbol and switch itself off after a short time. Other features include digital temperature readings, keep warm functions, residual heat lights, heat booster and auto heat -up functions. Induction cooktops can be more costly to install than other cooktop varieties as normal electrical connections in your home may not be enough to power the unit.
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