All About Induction…

August 31, 2009


What about induction cooktops?  There are some out there, but the penetration of this technology, originally developed in Japan nearly 30 years ago, in the U.S. remains quite small.  Induction is more common in Europe and Asia than in the U.S.  Available cooktops with induction choices remain quite expensive compared to traditional resistance electric or gas burner stoves.

The important thing to remember is that glass, copper, and aluminum cookware will not work on induction “burners”.  The reason for this is that only magnetic materials–i.e. iron and steel–can be heated by induction.  In Europe and in the U.S. many traditional aluminum pans are now being sold with a magnetic stainless disk impact bonded to the bottom of the pan in order to impart the desired magnetic characteristics. Stainless steel pans may or may not work, it all depends on if the pan has a carbon steel or a 440 stainless (the so-called magnetic stainless) layer inside the stainless steel or bonded to the bottom of the pan.

On the positive side, induction units are efficient in that they don’t waste energy heating anything other than the pan itself.  The heat is quite controllable, much like gas is.  You turn down an induction “burner” and it ceases to heat the pan immediately.  Typically the induction unit is covered with a hard, heat resistant smooth surface that is easy to clean.

The negative?  Well there’s the cost.  For instance,  Sears advertises a slide in 30″ induction range for over $2,900. A Whirlpool conventional range from Sears cost:  $479.  That’s a lot of difference.  Until major appliance producers get the price of induction units down to neighborhood of conventional cook tops and ranges, I predict a continued uphill slog for this product which does show promise, just not an economical one.

Update, September 15:  Someone must have heard me!  Samsung has just announced a four-burner induction unit for just under $2,000 which is available now at select retailers and which will be widely available by the end of month.  Here’s a link to the actual press release.

Back from the San Francisco Gourmet Show

August 19, 2009

A three-day visit to the Gourmet Show is always instructive.  In addition to seeing some great cookware and bakeware (Lodge Manufacturing, Nordicware and BonJour all had large well-stocked booths), there’s always serendipity–those things you run across that you probably wouldn’t if you stayed home and didn’t make the effort to walk the show.

My favorite was a unique take on that most pedestrian kitchen item…the lowly bowl.

A stack of calibowls

A stack of calibowls

Leave it to four California 30-somethings to rejigger the design of a bowl to make it more practical.  So practical that men-den occupants are alleged to have washed their own to they could reuse it.  It’s hard to explain, but essential the bowls lip is counter-waved so that spillage its practically impossible and so when you pour from it, water emerges like its coming out of a spout instead of dribbling over the edge and down the exterior. Sounds like nothing special doesn’t it.  I’d recommend Calibowl’s website for some instructive video.  A SFO friend of ours with a one-year old watched the video and order some for young Mr. R immediately.   Calibowl’s website explains all:

In the Why didn’t I think of that department, there’s FireWire, a grilling product from Inno-Labs in Kansas.  So simple:  a flexible skewer using stainless steel braid wire.  Makes it easy to get onto and off of the grill, no more flaming bamboo (one of my pet peeves), and totally reusable.   FireWire’s URL is

8-19-2009 1-00-05 PMThere was also a lot of buzz about the Skrapr, a new product out of Canada that can be used on glass cooktops, nonstick pans and about anything else.  In short, it scraps up crud without marking or destroying the surface. (Admit it you’ve use a knife before on something you shouldn’t have.)  It is designed for all smooth surfaces, has a lifetime warranty (what’s to break) and is made in Canada of a proprietary plastic resin.

Additionally, there was the G-spout, a silicone pouring device which fits over the edge of a bowl or piece of cookware enabling easy pouring.  And also Marie’s Chef Soap for those tired of having to fill up the squirt bottle next to the sink.  It is perfume-free all-natural plant based kitchen soap. No sex, no scent, just the good stuff. Anyone who has ever drunk coffee from a mug with a little eau de Palmolive will welcome it.  A huge bar promises to last a year.

Lodge was showing their signature series of cast iron which mates the traditional black iron pieces with classy cast/polished stainless steel handles, bring the world of ergonomics to the traditional favorite of many cooks. Also showing were glass lids to fit same.8-19-2009 1-10-36 PMNordicware welcomed all to their corner stand which was showing their latest popover pans, and pans designed to make mini-burgers, waffles and pancakes.

BonJour‘s booth featured a couple of huge commercial ranges and an array of high-polished product. You almost needed sunglasses to look at some of this beautiful cookware.  Combining copper and stainless in high end sets, the line looks poised to make a run at the high-end part of the cookware business.8-19-2009 1-24-26 PM

All in all, a fascinating show. Reports were about 2,100 vendors attended at the peak day (Saturday) and there were under 200 vendors, several notables canceling in the final days prior to the show.   But for those who made the trip (Thanks BART for extending your lines to the SFO airport), there was plenty to see and do.

Cook Your Way to Slimness?

August 5, 2009

Perhaps in connection with the premiere this week of the film Julia and Julie, there was an interesting article in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine by Michael Pollan–here’s a URL to it that you can copy and pasted into your browser.

Pollan charts the rise of the visual where we watch people preparing food, all the while forgetting how to do it ourselves.  And he cites a study from 2003 by Harvard economists that found the rise of food preparation outside the home could explain the increase in obesity in America.  Mass production has driven down the costs of the food that we eat and made what previously was a laborious task wonderfully easy.  An excellent  example is the french fry–now listed as America’s favorite vegetable, but only since industry has relieved us of the burden of preparing them from scratch.

The study found that the amount of time cooking predicts obesity inversely.  I.e., the more time spent cooking the less like you are to be fat.

Perhaps the current economic woes of the restaurant industry may produce a healthy by-product in more svelte citizens…except that the fast food portion of the restaurant industry seems to be doing just fine.

Glass cook tops

August 3, 2009


I certainly understand the popularity of glass cook tops.  My mother spent countless hours cleaning her beloved range (in a chocolate brown color no less) and wrapping the drip trays with aluminum foil.  She would have loved a smooth glass cook top had she lived long enough to see them on the market.  As it was she pulled out a perfectly fine gas cook stove (stainless no less) when my parents moved into the last house they lived in to put her brown stove into use.

That said, I get a lot of questions from consumers asking about cookware for use on glass cook tops.  What happens is this:  a new cook top is either purchased, or the consumer moves to a new home with a glass top already installed.  They put their traditional cookware on top of the perfectly flat glass surface and find that it is unstable…i.e. the pan is either convex or concave such that it spins.  This is obviously disconcerting and sometimes leads to a consumer blaming the cookware for the problem.

That’s really unfair to the manufacturer.  In fact some cookware is designed so that when it expands it flattens out, so that in a  “cold state” is appears to be somehow warped or mal-designed.

While I can’t argue with the advantages of cleaning a smooth cook top, or its sleek appearance in a modern kitchen,  there are some disadvantages to their use.  First, one may need new cookware in order to get a stable pan that doesn’t wobble on the surface. Finding  inexpensive, yet absolutely flat pans which will stay that way throughout their life, can be a challenge.   In light colors, the tops can stain, particularly by tomato-based sauces.  If you (oops) accidentally boil dry a pan that has a colored bottom it can fuse with the cook top requiring a non-warranty replacement costing several hundred dollars. While durable and sturdy, the glass tops can break. (Be careful in using heavy cast iron pieces over the top).

Here’s a link to additional information about cookware and glass cook tops: