Induction stove top

The pros and cons of induction stoves and knobs in a modern world

6 June 2024

Water, sand, oil and cast iron saucepans can all prevent induction stoves from working.

While designers love the look of induction stoves, flat controls and capacitive interfaces can cause problems.

I love induction stoves to pieces. But the overwhelming majority have a major fault - they don't have simple twist knobs to operate them.

Induction stoves neither pollute your house with various vaguely toxic products of combustion, nor have innate greenhouse gas implications. They can boil water almost instantly and can bring sauces to the right temperatures very quickly and evenly – every time. And they do wonders with half-century-old cast iron frying pans.

They also have a very clean look due the heating elements, which are usually just glass. The glass gives a wonderfully smooth surface that is incredibly easy to clean. And to emphasise that clean look, they mostly have slim-line touch controls which are virtually invisible. The designers love the look, while the manufacturers love the lower cost.

But these flat controls, or capacitive touch interfaces, are the problem.

They don’t work at all when you're wearing gloves, or when your hands are wet, or covered in oil or flour and the like – or when the stove surface is messy. These happen - all the time - because you're cooking on a stove. If you accidentally slide a cast iron fry pan over the main power button, you can turn everything off - and not know it. Hard gritty particles like sand get caught under a sliding frypan and can scratch the glass. The touchpad is made of glass and right next to hot glass, so sometimes you can burn your finger as you try to operate it.

Often, it’s a two-part operation. First, you have to turn the burner on by pressing an invisible friction point at one location - and then slide your finger across another invisible location, to turn the heat up or down. It’s ridiculously common for someone with several decades of cooking experience, when first confronted with a touch control induction stove to utter, “How do I turn this on?”. You do not have this problem with a knob – it’s obvious.

To quote Wired Magazine, “The knob is a direct dedicated connection, and gives instant response to the twist of your wrist. It's still the best technology out there. Once you're got used to using it, you can turn it on blindfold. You can't do that with a touch screen.”

A similar messy situation exists in some cars. They no longer have an actual physical lever to operate your windscreen wipers. Nope, they have a stupid touch screen.

Suppose a giant dollop of water suddenly lands on your windscreen (say from a passing truck, in a downpour). With a lever, you can turn on the windscreen wipers immediately, while still keeping your eyes on the road. But if there's a touchscreen, you have to take your eyes off the road during these dangerous circumstances, when you can’t see the road in front of you.

Let me finish with a classic 17 syllable three-line haiku.

Though only a knob,

The twist that makes life better,

A knob on your hob.

Dr Karl Kruszelnicki
Julius Sumner Miller Fellow