Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ceramic Cook Tops

At our island home (Villa Morningstar) we were recently faced with the decision of which cook top to install.  The home has no access to natural gas although you can do bottled gas.  After looking over the options, we decided upon an electric range with a ceramic cook top.  The ceramic cook top is a glass-like cook top with electric heating elements under the surface.  Now before you say 'on no, you don't want an electric cooktop', please understand that these are not the electric cook tops your mother cursed.  (Note, we did not choose a ceramic induction cook top because of their high cost and our only occasional use of the home, but when we do start to spend entire winters in this home, I will be seriously considering the induction option.)

GE Profile Range with Ceramic Cooktop
at our home in St. Thomas, USVI
Electric cook tops traditionally received negative reviews because they were hard to control, taking forever to boil a pot of water and not cooling down quick enough when the cook wanted to reduce the heat.  

Flat ceramic electric cook tops come in a variety of sizes and have many features.  The clean-looking ceramic top now conducts heat rapidly. Within seconds the top is very hot and I have no trouble bringing a pot of water to boil as quickly as I do on my gas burnered cook top in Chicago.  In fact, on my GE Profile ceramic cook top, I find I rarely turn the burners more than half of the full temperature.  They simply get too hot and cook to quickly.  So if you are new to cooking on a ceramic cook top, I would suggest you keep the temps down at first and stay at the stove top while you cook until you become familiar with just how fast your surfaces heat.  Not all brands work as well.  These cook tops still do not cool down as quickly as gas, but this too is improved over the old coiled heating elements.

If you are making a new purchase, I suggest you also consider burner configuration.  On a ceramic cook top you cannot place pans and skillets much outside of the areas that are marked as the heating areas.  If you do, you risk cracking the (expensive) ceramic top.  So if you might want to use a griddle or other long pan, purchase a cook top with a 'bridge burner'.  If you enjoy canning food or need to bring other large kettles to boil, bring along your favorite pot to the store and fit it to the burner diagram.  Remember that any pot/pan/skillet or other cooking device must not extend more than 1/2" on either side of the marked burner on the ceramic top.  Also note that some burners have multiple burner markings and it is important you turn on the portion you plan to use so it closely matches your pot or pan size.

The materials and design of your pans and skillets is also important when using a ceramic cook top.  As the heat is transferred only when it touches the surface it is important to select pans and skillets that have a totally smooth bottom.  It also ideally should be stainless steel and, as noted above, the flat surface should closely match the size of the burner markings.  If you are using your old pans or skillets, note that it is also quite important that the outside be as clean as the insides.  Any burned on food or other dark markings will transfer to the cook top as it heats.  This does not permanently discolor the cook top, but it will require extra cleaning.  Finally, you should not attempt to use glass, ceramic, cast iron, copper or enameled surfaces for cooking on these surfaces.

The good news:  the surface is smooth and totally sealed, making cleaning easy.  The bad news:  you must use the manufacturers suggested cleaning solutions.  As just two manufacturers make most all ceramic cook tops, the cleaning routine is the same for most brands.  Cooking, particularly with pans that are discolored on the bottom, will transfer their brown color to your cook top and if  it's a white surface, this will be particularly noticeable.   However, this is easily cleaned by using Cerama Bryte brand cream cleanser suggested by the manufacturers, once the cook top is cool.  The same company also sells small, individual-use cleaning pads, which should be used instead other abrasive cleaning pads that may permanently scratch the surface.   Burnt on food can be cleaned off using a single edge razor blade, if used with care so as not to carve into the ceramic surface. 

Finally, while I enjoy cooking on the new flat surfaced cook top, I find you have to change the way you have traditionally cooked and cleaned in your kitchen.  For example, you cannot shake your pans bake and forth as you might be accustomed to doing, as it will scratch the surface. Stir with a spoon instead.  And as it is a totally smooth surface, you will find yourself temped to utilize the surface for other things while it is not in use for cooking.  Keep in mind it was not built to be a cutting board or even a surface you should sit items on when it is not in use. The surface is ceramic and quite hard, but is also fragile and will break if it receives a sharp impact.  It can be so hot that copper pans and aluminum foil melt (permanently adhering themselves to your cook top.)

If plumbed natural gas was an option, I would have considered that more seriously as I am accustomed to it.  However, with the open living style of our home and the constant island breezes, there are also drawbacks to an open flame.  As it is, I am enjoying our ceramic electric cook top and have adapted my cooking and cleaning techniques to accommodate the new system.  Good luck with your selection!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this! Since we're planning to move in to the PEI house for longer stretches, and I'm not changing my behaviours, it's definitely going to be induction there. (Plus, the environmental choice with solar panels, makes a non-petroleum option better, I think.)