When it comes to choosing a hob, by far the most important choice will be what fuel source it will run on. It used to be a relatively simple choice between gas and electric, but the advent of induction hobs has muddied the waters somewhat. No longer seen as the preserve of the high-end kitchen, induction hobs have tumbled in price in recent years.
Induction hobs are different to gas or electric hobs in that they cook via electrical induction rather than thermal conduction. Instead of a naked flame (gas) or a heated element (electric), an induction hob effectively turns the pot or pan into the cooker through a process of electromagnetic induction.
This doesn’t generate heat directly, but instead creates a constantly changing magnetic field that, because of the resistance of the kitchenware on top of it (which has to have a magnetic bottom), creates heat in the pan.
What are the pros and cons of induction hobs?
There are numerous benefits to this cooking method: as there is no naked flame (or risk of leaving the gas on), induction hobs are safer to use; they’re also easier to clean as the hob itself only gets as hot as the pan on top of it; and they are more efficient than gas and ceramic electric models, with 84% energy transfer compared to around 74%.
You may need to buy new cookware for use with an induction hob. A flat-bottomed wok may be a requirement, too; or you could consider specifying a separate wok burner, a dual-fuel model (more on which later) or a model with a wok recess.
Induction hobs are still, however, more expensive than the other options — though prices have dropped in recent years. Electricity is still a more expensive fuel source than gas, too, so even though an induction hob is more cost-effective than an electric hob, it’s markedly more expensive over the course of a year, with Which? finding that the average energy cost for a gas cooker is just £17 a year and around the £40 mark for an electric, electric induction or dual-fuel cooker.
Gas hobs then have the marked advantage of being cheaper to run and cheaper to buy, and some cooks would never think of cooking without gas thanks to the instant heat control given by the flame and the ability to gauge heat by eye (something not possible without a flame). Many modern gas hobs also offer safety features like childproof knobs, which mean that the gas supply can’t be turned on accidentally by young, prying hands. They are more fiddly to clean, however, and residual heat is stored in the pan stands after the burners have been turned off, which can be a safety concern.
When choosing the configuration of your gas hob, opt for a variety of ring strengths and consider a wok burner, which has a triple ring and gives off heat very quickly. Thermal heat is measured in British Thermal Units (BTUs) — the higher the number, the more intense the heat.
If you are off-mains gas, there are gas hobs that can be converted to run off LPG, but make sure this is possible before you buy.
Ceramic, Halogen and Dual-Fuel Hobs
Sleek, sealed ceramic radiant and halogen hobs are also options; they are not as responsive as gas or induction hobs but can have many handy features such as timers, sensors, switches and touch controls. They can even let you know when the hob is cool.
There is the option to choose a dual-fuel hob too, which mixes a number of gas burners along with induction heating zones. This provides the best of both worlds, but will require an electrician and a Gas Safe fitter or engineer to install.
Avoid locating hobs near windows, as they are a potential fire risk to window dressings, and bright sunlight can make it difficult to see whether or not burners are lit. Both hobs and ovens should also be kept away from doors to avoid endangering people entering the room.
Ideally, there should be 300mm of worktop space either side of a hob, and ovens need work space on at least one side. Hobs must only be positioned above an oven or base unit and not over an appliance such as a fridge.
When it comes to the kitchen layout, hobs should be positioned away from windows and doors and it’s recommended that you keep a distance of 650mm (electric) and 750mm (gas) between a hob and an extractor. It’s a good idea to ensure there’s clear workspace either side, too.