Do all modern electric stoves have “binary” heating elements


I've noticed that the burners of some or all of the newish-style electric stoves which have a flat top have a peculiar property. They do not seem to be capable of running at a constant low temperature, instead periodically coming on high for brief-to-longer periods of time. These stoves were not, as I understand it, discount priced. They are not induction stoves, but seem to have an element embedded in the material which forms that part of the stove top.

Is this an across-the-board trend in new stoves? Is it difficult to find electric stoves which work the "old way", supplying a constant temperature? Is there an advantage to the way these newer stoves work? It would seem to be difficult or impossible to cook a range of dishes on such appliances.

Best Answer

The burners on essentially all electric stoves are binary in that they are either fully on, or fully off. It would be more expensive and less energy efficient to use electronics that continuously vary the current flow through an electric element, and this would make no significant difference in temperature behavior at the cooking surface. Instead, electric stoves use a bimetallic switch which is a relatively simple way to have an on-off pattern with variable on/off times. To create constant heat, all electric stoves use materials that are bad conductors of heat between the electric element and the cookware surface to buffer the huge temperature swings at the element and produce very steady heat at the cooking surface.

The difference you are seeing between electric coil heating elements and glass-ceramic cooktops is that in the electric coils there is an inner heating element, then a thick ceramic layer, followed by an outer layer of metal. The element itself is heated in a binary manner, but all you can observe is the heat after the buffering of the ceramic layer has made up for the large fluctuations at the element (i.e. the outer metal glowing fairly constantly once it's heated). In a glass-ceramic cooktop, since the buffer layer (the glass-ceramic surface) is translucent, you are seeing the actual element glow (often this is an infrared lamp instead of a resistive wire) so you are viewing the non-buffered heating pattern. If you had a clear coil, you'd see the same heating on/off patterns in a coil stove as you do in glass-ceramic.

Consequently, if you measure the surface temperature of a glass ceramic cooktop, you should see a fairly constant temperature.