Electric coil cooktops and ceramic smooth-top ranges both use electric elements to heat and cook food. The main difference is that the heating element on a smooth-top range lies beneath the glass-ceramic surface, instead of sitting on the surface as a separate heating element like the conductive metal of an electric coil. Although the most significant difference is aesthetic, there are other pros and cons associated with each type of cooktop.

credit: GDragan/iStock/Getty Images
Smooth top stoves have an appealing aesthetic advantage.

Electric Coil Cooktops

One of the biggest advantages of electric coil stoves is affordability. Typically, this type of stove is priced lower than a smooth-top version. Any type of cookware can be used on electric coil burners. However, electric coil stoves are prone to uneven cooking. This is often attributed to coils that don't sit perfectly level, causing uneven distribution of heat or causing food to collect on one side of the pan. Electric coils are also slow to heat and slow to cool down. Food and spills easily get trapped underneath the coils, where the heat bakes them onto the metal drip pans below.

Smooth-Top Stoves

The sleek, modern look of a smooth-top stove makes it an appealing appliance. Also appealing is the ease of cleaning spills and food since there are no spaces to trap them. The surface of the smooth-top stove is always perfectly level as long as the stove itself is sitting straight. This provides very even heat distribution. However, a low-quality pan warped from cooking might not sit level on the flat burner but have gaps that lead to uneven cooking. These types of stoves are also prone to scratches, requiring cookware to be placed on the surface rather than dragged on or off.

Cookware for Smooth Tops

Certain types of cookware such as cast iron, stoneware and glass shouldn't be used on smooth-top stoves as they tend to scratch the surface. Flat-bottomed, medium- to heavyweight cookware works best. Stainless steel is the most highly recommended, and heavyweight aluminum and copper pans also work well. However, copper pans can leave residue that resembles scratches. Immediate cleaning will remove these marks. Avoid letting copper or porcelain pans boil dry. Overheated copper can permanently stain the surface, and porcelain can melt and fuse to the surface.

Notable Exceptions

If performance outweighs appearance on your checklist, look for an electric coil stove with a high performance rating. Consumer Reports tested dozens of electric smooth-top, induction and coil ranges. Smooth-top ranges rated high for ease of cleaning but surprisingly, two electric coil stoves made it on the list of recommended ranges. The Kenmore 90212 tested excellent in overall performance, earning it a CR Best Buy. Also recommended is the GE JBP35SM-SS electric coil range.

Electric Heat Control

A disadvantage of electric cooktops is poor heat control. One way to remedy this is by using two burners at once to cook dishes that require a quick reduction of heat. When a dish calls for a rolling boil followed by a slow simmer, set one burner on high and the other on low. Then shift the pan at the appropriate time. You can also take advantage of the slow cooling time of electric burners for flavor saturation or tenderizing as the heat fades away gradually.