Induction vs. Propane: Which Is Better for Van Life Cooking?


If your van is not already set up with a propane tank system, then there are many immediate advantages to using the induction cooktop. It is worth taking a closer look at the specifics of induction cooking, including cost, speed, and heat efficiency. Between the two, the decision is less clear cut, and factors like installation time and cost need to be added to the decision, but which is the better choice? 

Induction is a better choice than propane for van life cooking. Cook time is quicker, and the incidental heat generated is less. Consequently, the inside of the van will stay cooler on a hot day. Also, induction cooking is easier, safer, and takes up less space when traveling. 

This article will discuss what induction and propane are as well as highlight the differences of induction cooking compared to propane.

What Is Induction Cooking?

An electromagnetic field resides beneath the glass surface—the current transfers directly to the pan for heating. Since there is no intermediary, the process is quicker.

Pros

An induction cooktop unit’s cost varies widely depending on the brand, heat capacity, and burner number. Other than the unit’s upfront cost, the only additional cost is the electricity needed for cooking, which varies depending on your electrical source. 

Digital dials, as opposed to analog, makes it easier to repeat exact settings and less guessing when cooking. Also, cleanup is simple because the glass surface does not get hot and burn spills.

Cons

One disadvantage of induction cooking that is typically reported by some consumers is that there may be a humming noise when you are using high cook settings. Also, you may need to purchase cookware that is suitable to your unit. 

Induction Ready Cookware

Induction-friendly pans such as the COOKER KING Nonstick Pots and Pans Set are the appropriate type of cookware to use because the design maintains a balanced heat disbursement efficiently. 

You may already own induction-ready pots and pans. To test, place a magnet on the bottom of the pan. If it sticks, the cookware can be used on an induction cooktop.

What Is Propane?

Propane is an eco-friendly fuel that is a secondary product made from crude oil and natural gas. It is commonly purchased in a tank and used when traveling for cooking and heating. 

Pros

Van life frequently includes the storage of a refillable propane tank on board because it is multifunctional and most commonly can be used to generate power for the following items in addition to a cooktop: 

  • Heater
  • Stove
  • Water heater
  • Refrigerator

A 20-lb (9.07-kg) propane tank is the standard size customarily exchanged at an acceptance location in many stores. This size tank is approximately 18 to 20 hours of cook time and must be monitored to decide when to refill. 

There are exchange outlets in gas stations, grocery stores, hardware, and tractor supply stores nationwide. It is cheaper yet to refill it yourself instead of exchanging the tank. Consequently, the advantage of using propane is wide availability and relatively inexpensive. 

Cons

One disadvantage is the tank itself. Planning is needed to ensure there is enough propane left in the tank to get the job done. The amount of fuel left in the tank must be monitored. The fuel gauge will show when the needle drops into the red zone, or the tank can be weighed. Subtract the weight of the empty tank to estimate how much propane is remaining.

Also, a tank can be expensive to install properly, especially if mounted outside, in the van’s undercarriage. In contrast, a tank carried inside the van takes up valuable space. 

Propane tanks are generally safe for travel, but they can be flammable. Attention to tank placement and size is important to remain out of danger. When traveling, the tank should be anchored in an enclosed container either inside or outside the vehicle. Propane retailers or the National Fire Protection Association educate consumers on safe travel practices regarding tank size and quantity restrictions on their websites. 

A high-pressure tank incorrectly stored may cause a fire, as seen in this four-minute video:

Build Your System for Safety’s Sake

In order to properly carry a tank in your van, it is safest to build or buy a box with a door and an opening that leads to a regulator and hooked up to the cooktop. In addition to this, a tiny amount of propane is leaked into the air. That is why it is very important that an outlet for the propane leakage should be constructed as well. Be cautious and cook with the van doors open.

The basic steps to build a tank holder in your van are as follows: 

  1. Make a container out of plywood with a door. 
  2. Seal all inside edges and corners with silicone or flex glue. 
  3. Place the container below the cooktop and drill a hole big enough for a PVC pipe to fit through in the box’s bottom, lining up with a similar hole in the van floor. Fit pipe through the hole to the outside of the van and seal in place with silicone.

      4. Drill a hole for the line to feed up through the top of the box to the regulator, continuing to    

            the propane stove.

Detailed instructions are expertly demonstrated in this Camper Van Propane System video. 

While many types of propane cooktops are being sold, the Atwood (56494 DV 20S Stainless Steel Drop-in 2-Burner sold on Amazon is a two-burner system with excellent reviews. Or bypass the permanent solution and carry along a smaller, portable Coleman Gas Camping Stove, which can be safely set up outside your van for cooking purposes.

Benefits of Induction vs. Propane Cooking in Van Life

Speed and Heat Efficiency

Water boiling on an induction stove takes in 90% of the heat, whereas, on a gas stove, the percentage drops between 40 to 55%.

What does that mean, you ask?

More heat directly applied to the water means faster cooking speed. Less heat disbursement into the atmosphere prevents the stove from raising the room temperature. 

The time and temperature of boiling water on a propane stove versus induction burner are validated in a water boiling test using the True Induction TI-1B Single Burner Counter Inset 

Energy Efficient Induction Cooktops.

The induction burner wins in this seven-minute video: 

Comfort and Safety

A significant difference between a gas and induction stovetop is that induction is significantly more efficient than gas. This keeps your van much cooler and more comfortable while meals are being prepared. Induction cooking also decreases the risk of burns and accidental fires, as there is no open flame and the cookware itself is the only hot surface capable of burning you. 

If handled unsafely, propane is flammable, whereas an induction burner can be unplugged for travel purposes and remain safe.

Final Thoughts

There you have it; induction cooktops are less expensive and the better choice, overall, if your van is not already equipped with propane. Other than a 220/240 volt electrical outlet, special hookups are not required. Since only induction-ready pots and pans are suitable, cookware may be an additional expense, but that is just a one-time expense, unlike propane.

The induction cooktop is also a space saver and makes the cooking process faster, and this creates a more favorable van friendly experience for you in the long run. 

Hivan Team

As an independent team of travelers, we do share positive and negative observations as we find them and make our best to help and inform other vanlifers around the globe.

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