Definition: ‘Hob’ is a term given to an electric or gas appliance that has been inset or set upon a kitchen work surface.
The first free-standing gas cooker, with an integrated gas Hob, was invented and produced by Northampton based James Sharp in 1820 – a surprising 192 years ago. Since then, the kitchen Hob has been through several transformations, evolving into the efficient appliance we take for granted as an integral part of every modern kitchen.
In the 1830s, developments in technology led to the possibility of cooker and Hob being separated into two appliances. Hobs, therefore, could be inset into kitchen worktops wherever the homeowner desired – independent of a cooker.
The gas Hob was widely used, by those homemakers that could afford to buy and maintain one, until the invention of the electric Hob in 1910. The technology utilised by the gas Hob developed only a limited amount during the time that the appliance was unrivalled, with only the addition of a flame failure device and automatic ignition being notable.
Poor domestic electricity supply initially made the electric Hob largely unpopular. The 1930s in Britain, however, saw a need for local authorities to begin building decent housing for the low-paid factory workers required to respond to advances in industry. In the suburbs of cities, especially around London, widespread development began that saw the creation of huge numbers of new dwellings. Electricity was the fuel of choice for this new built housing, and with this choice, the gas Hob began to decline in popularity; the electric Hob becoming standard.
The first electric Hobs utilised a spiral element that was very slow to heat and cool down, as well as being difficult to clean. The initial wave of models evolved into electric hotplate Hobs which used cast iron plates to cover the element below them and were easier to keep clean. Hotplate Hobs, however, were just as dangerous as their predecessors and burns were commonplace as cooling and heating times remained slow.
It wasn’t until the mid-1970’s that the ceramic Hob significantly advanced the performance of electric Hobs. Designs of the ceramic Hob mirrored those of the hotplate Hob, save for the fact that the ceramic Hob’s black glass fascia was much more efficient in transferring heat (changing temperature almost instantly) and was both attractive and easy to clean.
Advancements continued in the late 1970s with the invention of the Induction Hob. This revolutionary appliance used electro magnets, rather than elements, to generate heat. Two magnetic currents were sent, in opposite directions, around a magnetic coil – conducting an electromagnetic current that heated the pan placed above them, and its contents.
Induction Hobs were able to provide heat twice as quickly as gas or ceramic Hobs, consuming only half the energy. This obviously made them attractive to consumers, added to the fact that their quick cool down time prevented a huge amount of burning accidents.
Re-integrating the Hob
Since the 1990s, Induction hobs have slowly increased in popularity. It could be assumed that such a safe, cost effective and environmentally friendly appliance has now completely eclipsed its predecessors, but puzzlingly this isn’t the case. A large proportion of modern households still use gas or electric hobs in their kitchens. The trend is also moving towards re-integrating hobs with cookers, particularly as large range style cookers, which do this as standard, are very much sought after (though currently too expensive for the average household, making them an aspirational feature.)
Few modern brands integrate an induction hob into their mid-price range of appliances as standard. Perhaps as concern for the sustainability of fuels grows and technology moves forward, prices of induction hobs might fall for the consumer in the future.
Design for cooker Hobs has moved on in leaps and bounds in the last decade, making them more stylish and versatile than ever – whether integrated or stand-alone. The Hob has become a focal point for the modern kitchen and, as such, is often complemented by an attractive metal hood or splash plate – beautiful, but often murderous to keep clean.
As more and more households experiment with cooking world foods, Hobs have responded to the demand to accommodate this with clever design features like wok sized hot plates. Those who love gadgets and gismos might wish to purchase a Hob with touch screen control (rather than traditional dials) or an induction hob split into multiple zones to allow cooks to use several, different sized pans with ease and safety.
Who knows where induction technology could take the kitchen Hob in the future? Hobs have made many changes over the past 200 years, so many more are sure to follow.