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Cooking

This is a consumer page on cooking. For more resources related to cooking, visit the cooking topic page.

While fuel choice and cooktop design are important considerations, the key to efficient cooking is understanding your cooking habits. If you don’t cook much, more efficient cooking appliances won’t save much energy! On the other hand, these appliances tend to have long lives, so it is worth using efficiency as one guide when you purchase new kitchenware.

Part 1: Which is More Efficient? Things to Consider When Purchasing New Appliances
Part 2: Energy Saving Tips

 

Which is More Efficient?

 

When looking for new cooking appliances, you have several choices to make:

1. Range, or Cooktop + Oven?
It makes no difference in terms of energy use whether you prefer to have your cooktop separate from your oven or combined in one range.

2. Gas or Electric?
As explained in the water heating chapter, gas is usually preferable to electricity as a heating fuel. But because cooking doesn't make a huge overall impact on your energy bill, this choice has more to do with your own preference. Many people find that gas offers better cooking control; however, it also introduces combustion products into the house that must be vented to the outside. Be sure to purchase an energy-efficient range hood that vents cooking products up from the cooktop and directly outside (avoid down-draft vents).

3. Which Gas Element?
There are two types of gas burners available: conventional burners with electric ignition (the most common), and sealed burners, where the burner is fused to the cooktop. When comparing sealed to unsealed burners, there is no measurable difference in cooking efficiency, although sealed burners are simpler and easier to clean.

4. Which Electric Element?
With electric cooktops, a number of different burner types are available, in order of increasing efficiency (and cost): solid disk, exposed coil (the most common type), radiant, halogen, or induction elements. Unless you do a lot of cooking, it is probably hard to justify the fancier cooktop technologies on energy savings alone. It would probably be most cost-effective to stick with an electric coil or radiant element and put your money into better cookware.

5. Conventional or Convection Oven?
Convection ovens are usually more energy efficient than conventional ovens because the heated air is continuously circulated around the food being cooked, reducing required temperature and cooking times. On average, you’ll cut energy use by about 20%.

6. Self-Cleaning or Standard Oven?
With conventional gas or electric ovens, self-cleaning models are more energy-efficient because they have more insulation. But if you use the self-cleaning feature more than about once a month, you’ll end up using more energy with the feature than you save from the extra insulation.

7. What Kind of Microwave?
Microwaves use a lot of energy when operating, but because cooking times are so drastically reduced, using a microwave to prepare a meal will reduce energy use by about two-thirds compared to a conventional oven. Because less heat is generated in the kitchen, you may also save on air conditioning costs during the summer. Some microwave ovens include sophisticated features to further boost energy efficiency and cooking performance, such as temperature probes, controls to turn off the microwave when food is cooked, and variable power settings. New “rapid-cook” ovens combining microwaves with other cooking technologies— notably halogen lights or convection—are designed to cut cooking time and improve the quality of foods compared to standard microwave preparation.

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Energy-Saving Tips for Cooking

  • Match the Cooking Method to the Meal
    Methods of cooking that minimize the area the must be heated (a toaster oven versus an oven, for example) save energy. On the other hand, sometimes the most efficient cooking methods (like the microwave) will sacrifice food quality. The trick is to find the right balance, or an appliance explicitly designed for a particular type of meal (crockpot, rice-cooker, etc)
  • Match the Pan Size to the Element Size
    For example, when using an electric cooktop, a 6" pan on an 8" burner will waste over 40% of the heat produced by the burner.

  • Buy Sturdy, Flat-Bottomed Cookware
    The ideal pan has a slightly concave bottom — when it heats up, the metal expands and the bottom flattens out. An electric element is significantly less efficient if the pan does not have good contact with the element. For example, boiling water for pasta could use 50% more energy on a cheap, warped-bottom pan compared to a flat-bottom pan.
  • Use High-Conductivity Materials
    Certain materials also work better than others and usually result in more evenly cooked food. For instance, copper-bottom pans heat up faster than regular pans. In the oven, glass or ceramic pans are typically better than metal—you can turn down the temperature about 25°F and cook foods just as quickly.
  • Keep Your Stovetop Clean and Shiny
    Believe it or not, when burner pans become blackened from heavy use, they can absorb a lot of heat, reducing burner efficiency. You want them to remain shiny so they reflect heat up to the cookware.
  • Reduce your Cooking Time...

    ...before you start, by defrosting frozen foods in the refrigerator before cooking. With conventional ovens, keep preheat time to a minimum.

    ...while you cook, by keeping oven racks clear. Don’t lay foil on the racks and, if possible, stagger multiple pans to improve air flow. Avoid peeking into the oven as you cook. On an electric burner or in the oven, turn off the heat just before the cooking is finished to prevent overcooking.

    ...next time, by cooking double portions so all you have to do is reheat prepared food. Also, use the self-cleaning option in your oven infrequently and only after you’ve cooked a meal so it can use the residual heat.

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Page last updated December 2012