Evaluating the Best Options for Energy-Efficient Cooking
By Jennifer Tuohy
While cooking is not among the top five of your home’s ‘energy-hungry routines,’ if it’s something you do every day then there are many small steps, and a few big ones you can take to decrease its impact on your energy use. Your method of cooking is the root of how much energy you use, so to help you cook wisely, here is a rundown of some of the best options for sautéing sustainably:
Cook with Electricity
Photo by Tonya Olson
Whenever you read about options for energy efficient cooking, the question of gas versus electricity always comes up. The difference in energy use is actually pretty negligible, especially now that induction cooking is bringing electricity up to par with the speed of gas. This shift really does put electricity in front in the “green” stakes for the following reasons:
- Natural gas is a fossil fuel, and while most electricity comes from coal-burning power plants, you can source sustainable electricity via solar panels.
- Gas introduces air pollution in the form of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide into your home.
- Cooking with gas produces a lot of ambient heat, often requiring the use of air conditioners, a huge energy user.
The best option for cooking with electricity is definitely induction, which is 84-percent efficient, compared to the 40-percent efficiency of gas. A ceramic glass cooktop, which uses halogen elements as a heat source, is a close second as both options deliver heat almost instantaneously, cutting back on wasted energy.
Choose Convection over Conventional
Convection ovens are more energy efficient than conventional ovens because the heated air is continuously circulated, so you can reduce cooking temperatures and times. It’s estimated that a convection oven uses about 20 percent less energy than its conventional counterparts. Throw in a self-cleaning model, which has significantly more insulation, and you have a pretty efficient cooking machine—just don’t use the self-cleaning feature too often.
Smaller Can Be Better
Using microwaves and toaster ovens, which are basically miniature regular ovens, can reduce energy use by as much as 80 percent. These are great options for reheating and cooking small portions. While microwaves and toaster ovens do use a lot of energy when working, because they slice cooking times to smithereens they are definitely the energy-efficient option when you can opt for one over firing up the oven. Slow cooking with crockpots is a great way to cook energy-efficiently. Once the crockpot is brought to temperature, its insulation can keep it hot for up to 6 hours while drawing only minimal additional energy. On the other end of the spectrum, pressure cookers cook faster courtesy of steam pressure and a sealed pot, meaning you can cook your beans in less than half the time you would in a standard pot.
Full Steam Ahead
Whether electric powered or stove top, a two- or three-tier steamer is a highly efficient, incredibly healthy method of cooking, as you are cooking two or three dishes for the “price” of one and eliminating the need for oils and fats in the cooking process while retaining all the nutrients.
Once you have your eco-friendly cooking equipment, make sure you get the most out of it by following these five guidelines, sourced from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy:
- Match the cooking method to the meal: use a toaster oven for one slice of pizza and the whole oven for the whole pizza.
- Match the pan size to the element; a small pan on a big burner will waste energy.
- Buy flat-bottomed, good quality cookware. Warped pan bottoms loose energy because they do not have good contact with the element.
- Choose high-conductivity materials, such as copper-bottom pans on the stove and glass or ceramic in the oven, for faster cooking times.
- Reduce cooking times by defrosting food in the fridge (which has the bonus of helping your fridge use less energy), putting dishes in the oven while it’s preheating, and turning the oven off a
- few minutes before the time is up.
Jennifer Tuohy writes about green-home technologies for Home Depot. Jennifer provides tips to homeowners on how they can cut back on energy usage for large appliances, including gas and induction ranges.
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