Whether or not you plan to buy a new range or other cooking appliances, you can probably save a lot of energy just by modifying your cooking habits. With all the options you have for cooking a meal, decisions you make about what equipment to use and how to use it may save you the most energy and money.
Appliance Choice and Proper Sizing
Some tools are better than others for cooking certain foods. Table 8.1 compares the energy use and cost for cooking the same meatloaf recipe using a range of methods. In this case, because meatloaf does not take up a large area, appliances that minimize the area that must be heated work better. On the other hand, the cheapest method, the microwave, may present a tradeoff between energy savings and food quality. The trick is to find the right balance, or an appliance explicitly designed for a particular type of meal. For instance, for soups and stews that require long cooking periods, using a crockpot will save a substantial amount of energy.
A large part of choosing the right tool is matching the size of the equipment to the size of the job. Full-size ovens are not very efficient when cooking small quantities of food. If you have two ovens, use the smaller one whenever you can. Some new range models are equipped with large and small oven compartments so it’s easier to match the oven space to the size of your dish. If you make a lot of personal meals, it may make sense to invest in a toaster oven. Similarly, when using the cooktop, select the smallest pan necessary to do the job. Smaller pans require less energy to heat up.
Choosing the Right Cookware
Buying top-of-the-line pots and pans may be a low priority for your household. But it pays to understand the implications of certain designs and materials when you do decide to buy new cookware.
When cooking on electric burners, solid disk elements, and radiant elements under ceramic glass, cookware should rest evenly on the burner surface. 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 warped-bottom pan compared to a flat-bottom pan.
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.
For stovetop cooking, consider using a pressure-cooker. By building up steam pressure, it cooks at a higher temperature, reducing cooking time and energy use considerably.
Believe it or not, cleaning your cooking appliances regularly will save energy. When burner pans — the metal pans under the burners that catch spills — become blackened from heavy use, they can absorb a lot of heat, reducing burner efficiency. Keep them clean and shiny and they’ll be more effective at reflecting heat up to the cookware. Microwaves also work more efficiently when the inside surfaces are clean of food particles.
If you have a gas stovetop, make sure your burner is giving you a bluish flame. If the flame is yellow, the gas may not be burning efficiently. Have your gas company check it out.
How to Reduce your Cooking Time
Before You Start. Defrost frozen foods in the refrigerator before cooking so your oven or stovetop doesn’t have to use its precious energy bringing your food to room temperature. With conventional ovens, keep preheat time to a minimum. Unless you’re baking breads or pastries, you may not need to preheat the oven at all.
While You Cook. Food cooks more quickly and more efficiently in ovens when air can circulate freely. Don’t lay foil on the racks. If possible, stagger pans on upper and lower racks to improve airflow if you’re baking more than one pan at a time.
Try to avoid peeking into the oven a lot as you cook. Each time you open the door, a significant amount of heat escapes. Food takes longer to cook, and you waste energy. Use your oven light and inspect through the window in the oven door instead.
With electric burners, you can turn off the burner just before the cooking is finished. The burner will continue radiating heat for a short while. This may also prevent overcooking. Another way to avoid overcooking in the oven is to use thermometers, especially for meat.
For Next Time. It doesn’t take as much energy to reheat the food as it does to cook it. So cook double portions when using your oven, and refrigerate or freeze half for another meal. This will also save you preparation time!
If you have a self-cleaning oven, the best time to use the feature is just after you’ve cooked a meal — that way, the oven will still be hot, and the cleaning feature will require less energy. Try not to use the self-cleaning feature too often, and operate the ventilation fan when it’s on.