Cut Energy Use In The Kitchen
The proper appliances, cookware and preparation can save time and energy in the kitchen.
The winter holidays are upon us. If you’re like me, you’ll be spending some serious time in the kitchen preparing delicious food for friends and family, or just using the holidays as an excuse to cook your own favorite dishes. Whatever your reasons for standing at the stove, check out these tips to cut your energy use this holiday and all year round.
BE SMART WITH APPLIANCES
When I think energy efficiency in the kitchen, my first thought is appliances. Choosing appliances that are energy efficient is a great place to start, but how you use them can save you too.
Don’t peek! It’s tempting to open the oven door and gaze at your beautiful food while it bakes, but because the hot air contained in the oven is an important part of the cooking process, frequent peeking is self-defeating. Every time the door opens, the temperature in the oven drops by as much as 25°, forcing it to work harder (and use more electricity) to get back to the proper temperature. Check on a dish through the oven window instead.
Skip the preheat. Unless you are baking breads or desserts, recipes that need to bake for longer than one hour don’t need to cook in a preheated oven. And, if your oven is electric, you can usually turn it off 5-10 minutes before the dish should be done and the built-up heat will finish the job. Just keep the oven door closed.
Don’t forget your slow cooker. Or your toaster oven, or griddle. Most of us have a cabinet full of small kitchen cooking appliances that we rarely use. Putting them to work more often instead of the oven or stovetop can mean significant energy savings. The average toaster oven can use up to half the energy of the average electric stove over the same cooking time.
Nuke it! Microwaves are good for more than popcorn. Use this energy saver to steam veggies, heat soups and even cook casseroles (see this month’s recipe).
Use convection. On average, you’ll use 20 percent less energy a month running your convection oven, as compared to a standard oven.
Self-clean. If you have a self-cleaning oven, run its selfcleaning cycle only once a month and always after you’ve used the oven. You’ll use less energy because the oven will start out hotter.
Unplug the extra fridge. How much food do you actually need to keep cold at one time? Unplugging the extra refrigerator or freezer at your home can save hundreds of dollars in just a few years. If that ice box is in a room with an uncontrolled temperature (garage or carport) you’re paying even more because the temperature outside is causing that appliance to work even harder.
NOT ALL COOKWARE IS CREATED EQUAL
Toss out warped pans. Flat-bottomed cookware allows for more contact with heating elements, which in turn more effectively heats your pan. A warped-bottom pot could take 50 percent more energy to boil water than a flat-bottomed pan.
Conductivity is king. Copper-bottomed pans heat up faster than regular pans. In the oven, glass or ceramic dishes are better than metal. In a glass or ceramic dish, you’ll be able to turn your oven down about 25° and your meal will cook just as quickly.
Size matters. When cooking on the stovetop, using the right size pan matters. Placing a 6" pan on an 8" electric burner wastes more than 40 percent of the heat produced by the burner. Also consider covering your pans as you cook. It makes the food cook faster and keeps the kitchen cooler.
Make it shine. If you have an electric stovetop with those shiny metal reflectors underneath the burners, you probably detest cleaning them. Sorry. For your stovetop to function effectively, it’s important that those reflectors stay free of dirt and grime. If your reflectors are of the less expensive variety, next time they need cleaning, you may consider replacing them. But don’t skimp – the better reflectors on the market cannot only decrease stovetop cooking times, but also save energy in the process.
PREPARATION IS KEY
When it comes to saving energy in the kitchen, knowing your rhythm is half the battle. Slicing vegetables, seasoning fish and trimming steak should happen before you turn on your appliances. Having everything ready to cook will not only help you save energy at the stove, it will also keep you from burning your onions as you furiously chop to catch up.
Double up. If possible, prepare double portions of your meal and cook them together. Freeze the extra for later. It takes a lot less energy to reheat food than to cook it twice. Using a microwave can use as much as 80 percent less energy when reheating than a standard oven.
Lighten up. Use LED lights in recessed fixtures to reduce electricity use and unnecessary heat in the kitchen.
Give your heat pump the day off. Winter’s holiday parties are a big part of the season, and most of us find ourselves with a houseful of people at least once between now and the New Year. If your next party involves a lot of work for your stove, think about turning down your thermostat to compensate. The heat of the oven – and all those guests – will keep the temperature comfortable, and your heat pump won’t have to work so hard.