In today’s economy, people are looking to save money off monthly utility bills wherever they can. Many people look at light bulbs or thermostat settings to trim energy costs and often overlook an area of the home that offers ample opportunities for saving energy: the kitchen. In many cases, cooking food uses more energy than it has to, even if you’re a good chef. But there are a few things you can do to save energy and money while whipping up your next five-star meal.
1. Make sure the cooking method matches the meal
The first step toward cooking in a way that saves energy is to make sure you always match the meal you’re planning on cooking to the appropriate cooking method, whether that involves an oven, stovetop, toaster oven, microwave or some other device. Generally speaking, you should strive for right-sized cooking — large meals should be cooked with large appliances and cookware and small meals should be cooked with small appliances and cookware.
For example, you can save energy by cooking single-serving foods in a toaster oven and large meals in a regular oven. Conversely, you would end up wasting energy by doing something like frying one egg in a big pan. After all, it takes a lot more energy to heat up a large pan than a small one. You might also be able to cook food more efficiently using specialized appliances or other devices, like a rice steamer for rice, a crockpot for stews and a sandwich press for Paninis and grilled cheese sandwiches.
2. Invest in good, sturdy, flat-bottomed cookware
The quality of your cookware makes a difference when it comes to saving energy while cooking, especially if you have an electric stovetop. If you have a gas range, then the shape of the bottom of your cookware plays a less critical role. However, if you have an electric stovetop, using cheap cookware with a warped bottom wastes energy.
Ideally, cookware should have a slightly concave bottom– one that bulges downward slightly in the middle. As the bottom of the cookware is heated, the metal expands and forces to the bottom to spread out flat. On an electric stovetop, this helps the cookware maintain good contact with the heating element, which means the cookware will heat quickly and more evenly, allowing you to cook a meal using less energy. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), boiling water for pasta in a cheap pot with a warped bottom uses 50 percent more energy compared to a flat-bottomed pot.
3. For electric ranges, match the size of cookware to the heating elements
Simply put, you’ll waste energy unless you use right-sized cookware on your heating elements. If you have a 6-inch pan, use it on a 6-inch heating element. According to the ACEEE, using a 6-inch pan on and 8-inch element wastes 40 percent of the heat produced by the element.
4. Keep burner pans clean
It’s important to make sure you keep your burner pans — those silvery foil pans right below your heating elements or gas burners — as clean as possible for maximum energy efficiency. Burner pans work by reflecting heat from heating elements and burners back up to the bottom of your cookware, which means you can use less heat to cook. The pans can absorb a lot of heat if they become blackened from heavy use, which reduces the energy efficiency of heating elements and burners. For best results, keep burner plans clean and shiny and replace them if they’re beyond repair.
5. Reduce your cooking time
Probably the most direct way to save energy while cooking is to reduce your cooking times. Here are three ways to do just that:
- Before you start cooking, make sure to defrost foods in the refrigerator ahead of time and keep oven preheating to a minimum.
- While you’re cooking with an oven, stagger pans and dishes and avoid laying aluminum foil on the racks in order to promote good air flow. Don’t keep peeking into the oven while you’re cooking, either. That wastes a lot of heat. Additionally, because food continues to cook after you remove it from the oven or take it off the stove, you can turn off your oven and stove just before cooking is complete to prevent wasting energy and overcooking your food.
- Before you cook again, you should consider cooking double portions or larger so you can simply reheat your food and save energy by not have to cook it from scratch.
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy website, “Cooking.”