How to Be an Energy-Efficient Cook
Sustainability in the kitchen isn’t just about ingredients and food waste – it’s also about energy usage. Fifteen percent of energy used in homes comes from the kitchen, according to the US Department of Energy, and about 5% comes from cooking specifically. The way we use electric ovens, stovetops, and appliances has a big impact on household energy use. Here are a few tips for being a more energy-efficient cook.
Every time you open the oven door, the inside temperature can be reduced by as much as a quarter, and then the oven then has to work harder to get back to the programmed cooking temperature. The rush of cold air can also impact the rise of cakes or other baked goods.
Instead of opening up the door, use oven lights to check on the progress of the dish. Keep the windows clean of grease and residue so you can see clearly. It can also be helpful to use glass dishes and covers to see through to the food inside and ensure that it’s cooking without taking off the lid, letting out trapped heat.
Cut Down on Cooking Time
If it doesn’t impact the recipe, keep pans on the stovetop lidded. This traps in heat and allows the ingredients to steam and cook faster without using any more energy, especially if you add a small amount of water. Smaller ingredients also cook faster; when possible, chop vegetables into finer pieces (a sharp knife helps with this) so they soften quicker.
Fully-thawed foods also take much less time to cook in the oven. Take frozen meals out of the freezer in the morning to completely defrost in the fridge for dinnertime – the only extra effort this takes is knowing what you’ll want to eat for dinner!
Use the Right Burner
On electric and gas stoves alike, the size of the burner makes a difference in energy usage. To minimize electricity use, larger pans should go on larger burners, and small pans on smaller ones. Large kitchenware will take much longer to heat up on a small burner, thereby wasting energy. Similarly, cooking a small amount of food in a large pan on a large burner results in lots of wasted energy.
Turn the Temperature Down (or Off)
Depending on the dish, it’s often possible to cook at a lower temperature than indicated by the recipe. Glass and ceramic dishes retain heat much better than metal, so you can lower the temperature when baking casseroles or other meals that require a long cooking time. For these longer-cooking dishes, put them in the oven while it’s preheating as well to start the cooking process right away without wasting any heat. This won’t impact a tray-bake the same way it would cookies, bread, or other baked goods where temperature and baking times are crucial to the rise and structure. For the last ten minutes of cooking time, switch off the oven and let the dish cook in the trapped heat.
Use Smaller Appliances
For smaller dishes, there’s no need to heat up the entire full-sized oven when all the space isn’t needed. Toaster ovens, air fryers, and slow cookers use less energy (and don’t heat up your kitchen as much either). Take slow cookers, for example: a typical slow cooker uses about 50-300 watts of electricity depending on the size and setting, while an oven uses about 2,000-2,2000 per hour. It’s estimated that slow cookers use about as much energy as a lightbulb, so turning off a light you usually keep on all day can actually cancel out the entire impact of cooking your meal. For soups, sauces, and other dishes that can cook slowly, set up the cooker at the beginning of the day and come home to a delicious, efficiently-prepared meal!
Cook in Large Batches
Take advantage of the energy of a hot oven or pot by meal-prepping large amounts of raw ingredients. Instead of cooking a small portion of vegetables every day – like broccoli, potatoes, squashes, or other hardy veggies – roast them all at once and save for the week to be heated up for individual meals. The same goes for rice and pasta; make a batch large enough for the whole week, and you won’t waste energy on boiling new water every day. When making soups or sauces, double the recipe and freeze the extras for later. Heating up leftovers in the microwave is actually more energy-efficient than cooking from scratch; most microwaves use 80% less energy than conventional ovens.
Keep Pans in Contact
Unlike gas stoves, pans on electric burners can’t heat up unless they’re in direct contact with the burners. Use pans that aren’t warped or rounded; high-quality dishware and heavier ceramic and cast iron pans won’t warp the same way. Replace misshapen grates that keep the pans from laying flat on the burners too.
Do you know how much energy you use in the kitchen? All appliances are different and don’t use energy uniformly. Using a smart energy meter can show you where the bulk of electricity is being allocated, and you can then go about reducing it.
Using smart energy meters can show you what appliances are sucking up energy, and you might find that it’s time to upgrade some appliances to more efficient models. Do some light research and look at labels or certifications on products before buying; the ENERGY STAR® label, for one, means the appliance has surpassed minimum federal standards for quality and efficiency. However, always be wary of greenwashing, and look for actual standards and real, verifiable certifications rather than the mere perception of sustainability.
You might also consider a convection oven or induction stovetop for highly-efficient cooking. Convection ovens use a fan to circulate heat and distribute heat in the oven more evenly and use about 20% less energy than a conventional oven. Induction cooktops (or hobs) are also more efficient: about 5-10% more than traditional electric stoves. These stovetops create a magnetic field that warms metal cookware internally, so the pan itself is actually the source of heat. Less heat is lost to the air through this process, plus the food cooks faster.