Cooking Efficiency

Average households use about three percent of their annual energy for cooking

The U.S. Department of Energy states average households use about three percent of their annual energy for cooking. While that sounds like a minor amount, note we also use more than seven percent for refrigeration,about one percent for dishwashing, one percent for lighting the kitchen and one-quarter of a percent for food preparation. Combined, that adds up to one-eighth of the total energy we use in our homes!

For those of you who consider yourselves expert culinarians, the following tips may seem rudimentary. But, for those who use the smoke alarm as a kitchen timer or declare a cooking success when you get the pop tart to the table in one piece.

Seasoned chefs know the secret to excellent cooking is applying the right type of heat, in the right manner, amount and length of time. Most often, this is also the secret to optimizing your cooking energy efficiency.Though cooking equipment provides you countless options, how you use it may save you the most energy and money.

First, consider what you are cooking and which appliance you’ll use to cook it to perfection. Meatloaf?Use a small oven that minimizes the area that must be heated for an hour or more. Soups and stews? Since they require long cooking periods, a crockpot will save a substantial amount of electricity, as it maintains a low-temperature heat over a long period of time.

Remember, full-sized ovens are not very efficient when cooking small quantities of food. If you are frequently only cooking for one or two, consider investing in a toaster oven. Similarly, when using the range or cooktop, select the smallest pan necessary to do the job. Select a burner with a diameter as close to the bottom of the pan’s as possible. A six-inch pan on an eight-inch burner wastes more than 40 percent of heat produced.  

Second, consider your cookware choices. Most people aren’t interested in spending hundreds of dollars on pots and pans. However, higher-quality cookware offers energy efficiency benefits and better control over the quality of food you ultimately put on your plate.

Now, think about skillets used on the stovetop. The best skillets and frying pans have slightly concave bottoms that, when heated,expand and flatten out. The same applies to pots and kettles. Direct contact with the face of the burner optimizes the transfer of heat. In contrast, a warped-bottomed pot can be used for boiling pasta water, but it may use 50 percent more energy to get your noodles to “al dente” than a flat-bottomed pot.

Using appropriate cookware can also result in more evenly-cooked food. Copper-bottomed pans heat up faster than regular pans and are excellent for frying. In the oven, glass or ceramic pans typically provide“browning” more quickly than metal. Often, you can turn down the temperature 25°F using glass and ceramic pans and cook foods just as quickly.

Third, keep your cooking equipment in top shape. On the stove top or range, metal pans under the burners that catch spills can become blackened from heavy use. As they do,they absorb a lot of heat, which reduces burner efficiency. The same can be said for microwaves. Food particles from previous meals can absorb energy intended for your current recipe and “bake on” over time, making cleaning more difficult later.

Fourth, consider food prep prior to adding heat. Defrost frozen foods in the refrigerator or microwave before cooking so your oven or stovetop doesn’t have to thaw food before cooking it. The closer you can start food to the temperature where you will finish cooking usually provides better quality in addition to reduced cooking times and efficiency.

Do you really need to preheat an oven? Try to keep preheat times to a minimum. Don’t set it and forget it! In fact, unless you’re baking breads or pastries, you probably do not need to preheat the oven at all.Oven broilers achieve high temperatures in a matter of minutes and provide intense heat requiring high energy input. When it achieves the necessary temperature, stick the pan in!

Inside the oven, remember foods will cook more quickly and efficiently if air can circulate freely. Don’t lay foil on racks. If possible, stagger pans on upper and lower racks to improve airflow. Avoid peeking into the oven as you cook, as each time you open the door, a significant amount of heat escapes. Use your oven light and inspect through the oven door’s window, instead.

Finally, remember it takes much less energy to reheat food as it does to cook it. Consider cooking double portions and refrigerate or freeze half for another meal. The microwave can often provide a piping hot meal with a tiny fraction of the energy needed to make the meal in the first place.

For additional ideas on how you can save energy while taking on daily life at home, contact your local electric utility. You may even find you are eligible for EnergyWise℠ incentives to help with the cost of energy-saving home improvements.

About Cory Fuehrer

Cory, NPPD Energy Efficiency Program Manager, leads the implementation of balanced energy solutions that meet environmental, efficiency and economic needs. Cory is involved with the EnergyWise℠ energy efficiency programs that assist customers optimize their use of energy in the residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural sectors.