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Hot and hearty fare on cold winter evenings is a staple in many homes. In the cold winter months, the average American kitchen churns out a veritable bounty of food, and most of it – from soups, to casseroles, to holiday feasts – is of the slow-cooking variety. While all these hearty favorites are a comforting part of colder weather, the energy required to cook them represents a small but significant part of our monthly energy bill. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that cooking alone generally accounts for 4 to 5% of total home energy use, and this figure doesn’t include the energy costs associated with refrigeration, hot water heating, and dishwashing. Added together, these costs mean that as much as 15% of the energy in the average American home is used in the kitchen.
However, it is possible to cook all those great winter favorites while saving energy and money by learning how to use the stove more energy efficiently. Here are some favorite energy-saving cooking tips that can help:
Don’t peek! When using the oven, it’s tempting to frequently open the door to check on a dish’s progress. But because the hot air that is contained in the oven is an important part of the appliance’s cooking process, frequent peeking is self-defeating. Every time the oven door is opened, the temperature inside is reduced by as much as 25 degrees, forcing it to work even harder (and use more energy) to get back to the proper cooking temperature. If you need to check on a dish, use the oven window instead.
Turn it down or turn it off. For regular cooking, it’s probably not necessary to have your oven on as long—or set as high—as the recipe calls for. For recipes that need to bake for longer than an hour, pre-heating the oven isn’t necessary. And if your stovetop or oven is electric, you can usually turn it off 5-10 minutes before the dish should be done and the residual heat will finish the job. Just remember to keep the oven door closed or the lid on until time is up. Alternately, if you’re baking in a ceramic or glass dish, you can typically set your oven for 25 degrees less than the recipe calls for. Because ceramic and glass hold heat better than metal pans, your dish will often cook just as well at a lower temperature.
Give your burners a break. If you have an electric stovetop with shiny metal reflectors underneath the burners, you probably gnash your teeth over cleaning them. However, 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 can not only decrease stovetop cooking times, but also save energy in the process.
Don’t neglect your crock pot. Or your microwave, toaster oven, air fryer, or warming plate. Most of us have a veritable smorgasbord of small kitchen cooking appliances that we rarely use. Putting them to work more often for smaller meals instead of the oven or stovetop can mean significant energy savings. For example, the average toaster oven can use up to half the energy of the average electric stove over the same cooking time.
Give your furnace 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 work for your stove, think about turning down your furnace to compensate. The heat of the oven—and all those guests—will often keep the temperature comfortable, and your furnace won’t have to work so hard.
Make contact. Warped and rounded pans that wobble when you set them on the stovetop will not work with electric stovetops. While they do work on gas stovetops, electric stovetops can only transmit heat to pans they are in direct contact with; the less contact your pan has with the burner, the more energy the stovetop will have to expend to heat the pan and its contents.
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