Optimal Heat Source for Optimal Cooking: Gas or Electric?

12 Comments

Home on the Range

Chef-friends and the clients for whom I cook have home kitchens which showcase heavy-duty cookstoves, stainless steel and copper-ornamented behemoths.  They dominate the kitchen landscape and are the altar where the culinary clergy worship in the apse of their high-end kitchen. Their owners tell amusing stories about the nightmare installation involved in building their cathedrals of cooking, making for great table talk, but my romance with professional gas stoves ended a long time ago.

When my sister moved into her arts and crafts manse, she inherited an enormous Wolf range with six large burners, a griddle, and extra large oven.  I fell in love with those red knobs and the clickety-click of lighting the blue flame, but soon held less affection for the required overhead vent– a monstrous and whirring dirt-attracting hurricane-inducing steel dynamo which still makes cooking there an unpleasant experience. Without fail, the smoke detector goes off, not from any smoke but from the shear heat output of simply boiling an egg, so the vent must always be used when cooking.   The stove complex keeps her kitchen uncomfortably warm all year, the griddle pilot light cannot be turned off so the griddle surface remains very warm to the touch, and this professional machinery does not even have a broiler.  Thoughts of removing the range and expert advice about doing so demanded a major de-construction and destruction of said stove just in order to get it out of the door. So she lives with it and has mastered its idiosyncrasies. It looks amazing in her large kitchen and never fails to impress as does her food.

Other reasons for my objection to such fancy fire sources are somewhat embarrassing, though logical: I am a bit of a neat freak.

Don’t get me wrong.  I do a lot of home cooking, experimenting in the kitchen and entertaining; I enjoy making big time messes on a regular basis as I cook with abandon and on the client’s clock.  But I accomplish all this on a flat-top ceramic electric model. (Please stop laughing now.) It comes with some nice bells and whistles, like a warming burner, convection oven, and more. When it comes to cleanup, I prefer a quick wipe of the sponge, a little scrubbage, and a few spritzes of Windex after which I can admire my reflection in the gleaming ceramic glass top.

I have no desire to pull apart heavy cast iron elements, to clean out blocked burners, or watch blackened grease build up on enamel and iron. When I had gas (usually in rented digs), I was constantly sniffing the air for leaks, fearing that I might blow myself up to smithereens out of carelessness or  set the house aflame while I was away for long periods of time. I burned up my share of paper towels and oven mitts as well as ruined pots and pans in the early stages of learning to cook with gas. I watched mice scurry in and out of the burners en route to their nests under the sink. So when I bought my own home and had to make a choice, I chose a sophisticated electric model and had the gas line to the kitchen removed.  Take that, mousies.

I know what they say: Electric heat is slower and less responsive. The direct heat of gas is best. You can’t cook with a wok on a flat-top. How can you char peppers? What about cast-iron skillets? Forget simmering at low temps on an electric stove!  The best chefs use gas.

To this I say pish-posh. These points can all be argued.  I admit, when storm Sandy hit the east coast, those lucky ducks with gas stoves still had a modicum of warmth and the ability to cook inside their homes.  But we are talking about the art of cooking here, not cataclysmic concerns.  Why is speed so important? Unless you are in an industrial restaurant kitchen setting, why should speed be at the top of the list.  If you want speed, use a microwave.

Here’s my workhorse. Oo-la-la? Hardly.

I also admit that working with the flame of a gas stovetop has a nice primitive feel to it. It’s fun to play with the flame’s intensity.  Bring out the marshmallows and peppers. Heck– why not a steak on a stick for that paleo vibe?  There is a great joy in messing about with a direct heat source.

In the end, heat is heat, and once understood on your personal cooking device, can be controlled optimally.  Learn to move pots and pans around.  Take the numeric settings on your stovetop seriously and learn what they really deliver. Facts of cost, safety, and cleanliness depend on the individual.  So why not try out different technologies throughout your cooking education?

I will always enjoy my charcoal Weber grill.  I now can cook an entire Thanksgiving dinner on a wood-burning cast iron stove circa 1908 that lives in a shed in my backyard.   And I will always prefer that iron monster to a high-end gas stove.  Go figure.

Oh, and did I mention the cooking elements of the future?  Induction? That’s right. A flat top burner that never feels hot to the touch due to the magnetic transference of energy directly to the pots and pans.  You can put a towel under the pans to catch the splattering grease.  Looks like the classic quandary may already be old hat.  Then again, induction might just require an entirely new suite of cooking vessels.  But that is another blog post.

–MELorden

So what do you all think?  Share your experience and knowledge by leaving a response (Just click on the brown postage stamp in the upper right hand corner of this post).

Which is the optimal heat source when it comes to cooking? Gas or electric?

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12 thoughts on “Optimal Heat Source for Optimal Cooking: Gas or Electric?

  1. You are absolutely right. Heat is heat. Regardless of the source. I’ve seen your stove (or maybe a precursor) and it’s fine. And, by the way, I’ll stop using my $80 Weber charcoal kettle grill when they pry it from my cold, dead fingers. (That’s a theoretical comment, I live in an apartment now.)

  2. I love, love, love my gas oven. Five burnings on top, including one for simmering, and two – count ’em! – two ovens for simultaneous feats of broiling and baking. I also love my Weber grill. Charcoal rocks!

  3. I’m fond of my Maytag Gemini, smooth top (but black, easier to disregard the stains) what I really love is the two ovens. The small one on top gets really hot really fast, I can put the pizza stone in there at set it for 475 for a fast crispy crust. or make a small batch of cookies. I’m spoiled, slow roasting a turkey in the botton oven tonight and quick roasting the vegetables in the top one. A reasonable Bernaise will be on the warming center later.

    I hate grilling. this is why women marry: barbecue and killing bugs. I can make a lovely meal including baking bread in and on the old cast iron monster that we use as a woodstove in the kitchen. I can make a lovely clambake on the beach in a sand pit. That Weber out back has been a love of two husbands so far. They can keep it.

  4. I had two induction stoves in my life and would love to go back to one now instead of our lovely gas 6-ringer. Why? Because I’m one of those dopey cooks who forgets to turn off the stew. Induction stoves (and maybe ceramic) you can time the ring. And, induction stoves won’t keep cooking once water boils away. And and, I sometimes wear kimonos and have already singed a sleeve on the gas. So as I advance in my loopiness, induction will find a place in this kitchen. And and and, induction is really fast and wok-y.

  5. I love gas… but have singed – and flamed – various items including hair on my knuckles… I set a timer whenever I’m steaming, since I’m good at turning that into burning… can anyone else burn when steaming? but for camping in Brittany I think it’s time for induction, along with the pressure cooker for cooking pasta properly! the camping gas just doesn’t cut it!

  6. I love my gas range, 36 inch, 4 burners and a griddle. Cleaning is time consuming, but worth it. We lose power for at least a week every year so being able to cook is essential, also I can bake 16 loaves of bread or a double batch of cookies all at once, cuts my bake time down considerably.

  7. True that heat is heat. Any chef worth their, well, salt, should be able to cook in an EZ bake and make it happen. That said, you had me at charred peppers. Such a joy to do on a gas stove, and I was one among many during Sandy that was pretty glad for my gas stove. Charring tortillas is also great on gas- although as I type I am imagining this would also be possible on electric. My range has also stood in for matches for me, when I’ve needed to light candles and had no matches (note to self: eat out more, bring home fistfuls of their matches). At the end of the day I think for me its just nice to cook over an open flame. Cave woman, old school. But MELorden, I’d happily eat anything that comes out of your kitchen, electric, EZ bake, gas, or campfire!

  8. I love to cook on a gas stove, but I’ll agree that an electric definitely has its benefits. When my family lived in New Mexico, the man we bought our house from was a professional caterer. He had a wonderful kitchen setup, with a huge island range complete with eight burners, separated down the middle by a built in griddle. Above this, there was a large metal hood. Along with that, there were two separate ovens on the other side of the kitchen… it was pretty awesome. When we came up north, we had to adapt to a much more compact setup. We started off with a flat-top electric stove that I actually liked due to it’s ease of cleaning and lack of an open flame to melt my spatulas. However, eventually the glassy top was cracked somehow, and we decided to switch back to a gas setup.

    The setup we have now is so frustrating, because we have to use the fan all the time (which is located in between the four burners, not overhead). Using the fan causes the flames of the burner to be pulled off center, so most of the heat is actually sucked out of the system.

    However, I really enjoy cooking over a flame. It’s exciting. Or maybe I just think that because it adds another level of danger to the kitchen. Reminds me of what I was told when I first burnt myself at my first job… “It puts hairs on your chest”

    • What a kitchen in New Mexico! Wow. Very interesting detail about the central downdraft vent and how it skewed the gas flames. I’ve never thought of that, and I currently have a friend who is re-doing her kitchen with plans for the central vent. I’ll give her a heads up on this. Welcome, Brett, to OTK. Hope to hear more from you.

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