Now You’re Cooking! Choosing a Range
For some of us, cooking is both a creative outlet and a passion, but for most folks, it’s just a necessary part of life. Having a great cooking environment, and the right equipment for the job, can turn a chore into a relaxing daily past-time.
I’ve often said that becoming a great cook is one of the most valuable, useful skills you can learn in life. We eat three times a day. In some cultures, eating is how you feed your soul and suck the marrow from life. Clearly they’re not talking about McDonald’s and KFC.
One surefire way to keep cooking pleasant is to make sure you’re using the best range and oven your money can buy. But what are the differences between them, and what are each’s pros and cons?
Here’s a quicky intro to help you ask questions when you’re at the appliance store.
Electric elemental burners
I could pretend to give electric burners a rousing, supporting mention here, but the reality is that they’re not enjoyable or practical for serious chefs. They came about because wood was too frustrating and gas too combustible, both dangerous to all who live near.
Face it — electric stove tops don’t heat fast, or cool off as quickly as you need. They’re hard to keep clean, and the drip pans are a nightmare.
But still, my mother always taught me to have at least one nice thing to say, so I’ll give electric burners one positive: They’re excellent for long, slow simmering at the lowest heats.
But if gas wasn’t so risky, it’s unlikely electric old-school cooktops would have endured. They’re a technology that will be outclassed sooner or later.
I’ll be honest, I’ve been skeptical of induction burners and I’ve never used one, but the press they get is great, and as the technology continues to improve, their reputation gets better and better. In fact, the New York Times wrote a great piece extolling their virtues.
These are quickly catching on as the best alternative to gas. You’ll need all the electrical juice you can get, but if you’ve got that, then induction is a safe, powerful, family-friendly way to go. Based on the research I’ve done, there are drawbacks, but they’re not plentiful.
Among those few drawbacks include how you need to have specific kinds cookware because it’s an electromagnetic technology. It only works with the right cookware. But this drawback is a Godsend for parents, because it means their toddlers aren’t going to accidentally burn the house down anytime soon.
Control, something gas-top cooks love, is something that escapes some users of induction stoves. They’re not regulated the same and figuring out the right heat-to-cook ratio can be a challenge that some chefs aren’t fond of. They’re also notorious for it being too easy for pots and pans to slide around when you’re working in a busy kitchen, posing a safety concern for some (especially parents of young kids).
But when it comes to clean-up, environmental friendliness, and safety, induction burners really pack a punch. The prices on these stoves have come down considerably in recent years and will likely continue doing so.
How does it stack up against the much-loved pro chef’s gas stove? This online forum had some interesting arguments on both sides, but induction has an awful lot of fans, and with seemingly good reason.
Old-school gas stoves
I love my gas stove. I already dread moving from here (whenever that might happen) out of fear that it’ll be another two decades before I have a gas stove again.
And yet my stove scares the hell out of me. Just this week, an apartment building in NYC exploded, killing 8 and injuring over 60. Far more could’ve died if it hadn’t happened during a workday.
It’s not paranoia to fear a gas stove. There is a lot to be worried about. Mine is a modern, “safe” stove where you have to push the handle in before you can turn it on, and even still I have accidentally managed to turn it on and leave the room, returning to find a smell of gas a half-hour earlier, and I consider myself very safe with the stove. About 30 minutes after every meal I find myself wandering in to make sure it’s all been turned off safely. There’s a lot to be said for not having that omnipresent concern in mind, especially with a young family.
All that said, gas is far and away the most popular choice for most professional kitchens. It’s fast, it’s furious, and food seems to cook better, meat seems to sear better, and there’s no question it’s a quality cooking experience.
The reality is, these horror stories like the Harlem low-rise explosion, are truly rare, given the number of people using gas. It’s simply a thing to be aware of.
One great side perk to gas that isn’t enjoyed by others is that of being able to cook when the power’s out. Last Christmas, when a storm front was threatening my area, I was able to relax and know a power outage wouldn’t threaten my turkey. Even if it’s an electric-ignition gas stove, it’s easy to light with just a match when a winter storm blows out the power for blocks and blocks around… and, if it’s a really bad night, you can sit in the kitchen with the oven open for a little extra heat, so long as you’re ventilating the room some too.
For clean-up, I really love the gas stove. Lift grates, wipe, return grates, cook. Simple. Scanning the web, it seems many gas stove owners agree — it’s a scour-free life. Even under the cooktop is easy to access with the right stove. I lift mine and can wipe the entire area clean in seconds.
The big cooking downside with gas stoves is it can be really hard to get the right slow simmer going on, because their minimums can mean the flame goes out easily, that sort of thing. Another drawback is there’s no way you should put something on the stove or in the oven for a prolonged period and leave your home to run errands. Safety is always a consideration and I never, ever leave my gas stove going when I’m not in my apartment.
In the end, they all work
Money tends to be the one reason electric stove tops (as opposed to induction) are still the first choice of most homes. Gas needs you to be on a line, or you have to install a propane tank, and you can’t deny the risk. Induction is still financially infeasible for many people to buy, and that’s why the old electric stove top is going nowhere fast.
In the end, learning your stove tends to be a personal journey, no matter what you choose. Like any long-lasting relationship, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. You’ll adapt as you need to, and the more you work on your favorite recipes, the more your cooking techniques will gel.
Any of these will cook your food, so don’t feel like you’re “settling” if you can’t get top of the line. Sure, we love fancy stoves and cooking gear, but in the end, even a campfire will get it done. Choosing your stove is just a matter of preference, so relax and have fun when you’re checking out different options.