Gas cooktops are better than electric
March 31, 2011
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It’s become almost an article of faith that gas cooktops are better than electric, and that any “serious” cook should aspire to owning one. This belief does not stand up to intelligent scrutiny, however. Gas cooktops are fine, of course, but when comparing them to electric you will see that there’s no overall objective superiority. Let’s take a look at some of the ways gas and electric can differ:
- Response speed. When you turn the heat up or down gas responds immediately. This is important for certain cooking tasks. Electric is definitely much slower responding than gas. You can compensate to some extent by moving the pan off and on the element, but it’s not nearly as convenient as gas. Winner: gas.
- Simmering. Many gas stoves, particularly high-end ones, have greatly improved simmering. For slow, even, worry-free simmering, however, electric is still the champ. Winner: electric.
- Boiling speed. In comparison tests, gas stoves are almost always slower to boil a large pot of water than an electric stove with the same BTU rating. This is probably because a lot more heat escapes with gas (see below). Winner: electric.
- Use with a wok. Woks are designed for cooking over an open flame, and the fast response speed of a traditional thin steel wok will be compromised when used on an electric element. If you have an electric stove you can do a perfectly good stir fry by placing a flat-bottomed wok directly on the element, but a round bottomed wok over a gas burner is better. Winner: gas.
- Escaping heat. It’s unavoidable – a gas burner produces a lot of hot air that has no choice but to flow up and around your pan and into the kitchen. This means that less heat gets into your food, the pan’s handles may get very hot, and the room heats up more. With electric and a pan that is not too small for the element, more heat goes into the food and less into the handles and the room. In addition, gas ovens vent more heat than electric ovens. Winner: electric.
- Choice of pans. Electric stoves, particularly the flat top models, require the use of pans with reasonably flat bottoms. The bottom does not have to be perfectly flat – which is essentially impossible anyway – but if the pan is too far off flat the efficiency of heat transfer will be lowered. Plus, pans with a convex bottom (bowed out) can be unstable on a flat top stove, rocking or spinning while in use. In contrast you can use pretty much any pan on a gas stove regardless of how flat the bottom is. Winner: gas.
- Cleaning. While the old-style coil electric burners are not all that easy to clean, they are still easier than gas because you do not have to worry about gunk getting into the burners. Needless to say, the new flattop electric ranges are a breeze to clean. Winner: electric.
The bottom line is that each type of stove has its strengths and weaknesses and it’s impossible to say that one is “better” than the other in any overall sense. Choose the type that best suits you.