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Facts and fiction about food and cooking, by Peter Aitken
Gas cooktops are better than electric
March 31, 2011Posted by on
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 differ–and then a brief look at induction cooking.
- 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. And with a small bit of practice you can learn to compensate for the slower response of electric But still, 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 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 gasses that have 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, as will a utensil left with the handle hanging over the side, 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.
- Power outages. It goes without saying that an electric range is useless when the power is out. You can use gas with no power although you might need to light it with a match (if the igniters are electric). Winner: gas.
- Health. There is more and more evidence that the fumes created by burning natural gas or propane can have long-term negative effects on health, as can the small amunts of unburned gas that inevitably escape from the system. An outside-venting range hood alleviates, but does not eliminate, this problem, but not everyone has or can install one. The kind of hood that just blows the air back into the kitchen is useless in this regard. And of course there is the small but real chance of a gas leak and explosion. Winner: electric.
- Environment. The effects of global warming are all around us, and natural gas is a serious contributor to the problem–not just the CO2 released when it is burned, but the huge quantities of methane (a greenhouse gas) that escape during production and transport. The amount of gas used for cooking is small compared to industrial uses, true, but still it would be better to move away from natural gas for any use. Electricity can be sourced from carbon-neutral sources and these are increasingly common. 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.
Now what about induction cooking? This is a fairly new technique in which the “burner” emits a strong magnetic field which in turn causes the pan to heat up. So the cooktop itself does not get hot, only the pan. It offers instant response, like gas, and it is a flat-top so cleaning is easy–plus, as the surface does not get hot, there’s no more burnt on food. It’s a bit more efficient than gas or electric, so (slightly) lower electric bills. But the induction units themselves are quite a bit more expensive.
What’s the downside (there’s always a downside)? You have a limited selection of pans because induction works only with magnetic pans such as cast iron (including enameled cast iron like Le Creuset) and carbon steel. Aluminum and copper pans? No dice. Non-stick pans? Some work, some don’t, depending on what the pan’s body is made of. Stainless? Again, some work and some don’t. There’s an easy way to tell: if a magnet sticks to the bottom of a pan, it will work with induction. The stronger the magnet holds on, the better the pan will work.
There is something called a conversion disc, a flat disc of magnetic metal that you put between the non-magnetic pan and the cooking surface. The stove heats the disc, the disc heats the pan, and there you go.
I think gas is simply better because you can regulate your heat more quickly when making a sauce or other recipe that requires a quick move from high to low heat or the reverse . Electric stove tops are slow to respond to changes even the new types though you can keep two burners on but that can be dangerous and annoying. I got the run down from The Cordon Bleu cooking School near me before purchasing a Wolf stove with gas top and electric ovens. Gas ovens also cook differently than do electric and baked goods will come out damper in a gas oven according to The Cordon Bleu. I have cooked with both and find a huge difference between electric and gas. Personally I much prefer to cook with gas and bake with electric.
What you say is quite true, and many cooks prefer gas cooktops for just the reason you give. But, many cooks, myself included, have learned to compensate when using electric and don’t have any problems with the slower response. Gas ovens do cook damper because the flame creates water vapor, and it can be hard to brown things nicely in a gas oven – chicken skin, for example. This is why the combo of gas cooktop and electric oven is so popular.
Why are electrics better for simmering?
Some gas stoves have trouble keeping a very low flame because it tends to blow out with the slightest breeze. With others, the lowest flame is not low enough for really gentle simmering. One solution is to use a “flame tamer,” a flame-resistant pad that sits under the pot and helps diffuse the heat.
My gas parent’s stove was 20 years old when it was replaced a few years ago. The pilot lights wouldn’t stay lit and the oven wouldn’t hold a steady temperature anymore. But the flame on never blew out, although the flame would blow away from the pot if the AC was running (only 220 outlet to plug the big window unit into was in the kitchen. And since many of my mother’s signature dishes included a bechamel, we did a lot of simmering on that thing
I have a really old gas stove in my apt, and while I love cooking with it, I do find that simmering is really tricky, especially because the stove is directly next to my back door, which is the main door I use getting in and out. The slightest breeze does like to blow out a low simmer on a gas stove – and my stove even has the pilot lights underneath the cooktop!
Thanks for the post. As you note, some gas stoves, even old ones, simmer just fine. But, as a general rule, electrics are better.
My preference for Gas cook tops stems from being able to remove a pan from the heat quickly but simply turning it off. Going from Medium-high or High to no heat is nearly impossible on electric unless you have the space around it for moving the pan. That being said my wife thinks gas cook tops are dangerous and doesn’t want one anyway.
Would induction electric stovetops make the gas being better at quick response a moot point? It allows instant control of cooking energy similar to gas burners.
I believe you are right but I have no personal experience with induction.
In my opinion, yes. I’ve worked with an induction stovetop before, and they are amazingly fast and powerful because they heat the cookingware directly from the inside out. From that perspective, it’s faster than gas at heating (because it’s an even more direct method of heating up the pan), and just as quick to respond to temperature adjustements (essentially instantaneous). With it, I get boiling water from a cold start in 30 to 60 seconds in a regular pan.
– Even heating (like electric)
– No mess (like electric)
– Powerful (faster than gas)
– Quick response (as fast as gas)
– Safer with children, as they won’t do anything if there isn’t a metallic object on the stove
– Probably one of the most efficient in terms of energy transfer
– Requires you to upgrade your equipment to induction-ready cookingware, which can be expensive
– Might be harder to get a “hot point” than with a gas stove, although I believe it is possible
– Heats only the bottom of the pan, so if somehow you want to heat the sides as well (like with a very high flame on a gas stove), you’re out of luck
“Going from Medium-high or High to no heat is nearly impossible on electric unless you have the space around it for moving the pan.” Its not a problem. I simply plan ahead when I’m cooking and turn down burners before-hand. If you’re used to it, you can use the last bit of waste heat to cook the last minute or to keep the food warm. If it calls for complete removal from heat its easy to just move it around the stove or you can turn it down early enough that its cool enough.
Does anyone know if there is a way you can diffuse the heat when cooking on gas at a higher temperature? Food seems to get burned onto the sides of my stainless pans when I cook which means a good deal more scrubbing. I think this might have to do with the fact that gas cooktops just have one ring of heat, while the multiple rings of heat on an electric keep the heat more evenly distributed on the bottom of the pan. I’ve always cooked on an electric stove and have never found it a disadvantage but my husband wanted gas in our new home. I am not particularly enamored of it. It takes forever to boil a pot of water and far longer to clean the gas cooktop. I daydream about going back to my electric and find I cook more with the oven and microwave just to avoid the cleaning and scrubbing…..
Sorry so late… just saw this post. Use a burner cover from Nordic Wear or an old cast iron “Pig” flat cast iron that looks like a pig-about 8 inches across ]that allows you to simmer indefinitely Minna .
@Nancy Davis – I’ve never had that problem with gas, but I use cast iron a lot. Maybe its the design of your gas stove that’s giving you the trouble, or maybe you’re using too large of a burner for the pots you’re cooking in. Personally, electric frustrates me, because I can’t just look at the flame to see my temperature and the old electric stove I’m cooking on has inaccurate controls.
should heat escape from a gas cooker ?
our one has alot of heat escaping at the top centre of the door and cooking times are almost trebled recently ?
I am not quite sure what you mean by a gas cooker. But, if you have a lot of heat escaping and cooking times have trebled, it sure seems like something is wrong.
My cooker is powered by gas, not electric
I think you mean a gas oven, that’s what we call it here in the US. For baking bread, roasts, and the like? Maybe the gasket around the door needs to be replaced.
I just replaced my glass electric cook-top with gas. I am the cook, and have begged my wife for years to get a gas cook-top. Now residing in the USA but I grew up with gas in the UK. . Especially loved the gas grill above the stove for toast, when I was a kid. The 2 things I love about the stove so far, the instant heat control and lack of pilot light. I have a wok, and when the flame is on high, it ‘wraps’ itself around the bottom of the wok. Thereby creating an all around heat where the ingredients are sitting, rather than just at the base. My new cook-top came with an electric plug, which I thought was odd. Soon found out that this was for the ignition. Also, the gas cook-top has a bridge burner. oblong in shape. Allowing me to select 1-3 flame areas. When you have all 3 flames, you can set a cast iron oblong griddle on top for pancakes, eggs or bacon. I tested 32 oz of cold water heat to boil with an electric kettle and a gas top. Electric won. I was thinking of replacing my electric double oven with gas, but overall electric ovens rule when it comes to even heating. Especially with Souffles etc. Although it does take forever to preheat 425f.
I cook with cast iron, gas works much better with cast iron than electric.
I have a flat-top electric. When I bought my cast iron pans I made sure they had a flat bottom, not the ring around the outside that some do. They work fine.
Ok. So basically I’m studying induction cooktops. Apparently, the saucepan has to be made of a metal that has “high internal resistance”. . What does this mean?. . How does this relate to induction cooktops?.
I was raised with gas. LOL–the old pilot light days. When i bought my house, it had electric. I really hated it. 20 years in this house and finally am installing a new gas range. My problems with electric were the elements staying too hot for far too long which made me always have to remove my pots. Not always sure which burner was on since I could not see the burner on until it was red hot. A few times over the years happened and started small fires twice. And having to replace the elements when they would start to burn out or get ruined with spills over the years. My baking is simple and I have used a convection oven for years. My new set has gas convection with a fan. “True Convection” they call it. Most of my cooking is stove top so gas is going to be a welcome change. I am not a fancy cook; just basic good food to keep me and hubby going.
Solved my gas stove issues….. got an induction cooktop and really love it. No more awkward and endless cleaning rituals and no more laborious pot scrubbing. Can’t believe how fast it boils water, how evenly it heats the pots and how easy it is to clean. The only catch is that burners heat more quickly and seem to run hotter than either the electric or gas I’ve used in the past. That means you have to check earlier and more often to be sure you don’t burn things or have a boil over until you get used to how it functions. Like all flat tops, it does scratch so you can’t slide pans across the surface. Many of our old pots and pans work on it but we did have to buy some new ones. They don’t have to cost hundreds of dollars as I was led to believe originally; two came from IKEA at a very reasonable price and our big soup pot was from TJMaxx. Bring a magnet when you shop.
James Beard only cooked on electric
There are many pinions above and i also agree with them that they are right . Now days the kitchen are modern and the appliances used there are amazing in working . Electronic cook – top have so many features than gas cook top like temperature maintain , safe for kids , no smoke , quick and reliable .
The “fast” response time with gas is largely a myth too unless you are a professional cooking with typical thin pans/woks and watching things like a hawk. You can turn down your gas (or easily remove the pan from an electric element) but any thick bottom “premium” cookware or cast iron will take a lot longer to cool. Same with heating up, indeed as mentioned electric can typically couple more heat and respond quicker, particularly with anything but a thin pan.
Thank you for this…much as I suspected. Have been researching as we are about to buy a new stove and considered switching to gas . We already have gas at our beach house and while I like it, I haven’t found the common myths to be true…definitely takes me longer to get a pot of water to boil for pasta or heat up the tea kettle. So tired of hearing people say “serious cooks need a gas stove” as I AM a serious cook, REAL food foodie (cook every day, multiple times, from scratch)… and am not finding gas better. Cracks me up to hear someone say they “cannot” cook well on electric…seems like a reflection of skill.
I found a big difference between gas and electric – one that matters. I cook rice on electric, up high, when water boils, add rice, turn down heat to about 2, cover and leave for 20 min, perfect rice. Tried this when visiting in a home with Gas stove – burned the rice twice already, turning down to the minimum level on gas after adding rice and cooking 20 min. I like electric!
Why are you cooking rice on a stovetop or steaming vegetables, for that matter? I use my microwave for cooking rice and for steaming vegetables. Put the rice and water in a covered casserole dish, set the microwave for the proper duration and walk away. Same goes for steamed vegetables. They come out perfectly every time. Please note that I cook baked potatoes in my gas oven, not in my microwave – Although, I have been known to get my baked potatoes started in the microwave and then finish them off in the oven if I’m in a hurry.
Please note that with the exception of maintaining a simmering temperature and speed to boil, gas wins in every cooking related category listed.
I find that I can do worry free simmering on my gas stove by turning the burner down to a very low setting and I find that when I boil water, if I put the water on to boil before I have everything ready to go into the boiling water, the water is invariably boiling by the time I’m ready for it.
I’ll also point out that I’ve never seen a restaurant or other commercial kitchen that used electricity for cooking rather than gas.
I will readily admit that if I didn’t cook all of my meals at home and only cooked occasionally, I’d switch to one of the sealed electric cooktops in a flash for the advantages mentioned, plus the fact that a sealed cooktop can even be used for extra counter space when not cooking.
So if they make a dual fuel range/oven already, why the heck don’t they justy throw an electric range burner on one for simmering/and or boiling?
Julius, wow super genius! that would be awsome and they could get rid of the useless always goes out tiny burner on my cafe! Perfect! for long cooking soups (I make bone broth from scratch) I just use the oven. I like your idea better though.
I have been cooking for a very long time some professionally and you are missing the overall control issue.
Yes an electric range may be a tad bit more efficient with regard to heat loss, but ask most any professional and you will be hard pressed finding many electric range enthusiasts.
Perhaps some high end convection’s for the oven aspect are winners, however I must admit I am not much of a baker.
I am moving very soon from a home with an awesome 5 burner gas range to an apartment complex where all is electric, which brought me here looking for tips on how to make an electric range work best.
I have lived in apartments in the past before so I will make it work as best I can recall from the past.
Electric ranges are wise & a necessary evil where people live in more densely populated places, thankfully that is the only negative to our move!
Interesting. I had always had electric stoves before our last move, when my husband bought into the “pros only use gas” bit. I’m a fastidious housekeeper and I hated the gas stove because of the constant cleaning involved, both of the stove itself and the way the flames solidified food on the sides of pans. I started making my husband do the lifting of grates in and out and cleaning the stove top and it’s amazing how quickly his opinion changed. The gas stove took ages to boil water and heat other liquids. I often have just an hour or so to prepare and eat supper because of work and rehearsal schedules and I just didn’t have those extra few minutes. After two years of dealing with gas we took it out and put in an induction stove. I love it. Once you learn to manage the speed with which induction works it cooks just beautifully and cleans like a dream. I chuckled when I read your last statement because not only have I never really lived in a densely populated area, I’ve described my gas stove as the devil incarnate on any number of occasions. On the other hand our current electric oven takes forever to heat and doesn’t hold a steady temp because of someone’s idea of “modern” construction which places the heating element under the floor of the oven. But I understand gas ovens are just as hard to regulate so I deal. I only bake at Christmas time, thank goodness. The one trick I can offer is to turn the heat down sooner and /or temporarily remove the pan from the burner if you want to slow or stop the cooking process. But you probably already know that. That’s the disadvantage of electric—- but on the other hand, I never needed a heat diffusing plate in order to simmer. Good luck and I hope you enjoy your new place.
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I do appreciate your being objective in this post. However, I do think gas stoves are better. I have, like most people, used both a gas and electric stove and think that the ability to turn down the heat and not use perfectly level pans relly outweighs the downsides of using them. In short, I just think they are easier to use even if they don’t work as well for simmering. I also think that most restaurants tend to use them. I would be interested to know what their reasons are for choosing gas.
I believe restaurants use gas stoves because they are cheaper to buy, cheaper to run, more reliable, and more resistant to abuse. Also, most pro chefs were trained on gas stoves so that’s what they prefer.
Thanks, I didn’t think I would get my question answered so quickly.
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I have cooked on both gas and electric, and was raised using an electric stove. I have been stuck using an electric range for the past few years. I’m waiting to get the gas line installed for my range that is currently waiting in the garage. There are two issues I have with electric. There are many times I am using three burners when cooking. Having been raised with electric I know to turn the burners down or off to let the food finish cooking. However the heat still doesn’t dissipate fast enough and the pan/pot must be removed from the stove to a trivet somewhere in my precious work space. The other issue is that I want to see that flame. It is much easier and faster to adjust the temp on a gas range than electric. As with many gas ranges these days (although mine is six years old), mine has a convection feature on the oven and a simmer burner, thus eliminating the issues with even heating in the oven and difficulty to maintain simmering. It also comes with a griddle to put over the center oblong burner if you choose. Love my gas range! Can’t wait until it’s installed!
I have always liked electric induction hobs for safety, but I am still afraid of simple gas hobs