Have you ever thought about how much energy your oven uses? It is one of the biggest draws in the kitchen.
There are definitely some differences between gas and electric, but I won’t go into great detail about those differences here, suffice to say that gas is usually a bit cheaper to run.
What I do want to talk about is how you use your oven.
- Do you pre-heat?
- Do you open the door to check progress?
- Do you shut off the heat early to let your food finish off while the oven slowly cools?
- Do you keep the oven clean?
All of these decisions can affect how much energy (and money) you spend when you cook.
Pre-heating the oven is a very common practice that many consider to be highly overrated. Personally, I usually only pre-heat the oven for 5-10 minutes max before I put my food in. Especially when I am cooking something long term, like a roast. If you put a cold slab of meat, like a roast or a bird, it will drop the internal temperature anyway, so you kind of lose the benefit of a pre-heat. The bigger the cold piece of meat, the more you lose from your preheat. Some foods do benefit from a pre-heated oven, so feel free to research a little before you take this piece of advice. But I can verify that frozen pizzas, in my experience don’t turn out any different if an oven is preheated. Most of my baked goods turn out fine though they may take a little longer (typically about half the preheat time is a good estimate). My advice is to turn on the oven only when you are nearly ready to put the item in.
DON’T OPEN THE DOOR!! The oven I have now doesn’t have a window, so I have to open the oven door to check progress. Doing this releases heat and slows cook time. Again, the amount of heat lost will vary by oven type and by the situation. More heat will be lost faster if the air outside the oven is colder due to the physics of heat transference. I’m going to use some general numbers here, but if you want specifics there are calculators that you can use to figure out your own oven.
Let’s say you are running the oven at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. When you first open the door, cooler air rushes in and causes a drop of about 20 degrees, then an additional 10 degrees will be lost for every 10 seconds the door remains open. So opening for a quick peek is a terrible idea as you basically lose 25-30 degrees in just that time alone (and you were worried about pre-heating?). Obviously, you will have to open the door to baste or rotate something, but if you are just checking progress use the light and look through the door. It may take a little getting used to, but it will ultimately benefit your cooking, and your gas or electric bill, by keeping the oven temperature more even. One note for when you do have to open the door, gas oven tend to rebound in temperature more quickly than electric.
Turn off the heat before your cook-time is finished. Ok, I know this one sounds a little weird, but ovens lose heat very slowly if they are not opened. So unless you have an old, drafty oven, this technique may work for you. The larger the item in the oven, the more heat it will retain and the longer you can shut it down in advance. Actual times vary widely based on what you are cooking. For your average baked goods, 10 minutes is a safe time to shut down. When the timer goes off your oven will still be plenty hot.Another tip that I read (but have not yet tried) for keeping the temperature up in the oven is to put a baking stone in the oven. From what I’ve read, this will increase pre-heat times as the stone will heat slower than the rest of the oven, but then the temperature will stay more steady when the door is opened. This would also improve on my last tip of shutting the oven off a bit early since it will slow down the cooling process.
My last tip for keeping the oven hot is to keep the oven clean. This applies primarily to gas ovens. Having ashes and burnt on bits of food on the bottom of the oven will insulate the heat source below and make it work harder to heat up your oven. So keep it clean.Now I have one bonus tip for all you oven users out there: When it’s cold outside and you have to run the heater you can use the heat from your oven to boost the temp in your home. This tip only applies if you happen to be running the oven already, otherwise, you’re just doubling up on heating sources. After you take your finished product out of the oven, leave the oven open just a crack. Most ovens have a sort of stopping point that gives an inch or two of room before it closes all the way. If you leave it open just that much while it’s cooling, that heat will warm your home. This may not be ideal if you have small children in your home, so use common sense (we don’t want any burned little fingers!). If you leave the door shut the oven will slowly cool down, and maybe a little heat will diffuse into the kitchen. But if you leave it open just a crack the kitchen and surrounding area will be nice and toasty warm in no time!