Environmentally-minded home cooks might find themselves in a quandary when realizing that home stove tops are the latest battleground for climate activists. Burning natural gas puts carbon into the atmosphere, so a growing number of cities are banning new homes and offices from using gas equipment.
But for years, the gas industry has convinced consumers that serious cooks use gas stoves. So we asked a kitchen equipment expert to weigh in on the question of gas versus electric stoves from a cooking perspective.
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Lisa McManus is an executive editor of equipment testing for America’s Test Kitchen, home of Cook’s Illustrated and other magazines. It’s known for analyzing every variable in recipes, techniques and tools.
“My bed is covered with sous vide circulators and Cambros. I have pizza stones on the floor,” she laughed.
McManus’ basement, kitchen and guest bedroom are full of equipment she’s been analyzing at home since last March. She hasn’t officially tested gas vs. electric stove tops, but she does experiment with cookware and how it works on different types of stoves.
“Personally, I love gas because you’re talking a flame and cast iron, and you put your cookware on there, and it’s very primal. You see the heat, you make a thing.” McManus said. “We all understand from caveman days fire and cooking.”
McManus’ experience matches what home cooks have often heard, that gas is good for quick temperature control. “Gas really is very responsive. When you turn it up it gets hotter, when you turn it down it gets colder, instantly,” she said.
The Case for Electric Stoves, But You Have to Know How to Use Them
When buying a new stove, consumers today might have concerns beyond cooking, like climate change or indoor air quality. Electric stoves rely on the grid, where the share of renewable power is growing, and do not emit indoor air pollutants like carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide.
A quick search online shows that most big stores currently offer gas stoves and smooth-topped electric stoves, where the heat source is under ceramic or glass.
“Glass top electric stoves are the most popular things out there because they look really futuristic,” according to McManus. “They’re very smooth, very sleek looking in the showroom,” she said.
But for McManus, that’s the best thing about an electric stove: its looks. She doesn’t find glass conducts heat well, and says some pans take longer to heat up. And if the bottom isn’t perfectly flat, it will cook the food unevenly.
“People…complain to me about my cookware recommendations and it’s like, ‘dude, it’s not me, it’s your stove,’” she said. She also finds the smooth tops easy to scratch, and difficult to clean.
“You have to clean them very carefully. You have to handle them very carefully. You can’t plop a big old cast iron skillet down. You risk cracking it,” she said.
Electric induction stoves, which use magnetic coils to bring heat to the pan, also have a flat surface, and can have similar cooking and cleaning issues, but McManus prefers them.
“You can boil water much more quickly, and it’s very powerful. And you can also do things like maintain a very low simmer for a long time.” she said, and finds the steady temperature useful for certain applications. “You can do things like put melted chocolate on there, and it’ll still be the same melted chocolate in an hour. It won’t burn,” she explained.
Certainly, McManus is not the only one with an opinion about this.
Better Grades for Electric Stoves
In 2019, Consumer Reports, also known for comprehensive equipment testing, compared gas stoves with smooth top electric stoves (not the induction variety). It found the electric ranges have a quote, “serious leg up on the performance of gas ranges.”
While results varied from model to model, Consumer Reports found that electric stoves on the whole were significantly faster than gas stoves at bringing a large pot of water to boil, and slightly better at holding it at a low, steady simmer.
McManus does appreciate the steadiness of an electric oven, she said, but if she was buying a stove top now, she would choose gas. Since that’s not happening while she needs to pay for her kids’ college, she’s sticking with the appliance that was in her house when she first moved in, an old school electric stove with exposed coils.
“Let people laugh, I’m still making great food right here,” said the equipment expert. “I’m not doing this because it’s in a magazine, this is my house. I’m making my dinner,” she said. McManus advises people to choose a stove that is easy to use, gets good results, and makes them want to cook every day.