Gas Stoves

August 20th, 2009 by Potato

A natural gas stove is all the rage these days, and I have no idea why.

There’s the efficiency thing: when you want heat, it makes more sense to just burn the natural gas yourself rather than have the power plant do it, send the energy by electricity, and then reconvert to heat. That gives natural gas a bit of a cost advantage. However, that’s assuming that the heat produced actually goes into the food, which has not been my experience lately. On my electric stove, almost all the heat goes into the pot. On my parents’ gas stove, a ridiculous amount of heat escapes around the side of the pot, and often makes the handles too hot to touch.

I’ve heard that they’re faster, but that’s just not been my experience. If I crank either my stove or my parents’ stove up to max, the water boils in about the same amount of time. They are more responsive, so if you want to go from max to min or vice-versa, that happens much more quickly, but I don’t see that as a huge benefit. Along with this is usually a statement that “a chef can exactly control the heat under a pot with gas”, but I personally cannot master that when I go visit my parents. There, I find that the floor level heat on a gas stove is way hotter than what I usually want — my electric stove has a number of settings that can keep a pot warm/hot but not above boiling, for instance, when I want to melt but not brown butter.

One benefit that the electric stoves can’t touch is that they can operate in a power outage — but there’s only been like four days in my life where that was important.

Then they have all the downsides: the escaping heat, making handles too hot; the fact that it’s an open flame, which is much more hazardous. The small (but non-zero) risk of a gas leak.

Underneath the range, the gas oven changes things for the cookie perfectionist: suddenly the oven isn’t a “dry heat” any more. The exhaust gasses (Co2 and water vapour) affect how things rise and brown. Plus the fan constantly runs so they’re a lot noisier, which is important as more entertaining/socializing is done in the kitchen.

They’re widely seen as a prestige thing, advertised as a feature for houses and condos. I know a lot of people who swear by gas stoves, and I recognize that it’s a personal preference, so I’m glad that Wayfare is also an electric person. I’m kind of curious as to the actual real-world efficiency of a gas stove (given the heat escaping issue), but while I know how to measure the electricity usage of an electric stove, I’m not sure how to measure gas usage with a gas stove.

Another natural gas appliance I haven’t quite wrapped my head around is the gas fireplace. I suppose they are considerably safer and more convenient than a wood fireplace, but I just don’t really see the point: they’re almost always trapped behind glass, so you may as well just turn on the “fireplace channel” on your TV (maybe record it next Potatomas and pop the DVD in as necessary) — you miss out on many of the elements of a fireplace experience, including being able to burn things like marshmallows and incriminating documents, and also the survivalist element of having the ability to make heat and cook when society falls apart. Many times the heat they give off is unwanted in the room and just vented away, though of course there’s always the issue of the pilot light: my parents’ gas fireplace is hot to touch all the time, like, hazardously so, just from the heat of the pilot light. Drives me crazy. So Wayfare and I are looking at potential new places to move to since our time in the lovely, mould-infested century-old home we’re in now is almost up, and we’re looking at floorplans that say “optional gas fireplace here” and just praying that the unit we’ll be looking at doesn’t have it.

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