Saturday, January 7, 2023

A Week Cooking Without Gas


For the past week, I've been testing a two-burner induction cooktop. If you're new to induction cooking, take a look at this guide. It will help you understand why I want to eventually make the switch.


Cast iron pan cooking a pita and a small saucepan on an induction cooktop

I cook a lot. Over time, food sensitivities and break free from plastics initiatives and a global pandemic have conspired to increase my home chef skills. Ours is a scratch kitchen, three meals a day, seven days a week.

All of this on a fracked gas Maytag range that is a less-than-enviable appliance.

When we moved into our current home in December 2009, the kitchen was outfitted with builder-grade yellow appliances. They were ugly and the refrigerator was small, but everything worked. I pulled the refrigerator out a little and vacuumed a thick layer of dust off of the coils after which the small, ugly refrigerator died.

We replaced the fridge with a ginormous, shiny black Samsung. This post is about stoves, but for the love of everything, NEVER buy a Samsung refrigerator. Visit r/buyitforlife on Reddit and search for Samsung refrigerator for more much-earned Samsung hate.

Anyway, to match the black fridge, we replaced a completely serviceable yellow fracked gas range with the black Maytag. I chose the range for the following reasons in order of importance to my underdeveloped 30-year-old brain:

  1. It was black
  2. It had a cool-looking grate on the top instead of dinky individual cages over each burner
  3. It had FIVE burners

I didn't do any research or investigate any of the stove's functions. Consequently, I've lived in fear of the Maytag for more than a decade. This thing produces a monster flame. There's obviously a danger during the preparation of any meal. I could easily light myself on fire. I've never been especially comfortable with open flame. Also, and this one is somewhat petty and just demonstrates my lack of thinking through my purchase, you can't use all five burners at the same time. There's no configuration of pots that works in the surface area of a 30" appliance.

All this to say, my fear of the Maytag preceded ever more urgent studies that gas stoves are giving kids asthma, gas stoves leak fracked gas even when not in use, and gas stoves introduce toxic chemicals into the home.

Oh to be young and ignorant and only afraid of lighting my sleeve on fire!

As part of the ROCIS (Reducing Outdoor Contaminants in Indoor Spaces) air monitoring cohort, our household was offered the opportunity to try out a portable two-burner induction stovetop. ROCIS even loaned us a small magnetic saucepan. We've got an AirThings View Plus monitor (also on loan from ROCIS) in the kitchen to track CO2, VOCs, and PM2.5. For the past week, all stovetop cooking in our house has been done on the induction unit. The only cooking with gas has been a few uses of the oven.

Induction unit on top of Maytag Stove
We put a piece of the wood countertop that made the move with us from our first house on top of the Maytag and sort of converted it to induction for the week.

Here's what we learned:

THE GOOD

  1. Tim is enamored with the temperature control on the induction. EVOO's smoke point is 375, so Chef Timo can set the temp on the induction burner a little lower and eliminate concerns of smoking the oil. Smoking the oil as it turns out is real bad for indoor air quality.
  2. You really can't hurt yourself with induction. The burner only activates in the presence of a magnetic pan, the pan handles never even get hot, and there's no danger of flaming sleeves.
  3. It cooks fast in most cases. There are a few cooking speed issues that will be covered in the next section.
  4. Induction does not release volatile organic compounds. There's no gas smell. The only particles created are from the cooking of the food.
  5. Our portable trial unit easily moved to the kitchen table to warm fondue for our annual New Year's Eve dessert.
Table set for chocolate fondue and fruit dippers. Induction stovetop keeping the melted chocolate warm.



THINGS THAT COULD BE BETTER (Note: many of these issues are due to our trial unit being a two-burner portable contraption rather than a full power 30" range)

  1. The two burners are powerful when you're only using one of them. They both go to number 10 which is a power boil setting. The problem is that using both burners reduces the power available to each of them. There's only 14 total power available. For instance, if you have the left burner set at 8, the right burner can only be set at 6. Turning either up turns the other down.
  2. There are only two burners. It's not an every-night occurrence, but I use all four burners on the Maytag several times a week. Trying to figure out how to make some meals with only two burners was a big challenge. One night I made a stovetop garlic EVOO chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans sauteed with oil. Three pans! I had to start the green beans on the stovetop while the potatoes cooked, then transfer them to a baking sheet in the oven while I cooked the chicken.
  3. I have spot-on timing with the gas stove. Like it or not, I can time a meal with precision. Everything comes off hot and ready at the same time. I don't even need to think about it. The induction week included a lot of keeping this thing warm while that thing took its dear time finishing up.
  4. Watched pots still take forever to boil. Today, I boiled a pot of water for pasta and kept track of how long it took: 15 minutes. To mitigate the trouble caused by item #1, I boiled the water first and then started cooking the pasta sauce after the noodles were cooking. This allowed me to see how long a full rolling boil took using the full power of the burner. The internet seems to think that any magnetic pot is compatible with induction, but this pot has a strainer basket built in so you can just pull the pasta up when it's cooked. I don't know if that's extending my boil time?
  5. Pots that are larger than the induction burner size really don't work at all. I've got a giant pasta pot and a huge cast iron that are my go-to cookware for the Maytag. These don't work on the induction cooktop because only the part over the magnet gets hot. I thought before this experiment that cast iron would be way more conducive, but heating only one spot really doesn't get it.
  6. Food seems like it cools off more quickly. This one I must admit I don't understand. The pot is hot. The food is hot. I put the food on the table and by the time I get my mouth around it, the food is not very hot. The Maytag makes food atomically hot and especially in the cast iron pans, the food is hot through the second and third helping.
THINGS I JUST DON'T GET
  1. Lots of people tout induction's responsiveness and control. I can't figure out what that means, but this might somehow be related to my annoyance at the food not staying as warm as I'd like. I can't think of a single time that I need hot and then instantly not hot when I'm cooking. Especially with my beloved cast iron skillets, I get those things hot and then they kind of maintain a really nice temp that lets me do what I need to do.

The biggest bother has been managing to cook on only two burners and not being able to place screaming hot things from the oven on the stovetop to cool. So on day 8 of having the induction cooktop, we're boxing it up for return to ROCIS. The loan was extremely helpful. We got to see the reduction in VOCs we can expect from switching to electric. We know that there are questions to ask of an induction range model to make sure we have four burners that can deliver full power at the same time. 




Most of all, we know what to expect as far as trade-offs when we finally do make the switch. I will someday ditch the fracked gas because improved air and freedom from sleeve fires is a bigger benefit than the bother of having to get new pots and maybe having to leave things on "keep warm" to maintain a pleasant temperature. There are all kinds of reasons to stop using fossil fuels entirely, an easy place to start is stopping the direct combustion of the stuff in our homes.