Help My Mom Figure Out Her New Electric Stove
December 2, 2012 7:00 AM   Subscribe

My Mom just moved into an apartment with an electric stove, the very first electric stove she's had in seventy-one years of being alive. She's finding the learning curve a little daunting. Could you share some tips and tricks that would make the adjustment a little easier, things that you had to learn while transitioning from the gas stove to the electric stove?

Three things to note here before we proceed:

-- Getting a gas stove is not an option because her condo community does not have a connection to the gas network.

-- This is a Maytag model. Glass ceramic stovetop.

-- Please bear in mind that my Mom is not a techie.

Many thanks in advance.
posted by jason's_planet to Home & Garden (26 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The biggest thing to understand is that you have to actually remove the pan from the heat. It's not necessary with a gas stove, but it is with an electric stove. That was the most difficult thing for me to learn when switching to electric because the element stays hot for a long time. Also, when switching from high to medium you have to watch the food to make sure it doesn't burn (again because the heat doesn't change right away as it does with a gas stove).

This sounds intuitive, but it's not. It's really not. Be diligent.

Oh and always preheat the oven. Always. Plus, in my experience electric ovens cool down slightly slower than gas ovens so I've learned to turn off the heat a couple of minutes before the last of the baking is done (like when cooking meatloaf or roasts) and let the residual heat finish the cooking for me. Saves a smidgen of electricity here and there.
posted by patheral at 7:08 AM on December 2, 2012

Does she have appropriate pots and pans (i.e. heavy weight with flat bottoms, no rings or ridges on the bottom)? What exactly is she finding difficult, or is it mostly fear of the unknown? Is she burning food, or is it not browning properly, or what?

The thing I find most difficult about using electric stoves as opposed to gas is being able to tell how hot the burner is. With most electric stoves you have to really rely on the dial, as opposed to a gas stove where you can see the flame. So I guess "pay attention to the dial setting" is important. Maybe it would help your mom to write down next to the stove, "eggs: 5; boiling water: 9" or whatever.

Also, most electric stoves take a little while to heat up, unlike gas stoves which are ready to go right away. So she needs to let the burner warm up for a minute before she starts cooking. This is the other half of the lag patheral is talking about - I don't usually leave the pan on the burner when using either a gas or an electric stove (get stuff out of the pan right away), so that's not as much of an issue for me.
posted by mskyle at 7:13 AM on December 2, 2012

Saves a smidgen of electricity here and there.

This is silly and not something to confuse her with. Even if she did this for five minutes a day every single day all year, that would save at most about ten bucks.
posted by dmd at 7:16 AM on December 2, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Make sure the burner switches are labeled clearly. I have made the mistake of turning on the wrong burner because my brain transposed the little dot. One one stove, I actually painted "L" and "R" near the switches with white out.

Once a pan is heated up, it takes a while to turn the temp down if need be. Teach her to slide things over to the middle to wait for it to go down (or don't turn it all the way up to high). So when I am making rice, for instance, I will boil the water on med-high, not high, and then turn down to the lowest setting for the 15 minute cook. I do it on a back burner and then slide it forward when done to let it sit the extra 5 minutes before fluffing.

Most important, never put an empty pan back onto a heating element until the hot light shuts off. I once put a Pyrex pan with a hot apple pie on an electric burner that I thought was cool, only it was on high (while my supposedly boiling potatoes on the back burner were ice cold). It exploded. So unless she is cooking huge meals for others, cook on one side and use the other side to set things like cookie sheets out of the oven on, or use trivets on the counter.

For stuck on foods, there is a special cleaner that is sort of like Soft Scrub, only without bleach. A little paint scraper, like the kind you use for windows, is good at getting things off. If it's just regular grease splatters, from making burgers, I use an all purpose glass cleaner, but I wait till the next morning or until completely cool before I touch it.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:19 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The biggest thing to understand is that you have to actually remove the pan from the heat.

This. A bajillion times, this.
Glass-top specific thoughts:
• The glass top will wear. Especially if you are prone to shuffling pand and skillets around to mix things up. My glass-top range has permanent scuff over the most-used front element.
• White glass-tops will discolor.
• "5" is not necessarily equivalent to a "medium flame". "5" might be way too hot. It's a whole new vocabulary. She will just have to experiment to find the right setting for "simmer", for instance. On my glass-top, it's mid-way between 2 and 3.
• Use a glass-top cleaning liquid once in awhile. Those tops get pretty cruddy-looking and benefit from an occasional cleaning with the appropriate cleaner.
• SHE SHOULD GET INTO THE HABIT OF DOUBLE_CHECKING THAT THE ELEMENTS ARE TURNED OFF. With gas, it's easy...flame? no flame? With electrics, it's amazingly easy to leave an element on.
• Never confuse that flat glass expanse with a tabletop. It's tempting, when you have an arm-load of groceries. But...see above.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:21 AM on December 2, 2012 [7 favorites]

The biggest deal for me was learning to not put things near the burners, any of the burners, because I would occasionally flip on the wrong burner (with no immediate visual feedback) and have a plastic plate or something near it and ... eww. This is especially true with your mom's type of stove where everything is flat so you could leave stuff all over the stove. Also since the burners tend to heat up more slowly than a gas stove, there is a chance you could turn things up too high because you're impatient and then the burner finally heats up and you burn everything. This was especially true for me when I had a pan that was slow to heat (think cast iron) and a burner that was slow to heat but when it finally got going it was SUPER hot.
posted by jessamyn at 7:22 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and invest in one of these. They are perfect for removing burnt-stuck-on whatnot that wiping can't seem to remove.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:23 AM on December 2, 2012

If upgrades are an option, you could consider installing an induction cooktop. The cooktops aren't cheap and require ferrous (magnetic) pots and pans, but they provide much more precise adjustment than electric and can be quickly adjusted up/down much like a gas stove.

But if sticking with the electric, the lag time between adjusting temperatures at the dial and that change getting to the pan is definitely the biggest thing to watch out for, as others have said.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 7:24 AM on December 2, 2012

Best answer: On a gas stove, it's pretty straightforward. I know I need the flames to be at a particular height to cook an egg or a pancake the way I like it. On an electric stove, I don't get that visual feedback.

Have her cook a bunch of eggs (or, I suppose, anything she cooks a lot of that has obvious and visible cooking stages) on the new stove to learn the tolerance ranges.

The first time I encountered one of those electric cooktop things, that's what I did. Fried a bunch of eggs with the dial set to different temperatures, and learned just by how the egg cooked that such and such number on the dial correlated to such and such height of a gas flame.

Once you actually work through it and get a feel for what the temperatures actually relate to in gas cooking, everything becomes much, much easier.

She will have to ruin some food first, though. Eggs are cheap.
posted by phunniemee at 7:24 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: What exactly is she finding difficult, or is it mostly fear of the unknown?

Mostly fear of the unknown.
posted by jason's_planet at 7:27 AM on December 2, 2012

Response by poster: Does she have appropriate pots and pans (i.e. heavy weight with flat bottoms, no rings or ridges on the bottom)?

I don't think so. Could you elaborate a little on that, on the appropriate sorts of pots and pans to buy? Any recommendations?
posted by jason's_planet at 7:30 AM on December 2, 2012

Just flat would be fine. Heavy base is nice to have but I have a couple of fairly cheap, moderate weight flat but by no means heavy base pots that I bought when I was a student and more than 10 years later they are still going strong. Over the years I've used them on both gas and ceramic.

2nd ing the advice to practice and learn what settings correlate to what temperatures. It varies with all electric stove tops. It even varies for different rings on the same stove top. She'll just have to pay more attention initially until she has gotten to know her new stove top.
posted by koahiatamadl at 7:45 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

The most effective way to learn about the settings for the stive and how long it takes to transition between them is to boil a pot of water and reduce it to a simmer.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:48 AM on December 2, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some food (e.g., rice) requires a quick transition from high heat to low heat, and lowering the heat on a hot burner doesn't provide that quick transition.

So here's a trick I learned on Metafilter: prepare a low-heat second burner, and switch the rice over to that burner when the time is right.
posted by thisclickableme at 7:53 AM on December 2, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Any pan that she's purchased in the last ten years or so is likely to be fine (unless they're warped), but some older pans have patterns of ridges or rings on the bottom that don't work well with flat-top ranges. Basically you want the pan to be in contact with the range as much as possible.

Can you (or someone else in the family) go over and do the experimenting with your mother? I know a lot of elderly people can just get flustered about trying new things. It could help to have someone there to work through the process with her.
posted by mskyle at 8:08 AM on December 2, 2012

Response by poster: Can you (or someone else in the family) go over and do the experimenting with your mother?

My Mom lives a couple of states away from me. I can't just drop by on a weeknight but I will be working with her on this at Christmas.
posted by jason's_planet at 8:15 AM on December 2, 2012

on the appropriate sorts of pots and pans to buy? Any recommendations?

I'm not sure pans with heavy bottoms are the best choice on electric stoves because it takes a while to get things up to temp and a long time to get them back down again even when taking the pot off the burner. If she's used to cooking with stainless on gas she might want to invest in a good copper skillet, otherwise it's not worth the bother. Gas ranges in rental units are rare where I live and I once made an impulsive purchase, $4 for a 2mm solid copper skillet that needed to be relined, it's been hands down one of the best things I did for my cooking. It's replaced all other pans.
posted by redindiaink at 8:29 AM on December 2, 2012

After years of using this kind of stove, I just discovered a way to keep the top clean. Or at least, cleaner than it has been. At the end of the day, when ALL the burners are COOL, moisten a paper towel and wipe the whole top. An amazing amount of grunge gets cleaned off.

And, as many have said before, OFF BURNER does not equal COOL BURNER.

Also, you might consider that it's not actually the stove that's daunting, it's moving into the apartment. Everything can be daunting at first, especially if you've lived in one place for an extended time. Which cupboard has the cups? Where's the light switch? What does the new refrigerator sound like? I've noticed that people who are used to cooking with gas tend to get impatient with electric stoves; she may be focussing on this issue, but it may not really be as big a deal as it seems.
posted by kestralwing at 8:32 AM on December 2, 2012

If she needs to boil water frequently(tea) get an electric kettle instead. They're about $30 and are much quicker than boiling water on a stove.
posted by pentagoet at 8:53 AM on December 2, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have very specific recommendations on the pans, and I know way too much about this from spending years working at a kitchen store that gave me a ton of hands-on training. (I always feel like I should qualify myself because I see a lot of bad cookware advice on the Green!)

Since your mom has a flat-top stove, any pans that warp will be a pain, and there are expensive pans out there that will warp at the slightest provocation, and then thereafter the pan will wobble and heat unevenly. The key isn't heavy, it's getting a pot constructed to prevent warping and that uses a good conductive material for even heat and responsiveness when you turn up or down the heat. Aluminum is very lightweight and it's a good conductor of heat, while cast iron is heavy and a poor conductor. Then there's copper, which is heavy and very good conductor of heat. So don't just assume any heavy pan is good for your mom's stove!

The pans that are ideal for flat-top stoves are called a "disc-bottom" construction, meaning the conductive material is only located in that disk on the bottom, and they stay very flat over the years because the disc heats evenly as the conductive metal is making direct contact with the heat source. In contract, when the conductive material goes up the side ("clad" construction), it can heat unevenly and warp, and nearly all clad pans will warp over the years. You can tell if something is a disc bottom because you'll be able to see the disk, such as with this Cuisinart pan: see the disc at the bottom. (The pan linked is the Cuisinart Chef's Classic series, which is ridiculously cheap when bought in a set and highly recommended. They are light-weight, because their conductive material is aluminum, and their handles are very comfortable and stay cool. I have $350+ saucepans from the kitchen store and yet often reach for a $30 Cuisinart pan because it's light and easy to work with.)

Any "clad" pans are bad choices on a flat-top stove (including All-Clad, which is so overrated that it makes my heart hurt). Usually clad pans have stainless steel inside and out with a core of aluminum, as said above since stainless steel is a very poor conductor of heat those materials will heat at different rates and warp. People with gas stoves may not notice the warping, but trust me, on a flat-top stove, your mom will. (Clad pans have their place, as getting even heat up the sides of the pan helps keep things from scorching on a gas flame, but a disc-bottom pan on a flat-top stove is going to heat evenly anyway. The clad pans I have use 5mm of aluminum vs All-Clad's 1.5 mm, which makes for less warping and still my pans aren't totally flat.)

Outside of clad and disc-bottom construction, there is anodized aluminum or cast aluminum (Calphalon) and those may not have a disc at the bottom, but because they're made with a thick piece of aluminum and generally just one layer of stainless steel, they're less likely to warp...but probably will.

And then there's cast-iron, which is great. It retains heat really well, but doesn't conduct heat well, so if your mom wants to use them, make sure she knows that to avoid hot spots, she'll want to preheat it at a very low heat and bring it up to about medium-low gradually. It'll got hot as all get-out even at lower heats if you give it time, and retain heat wonderfully, so it's great for keeping an even boil or simmer (as mentioned by someone above, they're great at cooking rice.) Just be careful because they're heavy enough to break the cooktop surface if you drop them or something. Le Creuset is a well-known brand, it's porcelain enameled so you don't have to worry about seasoning or rust and the porcelain is more resistant to sticking than stainless steel, and they come with a life-time warranty, which I think is essential for enameled cast-iron because sometimes the enamel coating chips on less-expensive brands.

Last piece of advice: with nonstick cookware, make sure your mom only uses low heat on her new stove. It'll get plenty hot eventually, but if she turns up the heat too high the nonstick will eventually start flaking off—I don't stress about the health dangers of nonstick, but I do hate seeing nonstick pans ruined because they're used at too high heat! Patience is key. Give nonstick way more time to heat up than you expect it to need, and at a lower heat than you use other cookware.

Sorry in advance for more information than you probably wanted. As I've said elsewhere on the site, I need to use this knowledge somewhere now that I work at a "real" job that has nothing to do with the kitchen!
posted by thesocietyfor at 9:35 AM on December 2, 2012 [14 favorites]

Does she have a cat? Mine made the unfortunate mistake of walking across the still-hot heating element. He learned not to do that again the hard way.
posted by thank you silence at 9:35 AM on December 2, 2012

Response by poster: Oh, and invest in one of these (image link) They are perfect for removing burnt-stuck-on whatnot that wiping can't seem to remove.

I understand what that is by sight -- it's a scraper of some kind. But what's the name? What is the formal name that I would use in a brick-and-mortar store to ask if they have it?
posted by jason's_planet at 10:27 AM on December 2, 2012

...on the appropriate sorts of pots and pans to buy? Any recommendations?

I get my best results from my heavy stainless pots. I have a few thinner pots, and I'm forever accidentally over-heating stuff in them.'s a scraper of some kind. But what's the name?
Try Retractable Razor Scraper. I'm not sure if there's a better name for them.
posted by Thorzdad at 10:32 AM on December 2, 2012

Best answer: After using a gas stove by preference, then using an old-style electric stove with elements, I used a glass-top stove for a while. I didn't need new cookware; just used my copper-bottom Revere pots and cast iron pans with no trouble, even though they are not perfectly flat. I was surprised by how fast the burners got hot. I had good success cleaning the (usually cooled) stove top with a slightly soapy sponge. The worst thing about any new stove I've used in the past several years is that the burner knobs don't have a clear on/off marking, so I used red and blue nail polish to mark the knobs so I can see at a glance if they're on(red) or not(blue). Not stylish, but def. effective. You can make a stencil with a hole punch and cardstock if you want it to be tidier.

What does Mom cook most often? Hot water for tea? oatmeal? chicken soup? Pot roast? When you visit, cook her faves, and time the stove. She may rely on years of experience with her old gas stove, and it's her experience that needs to be re-calibrated. Plus, you get yummy meals.
posted by theora55 at 11:08 AM on December 2, 2012

Another tip regarding the burner knobs: most gas stoves have knobs located on the front of the appliance; most electric stoves have knobs on the rear. Learn to adjust temperature (and turn off the burner) from an angle rather than over the top of the heated pan.

On the plus side, she will like the fact that handles stay much cooler on electric stoves.
posted by 1367 at 11:20 AM on December 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone!
posted by jason's_planet at 4:52 PM on December 4, 2012

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