F'ing gas stoves, how do they work?
January 12, 2013 8:02 AM   Subscribe

After burning my second pot and almost poisoning myself by not quite turning the knob off, it's clear that I need remedial gas stove cooking classes.

This question is a great start but I need more tips for Gas Stove Cooking 101. Stuff like how it's different from cooking on an electric stovetop, rules of thumb, science facts, safety tips (I'm a klutz), etc.
posted by Neneh to Food & Drink (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Describe in more details the problems you've had, or specific questions? That'd be a bit easier to answer than a general "haallp!"
posted by canine epigram at 8:13 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Gas, in my experience, heats up faster and gets hotter, overall, than electric. The gas flame outputs A LOT of heat around the pot or pan. It's better to use heavier cookware that will help distribute the heat evenly instead of creating hotspots in the bottom.

I like to keep the handles of pans pointed vaguely outward, so I never have to reach over a running burner to get something. Not too far outward, though, especially on the front burners - you shouldn't bump into them. I keep oven mitts / pot grabbers / dishtowel on hand, to protect my hands.

If you're not using a burner, turn it off.

Mindfulness is important in cooking. It took me a long time to get to the point where I wasn't focused on the task, or the steps in the task. Take the time to do things right, and plan out beforehand.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:14 AM on January 12, 2013

If you haven't noticed, most gas stovetops have a few different sized burners. (Sometimes this is very subtle and not readily apparent from a quick glance when the flame is off.) Size matters in this case--the very lowest setting on the smallest burner will make a smaller flame and thus transfer less heat to your pot than the very lowest setting on the bigger burners. (This is useful for something like cooking brown rice where you want to simmer for a long time with the lid on.) You can also use a simmer ring if you need to lessen the heat even more than the lowest the flame will go.

Also! Gas gets hot instantly. I mean, it takes a little time for the heat to transfer from the flame to the pot, but the flame itself is hot right away, unlike electric where the coils take time to heat up. That's the only other thing I can think of that might be making your stuff burn. In general gas is more responsive to turning the heat up/down because you're dealing directly with a flame, not with a metal coil that needs to heat up or cool down.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:19 AM on January 12, 2013

After burning my second pot and almost poisoning myself by not quite turning the knob off

Please describe the way in which the pot was burned - did you burn food? Did you boil the pot dry?

Regardless of the stove type, always manually check each burner is turned to OFF before walking away.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:20 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Avoid reaching over the stove (cupboards over the stove, microwave, etc) when the burners are on, keep loose clothing away from the flame.

It's great to not have to move a pot off the stove to remove it from the heat. When you turn off a gas stove the heat stops, electric takes a while to cool off.
posted by HuronBob at 8:22 AM on January 12, 2013

On my gas stove the knobs do a little click when they're turned off, so I always make sure I turn it until it clicks click and then jiggle it a little to make sure it is turned completely off. If the knob has resistance to being jiggled or won't jiggle then it's still in the on position.

I actually have also developed the habit of checking the stove before I leave for the day, just to make sure all burners are off.

Also just being more mindful will help with doing things like keeping loose clothing away from the flame. I wear scarves almost every day and usually also have eggs for breakfast...I get ready for work while I'm making coffee/breakfast so I just make sure that I don't put on a scarf until I've made my breakfast.

Will need more details about the burned pots, but that is probably either solved by a. being more mindful or b. getting more practice.
posted by fromageball at 8:28 AM on January 12, 2013

You're not likely to "poison yourself" by leaving a burner on, but you could very easily cause a fire or explosion.

A number of times I came home to a house that had been empty for six to eight hours, and found the house reeking of gas because one of the burners was left on a low setting. Even flicking a light switch or other electrical switch could have sparked an explosion, then. (What I did: turned the burner off, left all electrical switches untouched, opened wide all the doors and windows until there was no trace of any gas smell anywhere in the house.)

I got a lot of arguments about it, including that the burner was "on low" and that I was just manifesting OCD and so on and so on. I'm surprised by how incredibly nonchalant people can be about combustible gases. But those were definitely life-threatening situations.

tl;dr don't leave the burner on, either with or without a flame.

Also, any time you smell gas - even faintly - and no gas appliance is on, open the windows and call the gas company. I smelled a faint gassy smell when I was kneeling by a bookshelf one day, and I just wasn't sure. Turned out that there were two very large leaks, one under the master bedroom, one under mine.

tl;dr Combustible gas is combustible, do not fuck around.
posted by tel3path at 8:36 AM on January 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Gas flames can reach around the sides of pots and pans, if the flamed is turned fully up. That can cause scorching of the contents along the sides while the bottom of the pan is not so hot. so adjust the gas flame accordingly or stir more around the sides.

If food does scorch in the pan, a metal pan cleaner (looks like a ball of steel threads) removes it efficiently, which a non-metal pan cleaner may not.
posted by anadem at 8:38 AM on January 12, 2013

Re tel3path's warning, natural gas is explosive in air when the concentration of gas is between 5% and 15%. A few moments of leaked gas from a stove burner aren't likely to make an explosive mix, but don't leave burners unlit! Leaks from pipes are a different, vitally urgent matter.
posted by anadem at 8:44 AM on January 12, 2013

My pots burned dry -- once while boiling water and once while simmering a little bit of leftover soup (that was yesterday). In both cases I'd wandered away from the kitchen, so the "mindfulness" tips are spot-on. But more generally, what is marked "medium" on the knob seems to equivalent to "medium high" on the gas stove. Gas getting food hotter, quicker (the man from twists and turns, needs more cowbell) is the type of fact that I should have known a while ago.

I definitely need better quality pots and pans.

And about poisoning myself: felt really sleepy unexpectedly, smelled gas, and realized that I hadn't turned the burner all the way off. There's a very subtle click, fromageball, that I now know to look out for. A friend suggested using the child lock function every time to avert this scenario in the future (she's got 2 small children).
posted by Neneh at 8:46 AM on January 12, 2013

Even if your burners are all physically the same size, they may not put out the same amount of heat. On my gas cooktop, two burners are 12,000 BTU burners, and the other two are 16,000. They look identical, but guess which ones are better for bringing water to a boil? I learned this from the manual, which I searched-up online.

The manual will also provide instructions on how to adjust your knobs/flame height. If one or more of your burners can be turned down so low that a passing breeze can extinguish it, you'll want to fix that. Typically it just requires a wee screwdriver and some patience.
posted by mumkin at 8:46 AM on January 12, 2013

Also, this is a new home (2 inspections) with a new stove so leaks are unlikely.
posted by Neneh at 8:47 AM on January 12, 2013

I've had a gas stove most of my life. I don't pay any attention to what's marked on the knob, I judge the heat by the height of the flame. This is why the one time I had an electric stove I kept burning things.
posted by interplanetjanet at 9:01 AM on January 12, 2013 [12 favorites]

The medium vs. medium high thing is just a stove-specific (and burner-specific, as others have mentioned) thing. A lot of this is just a matter of getting to know your stove -- every stove is different, and the numbers on the dials are only a very rough guide to the amount of heat that the stove can actually put out.

For instance, I find that on my stove there is a significant "dead zone" in the knob between about 3 and 6 (my knobs go Lo-2-4-6-8-10-Hi) where the flame doesn't really change regardless of where the dial is set. Then once I get to 6, it goes up very quickly from medium-low to medium-high. Therefore if I want medium heat, I end up having to peer under the pot while carefully adjusting the knob around the 6 area until I have the flame just where I want it. It's annoying (and a better stove probably wouldn't have this problem) but I know that my stove does that so at this point it's automatic.

The nice thing about a gas stove is that if you look under the pot or pan then you get a nice visual indicator of exactly how much heat it is putting out. If you are wondering about what the heat is at, just look at the size of the flame and there's your answer. The knob is only a very rough guide, but a glance at the flame will tell the real story.

As for forgetting things on the stove, well, that's not really a gas stove thing it's just a forgetfulness thing. I'm a very forgetful person myself and while I try to follow the rule of just not leaving the stove alone while it's cooking things, if I'm doing a soup or something that involves a lot of simmering I will often go off and do other chores while that is happening. In that case what I do is just set a timer on the microwave so that it will beep and remind me to come check on the stove. You really shouldn't leave the stove all alone while it's cooking though. It's fine to go read a book at the kitchen table or do dishes or whatever, but you really shouldn't leave the house or go to a different floor or anything. There shouldn't be a closed door between you and the stove.
posted by Scientist at 9:26 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Learn where your pilot lights are, and how to re light them. Your stove top probably lifts up and you'll see tiny blue flames, one pointed towards each burner. You should also know to check your pilots in some circumstances, like if you spill a bunch of water on the stove, big gust of wind, etc. You can probably just touch the surface of your stove to find these spots. This is a handy place if you need to soften a stick of butter, keep rising bread dough warm, etc.

Use the size of the flame thats appropriate for your pot/pan. Never have flames go over the edges of your pot. It's useless and will just heat up the handles.

You can roast some things like peppers by placing them directly on the burner of your stove. Keep an eye on them and use metal tongs.

Get a carbon monoxide detector for each bedroom.

Also, a gas broiler is the best thing ever.
posted by fontophilic at 9:27 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Followup to fontophilic: if your gas stove is new, it probably doesn't have pilot lights. My gas stove has electric ignition. If you have to leave the knob in a "light" position, where the stove clicks until the gas ignites, you have electric ignition. If you can just turn the gas on and the burner lights up, without any clicking, you have pilot lights.
posted by brianogilvie at 9:50 AM on January 12, 2013

This is the trick I use to prevent myself from ever forgetting that I've left something cooking on the stove: anytime (EVERY time, no exceptions ever) I leave the kitchen while the stove is on, I take the battery-operated timer with me, usually clipped to my shirt. So even if I wander off and get involved in something else, the timer will go off and save me from forgetting the fire.
posted by Corvid at 9:51 AM on January 12, 2013

Similar to Corvid whenever I use the oven I put on the oven light and leave it on until I'm done making whatever I'm making. After I've turned off the gas I turn off the light. It's a nice little mental reminder to me that if I walk in an hour later and see the oven light is on I probably forgot to turn the oven off again.
Even better I've trained the other half what it means so we have 2 sets of brains being reminded.
posted by bowmaniac at 10:03 AM on January 12, 2013

Learn to love your gas stove; they are awesome. Also learn to respect it; you really can't leave it unattended.

I find low heat difficult with gas stoves, too. See notes above about smaller burners putting out less heat. Also some cooktops have reversible grates, you know, the metal think that sits above the flame and holds your pot? On my stove I can flip that over and it raises the pot another inch or two above the flame, giving less heat. You may also find a heat diffuser useful; it's basically a metal shield you put over the flame for very low heat.

If you decide to upgrade your cookware, something solid and hefty like All-Clad is worth the investment. You want pots that spread the heat evenly.
posted by Nelson at 10:07 AM on January 12, 2013

Learn where your pilot lights are
In a new home there are unlikely to be pilot lights for the gas; electric igniters are almost universal now.
posted by anadem at 10:46 AM on January 12, 2013

I crouch down so that the flame is at eye level when adjusting the heat. Flames that look small from above are often larger than I intended.
posted by fozzie_bear at 10:55 AM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

New gas stoves don't really have a "low" setting the way they used to. (I think it's an overzealous safety feature intended to prevent the flame from being blown out while the gas is still on.) "Low" is about medium-low. And the settings are just a rough guide anyway, nthing to look at the height of the flame.

Use a diffuser if you want a gentle simmer. I use this old-fashioned kind. (Wash before using, and yes, eventually the wood handle will char, but they're cheap and effective. Once you have one in your possession, you'll likely suddenly see them everywhere in thrift stores for pennies.)
posted by desuetude at 11:36 AM on January 12, 2013

If one has never cooked on a gas stove, my recommendation for how best to learn about the heating elements is to put four pans of water on the burners and adjust the flames: first make them simmer but not boil, and then make them boil. Achieving boil may not require blasting full flame. This will give you a good understanding of the spectrum of your stovetop elements.

New gas stoves don't really have a "low" setting the way they used to.

FWIW my five year old gas hob does indeed have a low setting - I can heat but not simmer milk on the lowest flame of the smallest burner. Maybe this is a regional thing?
posted by DarlingBri at 12:02 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

> FWIW my five year old gas hob does indeed have a low setting - I can heat but not simmer milk on the lowest flame of the smallest burner. Maybe this is a regional thing?

Oh, I think it's a "how nice your stove is" thing. My experiences are with modern but less-expensive models that don't have different-sized burners.
posted by desuetude at 12:05 PM on January 12, 2013

Any gas stove has habits you need to get used to. I've used only gas ranges for decades, yet I still do most of the things you've reported because I'm absent-minded. And every time I've moved to a new place or bought a stove, I've had trouble getting comfortable with how the new one behaves. High-end stoves seem even more quirky than basic ones. So much of what we do in cooking is habit: where things are kept, which knives are best for different tasks, how to get a pot to simmer properly.

You might benefit from setting a timer if you're likely to get distracted, even if the food isn't going to be 'done' at a certain time. Also, there are plates and other barriers that help keep the heat low enought if the lowest setting is too hot. They're usually called simmer plates or heat diffusers. The famous label ones can cost over 50 dollars, but Amazon has some for under 12 bucks.

You just have to get to know your stove. Pretty soon you'll develop new habits, and possibly acquire heavier pans. Then can turn your efforts toward getting the hang of using the dishwasher, washer and dryer, lawn mower, and heating system!
posted by wryly at 1:31 PM on January 12, 2013

I've used a variety of gas stoves throughout my existence. All gas stoves are different in terms of what the numbers/levels on the dials translate to with how high the flame is. You just have to get used to looking at the flame and keeping tabs on how it affects your cooking. Making stuff like rice, soups, sauces, and stews can be especially tricky, depending on how low your stove really goes.

I look at the flame on mine every single time I use it and adjust it. I've used cheap crappy pots and pans on a gas stove with no particular issues, though higher quality and heavier pots are better for cooking in general.

You should read the instruction manual for your stove. Locate the model number of your stove and find the manual online if you don't have it.

Incidentally, you may or may not know that you can still use the stove if the power goes out by lighting it manually, but you need to know and understand what you're doing first. Read this AskMe before attempting. This is one of my favorite things about gas stoves.
posted by wondermouse at 2:31 PM on January 12, 2013

Regarding medium being medium-high - all gas stoves are slightly different and the knobs are seldom linear, but the size / height of the flame that means "fry my eggs sunny-side up correctly" is the same on all gas stoves. Learn to recognize the look of flames for cooking various things, and don't worry about the knobs.
posted by DaveP at 2:58 PM on January 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Followup to fontophilic: if your gas stove is new, it probably doesn't have pilot lights. My gas stove has electric ignition. If you have to leave the knob in a "light" position, where the stove clicks until the gas ignites, you have electric ignition. If you can just turn the gas on and the burner lights up, without any clicking, you have pilot lights.

Followup to followup: If the power goes out, your electric ignition will not work, but you can still use the stove simply by (very carefully!) using a match to light the burner.
posted by dersins at 9:27 AM on January 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

The last 2 stoves I bought (both gas), did not have a good indication that the burner was still on. So I used red nailpolish on the handles to make it obvious - if the red points anywhere but straight up, it's on. The visual cue is quite helpful.
posted by theora55 at 4:53 PM on January 13, 2013

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