Now I'm cooking with gas -- so now what?
October 6, 2006 1:03 PM   Subscribe

My just-out-of-warranty electric cooktop died recently, and my handyman came up with the idea that it was feasible to replace it with a gas cooktop. Today, the project was finished up, and I now have this dandy cooktop in my kitchen. The only problem is that I've never cooked on gas before (other than on a propane grill).

I'm reasonably handy in the kitchen and am looking forward to far better temperature control with the gas unit, but I was wondering if there is anything that I should know or look out for as a refugee from electric cooktops -- either the finer points of getting the most out of it, or "everybody knows that you should/shouldn't do this with gas" type of things. Thanks!
posted by nonliteral to Food & Drink (18 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The big thing is that the heat is on instantly, and off instantly. Sure, your water will still take a while to boil, but if it starts to boil over, just turn down the heat, and the boiling stops. Very convenient.
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:12 PM on October 6, 2006

You've probably figured out that residual heat isn't going to be as useful with gas. I knew that, but I still kept turning the burner off too early when I switched from electric to gas.

The other thing I kept doing was dialing the gas too high, especially on my spider (cast iron frying pan). I think this was because electric takes time to ramp up, and gas is just there.

A gas burner is more flexible for things like charring the skins of peppers and finishing chapatis. You lay something directly on an electric burner, and you get a burned, stinking mess. That isn't necessarily the case with gas.
posted by QIbHom at 1:12 PM on October 6, 2006

I love gas for its instant response but I once had a really good-quality electric stove and found that it had a greater temperature range - I could get both lower and higher heat. I could incubate yogurt on the low setting and smoke peanut oil on the high setting, neither of which are possible on my current (semi-crappy) gas stove.

You might need to adjust your approach with gas (like use a double boiler for really low heat), but you'll get used to it. Another benefit is that you can see how high your heat is - just bend down and peer at the flame under the pot. No need to rely on what the knob reads.

Seconding QIbHom about using a gas burner as an impromptu grill - try toasting tortillas or bread that way.

Oh, and if the maximum heat output is too wimpy for you, ask the gas company if they can come fiddle with the gas flow regulator in your stove. (If you're really handy you can probably figure it out yourself but it would undoubtedly break every code and regulation in the book. That being said, I still haven't blown myself up.)
posted by Quietgal at 1:33 PM on October 6, 2006

Two things that I adore gas for (other than instant-off for boiling water) are fine temperature control for candy-making (it can be seriously difficult to keep everything at the right temperature when you have to move it from burner to burner) and heat volume output for stir- and deep-frying -- pots and pans won't cool down like they do on electric when you drop food in (to a point). This is particularly great for deep-frying because not only do you have finer temperature control, you can fry much faster because you can do more at once without cooling the oil.

Caveat: Hot oil is much more dangerous on a gas stove because the open flame is much more likely to ignite it than on an electric. Keep an appropriate fire extinguisher handy at all times.
posted by j.edwards at 1:37 PM on October 6, 2006

I suppose there isn't too much to mention, but if you must...

Do not try to heat your house with this. These produce carbon monoxide, not enough to bother over with cooking, but don't try to heat your house with this.

Make sure the burners light when you start your cooking. You don't want unburned gas escaping into your living space. Also it's good to familiarize yourself with the emergency shut off. Each gas appliance should have one.
posted by kc0dxh at 1:53 PM on October 6, 2006

If you need really low heat and even low is too high, put your pan inside a larger pan. I keep a crappy scratched old nonstick pan around for this kind of thing.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:07 PM on October 6, 2006

Gas rules. That said, the fire danger is greater (don't leave oven mitts or paper products close to the flames; keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen; don't leave burners going without a pot or pan on top of them), and there's a small danger that the pilot light will go out and you won't notice. So just be scrupulous about being sure the flame comes on when you turn on a burner, and that you turn the burners off completely when you turn them off.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:27 PM on October 6, 2006

the NGP has a 15000 BTU burner which is probably much much more than your old electric. Good for getting a stock-pot to boil or a heavy cast-iron pan up to heat but the only reason I can think to keep it at max would be if you are doing a lot of deep-frying.

And do go for the optional heat-diffuser plate. If one didn't come with the top you can always pick one up in a cooking store.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 2:56 PM on October 6, 2006

Congratulations! Gas is almost infinitely superior to electric. Note how many chefs work with electric (clue: approximately none).

The better temperature control and instant-off quality make a lot of things easier with gas. One thing that nobody's mentioned so far is that it's easier to make some sauces, such as milk or egg-based French sauces. You can avoid ruining the sauces because it's easier to stop the eggs from scrambling and the milk from scalding.

And as others have said, you should be a little more careful; it's also easier to start a grease fire or melt a nearby plastic container.
posted by lackutrol at 3:02 PM on October 6, 2006

I agree with all the other comments about fire danger. One specific case that hasn't been mentioned is deglazing a pan with alcohol (e.g. wine). Turn off the burner before deglazing, then turn back on once it's in the pan. That way if it boils over or splashes it won't catch on fire.

It's also generally not considered to be a good idea to leave a burner on unattended (like for making stock overnight or cooking chili all day). For these applications it's best to bring it to a simmer on the stove then throw it in a 200 degree oven for however long you want.
posted by rorycberger at 3:46 PM on October 6, 2006

15,000 BTU burners are fine for most home cooking, but they won't drive standard sized woks or other high heat accessories. But it's still a lot of heat (especially X4, when every burner is lit), and if you had any more heat capacity, you'd probably have to have had a commercial hood installed to keep from burning your place down. So good, you can now make cookware hot, pretty quick.

That implies two things.

First, to get the most from your new cooktop, you need to be using cookware that can come up to heat fast, prevent hot spots (conduct/spread heat evenly), and not hold a lot of latent heat itself. Stainless steel, cast iron, enamelware are examples of cookware materials that may require more attention on a gas stove than they did on an electric, for that reason. Calphalon has ceased making its commercial hard anodized line of cookware, in favor of something called Calphalon One, which I've tried, and can't really recommend or criticize particularly, when compared to a standard hard anodized surface. You can still pickup some commercial hard anodized Calphalon from dealer stocks and on eBay, if you look carefully, but it is going fast. The 12" everyday pan is by far the most useful implement you can have in your kitchen.

The second thing having a high heat gas range, and good, responsive cookware will imply, is that you step back and think a bit about how you prepare to cook. Things will happen faster now, if you want them to do so, and so the rythyms of preparation and cooking that may have been fine on your old electric range, may need to be re-examined. Probably, you'll find that you can "work in" less preparation (chopping, measuring, finding ingredients, etc.) while cooking, if the cooking methods involve high heat (searing, braising, frying, etc.) If you are going to sear, deglaze and sauce a steak au poivre in a skillet, you'll need to have all your ingredients staged and ready in arm's reach, because start to finish, you're going to be cooking for 3 to 5 minutes, tops, and busy with the sauce for half of that. At first, it may seem a little daunting, even scary, but if you conciously do your preparation complete, before you start the fires, I think you'll quickly come to like be able make things quickly very hot, and equally quickly, to finish and plate them, as will your family and any guests.

Bon appetit!
posted by paulsc at 4:11 PM on October 6, 2006

Wok cooking is great with gas, especially if you have a proper Chinese carbon steel wok. The flame licks up the side of the wok when it's turned full on and so everything cooks really quickly.

But I find my heavy cast-iron skillet takes longer to heat up on gas than electricity.
posted by essexjan at 4:32 PM on October 6, 2006

Gas ranges are great for cooking, but keep in mind that now the products of combustion, some of which are noxious, are released into the house. Thus ventilation becomes quite important. I've read articles that people who cook with gas have more respiratory ailments than those who cook with electricity---so be careful.
posted by LeisureGuy at 4:33 PM on October 6, 2006

#paulsc: you need to be using cookware that can come up to heat fast, prevent hot spots (conduct/spread heat evenly), and not hold a lot of latent heat itself. Stainless steel, cast iron, enamelware are examples of cookware materials that may require more attention

That is why I mentioned the difuser plate above. Gas needs care for low prolonged heat. I have a large thinish stainless stock pot. If I try to slow cook thick stuff in it (e.g. pea soup, chili) then then I wind up with an image of the low gas flame reproduced in char in the bottom of the pot. A difuser solves this problem. But then again for really thick stuff you may want to finish in the oven.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 4:58 PM on October 6, 2006

#LeisureGuy: products of combustion ... noxious ... Thus ventilation becomes quite important.

A vent hood is important if you cook above the temperature of boiling water - otherwise you deposite a film of grease on all surfaces in your kitchen and other parts of your residence.

I once made installing a 200+ CFM external exhaust hood a condition on renting a place. Without one I couldn't deep-fry greek style squid because stale squid grease starts smelling really nasty.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 5:09 PM on October 6, 2006

"Wok cooking is great with gas, especially if you have a proper Chinese carbon steel wok. ..."
posted by essexjan at 7:32 PM EST on October 6

It is, if you have a standard size carbon steel wok, and convert a burner with a 30,000 BTU wok ring accessory, so that you can keep the wok hot when steam flashing, as they do in restaurants. Otherwise, you learn to lurv greasy food. :-)

Hence my comment about the standard burners being generally inadequate for wok cooking. There is a huge body of opinion and cooking advice about home wok setups, and if you are really into Oreintal food, it's good to read up on it, and get the right equipment to reproduce the methods. But a quick trip to a Chinese restaurant where you can view the commercial versions of the equipment is instructive. Typically, you see very large woks, maybe 24 or 30 inches in diameter, set up in stainless steel wells, with hoods and fire control equipment. The gas rings underneath these woks are capable of 45,000 to 60,000 BTU, not so much because they generally cook a great deal of food at a time, but because they have the ability to bring the wok up to high temperature very fast, and to supply enough heat to flash fry and to convert a cup of water to flash steam instantly, when cooking. Try doing that in a small home wok over a 15,000 BTU burner, and you'll make watery gravy, and not much energetic flash steam. These things are all a matter of taste, I suppose, but in my mind, and the minds of the people making the accesories for nonliteral's cooktop, wok cooking is all about high, fast, perhaps even dramatic heat.

It's hard, and generally messy, to recreate this setup adequately at home, but the best I've done is with an outdoor propane rig, which is quite nice here in Florida, alongside the grill, but perhaps completely impractical for a New York apartment dweller.

"... A difuser solves this problem ..."
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 7:58 PM EST on October 6

As would replacing the thin stainless steel pan, with a thicker one made of good aluminium alloy, and well anodized, and leaving the diffuser in its box on the store shelf. And, you'd have 4 unmodified burners for general purpose cooking with all your high performance cookwear. :-)
posted by paulsc at 6:07 PM on October 6, 2006

Just one tip, learned from nasty experience. Short sleeves or roll up the long sleeves. High flame can bloom over the side of a smaller sauce pan, and cause a little problem. Setting your shirt on fire is no way to impress you family at Thanksgiving.
posted by Marky at 6:57 PM on October 6, 2006

Note how many chefs work with electric (clue: approximately none).

That's a little misleading, because many restaurants are equipped with French top stoves, which although heated with gas, behave like electric burners (albeit ones with a central hot area, going towards a cooler outer area).
posted by rxrfrx at 12:10 PM on October 14, 2006

« Older YALT : Yet Another Landmark Thread   |   Extra tickets to show and no ride. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.