Earth Day always gets us thinking about creating greener kitchen spaces, and appliances are a great place to zero in on energy-saving techniques. Most big ticket items, like stoves, fridges and dishwashers, are fairly energy efficient already, especially if they’re relatively new purchases. But regularly using smaller appliances, like slow cookers, pressure cookers and toaster ovens are also ways to “green” up our kitchens.
Slow cookers: I’m sure we don’t have to convince you about the merits of a slow cooker, but did you know that using the slow cooker instead of the oven is almost 50% more efficient to run? Only the microwave is less expensive per kilowatt hour. Newer models are sometimes programmable so you can set them to turn off and on at desired times, so you can control them even when you’re not at home. There’s nothing better than coming home to a delicious slow cooked soup or stew after a day at the office. We don’t know what we’d do without our slow cookers.
Pressure cookers: While pressure cooking isn’t new to the culinary scene by any stretch, it’s seen a resurgence in popularity in the last several years. Easy-to-use appliances with foolproof safety features have reawakened home cooks to the benefits and convenience of pressure cooking, which is also very energy efficient—a dish prepared in a pressure cooker will require 70 to 90% less energy than it takes to cook the same dish in a conventional oven or on the stovetop! How? In a pressure cooker steam builds up inside the pot, which raises the temperature and pressure inside, cooking foods faster and retaining more vitamins and minerals. For instance, a pot boiling on the stove will get no hotter than 212°F. Inside a pressure cooker, however, the temperature will climb to 250°F., cutting cooking time by as much as 33%, depending on what’s in the pot. Less cooking time translates to fewer kilowatt hours expended and more energy saved.
One of the hot items in the pressure cooker market right now are multi-use electric appliances that can pressure cook, slow cook, steam and make yogurt. These kitchen tools have a loyal following but, like pressure cooking in general, come with a learning curve. Becoming proficient at the technique requires practice and adjusting, but once you’re comfortable with the process, you may be amazed at how delicious pressure cooked dishes can be. Not to mention fast—pork ribs in 25 minutes? Try this recipe.
Toaster ovens: Not quite as energy efficient as a slow cooker or microwave, toaster ovens are still a great option for green cooking. Requiring just 1/3 to ½ of the energy of a conventional oven, they’re the perfect size for one or two baked potatoes, for baking small casseroles, reheating leftovers or broiling sandwiches. Obviously they aren’t ideal when you need to cook multiple items, but for single diners, they’re a terrific choice.
There are ways to use your regular oven in greener ways too: Cook multiple items together in it and, if your oven is an Energy Star-rated model, you may want to consider skipping the preheating step altogether. Simply put the dish in a cold oven, turn the oven on to the temperature suggested in the recipe and cook as directed. Newer oven models tend to come to temperature so quickly that heating it first isn’t usually required. When the dish is done cooking, turn the oven off and let it finish cooking by means of residual heat inside. Of course, these steps should only be used when the item being cooked doesn’t require controlled temperatures—braises and stews work fine with this technique. Soufflés, not so much!
You also save energy by limiting the number of times you open the oven door during cooking, and using glass or ceramic bakeware—because those materials retain heat more efficiently than metal, you can reduce oven temperatures by 25 degrees and still cook foods in the same amount of time.
Making our lives greener is a big undertaking but when it comes to creating a more energy-efficient kitchen, you might be surprised at how close you really are.