An Efficient Holiday Season: Cooking Edition

Guest Blog | November 22, 2011 | Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy

This blog was written by SACE intern Jeannie McKinney.

Well readers, it’s that time of year again: the time when temperatures go way down, lights come on earlier, and energy bills go way up. In addition to encouraging winterizing your house for the colder months, we here at SACE wanted to share with you some ideas for making your holiday plans as energy efficient and environmentally conscious as possible this season.

To do this, we’ve put together a list of some of our favorite energy saving tricks to share with you in a series of blog posts over the next couple weeks.  Whether you’re celebrating Thanksgiving, Kwanzaa, Hannukah, Christmas, Festivus, or just a few days off from work, these tips will help you enjoy your holiday season to its fullest potential, while still keeping your energy use and environmental impacts as low as possible.

Today’s Topic: Holiday Cooking
For many, the holidays are about the Three F’s: Friends, Family, and Food.  Several of my favorite memories and events this time of year involve some amazing seasonal dishes; you cannot deny the power of food, and everyone looks forward to their own traditional holiday fare. This year, let’s try to make our seasonal cuisine with as little energy as possible.

ceramic-cookwareUse the right cookware. There is a lot to be said for proper tools in the kitchen, and investing in the right cooking instruments can actually help you cut back on your energy use while helping you create delicious works of art.

Glass and ceramic, for example, are better materials for baking than metal; these materials retain heat more fully, allowing you to turn the temperature down by about 25 degrees Farenheit and still cook quickly and more evenly than a metal pan.

Also, consider investing in a pressure cooker. Today’s pressure cookers  use less than a third of the energy of a warped bottom or flat bottom pot; they significantly  cut down on your cooking time, too!

Use the appropriate size pots and pans on your stove. Always make sure to match the size of the cooker to the size of the burner on your stove top. A 6″ pot or pan on an 8″ element can waste almost 40% of the heat being produced, so be sure to coordinate the two.

Don’t preheat, or preheat as little as possible. Foods that require roasting or cooking for hours in the oven – a turkey or ham, for example – do not need a preheated oven; they will still cook just as fully and quickly without the warm up. In truth, preheating is really only necessary for yeast-laden dishes, when baking breads or pastries that need an even temperature throughout in order to rise properly. If you feel you must preheat, however, defrost any frozen foods ahead of time to lower the amount of pre-cooking necessary.  And if you can, turn your oven off a few minutes early; if you keep the door closed, enough residual heat will remain to ensure your dishes get fully cooked anyway, without wasting that extra energy.

Overlap your cooking. Yes, you should open your oven door as little as possible; checking dishes too often can lower cooking time and waste energy very quickly. However, you can also cut the total amount of time that you have your oven on by cooking dishes side by side, and baking or roasting simultaneously. If you have a slow roasting meat dish in the oven, go ahead and place your green bean casserole alongside it for the appropriate amount of time – just make sure to leave enough room for heat circulation between the two containers.

Clean your oven soon after cooking. If you must use the self-cleaning feature on your oven, do it as infrequently as possible. Maybe you can run it at the end of a frenzied cooking week, but make sure to run it as soon as you’ve finished using the oven. This way, the oven won’t need to warm up if there’s residual heat from that last batch of cookies, and you’ll save time and use less energy. Don’t underestimate the power of a little elbow grease, though!

This year, get everyone to do their part in making your holiday season more efficient.

Don’t pre-rinse. Dishwashers today are powerful enough to clean without the necessity of pre-washing everything; scrape clean or get some furry members of the family in on the action, but cut back on water use and energy by letting your dishwasher fulfill its purpose on its own.

Run your dishwasher at night. Keep the strain on the power grid down to a minimum by letting your dishwasher – Energy Star certified, of course – run a full load after 7pm or overnight instead of immediately after cooking. Several utilities often make more use of cleaner energy at night – TVA uses hydroelectric, for instance – so you could be lowering your environmental impact in that way as well. And if you’re still going to be awake when the cycle finishes, open the door to let them air dry overnight, instead of wasting energy running that last drying cycle.

By following these suggestions, you can make a big difference in lowering the environmental impact of your kitchen this holiday season.  Keep tracking our blog for more seasonal tips, coming up in the next few weeks. Next up: The Gift of Giving, Greenly. Here’s to a more energy-conscious holiday season!

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