How to Save Energy (and Money) when Cooking

Sharon December 2nd, 2008

Note: I’m going to be frantically finishing my next book _Independence Days_ which is about the ties between sustainable food systems and food preservation and storage.  This means not as much time to post new stuff.  So I thought I’d run a few old columns – after all, I’ve been writing this blog for years now, and my readership has expanded a lot, so hopefully some of the old content will be valuable to people. Apologies to those who are already familiar with this stuff.  More new come January, when I get to breathe again.  This one is from May, 2007, just as we were about to start the Riot for Austerity, as I was thinking how to get our energy cost for cooking down.

In the spirit of our really riotous reduction, I’ve been thinking about how to cut my cooking energy down as much as possible. Here are 25 ways I’ve come up with to cut cooking energy.

1. Turn off the stove/oven before you are finished. This is fairly simple – when you soup is almost hot, turn off the stove – it will continue to heat for a while. When your bread is 15 minutes short of baked, turn off the oven and let it sit in the hot oven. You can do this for longer with things that are hotter for longer, or less sensitive, like casseroles. Be cautious with meat – you don’t want food poisoning. Experiment.

2. Eat more salads, sandwiches and raw foods that don’t require cooking.

3. Make a hay box cooker – insulated a box with a blanket, hay or other good insulator. Get your food nice and hot, and then put it in that insulated box and let the retained heat do the cooking.

4. Use a pressure cooker – they save a lot of time when cooking beans, grains, stews and such.  Modern pressure cookers don’t explode like the old ones did, so don’t be scared!

5. Capture heat whenever you can. Instead of heating up several pots of water for tea or soup each day, heat that water and put it in a thermos, and use it for tea when you need it.  If the stove has residual heat, stick your kettle on the burner to warm up the water. 

6. Use a wood cookstove to heat your house and cook at the same time. Save heavy canning and long cooking projects for times when you would be heating the house anyhow whenever possible – for example, canning applesauce can often wait until winter if you have varieties of apples that store well.

7. Or, if you heat with wood but don’t have a cookstove, cook on your heating stove. Put your kettle on the stove. Keep soup on the back of the stove. Have someone build a sheet metal oven for you (just a metal box with a door) that will enable you to bake on the stove.

8. Build an earth or masonry oven outside and use twigs and other scrap wood to bake and cook. A hot earth oven will stay hot enough for you to start by making pizza, then move down to bread, stew and finally dehydrating. Info in _Build Your Own Earth Oven_ by Kiko Denzer and _Capturing Heat Two_ by Still, Hatfield and Scott of the Aprovecho Research Center.

9. Build or buy a solar oven. Instructions for making your own are available on many sites, and in _Capturing Heat: Five Earth Friendly Cooking Technologies and How to Build Them_ by Still and Kness of the source above. The Maria Telkes Solar Cooker gets a bit hotter than some other models, as do the commercial ones.  Tom at Sustainable Choice (who advertises on the sidebar of the blog) sells commercial Sunovens, and we’ve been very happy with ours, although we got along for a good long time with homemade versions.

10. Build a solar dehydrator for food preservation instead of using an electric one. Here’s a cool one: http://greenbluebrown.blogspot.com/2006/10/tomato-dehydrating-update.html

11. Don’t preheat your oven – that is, put your food in while the oven is preheating to capture that heating energy. The only exceptions where this isn’t a good idea are a few really delicate baked goods, but generally this works fine, although you may have to slightly adjust your timing. Practice makes perfect.

12. If you have an electric stove or oven, convert to natural gas or propane – they are much more efficient ways of making heat.  Or at least convert to convection heating, which uses less energy than conventional electric stoves. 

13. Build a rocket stove or rocket bread oven as seen in the first _Capturing Heat_ – a rocket stove uses biomass fuel much more efficiently than a woodstove or earth oven. A rocket bread oven can cook 20 loaves at a time.

14. Have a baking day, or two a week. Do all your oven work then and store your baked goods. 

15. Use a crockpot if you have an electric stove – a crockpot generally will use less energy than an electric stove, although not a gas one.  It can also save a lot of time and energy if you’ve been eating take out – it uses a lot less energy, generally, than driving for fast food.

16. Only bake in a full oven – plan ahead and while you are baking your bread, also consider roasting a pan of vegetables or baking that pie you’ll want later.

17. Don’t open your oven or remove pot lids more often than necessary. Keep the heat in.  Never boil water or heat anything without a lid.

18. Use a microwave instead of a stove (I personally hate microwaves, but they are more efficient than conventional stoves).

19. Make large batches of things and reheat, cooking less often (although this might not make sense if you could give up fridge or freezer otherwise – think it through carefully).

20. Lactoferment pickles, kimchi, etc… and don’t can them. Just keep them in a cool place, and save the canning energy.

21. Switch from a coffee percolator to a press coffee maker.

22. Soak beans overnight in cold water to reduce cooking time.

23. Use cast iron or other heavy cookware that retains heat better than cheap aluminum. That way, you can turn things off even sooner.

24. Make your own low-heat charcoal, cook over the process, and then use agrichar to improve your garden soil.

25. Get your cat to sit on the butter warmer (covered of course) when you need it melted. Ok, this one isn’t a real suggestion, but I’m one short, and it probably would work, if you could persuade the cat not to eat the butter.

Cheers,

 Sharon

28 Responses to “How to Save Energy (and Money) when Cooking”

  1. Marnie says:

    Hi Sharon,

    Considering the vast wealth of ideas/opinions/wonderfulness/knowledge here (and in the comments!), have you ever considered making a blog book available? Because you’ve got so much stuff, maybe by year? You can turn a blog into a book here:

    http://www.blurb.com/create/book/blogbook

    (i have no affiliation, just think it’s a genius idea)

    My harddrive, my bookmarks, and my husband’s printer at work are getting overloaded – I need all this goodness in print! :-)

    I’d give my left arm, Sharon ;-) Do you accept left arms?

  2. Marnie says:

    p.s. i found out about it via SouleMama’s blog in this post:

    http://www.soulemama.com/soulemama/2007/03/documenting.html

    peace

  3. Hausfrau says:

    If you are looking for non-electric ways to cook, think about a Storm, aka Kelly Kettle. They heat up water with just a few twigs (any kind of biomass, really) in a few minutes, and with an add-on kit you can also cook certain things on top of the kettle – think fried eggs. Anyway, that’s what I hear – I haven’t tried one yet. They are kind of expensive, but I’m going to get one as a backup (non electric) cooker.

    Any references on making your own low-heat charcoal??

  4. Kristi says:

    A thought about not preheating your oven:

    Make sure you know HOW your oven preheats before trying this. I have an oven that preheats using the broiler coil as well as the lower coil. Found out the hard way and burned dinner to a crisp!

  5. Heather Gray says:

    Kristi, does your oven only do this if you use the Preheat setting, or also if you simply start with the oven set on Bake?

    Ours has a Preheat setting as well as the usual Bake and Broil, so if we just set it on Bake we don’t have to worry about the broiler coil coming on.

  6. martin says:

    Cat, Butter, Sit, got it!

  7. Devin Quince says:

    We turn the oven and burners off before things are done and a bonus of the oven if that if you leave it cracked, it warms the room up a few degrees with residual heat after the cooking is done.

  8. Corinne says:

    Great suggestions. I have another one (this can substitute in for the last one if you don’ t have a cat!):

    Pull out of the fridge the ingredients for cooking an hour or two ahead of time, so that they have warmed to room temperature and won’t need extra heating. I also do this with leftovers I will be reheating. Except for foods that are a bit risky, such as maybe fish….

    Bon Appetit!

  9. Kerr says:

    Make your own low-heat charcoal, cook over the process, and then use agrichar to improve your garden soil.

    Sounds interesting… Any links for this one?

  10. risa b says:

    Sadly, we use #18, the microwave, quite a lot — due to our non-aligned schedules and long absences. We’ve become quite adroit with it.

    For example, a breakfast for one might be: one quarter cup of Bear Mush (a favorite cream of wheat) stirred into half a bowl (about 3/4 cup) of warm water from the woodstove) — 55 seconds, take out, stir in one fresh duck egg and a small pat of butter, with salt and Italian spices to taste — return to microwave for 44 seconds, take out, go sit by fire and eat, set bowl down for cat to lick clean, bring bowl and spoon to kitchen, wash, set to drain, prepare to go catch bus.

    Not having to wash a pot or frying pan figures into all this. And the dish water that we do use at such times is also from the wood stove, saving on heat loss from water pipes.

    I also use the at-work microwave for home-grown lunches featuring beets, potatoes, bok choi, chard, spinach, etc.
    Three minutes and 33 seconds. Add each ingredient according to density, tomatoes and onion greens in the last 25 seconds.

    In the evenings I often have just a tomato sandwich. So we go for weeks at a time without getting into the pots and pans routine, while eating relatively healthily, so far as we can tell.

  11. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » How to Save Energy (and Money) when Cooking Note: I’m going to be frantically finishing my next book _Independence Days_ which is about the ties between sustainable food systems and food preservation and storage. This means not as much time to post new stuff. So I thought I’d run a few old columns – after all, I’ve been writing this blog for years now, and my readership has expanded a lot, so hopefully some of the old content will be valuable to people. Apologies to those who are already familiar with this stuff. More new come January, when I get to breathe again. This one is from May, 2007, just as we were about to start the Riot for Austerity, as I was thinking how to get our energy cost for cooking down. [...]

  12. jengod says:

    You rock. Thanks for (a) always being awesome, and (b) the links for oven plans.

  13. Rosa says:

    I love my pressure cooker so much, it’s been just about exactly a year since we got it (and a cookbook by Lorna Sass to go with) and I would never have guessed how much we use it. It cuts cooking time over the same heat to 1/3 or 1/10 of a regular stock pot.

    Also, you can usually find glass-lined giant-sized vacuum thermoses around here in the thrift stores that are amazingly good. I don’t know what the brand name is but they’re typically really ugly (red yellow and white flowers, bronze with green ivy) and have plastic tops and straws inside to suck up the liquid & dispense it. I bought 4 we used for Food Not Bombs that would keep hot tea or soup broth hot for hours outside in sub-freezing temperatures, or cold drinks all day in the hot sun – we have similar (but newer & nicer colored) ones in my office for coffee, and coffee made late Friday morning will still be warm on Saturday morning in it.

  14. Diane says:

    1) I feel safer (antiseptically speaking) using the quick soak method for beans: Boil one or two minutes in ample water, cover and leave for one or two hours. Then drain, rinse and cook as for other soaked beans. Or maybe that’s just an excuse for poor planning.

    2) Is there a brilliant, pre-plastic method for storing bread?

  15. D says:

    Re: #25 – I actually asked one of my cats today if she would mind curling up around my tea kettle to keep my tea warm for me (because she supposedly loves me, right?). Alas, the fluffy little ingrate could not be convinced. Thank goodness for tip #5!

  16. Pony says:

    Re: #15. Crock pot
    Be sure to check out “A Year of Crockpotting” at http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/

    Very entertaining reading as well as Great recipes- she posted a new one every day and is closing in on a year- with a helpful index and an article (on right pane) to “Saving money using your crock pot” and this paragraph from it

    If you are concerned about the amount of energy consumed by using a crockpot (which is a very valid concern!) here is a pamphlet put out by First Energy Corp., in Ohio. The chart on page 5 says that a crockpot uses $0.02 power per hour.
    Here’s another energy usage list put out by the Northeast Utilities System, that says the monthly cost of using a slow cooker is $1.17.
    (There are links in there but I don’t think they will copy over to here.

  17. Fern says:

    Diane – aluminum foil if you are freezing or refrigerating the extra loaves.

    Or, a breadbox will help limit the mold spores getting in, and helps stop the bread from getting stale.

    Sourdough tends to both hold mosture and resist mold better than most other types of bread.

    Fern

  18. Diane says:

    Fern,

    Thanks for the info. I’ve been thinking about another go at sourdough. My first produced peculiar results after a couple of batches.

    Also, we do a lot of stir frying which is a very fuel efficient cooking method. We intentionally prepare large quantities which become fried rice the next day.

  19. [...] Where can we cut back more? Cooking, for one.  As it gets colder, we cook and bake more. We’re working on a hay box for stew and soups, and a smaller one for the teapot to outdo our present tea cozy, so I don’t have to use the microwave that often. We microwave more (the choice between “cook on high for 2 minutes” and “cook in oven for 30 minutes” is an easy one) even though the results are less crispy. In summer we plan to have our home-made solar cooker ready. Sharon has 25 tips for  saving energy and money when cooking here. [...]

  20. justjohn says:

    Another wood fired oven option is at http://www.fornobravo.com/pompeii_oven/pompeii_oven.html — a 67 page PDF.

    (it is a nuisance that you can’t download the plans directly … you fill out their form and they email you download instructions, but it times out after 24 hours, so do it when you will be online for a few hours)

    I have no relation to the website, I just found it after reading a NY Times article about Mario Batali. I get the impression that it would cost about $800 for the materials

  21. nl says:

    This does seem like a big waste of time if you ask me.

    I recently paid my bill for propane for my gas cooktop.

    It was $51 for the last six months of use, or about $8.50 a month.

    People should look for more meaningful ways to reduce overall energy usage. For some reason, people fixate on the things where there is the least benefit to reducing usage, and the most cost in terms of inconvenience etc. I’m not going to have my cat sit on my butter to save $0.15 over the course of a year.

    It would be much more meaningful to focus, for example, on hot water. Either use a tankless gas hot water heater (up to 50% reduction in fuel costs), or perhaps a solar system. 50% of US households use an electric hot water heater, including ourselves. Our hot water heater is a meager 19 gallons — barely enough for a quick shower, because you can’t really use all 19 gallons before it starts to get cool. However, that dinky little heater consumes about $25 a month in electricity, or about 1/3rd of our entire electric bill. Probably $50 a month is more typical.

  22. Dave Eriqat says:

    I always try to reuse energy, especially around the stove. Here are some of my tricks of the trade:

    1) After baking something I open the oven to heat the kitchen.

    2) I drape the damp kitchen towel over the oven opening to dry it.

    3) If I made something hot, like pizza, I stick a cold plate in the oven for a while to warm the plate. (Hot food on a cold plate is no good.) If I make waffles, I heat the plate atop the waffle iron.

    4) If I’m planning to have something like a brownie after baking something, I put it in the oven and let the residual heat warm the brownie.

    5) When I make tea I put the teacup in the empty pot I boiled the water in and put the whole thing on the warm burner while it steeps. That counteracts the cold cup and keeps the tea nice and hot until I drink it. You can put the teacup directly on the burner, provided that the cup is hot and the burner has cooled off some. Putting the cup in the pot is a little less likely to break the cup, and if it does break, well, it’s in a pot!

    6) When I make coffee in the morning (one cup) I boil an extra half cup of water and use it to preheat the cup. Again, hot coffee in a cold cup is no good. (By the way, my house has no insulation, so the cupboards are like refrigerators. So when I take dishes out of them they are literally ice cold. That’s why so much emphasis on heating the dishes!) I used to use hot tap water to preheat the cup, but then I realized that the water heater has to reheat both the little amount I used in the cup plus all the cold water flushed from the water line first! It’s far more economical to just boil an extra half cup of water.

    Dave
    http://daveeriqat.wordpress.com/

  23. Matthew says:

    I have to agree with NL (above) that many of these tips are saving the pennies and overlooking the dollars.

    Build an oven outside to use twigs? Won’t the heat energy leaving through the repeatedly open outside door counteract any savings of stove energy?

    Dave Eriqat (prior comment) says it best when he talks about putting a tea cup on a stove burner to keep it warm (fire hazard?) and then later says his house has no insulation.

    If your house has no insulation, then any energy you use on heat is completely wasted. Dave is being terribly wasteful, even as he posts all his clever ways to save pennies worth of energy.

  24. Dave Eriqat says:

    Matthew,

    My house has no insulation because it’s over 100 years old and back then they didn’t think to put insulation in houses.

    I’ve only owned this house for about three years, during which time I’ve struggled to think of various ways to add insulation. Unfortunately, there is no easy solution. There isn’t even an opening to afford access to the attic. It’s also not easy to find people to do this sort of work where I live.

    Believe me, if it were easy to add insulation to my house, I’d have done so years ago!

    Dave
    http://daveeriqat.wordpress.com/

  25. [...] Casaubon’s Book » Blog Archive » How to Save Energy (and Money … [...]

  26. Mary Campbell says:

    Combining your ideas works well for me. Soak beans overnight in my pressure cooker, bring them to high jiggle in the morning. Most are overdone if you let them cool on their own, so I do run a little water over the cooker to cool it down. (Waters the garden later.) Freeze the cookd beans in four cup aliquots. You get way more volume from dried beans if you soak them before cooking.

  27. Daddy61 says:

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  28. Mark97 says:

    When Christ achieves his final victory, we will be victorious as well because we are united with him. ,

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