Gas is often a favorite cooking fuel with professional chefs and keen home cooks. While there are many benefits to gas cooktops, the downsides are hard to ignore. Here are the pros and cons of gas cooking.
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Pros and cons of gas cooktops
- Easier to control temperatures
- Instant heat
- Ability to char
- Fairly energy efficient
- Sometimes less expensive than electric
- Compromises indoor air quality, especially if unequipped with an exhaust hood
- Requires gas pipelines in your house and on your property
- Price of gas may cost more in the future
- Fossil fuel extraction and transportation have a huge environmental impact
- Gas appliances are banned in some regions
Gas Cooking Pros
Gas is often a favorite with keen cooks because it is easier to control temperatures and offers instant heat. You can easily char foods on a gas stove, which just isn’t an option with electric or induction.
Gas is also fairly energy efficient, but check the British Thermal Unit (BTU) output of any gas stove before you buy. The lower the BTU, the less heat the stove puts out. However, the lower the BTU, the more energy efficient the stove may be. It all depends on the design and how well you maintain your stovetop.
While natural gas is a fossil fuel, it may be more environmentally friendly than electricity in many places in the U.S. That’s because some of the electricity in the U.S. still comes from coal-burning power plants. Most comes from burning natural gas though, with nuclear power in second place for electricity generation, and coal third.
If you do decide on a gas stove, opt for a newer model that has an electric ignition. These models use up to 40 percent less gas than older models with a continually-burning pilot light (R).
Gas Cooking Cons
Perhaps the biggest downside of gas cooking is that it seriously compromises indoor air quality. This is particularly troublesome if your stove doesn’t have an exhaust hood.
Gas stoves emit, among other things:
- Nitrogen dioxide (NO2)
- Carbon monoxide (CO)
- Formaldehyde (HCHO).
These gases are harmful for everyone but are especially dangerous if you or a family member or visitor has asthma, emphysema, or any respiratory illness or other health issue. They’re also bad news if you’re pregnant or have small children or pets in the home.
We take a look at just how bad gas stoves are for indoor air quality here.
Gas cooktops also tend to decrease in efficiency as they get older. This can be because of the build-up of food residue and other issues. If you’re noticing a more yellow flame versus a bluer flame with your gas cooktop, schedule servicing to check everything’s working okay.
Natural gas may also cost a lot more in the future, despite being relatively cheap right now. On balance, the U.S. currently exports more natural gas than it imports. In 2020, about 98% of U.S. total annual natural gas imports were from Canada. Most of this comes through gas pipelines (as gas), with a tiny amount coming by a truck as compressed natural gas (CNG). Only 2% of total U.S. natural gas imports are liquefied natural gas (LNG), with 80% from Trinidad and Tobago.
Be careful not to disrupt gas pipelines
Gas cooktops and ranges are now seen as a safety concern in many parts of the U.S. So much so that some state and local governments have brought in regulations that don’t allow gas appliances in new residential buildings.
The idea here is to prevent major safety concerns due to gas pipelines and to help improve air quality for entire neighborhoods. If you have gas pipelines in your house and on your property, you have to be very careful not to disrupt these any time you do any landscaping. Gas pipelines can also rupture in areas prone to earthquakes or landslides. The presence of natural gas connections in your home may also affect the availability and cost of home insurance.
The downside, of course, is that you may not actually be allowed to have a gas cooktop or range where you live. If you already have a gas range, you will usually be okay replacing it with another gas appliance, but it’s definitely worth checking any bylaws or building codes first.
Consider your energy bill
One other potential downside to gas is that it can be very expensive and will become increasingly so with time. Gas is subsidized in the U.S. and those subsidies will likely decrease or disappear as we take more serious action on climate change. Gas prices also fluctuate, which can make it hard to budget long-term.
The environmental impact of cooking with gas
Finally, the extraction of gas is itself polluting and problematic. The most accessible natural gas resources have already been plundered, leaving gas companies to try more intense, invasive, and downright dangerous ways to extract gas from the earth and oceans.
The oil and gas industry has a major environmental impact. Drilling wells and laying pipelines:
- Causes air pollution
- Disturbs wildlife
- Diverts water resources
- Contaminates large volumes of water and land
- Requires land to be cleared
- Creates political conflict over land and water resources
- Creates safety concerns for gas leaks and explosions.
Where gas is released from wells but isn’t profitable to capture and transport, oil and gas companies burn it off at the well site. This is called flaring and produces CO2, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides.
Part of the calculation for energy efficient cooking involves factoring in 5-10 percent losses through natural gas infrastructure. This is because gas pipelines leak methane from start to finish. Methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. As such, cutting down on natural gas for home cooking directly benefits the fight against global warming and climate change.
Despite being a fossil fuel, gas stoves may be more environmentally friendly than electric stoves in some places in the U.S. This is because much of the electrical grid in the U.S. is powered by coal-burning power plants. See my piece on coal powered Teslas for more.
Thankfully, coal-burning power stations are being phased out, with more renewables coming online and grids becoming more efficient. For now, though, it’s likely that if you live in the U.S., your electricity actually comes from burning fossil fuels. Cooking your food directly with natural gas cuts out the middleman (the power plant), making it more energy-efficient overall.
See more about energy efficient cooking here.
Final thoughts on gas cooktops
Gas cooktops have had their day, but in my opinion and per many regulators, environmental organizations, and public health experts these home appliances are outdated, unsafe, and unhealthy for people and planet.
Sure, there are some great benefits to cooking with gas. I grew up with a gas stove and had one up until just a few years ago, and I loved cooking with gas! The downsides are just too overwhelming though, and certainly not worth getting a good char on a fresh pepper.
Given the environmental cost and risk of natural gas pipelines and extraction, and the relative safety of renewables, gas availability and cost may change significantly in the next few decades.