We still get funny looks when people learn we will have no range in our apartment in the pole barn. How can that be? How will we survive? Actually, neither of us is worried, and I’m downright excited.
Other than a brief foray into dorm living as a college student, I’ve never lived in a home without a range. Ditto for Amanda. We’ve always had that big, energy-guzzling oven, and those four energy-guzzling cooktops ready to go. But in this new world we are trying to design for ourselves, we measure energy consumption by the spoonful, and ovens just don’t fit in with that.
Let’s talk about all the ways we WILL be able to prepare food:
We can eat food raw. One of the happy surprises of organic gardening is how good the food in the garden tastes when you just pick it and eat it on the spot. Beans, tomatoes, corn, peppers, and even squash, zucchini, and cucumbers, taste wonderful without cooking. My guess is that they will form the backbone of our midday meals, at least during the summer gardening season.
We can use the Global Sun Oven. When we first bought it, we sort of expected the Sun Oven to be a novelty, something we would haul out to show off from time to time; but it has surprised us. We knew it would be inexpensive to use (as in free). We were unprepared for just how effectively and reliably it cooks.
We can use the microwave oven. Microwave ovens, now nearly ubiquitous in American homes, are one of the most energy-efficient ways to cook food. We plan to use ours whenever we can, both to cook food that was raw before and to reheat food we already cooked and stored. We are aware that some Americans consider “leftovers” to be second-rate; neither of us has ever had any problem with that.
We can use the toaster-oven. We own a nice, fancy Quisinart oven that can easily heat up some bread or pizza, and we have also used it for cooking vegetables. It’s particularly adept at cooking sliced eggplant.
We can use the toaster. Nothing to say here.
We can use the gas grill. You probably have already seen the grill (look for the picture of Tractor). It’s a three-burner Char-Broil infrared. Amanda’s colleagues in the Communication Studies Department at Samford University raised the money to buy it for us as their parting gift to Amanda, and so far she has been kind enough to let me use it when I need to. I plan to stay on my best behavior in hopes she will continue to give me access. There are two styles of using a gas grill. Okay, there are many more than two styles, but when it comes to how much to cook at a time, there are two styles. There’s the “cook a little something nearly every night” style, and there’s the “cook a whole mess at one time and freeze the leftovers to use later” style. Amanda and I fall firmly into the latter camp. We cook perhaps 20-30 pieces of chicken at one time (usually after precooking them in the microwave). Then I wrap enough for one meal in a piece of wax paper and store as many meal-packets in a zip-lock bag as we can get to fit. We freeze the bags and pull from them for each meal. We find this a more efficient way to use the energy, as well as more convenient. We can compost the wax paper, and because the zip-lock bags never touch food we can keep reusing them.
And finally, we can use the induction cooktop. Unlike a conventional range, which works by radiating heat to the cooking dish, the induction cooktop works by exciting the electrons in a ferrous pan (if the pan is not cast iron, it must be “induction ready”). It’s much faster than a conventional range, and it sends FAR less heat into the room than a range cooktop would. We may still do most of our cooking outside during the summer to keep heat from building up inside the apartment, but the lower heat throw-off from the induction cooktop should give us more flexibility.
Just as a microwave oven is more efficient for cooking than a conventional oven because it acts directly on the food rather than heating up the air around it, the induction cooktop is more efficient because it acts directly on the pan rather than heating up a surface below it. Amanda and I put together a little experiment to figure out how much faster and more efficiently the induction cooktop cooks. We had to break it into two programs for YouTube to accept it. In her gentle way, Amanda has told me I screwed up by making this too long, and she’s right. But I decided that this comparison is all about elapsed time, so I let the time elapse naturally, even at the risk of boring you. I apologize.
So here are the advantages and disadvantages of induction cooking as we understand them. Induction is dramatically more energy efficient; in our test, it uses 61% less energy to cook the same dish. Our conventional range needed about 6 1/2 minutes compared with 3 1/2 minutes for the induction cooktop. The conventional range used about 209 watt-hours of energy compared with 82 for the induction cooktop. Induction is also faster, and it throws a lot less heat off into the room.
On the other hand, induction cooktops will work only with pans that are cast iron or otherwise “induction ready.” At least on our cooktop, a Mr. Induction SR-1881, there’s also a thin ribbon on the outside edge of the pan that doesn’t heat up the way it would on a conventional range.