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2023-12-22 2:05 pm
A woman slices a carrot on a wooden chopping board

How to cook without gas: tips and tricks

March 26, 2024

Renew’s Lance Turner has penned a bumper guide for ditching gas in the kitchen.

This article originally appeared in the print edition of Renew magazine and is appearing here as part of Bank Australia’s support for Sustainable House Day. The opinions included are those of the authors.

While cooking only constitutes about 5% of a home’s energy use, it is often the one area that keeps a home connected to the gas network. In this guide we take a look at getting off gas by removing that last gas appliance – the gas stove.

If that sounds like you – your house is all-electric except for the kitchen, then this guide should help you make the final part of the getting-off-gas transition to an all-electric abode.

In this guide, we will look at alternatives for the gas cooktop and oven, as well as appliances that can be used instead of the traditional cooking devices, appliances that can help you reduce energy consumption even further.

In terms of energy efficiency, Renew’s analysts have found induction cooktops come out on top (input energy of 600 MJ/year for and output energy of 480 MJ/year), just ahead of ceramic electric resistive cooktops (667MJ/year), and with both these electric options miles ahead of gas hobs (1200MJ/year).

What appliances do you need?

First, you should consider which appliances you will actually need. Do you use your gas oven? If not, then you probably won’t need an electric replacement – maybe a microwave or combination microwave/convection benchtop oven will do everything you require.

How about the cooktop, do you use it regularly, and if you do, how many burners do you use at once? Four burner cooktops are the most common, but many people never use more than two at a time, so why buy more than you will ever use?

A white pot sits on a two burner induction cooktop

You might also want to expand your cooking options, and there are many small appliances that can do that for you, from air fryers (see article ‘Are air fryers magic?’ in issue 161), microwave ovens, and dedicated appliances like rice cookers, bread makers and egg cookers. However, dedicated appliances are less flexible, and it usually doesn’t make sense to have a whole appliance with such specific but limited abilities like an egg cooker. I would recommend avoiding such devices as they can end up costing a lot to buy, tend to have relatively short lifespans and can easily become just one more unused appliance in the cupboard, or even a new piece of e-waste.

We will look at the various other devices later in this guide, but now let’s move on to getting off that dreaded gas connection. Inmost homes, that will involve replacing the gas cooktop and gas oven.

A new cooktop

For many people, the gas cooktop is the one item that really keeps them hooked on gas. It has very rapid response time to changes in heat demand, and it is pretty much infinitely variable. For these reasons, they have been immensely popular over the years, and there is a misguided belief amongst many that there is no equivalent electrical alternative.

But, there are electric equivalents to gas cooktops. The most popular by far now is the most recent technology – the induction cooker.

What is induction cooking?

Unlike other electric heating devices, induction cookers don’t produce heat in the usual way of sending power through a resistive element. Instead, induction units have an electronic circuit (a type of inverter, a device that produces a very specific AC, or alternating current, output) that sends an AC waveform to a large coil under each pot position (still called burners, strangely enough). The coil produces a strong localised magnetic field that will induce a similar field in any magnetic metal object placed on top of the burner plate.

The induced field produces current flows inside the metal cookware and it’s this current flow, known as an eddy current, that heats the pot or pan due to the electrical resistance of the pan’s metal (all metals have electrical resistance). So, basically the induction cooktop makes the pan heat itself, with no external heating of elements and cooktop surfaces required.

This is the primary reason that induction cooktops are so efficient. Even though the inverter has some efficiency losses, these are more than made up for by eliminating heat transfer losses that you get from cooktops that have heat sources external to the pots, such as resistive elements.

An induction stovetop is used to cook vegetables and boil water. A hand stirs the vegetables with a wooden spoon

Induction cooktops have a number of features that make them flexible. First, they have quite a wide variation in heating levels, from a mild simmer to flat-out rapid boiling. It’s common for cooktops to have 10 power levels on their burners, but some have more, and some are fully variable.

A cooktop’s controls are usually on the cooking surface itself at the front edge – the glass surface is touch sensitive and, because of the reasons mentioned above, simply never gets hot, so there’s no chance of burning yourself.

Another useful feature available even on some of the cheaper units is the ability to combine two burners into one single large burner. This is ideal for very large pots or pans – once the burners are combined, they work just like a single burner.

An induction cooktop’s electromagnetic field evenly penetrates the entire base of your pan, with no warm or cool spots, so there’s no need to shift the pan’s position while you cook. The power level is also maintained precisely, without any slow build-up of heat, so heating is instantaneous and stable. Many induction cooktops have automatic pan size detection that adjusts the magnetic field to match the size of the cookware.

This rapid power delivery can take some getting used to – induction cooktops can cook much faster than you may be used to. It’s easy to accidentally overcook or burn even a familiar dish on an induction cooktop if you’re not used to its operation, so keep an eye on your pots and consider cooking on a lower setting until you’re used to the induction style.

An often overlooked feature of induction cooktops is the lower heat levels you will experience in the kitchen. Unlike gas and radiant electric cooking, all of the heat energy goes into the pot. The cooktop and surrounds tend to remain a lot cooler than with other cooktop types, and once turned off, the cooking surface cools down quite rapidly once the cooking pot is removed. However, as a safety measure, the electronics will let you know if the surface is still too hot to touch.

And, of course, if you turn on an induction cooker burner and touch the cooking surface, nothing will happen. There is no heat (unless you have just taken a hot pot off the burner) and so the burn risk is a lot lower with induction compared to any other cooktop type.

Being full of electronics, induction cooktops have inevitably entered the world of smart appliances. Some cooktops can send alerts if you forget there is a pot on the stove, and some cooktops also include extractor fans at the cooktop surface itself, eliminating the need for a separate rangehood.

Disadvantages of induction

There’s not a lot to talk about here, but the two main issues are that of noise and magnetic fields.

Induction cookers tend to have internal fans to keep the electronics cool, and these can make a bit of noise while cooking. Some may also make a bit of buzzing from the internal coils and possibly from the pot (although my personal experience without $399 cheapie four-burner unit from Kogan is that there is no real audible buzzing, only fan noise). If shopping for a cooktop, see if you can hear one operating so that you can evaluate the noise level.

Another issue is that you need to have magnetic cookware – if you can stick a fridge magnet to the base of your pans then you should be fine. If not, then you will need new cookware which is designed for induction cooking. Ceramic, glass and all-aluminium pans won’t work, but many composite based and stainless steel pans will, as will, of course, anything made from steel or cast iron.

Replacing pans needn’t be expensive though – when we upgraded from gas to induction, we had to replace a few of our very old saucepans (which became excellent water bowls for the chooks). We went with the encapsulated base saucepan range from K-mart, with prices around the $20 mark, and includes 16 and 20cm saucepans and a 24cm crockpot. Despite this low price, they are as good as pans costing five times as much and work brilliantly, and are still perfect after five years of use.

Another possible issue with induction cookers comes for those who have pacemakers or similar electronic medical devices. There is the potential for the strong magnetic fields to upset these devices, and manufacturers recommend that you maintain a distance of between 300mm and 600mmfrom the cooktop (depending on who you talk to). If you have such an electronic device, then you may need to consider an alternative cooktop type.

Non-induction options

The closest to an induction cooktop in looks (and ease of cleaning) is the ceramic cooktop. These have a flat glass top just like an induction unit, but instead of magnetic coils they have fast response resistive elements, usually halogen elements (like a halogen bulb, but they run at lower temperatures), under the heat-resistant glass. So, they operate much the same as other resistive cooktops, by producing heat that is then transferred to the pot through thermal conduction or radiation.

This means ceramic cooktops are not as efficient as induction units, and they produce more wear and tear on their glass cooktop surfaces as the surface runs at a much higher temperature and so is more prone to corrosion. However, for those who can’t have or don’t like induction units, they are the next best thing. Their main advantage has been price, with resistive ceramic cooktops being cheaper than induction units, but this isn’t really the case any longer, with four-burner induction cooktops being available for as low as $300 or even less. There really isn’t any reason to go with resistive ceramic cookers nowadays.

We should note here that some retailers actually call resistive ceramic cooktops induction cooktops when they in fact use heating elements. To confuse things further, while technically an induction cooktop is a type of ceramic cooktop as it has a ceramic top, the term “ceramic cooktop” is generally used to describe units with resistive elements.

There is a lot of ignorance out there in retail land and retailers really should know better. Basically, if they show a photo of the element glowing below the glass, then you are looking at a ceramic resistive cooktop, regardless of how it has been described. When looking for an induction cooker, double check that that is what you are actually buying, the salesperson won’t necessarily know!

The older style cooktops with exposed elements are still available as well, but those now tend to have enclosed tops which are raised above the cooktop surface. This means they are easier to clean than older open-element cooktops, but require more cleaning than flat glass-surface cooktops. They also still have quite slow response times compared to induction and even ceramic cooktops.

All of these electric cooktops are vastly simpler to clean than the intricate nooks and crannies and multiple components of gas cooktops –the lower cleaning time alone is enough reason to make the switch from gas, especially if you do a lot of cooking but hate the clean up!

Other potential costs of going electric

Whether you go with induction or another electric cooking type, you may need an upgrade of the wiring to your kitchen, or even your electrical switchboard. Induction and resistive cooktops have varying power requirements, but all are likely to require 20 amps or more, and so will need a dedicated circuit and circuit breaker. The cost on this will vary, but should be allowed for when making the move away from gas.

Where this may not be the case is if you decide to go with a single or dual burner unit only, as these are available in portable units that simply plug in to a power point. We look at these in a bit more detail below.

Countertop, freestanding cooker or portable?

Cooktops come in many configurations and sizes, but if you are simply switching from gas to electric you will most likely want to go like-for-like when swapping to electric cooking. For example, if you have a 60cm gas countertop cooktop (the come in several sizes including 30, 60, 75 and 90cm wide), then you will want an equivalent induction (or other electric)- unit. This makes for the simplest installation, without the need to modify benchtops.

In most cases, you simply remove the gas cooktop and drop in a same-sized induction unit and have it wired up by your electrician. While induction cooktops can be fairly high due to the electronics etc, they are generally no higher than a gas cooktop, and so should fit in the same space. However, you should check this before buying – take some measurements of the existing cooktop, measure width, depth and total height (this last measurement might take some creativity without removing the cooktop from the benchtop). That way, you can look for a new cooktop which is exactly the same size.

Note that, while the gas cooktop will usually have an electrical connection for the electronic ignitors, it most likely will be a standard 10 or 16 amp connection and will not be adequate for a four-burner cooktop – you will have to have the wiring upgraded (unless a heavier grade circuit was installed by a forward-thinking person previously like it was in our house – the wires were run and it just needed to be connected at each end). Cooktops and ovens must also have appropriate circuit protection devices, such as RCDs and arc fault breakers, as well as an isolator (a high-power switch) at the cooker to allow for easy isolation of the device.

Freestanding cookers have also been popular over the years, especially in older homes, and they are available with induction burners and electric ovens, although the range is much more limited than when buying separate cooktops and ovens. Freestanding cookers will definitely need an electrical upgrade to at least a 32A circuit, with the appropriate safety devices as mentioned above. Your electrician will understand what is required for the upgrade, but see the box “Electrical connection requirements” for more information.

Some people choose to forgo an in-built cooktop and oven when ditching gas appliances. This can give you back some cupboard and benchtop space once the old gas units have been removed. Instead, it’s not uncommon to find single and two-burner induction cookers used in place of the gas cooktop. These simply sit on the bench while being used and can then be unplugged and stored away when cooking is finished.

Portable induction units are now extremely cheap, starting at around $70 – you don’t have to spend a lot to go induction. Portables tend to not have the features of a dedicated cooktop, but they are perfectly adequate for many people. They are also a great way to try out induction cooking without jumping in with both feet.

Quick selection tips

Choose wisely and avoid frustration:

• select one with a well laid out control area that can be operated easily and quickly

• try before you buy: visit lots of showrooms — press those buttons!

• ask a friend if you can cook on theirs; find out their list of pros and cons

• borrow or buy a portable induction hotplate to experience one

• take a magnet when shopping for new cookware and ensure the entire cookware base is magnetic so you get even cooking and maximum coverage

Oven options

If you have a gas oven, then it will also need replacing. An equivalent electric oven which is a drop-in replacement should be available for most gas units. Like the cooktop, the old unit is removed, the new unit installed and the appropriate wiring completed. If you are replacing a free-standing cooker, then the oven is part of that, of course.

Like the cooktop, you may decide that you don’t want a large, dedicated oven. In this case, you can look for something that suits your needs. In our case, we opted for a simple 2000W benchtop fan forced oven that cost a whopping $99 six years ago. It has worked perfectly ever since, being used pretty much every day.

These cheap ovens tend to lack insulation, and ours was no exception. However, living in NW Tassie, heat escaping into the room is almost never an issue as it adds to the warmth of the home. In the few days in the last decade where we actually had excessively-warm temperatures inside the home, we simply didn’t use the oven until the evening.

Of course, for much of Australia, this isn’t the case, at least not in the warmer months, so you may need to look around for a better made, properly insulated oven, which will have the added advantage of lower running costs.

These little benchtop overs are often more versatile than a regular oven and can take the place of other appliances. For example, ours has switchable top and bottom elements, so it can bake and roast like a regular oven, or just using the top elements it can brown or toast, so can eliminate the need for a separate toaster, although it is quite a bit slower than a toaster to get the job done.

A full sized electronic oven with an induction stovetop

For full-sized ovens, there are a number of things to consider, including the style of the unit (if that matters to you) as well as features. One option that has become more common is the double oven, where you get two smaller ovens, or one large, one smaller, for more flexible cooking, or where you need to cook two different dishes at different times and temperatures simultaneously. Bear in mind that dual ovens can have considerable power draws, so your wiring will need to be able to cope with this higher total load.

As far as features go, most ovens have similar capabilities, but check datasheets for those you are interested in, in case a feature you are after, such as an in-built rotisserie, is not included. And, of course, as we recommend in most of our guides, check reviews, both on retailers’ sites and particularly at productreview.com.au, which can give you an idea of reliability and issues other owners have faced with particular brands and models.

Small appliances

There are many small kitchen appliances that can be used in place of a cooktop or oven, saving space, cost and energy consumption.

Air fryers

The most versatile of the small appliances is probably the air fryer, which can be used to fry, bake and roast all manner of foods, from roast veggies to cakes.

If you are not familiar with the appliance, an air fryer uses an element to heat air which is then circulated over food that is placed in a perforated basket at the bottom of the unit. The heat cooks the food using no extra oil (in most cases) and far less energy than a conventional full-sized oven would use.

Air fryers come in many varieties, from little 5 litre units with basic features for under $100 through to larger models that cross over with more conventional style benchtop ovens, and can handle almost any cooking task you can throw at them. Of course, the larger and more featured the air fryer, the more expensive they are, but on a function-per-dollar basis, air fryers would be one of the best buys in cooking appliances.

Slow cookers, hot pot cookers and pressure cookers

As its name suggests, a slow cooker is designed to cook food slowly. Basically, you place the food into the internal bowl (often ceramic) of the cooker and turn it on. Normally there will be two or three heat settings, usually “low”, “high” and “keep warm”. Cooking is done on low or high, depending on requirements, until the allotted cooking time is complete, and then the cooker is switched to the warm setting to keep food at the right temperature until ready to eat.

Slow cookers emulate the old-style “haybox” cooker, where you would bring a pot to boil then place it in an insulated box where it would continue to cook with no external heat. (A modern take on these is the vacuum flask slow cooker pot, such as those made by Thermos.) However, electric slow cookers tend to have less effective insulation (if any at all), so they don’t have the efficiency advantages of a haybox cooker.

Hot pot cookers are basically a dedicated cooking pot with its own heating system. They can use resistive elements, or more advanced units may use induction cooking. Hot pots cook more like a regular cooking pot on a stove, and are faster to cook than slow cookers.

A hot pot cooker

Pressure cookers are another take on dedicated cooking pot appliances. Unlike the other types, they are sealed, with a pressure release valve in the lid. This allows pressure to build up inside the pot to a certain point, which speeds up cooking.

While we have listed a few of the different dedicated cooking pot type appliances, there is a huge range of these devices available, with such a wide variety of features and so much overlap between types and designs, that many of these appliances do not fall clearly into a particular category. Really, it’s best to do research on these types of appliances with a list of features that you would like, and find the unit that best meets those needs – the options can seem a little overwhelming unless you know what you want.

Bread makers

To be honest, these machines are a solution looking for a problem. Yes, they kneed the dough for you, but the rest is just baking, which you can do in a regular oven. And if you use one of the many good no-kneed or minimal-kneed recipes, there really isn’t much need for a large dedicated appliance cost over $100 that only makes bread. Add to that the extra clean up, the higher maintenance and generally short lifespan of bread makers, and they really are an appliance to avoid.

All-in-one cooking appliances

This is an interesting category, and the most well-known appliances of this type would be the Thermomix brand devices. Regardless of brand, these machines are designed to mix, whip, beat, blend, chop, mince, grind, knead, juice, heat, steam and cook, all in the one unit. There’s a cult community following around these machines, with many people swearing by them (while others swear at them).

However, there have been numerous safety concerns over the years, including widespread scalding incidents with one of the most popular machines, leading to a rather large fine from the ACCC and a recall. Given the complexity of these devices generally, and their high purchase prices (except for a few ultra-cheapies), I don’t recommend them – and apparently, neither does Choice nowadays.

We should also mention that some appliances which are really just a dedicated crock pot type unit are called All-in-one cookers by manufacturers (Philips All-In-One Cooker is an example). These belong in the “Slow cookers, hot pot cookers and pressure cookers” category, and are not what we mean by an all-in-one machine.

Fume extraction

Regardless of whether you opt for inbuilt cooktops and ovens, or move to smaller appliances for your cooking needs, ventilation is still needed to remove cooking emissions such as smells, vapours and, most importantly, particulates, which can be a serious health hazard.

There are three options here, depending on your cooking appliances. The two most common options are the ceiling- or wall-mounted exhaust fan, and rangehoods, which are really just a combination exhaust fan and light system, designed to sit closer to the point of cooking emissions than a ceiling exhaust fan.

Note that regardless of extraction fan type or design, the fan should always duct to the outside, not into a roof cavity. This is to prevent the build-up of moisture, fats and oils from cooking vapours that may not only damage the house, but also attract vermin into the roof cavity.

For in-bench induction cooktops, you have the third option of an integrated downdraught extraction fan that is part of the cooktop itself. These make for a very neat look and remove emissions right at the source, but they do tend to be found only on more expensive induction cooktops, so if you are going budget they are unlikely to be an option.

Steam from a pot travels into the in-bench induction cooktop.

Separate downdraught extractors are also available to add behind existing cooktops, if space allows. These look like a narrow extension of the cooktop, until they are turned on. They then pop up out of the bench to extract steam and fumes, dropping back down when turned off.

Miele even has a cooktop that communicates wirelessly with compatible rangehoods to automatically turn them on and adjust the power according to what’s happening on the cooktop. Of course, you will pay for such automated functionality.

Looking after your ceramic stovetop

Cleaning a ceramic cooktop (either induction or resistive type) is simple and straightforward – just spray with your favourite detergent and wipe down. However, there are a few things to remember to ensure longevity of the cooker.

  • Don’t drop heavy items on a ceramic cooktop –the glass/ceramic surface, while tough, is not shatterproof – a broken cooking surface can mean the end of your cooktop
  • Don’t use the cooktop as a chopping block. A flat cooktop can double as kitchen bench space, but take care of the surface by using an expendable surface like a cutting board on top of it when using it as a work space
  • Keep magnetic items off the cooktop’s surface. This includes cutlery and utensils (imagine going to pick up an implement only to discover it suddenly being very hot), credit cards with magnetic strips, and electronic devices
  • Clean up spills straight away. Food is less likely to bake onto a ceramic cooktop surface, but it can still happen due to the residual heat, and can be much harder to clean later on
  • Don’t use abrasive cleaning materials such as metal scourers as these can scratch. Only use cleaners suitable for ceramic/glass surfaces

Electrical connection requirements

If your kitchen does have an existing cooker circuit, you will need to know what its rating is. The majority of cooker circuits are 30/32A, sufficient for most electric ovens and freestanding cookers. The associated circuit breaker in your breaker box should be labelled as “oven” or “cooker” and that will tell you what the circuit rating is.

The total power you can draw from the circuit is the current rating multiplied by the mains voltage, which in Australia is 230V. Below is a list of maximum power ratings for common circuit current specifications.

32A: suitable for cooker up to 7.5kW

40A: suitable for cooker up to 9.5kW

45A: suitable for cooker up to 10.5kW

50A: suitable for cooker up to 11.5kW

Something to be aware of as well is that some homes have an inadequate grid power supply for large power draw requirements – some older homes may only have a 40A total connection, and homes in Victoria with smart meters are limited to 64A. If you have already moved to electric heating and hot water, there may not be enough capacity left in your grid connection to allow the switch to a full-size oven and cooktop.

In such cases you have two options – either upgrade the electrical connection to the home (if viable), or downsize your cooking appliances by changing to a two-burner induction cooker instead of four, and using a lower power oven or even changing to alternative cooking appliances.

In some cases, you may be able to increase your grid connection rating, such as from 40A to 64A, but if your connection is maxed out already then to increase it further, you will need to have a second phase fitted (there are three phases in an AC grid system, most homes only have one phase connected, while commercial premises usually have all three phases). Adding a second phase, or even going the whole hog to a three-phase connection, requires running new cable from the street connection into the home. This can cost in the order of $2000 or more, depending on the connection distance and ease of installation, so get this checked out first before you fork out for appliances you may not be able to connect!

Renew is a membership non-profit organisation working to transform Australian homes for climate and energy resilience. It produces the quarterly print magazines, Renew and Sanctuary, full of stories, practical tips, journalism and research for amore sustainable home and lifestyle.

Renew also runs Sustainable House Day, which is back for 2024 with Open Homes on Sunday the 21st of April, as well as the highly successful online profiles. Get your tickets here to visit some of Australia's most inspiring homes and learn from the people who designed, built and live in them.