You either love using gas for cooking or you don't. Some people prefer electricity, saying that it's cleaner and more efficient, but gas aficionados prefer the instant control, and the energy- and cost-efficiency. Ovens heat up faster using gas, and you don't waste a single therm of heat, whereas electric plates continue to radiate heat long after they've been switched off. The most common criterion, however, is that gas is cheaper than electricity when you compare tariffs and usage.
Stove or hob temperatures
Gas rings are usually arranged with a large and small ring at the front and back of the hob. These variations in size result in efficient fuel use. Putting a large pan on a small hob, for instance, will require more gas overall, as the contents take longer to heat up if the base of the pan isn't receiving equal amounts of heat. You waste gas if you put a small pan on a large hob and flames extending past the base and up the sides can damage the pan. Hob dials turn smoothly, giving you instant control of the flame so that you can reduce heat under a boiling pan to a simmer at its lowest level.
Gas temperatures are referred to as gas mark numbers from 1/4, equivalent to 110C/225F, the lowest temperature, up to gas mark 9, the hottest temperature, equivalent to 240C/475F. At gas mark 9, the top shelf is the hottest part of the oven. OnlineConversion.com and GoodBritishFood.com provide a gas temperature conversion chart that is standard throughout the industry, although fluctuations might occur according to weather, altitude and oven models.
Electric ovens heat evenly and often have fans inside to distribute the heat. Gas ovens however, heat from jets and are based on the principle of hot air rising. As a consequence, temperatures might vary according to whether a dish is on the bottom, middle or top shelf, although the advantage is that you can cook three dishes, each requiring slightly different temperatures, all at the same time, and save on fuel. Bestselling food writer and television chef Nigella Lawson warns that some ovens may have cool spots, and that you may have to rotate whatever is in the oven to ensure that it is cooked all the way through.
Maintaining oven temperatures
TV celebrity chef Delia Smith advises that newer gas ovens may not reach the required temperature at gas mark 1, and that you should check the temperature with an oven thermometer before you cook food at this temperature. Position the thermometer on the shelf you plan to use, and leave it there for the full warm-up time. Protect your hands with oven gloves when you remove the thermometer. Check the temperatures through the sequence of gas mark numbers on an annual basis to ensure that the oven is functioning efficiently, or more often if you suspect a problem with the thermostat.
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