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When Going Green Means Giving Up Our Gas Stoves
The Tesla-fication of kitchens is nigh
Ab Ovo is a weekly newsletter produced by Clay Dillow (CD) and Tim McKirdy (TM). If you enjoy our work, we’d love to have you as a subscriber (it’s free!). If you already subscribe, we appreciate the support — and don’t forget to forward this to a friend. Thanks for reading.
An energy battle is coming to a boil in major cities across the U.S., with local governments in San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, and New York proposing measures that would prohibit or limit the installation of natural gas infrastructure in new residential buildings within the next decade.
Aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, the measures — if passed — would mean that heating units and cooking ranges in newly constructed homes will have to rely on electrical power alone (dozens of smaller cities have already passed similar regulations). There’s already talk of subsequent phases that would include retrofitting existing buildings and extending the measures to commercial properties as well.
In New York City, analysts say these renovations will “conservatively” cost every household more than $25,000. Others call the potential move a “financial weight that will crush cash-strapped landlords.” (Boohoo.) But beyond the financials, the prospect prompted a realization I’d never considered before: a future without gas stoves may arrive within our lifetimes.
I’m torn by the very thought of this. As we embrace renewable energy on a macro scale, it’s only natural that our heating and cooking appliances will also need to cease their reliance on fossil fuels. As a generally considerate human being, I want to play my part in moving towards a cleaner planet. But am I ready to consign to history the simple pleasure of cooking on gas?
Of course, alternatives to gas cooktops already exist. Though neither truly approaches the joy of cooking over a naked flame, one significantly outshines the other.
Electric ceramic hobs are a pain in the ass. I write with the experience of having prepared a handful of Christmas dinners for a dozen or so family members on my mother’s four, woeful hobs. (She’s reading this, but she won’t mind me saying that.) Though they quickly turn a scorching shade of red, the time it takes to heat up a pan for searing meat, or to bring a sauce to a boil and start reducing requires meticulous, military-esque planning. Unlike a gas burner, once the stovetop reaches a decent temperature, there’s no quick way of reducing the heat. Controlled cooking is essentially out of the question.
If we can ignore the simple fact that when forced to retrofit our apartments someday, “cash-strapped landlords” and homeowners alike will largely opt for the significantly cheaper electric hob, we can look to the other solution: induction ranges. Herein I find no real solace either.
Induction ranges use magnets and electric currents to heat pans directly, and very quickly. Unlike electric hobs, they are extremely efficient in this respect — more so, even, than gas burners. This very fact means that a period of adaptation (and, often, a lot of new cookware) is required when switching from gas to induction, though the principles are very similar.
There’s still a knob to adjust the temperature, but rather than a gradually increasing line between the limits of “min” and “max,” the strength of heat displays as a number. Once familiar with the highest and lowest number, determining what constitutes a low, medium, or high “flame” becomes second nature.
Should large-scale adoption of induction ranges come about, it may actually be a boon for recipe accuracy. Where cookbook directions typically state something like “cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes,” this fails to consider so many different factors, from the thickness of the base of the pan being used to the ambient temperature in the kitchen. “Cook on temperature setting 5,” on the other hand, is universal. But doesn’t it feel like we’re losing something in the process?
Induction ranges are probably just the next step in the general sleepwalk toward all-smart everything. And maybe there will be a time in the future when we look back at gas stoves and compartmentalize them with such phenomena as plastic bags, diesel engines, and smoking in bars — maybe even eating meat. “How could we be so barbaric?” we will ponder over forkfuls of Beyond Beef Bourguignon.
On the other hand, perhaps our attachment to gas hobs connects more deeply to our humanity. Flame brings us comfort. It keeps us warm in the cave at night and allows us to kill off potentially deadly bacteria in the meat we spent all day hunting, despite our having long ago left the hunter-gatherer lifestyle behind.
Nonetheless, society has, to some extent, come to terms with the realization that how we farm and what we eat are inextricably linked to the health of the very planet that sustains us. Like it or not, we’ll inevitably have to accept that how we cook has its own important part to play as well. — TM
The 200-Word Endorsement: ANGEL’S ENVY Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey Finished in Madeira Casks
Here at Ab Ovo we are nothing if not egalitarian, and being such stalwart friends of the worker can make it difficult to recommend particularly spendy bottles of wine and spirits. But when a bottle is both expensive and a value, it would be a disservice not to pay homage to it here. Louisville’s ANGEL’S ENVY puts us in this bind with most of their limited releases, as they are typically quite limited, often a bit pricey, and consistently worth every dollar. Released this week, their latest bottling — the third in the distillery’s “Cellar Collection” — is a blend of bourbons that spends its final year marrying in Madeira wine casks that impart a range of both dry and decadent notes to the liquid. The nose is chock full of toasted oak, cooked banana, brown sugar, and raisins, but it’s on the palate where a distinct and captivating dried cherry note emerges. Layered atop toasted oak, caramelized sugar, and a subtle nuttiness, this rich, lingering stone fruit distinguishes this very excellent bourbon. With only 3,360 bottles in circulation, this one won’t prove easy to find. Should you manage to track one down, it will likely cost you $230 or more. Money well spent? Absolutely. —CD
What We’re Reading
THC: The High Crustaceans (If you made it this far a) good on you, and b) your reward for the slog is this mind-boggling story.)
Farewell, Millennial Lifestyle Subsidy (Only loosely food-related but worth the read alone so that you, too, can casually drop the concept of ‘Balenciaga lifestyles on Banana Republic budgets’ into casual conversation.)
The Palate-Wrecking IPA Is Born (If you drink beer, you probably drink IPAs almost exclusively these days. Here’s why.)