The great debate in the restaurant industry isn’t between fusion menus and British gastropub classics, or carnivorous dishes and vegetarian diets. It’s about the energy source powering those hobs and fryers: gas versus electricity. Which is cheaper? Which delivers better pan-seared steaks? Better cakes? Which is more environmentally friendly?
Gas is the traditional choice for many commercial kitchens, but electricity has its adherents, especially among those concerned about their carbon footprint and other pollutants.
Before your business invests in commercial kitchen equipment, it’s important to know the pros and cons of gas and electric appliances.
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Perhaps the most important consideration—for the chef, for the waiting patrons, for the restaurant’s Yelp reviews—is how well different commercial appliances cook meals. There’s no clearcut answer. Whether gas or electric equipment is better for your kitchen depends on your menu and preference.
With a flame that can be adjusted, a gas range gives a chef more precise control over the heat delivered to a pan, making for better seared meat and stir-fried vegetables. A gas burner cooks food quickly and evenly. A gas hob also provides instant heat when it’s turned on, while an electric range takes a while to warm up. However, electric counterparts boil water more quickly.
Electric is often better for ovens, delivering a dry, even heat that’s ideal for baked goods and roasting and broiling. The wizards on The Great British Bake Off are all using electric ovens in the tent. Electric fryers often outperform their gas counterparts.
Gas appliances produce nitrogen dioxide and more heat, making for a more uncomfortable working environment for staff.
All restaurants are worried about their bottom line as much as the soggy bottoms of their desserts. Commercial kitchens are among the most energy-intensive building spaces, with energy consumption typically five times that of the average office.
Restaurant energy bills are therefore a huge outgoing for foodservice businesses. But they can vary widely, depending on whether you’re using gas or electricity for cooking.
One of the reasons gas is favoured in commercial kitchens is because, per unit of heat produced, it’s cheaper than electricity. Gas is measured in British Thermal Units (BTU) but you can convert that to kilowatt-hours to compare to electricity. The average per-unit price of natural gas is around 4p per kilowatt-hour, while electricity costs, on average, 17p per kilowatt-hour.
The lower cost of gas offsets the higher purchase price of gas commercial kitchen equipment and the more labour-intensive, costly installation. Electric appliances are cheaper to buy and can often be installed simply by plugging them in, although some will need to be wired into the building.
Additionally, because of the heat, nitrogen dioxide and particles released by gas cooktops, you’ll need to have a better ventilation system, itself run by electricity, adding to costs.
Gas ranges are fairly energy inefficient because they produce a lot of heat, some of it lost around the base of pots and pans and to the air.
Electric cooking, particularly induction cooking, is more efficient. An induction cooktop uses electromagnetism, powered by electricity, to directly heat pots and pans and their contents—not the surrounding stovetop and air. Their energy usage is 15-50% less than the energy consumption of conventional gas hobs.
Read more: Energy efficiency in commercial kitchens
Gas has been the default choice in most commercial kitchens. But growing concern about the greenhouse gas emissions of natural gas may see it phased out of our buildings for heating and cooking. Already, across the pond, San Francisco and other cities have banned or restricted the use of natural gas in new buildings, leaving open the possibility that the UK may follow, forcing many restaurants to adapt to electric cooking.
It is possible to run a commercial kitchen without gas. In some cases, particularly in businesses specialising in baked goods, it may be ideal. And as the UK nears its 2050 deadline for net-zero emissions, electric cooking equipment may even become omnipresent.