In a nation divided over just about everything, it’s no wonder that the gas stove debate caught fire. A national survey, released this week by Morning Consult, found political parties, parents and even gas stove owners are split over banning the cooking device from newly constructed buildings for the sake of thwarting climate change.
The common concern — and one echoed by Mayor Eric Adams a week ago — is that gas stoves are better than induction models at cooking food. "Those of us who are good cooks — you know, people don't realize electric stoves can't give you the right setting,” he said. Gas stoves are also a New York staple, with more than 70% of city dwellers still using these fossil fuel-burning ovens, according to census data.
But some veteran cooks — and scientists — disagree with the mayor’s take. Several professional chefs who’ve already made the switch to induction stoves from gas stoves said the electric cooktops are superior — cutting cook times in half and easing the cleanup process. The chefs also cite environmental and health reasons for why they made the switch.
“If the government is serious about the environment, they should subsidize induction stoves like they do with hybrid and electric cars,” said chef Sia Pickett, who teaches cooking classes to all ages throughout New York City using a portable induction stove. “I switched to induction because I care about the environment.”
Pickett designed induction cooking classes for 20 NYCHA residents who were part of a pilot program to convert to induction stoves, and she said her students were impressed with the technology. Half of the participants received induction stoves and new cookware during the program, and the others who cooked with gas got their induction appliances at the end.
Pickett, who has been cooking for more than 50 years, never thought she would cook with anything other than gas. But for the last 10 years, she said she has used induction exclusively.
The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority states that with up to 90% energy efficiency, induction stoves can be a money saver on utility bills, when compared to gas, which is only 40% at best. Owning a gas stove is also equivalent to living with a smoker, according to senior scientist Drew Michanowicz at PSE Healthy Energy, an Oakland-based nonprofit research institute that studies energy production and its impact on public health and the environment.
“If you look at the natural gas supply chain from the well to the burner tip, everywhere we look it's leaking a lot more than we think,” Michanowicz said. “If you have a large enough leak, poor ventilation in a small kitchen, you can actually get to concentrations of benzene in that space that’s akin to benzene exposure as if you were living with secondhand smoke.”
In studies conducted by PSE Health Energy, researchers found that when gas stoves were off, benzene was found in nearly every single case. Chronic exposure to this carcinogen can result in blood disorders, leukemia and negative outcomes for women’s reproductive health, according to the Environmental Protection Agency and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But that’s not all researchers have found. From the nearly 300 gases detected in turned-off stoves in a Boston area study, about 20 were hazardous.
Gas stoves also release methane, a greenhouse gas that is over 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. It’s highly flammable, and natural gas is typically at least 90% methane. The presence of large amounts of methane can reduce the oxygen in the air, leading to dizziness, nausea and vomiting.
Michanowicz said other air contaminants are released when a gas oven is turned on, such as nitrogen oxide from the combustion and particulate matter, which can exacerbate respiratory diseases. It also releases formaldehyde, which can cause inflammation of the airways. This cocktail of gases has been linked to about 12% of child asthma cases.
“Any kind of combustion inside your home is going to generate gases and particles that have health implications,” said Dr. Darby Jack, professor of environmental health sciences at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health.
For the majority of New Yorkers who live in small apartments, cooking with the windows open can still result in poor ventilation and bad indoor air quality, according to Michanowicz, even when the stove hood is engaged for ventilation. Michanowicz noted that if stove ventilation is connected to the microwave, it doesn’t actually help. It just recirculates the air.
The pros and cons of induction stoves
Electric induction stoves haven’t caught on, and part of that reason could be the price. In a comparison of the lowest end residential models, induction was twice the price of gas.
But whether it's on or off, an induction stove does not directly release emissions. Michanowicz said there’s nothing to leak because it uses electricity. These electric appliances work by heating the metal of cookware by inducing an electromagnetic current in the pots and pans themselves. This happens in an instant without the same likelihood of burning skin on an open flame.
Some restaurant workers said it’s also more practical.
“It's [gas] just the fuel source, and I tell folks all the time, cooking has everything to do with fundamentals and technique and nothing to do with your fuel source,” said chef Christopher Galarza, founder of Forward Dining Solutions, a national chef-driven organization that advocates going electric in commercial kitchens.
Stuffy, hot kitchens are common at eateries, according to Galarza. He said when he cooked with gas, temperatures could easily reach well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but with an induction stove, he said working conditions typically remain just over 70 degrees even at the peak of summer.
“We weren't hot, we weren't sweating,” said Galarza, who started cooking 25 years ago with gas. “We weren't losing our minds, and I think that’s what really solidified it for us.”
In a restaurant, where large batches of food are quickly made to order, an induction stove can increase production and cut down on staff hours. Galarza said he can make over 50% more food compared to cooking with gas. It takes 5-8 minutes to boil a liter of water on a gas stove, but on an induction cooktop it’s under 2 minutes. For busy parents, Galarza said that means making dinner for hungry kids on a school night simpler.
Take a magnet off your fridge and put it at the bottom of your pots and pans. If it sticks, it can be used on an induction stove.
“At first we were like, oh man, this is gonna be harder because there's no flame,” Galarza said. “Then the first time we started to cook, we realized like, OK, this is going to burn, and that's when I realized like, holy crap, this is another level of heat.”
Galarza’s kitchen staff also saves time on cleaning. Because an induction stove uses electromagnetic energy to directly heat a pot or pan, its surface cools immediately, which means it can be cleaned right away. The fast cooling also keeps food from caking on the range as it does with gas.
It’s also safer. A standard feature of induction stoves is that they only gets hot when there is cookware on the burner, so if they are mistakenly turned on or left on, they won’t cause accidental burns.
“Parents with young children were really amazed that you could basically just touch the [cooking] surface without getting burned,” Pickett said. “They don’t have to worry about their kids getting burned.”
Not all cookware can be transferred from a gas stove to an induction surface. Aluminum and copper are two common cookware materials that will not work on an induction stove.
But that doesn’t mean special pots and pans are needed. Stainless steel, cast iron and even fully clad cookware such as enameled cast iron can still be used. Galarza recommended a trick for figuring out if cookery is induction-ready.
“Take a magnet off your fridge and put it at the bottom of your pots and pans. If it sticks, it can be used on an induction stove,” Galarza said. “You'll be surprised at how many of them are induction ready because for manufacturers, it's easy to just say, here's one – it'll work on any piece of equipment you want.”
Galarza said using induction makes pots and pans last longer because they aren’t being warped by direct contact with fire.
Together, the chefs said there is a learning curve when switching from gas to induction, but it’s mostly adjusting and compensating for the speed and heat intensity of an induction stove. Pickett said getting accustomed to baking a cake in the oven was challenging at first.
“It's not like you're giving up quality in order to reduce risk,” said Dr. Darby Jack, who uses an induction stove. “By most measures, it's better than gas in terms of ability of cooking and the speed at which things heat up and the precision.”