In the realm of cooking equipment, there is one question that all shoppers most confront regardless of their specific situation, and that question is: “gas or electric?”. The answer is dependent, of course, on a number of factors, and though for some the answer may be cut and dry, the answer usually depends on the kitchen the equipment will be operating in. To start off, gas (particularly natural gas) is cheaper than electricity. Think of it this way: you could pay to have gas pumped to your location after it is refined (or to be stored in the case of LP) and heat something directly (or indirectly, as it may be), or you can pay to mine or refine fuel, heat some water that turns to steam, spins a turbine, which is then converted into electricity that is then pumped to your location (this is how most power plants work). But, just because gas is less expensive, that does not necessarily mean it would be a better option (or even cheaper) in your specific situation. For example, propane is often used in food trucks, but many food truck owners have to retrofit their trucks with high electrical outputs for refrigeration, and it may be easier to just plug an additional piece in and draw more electricity than to spend extra money adding propane tanks. Let’s take a look at the standard pieces of cooking equipment found in the BOH and a few factors to think about when shopping for them.
Ovens: The centerpiece of most kitchens is the oven, and determining when to go gas and when to go electric may not be an easy decision.
- Convection Ovens – Convection ovens will invariably use electricity. The internal fan and electric ignition of a convection oven will always require some sort of electrical input, but an electric convection will draw a significantly larger amount of power. Gas convections are more common because they heat up incredibly fast, and are often less expensive to run because of the high temperatures in which convections ovens operate. Businesses that don’t have access to natural gas have the option to operate their convection on LP, however if your business is not already equipped to handle propane (tanks, gas lines, regulators, etc.), electricity is probably the way to go.
- Deck Ovens – For the most part, everything that can be said about a convection oven applies to a deck oven with one exception: there is no needed electricity on a gas deck oven. Most gas deck ovens have push button pilots (so there is no wasted gas on pilots), and often are the way to go because, unlike convection ovens, deck ovens are constantly running during business hours (which would draw incredibly large amounts of electricity).
- Combi Ovens, Rotisserie Ovens & Gyro Broilers – Both combi ovens and rotisserie ovens require electricity to operate, but often have to be on for extended periods of time making gas, again, preferable for most businesses. It should be noted, however, that gas combi and rotisserie ovens tend to cost more upfront. Gyro rotisseries run constantly when business are operating, however electric gyro broilers are incredibly common (their upfront and operational costs are incredibly close), and in fact, for many gyro purveyors (especially mobile vendors) electric rotisseries are preferred.
Ranges: Aside from the large amounts of electricity a large electric range draws, gas ranges are standard in most kitchens because of how quickly they heat up. Electric burners take longer to heat up (as well as their electric ovens), and in the commercial kitchen environment, speed is everything. Those extra minutes aren’t necessarily convenient on most kitchen lines, so gas ranges are usually placed in any environment that would suit them. Electric ranges are typically used in instances that gas lines / proper ventilation isn’t feasible, or when there is a small necessity for a range and an electric hotplate will suffice.
Steamers & Steam Equipment: There are several varieties of steam equipment, but most of the gas models on the market (with the exception of some gas braising pans) will feature some sort of electrical components. Steam equipment is some of the most frequent equipment to be run on electricity.
- Steamers – Steamers, especially large steamers, are relatively heavily used and restaurants that use steamers often operate them for extended periods of time. Gas steamers are more common for this reason, however smaller operations or businesses that don’t use their steamers frequently often purchase smaller electric steamers; which are generally less expensive.
- Steam Kettles & Pasta Cookers – Both steam kettles and pasta cookers have some electrical components, but the frequency of their use often dictates how they should be powered. It is less expensive upfront to purchase an electrical steam kettle or pasta cooker, but if they need to be used consistently throughout a shift a gas power piece is a better option.
- Braising Pans – Electric braising pans are more common than gas braising pans. These pieces are not typically used an exorbitant amount, and it can often be more work to make room on a gas line for a gas braiser than it is worth, given that it won’t be used incredibly frequently.
Broilers, Grills & Griddles: Some of the most commonly used in a line kitchen are things like griddles and broilers.
- Flat Grills & Griddles – Griddles, especially in businesses such as 24 hr. diners, are on for incredibly long periods of time (and sometimes are never turned off) and in these instances, gas is preferred. The heat can be reduced to minimize energy expenditures, but the griddle can recover very quickly. Standard electric griddles do not have the recovery time of a gas piece, however there have been some electric induction griddles released in recent years that have incredibly fast recovery times and use significantly less energy than their gas and electric counterparts. Standard electric griddles are typically used in instances when gas isn’t an option, or a precise thermostatic griddle is preferred.
- Charbroilers – Nearly all charbroilers must operate on gas, however there are a few small sized electric charbroilers on the market that are perfect for small operations not wanting to invest in a large gas piece of equipment or for a mobile food operation.
- Salamanders & Cheesemelters – Since salamanders need to be incredibly hot to perform their function, and often remain on throughout a shift, they tend to run primarily on gas. Cheesemelters, which operate at much lower temperatures, typically have sensors that can turn their heating elements on, and typically run on electricity. The energy save mode on a cheesemelter is a way to conserve energy without requiring end users to constantly turn the machine on and off.
Deep Fryers: Commercial deep fryers come in many makes and models, and certain types work better when run on electricity, and others do better running on gas. Countertop deep fryers tend to operate on electricity, though there are a few countertop gas models; this allows them to be placed easier in a kitchen, and make them significantly easier to clean. Standard floor model fryers tend to be “tube-fired” gas fryers, because they heat relatively quickly and their cool zone makes them easier to clean. Open pot floor model fryers, which feature fry tanks that are heated directly, tend to be electric because they heat more evenly and have fewer hot spots.
Steam Tables: Portable electric steam tables are the most common, as they tend to be turned on during specified times and heat up as quickly as gas powered; however businesses that require stationary steam tables will often purchase gas to save on energy costs (as their steam wells will most likely be on more often). Built-in steam tables are typically hardwired electric steam tables because they are being surrounded by either stainless steel or wood. Running these built-in (or drop-in) steam wells on electricity is significantly safer than building around an open flame. It should also be noted that a number of electric steam tables have the option of being run wet or dry, in contrast to gas steam tables which all require a hot water bath for operation.