Friday, December 18, 2009

A happy and energy-efficient Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is synonymous with food. Lots and lots of food. And all that feasting comes with a big energy price tag, measured not just in the days of slaving over pies and green bean casseroles but also in the kilowatt hours and therms your appliances will expend.

While today's kitchen appliances are almost 50 percent more energy efficient than their counterparts of just 10 years ago, all that extra usage they get around the holidays can still add up. You're probably using your oven and microwave to cook and reheat meal after meal and your dishwasher to get all those countless loads clean. Add in family members gaping into the open fridge and you have a recipe for high energy bills.

The good news is that there's still plenty of time to take a few simple steps to keep your family full and your bills manageable.

Your oven
  • A cold oven is OK. You don't need to preheat your oven when roasting the turkey. Since roasting means cooking at lower temps for a long time, you can stuff the bird and put it in the cold oven. Just remember to turn the oven on and take those giblets out!
  • Leave that bird alone. Opening and closing the oven door to check on the turkey or pick at the crispy skin can lower the oven's internal temperature by up to 25 degrees. That means your oven has to work harder to come back up to temperature. Plus, it will take longer for the bird to get done. Instead, use the oven light and window; that's what they're there for.
  • Cook in combo. If you have a big enough oven, slide those vegetable, sweet potato and crispy stuffing dishes in toward the end of the turkey-cooking time. Just make sure to give each dish space so air can circulate.
  • Keep it hot. Once the bird comes out and the oven's still up to temp, utilize the residual heat and slide in desserts or side dishes that just need a quick warm-up.
  • Materials matter. If you use glass or ceramic cookware such as CorningWare, you can turn the oven temperature down by 25 degrees. These materials are good conductors of heat and will cook your foods in the same amount of time, but at lower temps.
  • Store the heat. Electric ovens and cook tops store heat longer. So, you can turn the temperature off several minutes sooner than the recipe calls for and your food will continue to cook.

Your cook top
  • Make a match. The size of your burners should dictate the size of your pots. Using a too-small pot on a too-big heating element can send up to 40 percent wasted energy into the air. So, use a 6-inch pot on a 6-inch burner.
  • Keep it clean. It goes without saying that you need to mop up spills immediately. Cooking on gunked-up burners or dirty reflectors is a waste of energy, since you may need to turn the heat up even more to get the food to cook. Another tip: if your cook top uses reflectors, buy the best you can. Top-of-the-line reflectors can save you a third of the energy needed to heat food.

Your microwave, electric skillet and slow cooker
Your oven doesn't have to be the only appliance that gets a workout on Thanksgiving. Utilize your microwave, slow cooker or skillet, too. All these appliances use less power and throw less heat than your oven will.

  • Microwave. A microwave uses about 50 percent less energy than an oven, so cook your vegetables in here. You can always transfer them to the oven to carmelize the marshmallows on the yams right before serving. And, of course, use the microwave when you want that leftover turkey plate during the second football game.
  • Electric skillet. Another great way to steam veggies, make creamed potatoes or cakes. Some skillets are even pretty enough to serve in.
  • Slow cooker. Think outside the oven, especially if you have a small family. You can cook a turkey breast (stuffed with rice and dried fruit) plus all the veggie trimmings in one inexpensive place. A slow cooker can cook an entire meal for about 17 cents worth of electricity, on average.

Your outdoor grill or fryer
Think outside the box, the box that is your house. Instead of roasting the turkey in the oven, grill it or deep fry it. Yes, there is no turkey aroma wafting through the house, and yes, you may need a little "help" (in the form of a jar) to make enough gravy. But think of all the energy you'll save. Note: Follow all safety directions regarding your grill or deep fryer. Too many holiday accidents occur because of inattention to safety.

Your dishwasher
Using your dishwasher can be very economical: one full load of dishes requires 37 percent less water when cleaned in a dishwasher instead of by hand. Use the energy-saving cycle whenever you can. Using an air-dry or overnight-dry setting can save up to 10 percent of your dishwasher's energy cost.

If you prefer to save water and want to wash by hand, fill your sinks and don't let the water run. You'll use half as much water as a dishwasher.

Your fridge
All that opening and closing of fridge doors takes a toll on your energy bills. Your fridge can account for up to 15 percent of your total energy usage. You can maximize efficiency by keeping the door closed and the fridge/freezer full. If you must take out many items, do it quickly in one shot and keep the door open the whole time. Opening and closing the door over and over makes the fridge run less efficiently. Keep both fridge and freezer fully stocked, which isn't hard to do over the holidays. The more cold items you have inside, the more the cold is contained in that space. Just don't overdo it; you want air to circulate around your food, keeping it cold.

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