Cooking With Natural Gas: Precise Control In A Stylish Package

Builders know that a kitchen can sell a house. But smart builders know that natural gas appliances can sell the kitchen. Just as most professional chefs insist on cooking with natural gas, everyday cooks recognize that natural gas offers even heat, excellent temperature control and instant on/off settings for cooking and baking.

Today's natural gas ranges, ovens, cooktops and grills feature high efficiency, easy cleaning and the reliability that natural gas equipment is known for.

Cooking with natural gas is economical it costs about half as much to cook with a natural gas range as with a similar electric range. Many of the new models of natural gas cooking equipment use an electronic spark ignition, rather than a continuously burning pilot. This saves as much as 30 percent on energy costs.

Design Options

The wide variety of natural gas appliances on the market enables kitchen design to dictate appliance choice, rather than the other way around. Natural gas cooking equipment comes in many sizes and shapes. Most familiar is the traditional freestanding range, which includes a cooktop and an oven. Built-in ranges can either slide or drop into a space between cabinets. The drop-in style sits on a low cabinet base and doesn t have a lower storage drawer, like freestanding or slide-in ranges do.

In many kitchens today, the cooktop and the oven are separated. This means greater flexibility for installation and greater flexibility and convenience for a two-cook kitchen. An indoor gas grill can also be added either as part of the range or as a free-standing unit.

Many new gas ranges and cooktops come with special high-Btu burners, for rapid heating, and/or low-Btu burners for simmering.

Commercial-style ranges are becoming increasingly popular for home installation. They have chrome or stainless steel finishes, and multiple burners and ovens. These ranges are built especially for homes, with extra safety measures and insulation added.

Exhaust Requirements

Although exhaust systems are often not required, it is a good idea to install an exhaust for all electric and natural gas ranges, cooktops and ovens to eliminate the normal byproducts of cooking such as steam, smoke, grease and heat. Indoor gas grills should definitely have an exhaust system.

For any cooking equipment, a traditional overhead exhaust fan that runs through a wall or ceiling can be used. Other types feature downdraft exhausting, which uses a fan to draw cooking byproducts down from the cooking surface to the outdoors. Downdraft exhausting is appropriate for equipment installed in an island if the homeowner does not want a traditional oven exhaust hood in the center of the room.

Special Features

Natural gas cooktops are made of stainless steel, glass or porcelain-coated steel. Modular cooktops may have a space designed to fit an optional grill, rotisserie or wok. Standard models have four burners, but some models come with two, five or six burners. Some models have a grill or griddle unit in the center or on either side of the burners. Others have a griddle or grill that can sit over regular burners.

Sealed burners are popular because they are much easier to clean than open burners. Many cooktops with sealed burners offer a range of burner sizes. For example, a model may have a large burner for fast heating, two medium burners and a smaller one for simmering.

Standard, unsealed burners produce about 9,000 Btu of heat per hour. Sealed burners range from as much as 12,500 Btu per hour to a small 5,000 Btu-per-hour burner used for simmering. Commercial style ranges have burners that produce much more heat as much as 16,000 Btu per hour.

Many features make cooktop cleanup easy, such as: removable control knobs; porcelain drip pans under the burners; a glass or porcelain backguard, rather than a painted one; a raised edge around the cooktop to keep spills under control; and corners and edges without seams. On cooktops without sealed burners, look for deep wells to contain spills and a top that opens up for cleaning with two support rods to hold it in place.

Heavy-duty burner grates on some cooktops can support heavy pots. A porcelain coating on both the top and the bottom makes the heavy-duty burner grates scratch- and rust-resistant.