Gas stoves have been quite the “hot button issue” lately. But a range of data from decades’ worth of research has already reached a consensus: Cooking with gas is dangerous to human health and a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions. Electrification has been ongoing, with Europe leading the way in adopting induction cooking.1 However, here in the U.S., recent efforts to tackle the pollution generated by gas stoves have sparked a heated national debate. Why are people so hot under the collar? Is gas cooking even that great in the first place? And is switching from gas to electric worth the investment?

Let’s clear the air on this.

I’m in the middle of building a new home, and I want to make it as energy efficient as I can afford to. When it came to planning out my kitchen, a gas stove was out of the question. It felt so obvious — why would I want to burn an open flame inside of an airtight box? But with the recent gas stove controversy, it got me wondering … is there something I’m missing? Does it really matter what I’m cooking with? How bad is gas really? And is induction the best alternative?

Here’s the dirty truth: Whether you own a gas or electric stove, you produce emissions every time you cook. We’re not talking about just CO2 here. On top of that, there’s particulate matter or PM, like smoke or drops of liquid suspended in the air. You can also run into other scary acronyms whenever you crank up your gas or electric burners to high heat for tasks like searing, broiling, and frying.23 4

One example is volatile organic compounds or VOCs, like acrolein and benzene. Where you find high fat, you find acrolein. That’s why when common cooking oils get hot, acrolein joins the party. And it’s an uninvited guest, because nobody likes the smell of burnt grease. Fun fact … more like horrifying fact … the French used this to their advantage during World War I by weaponizing acrolein as tear gas.5 That’s right. Chemical warfare in your kitchen.

Then there’s polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons or PAH, which are chemicals released as things like oil, gas, wood, and tobacco burn. That means people inhale PAHs when smoking cigarettes…and when charring meat. Sadly, that means both activities are linked to cancer. Sorry to everyone who likes their steak well-done.6 7

Shelly Miller, an environmental engineer and professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, probably said it best in 2021: “Cooking is the No. 1 way you’re polluting your home.”8

So, if cooking with any type of fuel brings down the quality of the air you breathe, why are people focusing so much on gas? Well, you’re probably already familiar with how gas stoves are a source of carbon monoxide, which can cause fatal poisoning. Setting that aside, gas stoves also give off hazardous air pollutants including but not limited to nitrogen oxides, formaldehyde, and methane.2

You don’t want any of those in your lungs, but let’s start with why methane is such a big deal. Like CO2, methane is a greenhouse gas, but it’s anywhere from 34 to 86 times more potent than CO2 in terms of its warming effect on the atmosphere. And, disturbingly, just owning a gas stove is a cause for concern. In a January 2022 survey of 53 California homes, Stanford University researchers found that 76% of the total methane emissions produced by gas stoves were released when they were off. Even worse, they found no relationship between the age or price of the stove and the emissions it produced.9

And remember how I said that cooking in general can produce benzene, a carcinogen?10 According to an October 2022 study conducted by the California-based PSE Healthy Energy institute, it turns out that gas stoves also continuously leak benzene when they’re not in use. In fact, the research team estimates that 75% of the benzene that gas stoves emit is released when they’re off.11

So, one way or another, gas stoves are a messy subject…and also notoriously very hard to clean. This leads us back to our main question: Do gas stoves really make for the best experience? Let’s just get it out of the way. It’s definitely true that gas has a reputation as the gold standard for both home and professional cooking. The idea is nothing new. Natural gas companies have been aggressively promoting gas stoves for the past century. In fact, that’s why we have the idiom “Now you’re cooking with gas!” — it was first developed as a marketing slogan in the 1930s.8

Since then, gas stoves have been hot, and so have the kitchens they’re installed in. You could say the open flame is a double-edged sword. As a visual cue, it provides immediate feedback, allowing you to intuitively adjust the temperature quickly and accurately. No doubt about it: gas stoves are responsive in a way that can’t really be replicated with electric…yet.

The problem with gas stoves is that they run at efficiencies between 32% to 40%. You lose a lot of heat, so you might find yourself sweating more than your vegetables.12 13 The remaining heat energy has to go somewhere, and that’s into your home … not your food. As an experiment, I filmed 1 liter of water coming to a boil on a gas burner, and electric burner. You can see how much of the gas burner heat is being lost around the pot. That’s heating your home vs. your food.

On the other hand, electric cooktops cost about the same amount to run but work at an efficiency of 75 to 80%.1214 You can see that the majority of that heat energy is making it to where you want it … the food. While gas cooking leaves you with more hot air than hot food, electric appliances narrow their focus to the burner. Cooktops with resistive heating elements transfer heat directly to your cookware, while radiant cooktops have a ceramic layer in between the cookware and the element that the heat has to transfer through.15

One major downside of electric resistive heating element cooktops in general is that you end up with a lot of residual heat. Exposed coils can retain heat even when they’re not actively lit. That’s why ceramic topped stoves use indicator lights to warn you when they’re still running hot.15 Another disadvantage is that if you’re unlucky enough to accidentally crack the surface of a ceramic top, you’re suddenly out of a stove.16

Still, electric cooktops do eliminate a lot of inconveniences associated with gas stoves by design. You don’t have to worry about exposure to nitrous oxides, they’re much easier to clean, and, well, you’re safer and cooler without a fire beneath your pans.16

What often makes electric cooktops the most unappealing is the illusion of slowness. Electric is faster to heat than gas in the majority of cases.17 16 And according to Consumer Reports, gas stoves are usually the slowest to boil water.18 The thing is, we can sense the liveliness of a fire. Staring at a red electric glow isn’t very exciting, and it’s more difficult to determine the temperature you’re working with.17

Even more critically, the speediness of flames is still superior when you transition between temperatures. On a gas stove, moving between high to low is pretty much instantaneous. On electric cooktops, residual heat causes a notable delay as you transition to lower temperatures.18 This thermal inertia means that you have to think ahead as you cook and anticipate the time the stove will take to match the setting on the dial. Some electric stove owners go as far as to preheat burners. Like anything else, it takes practice to get used to this quirk, and it’s understandable to just not want to deal with the frustration.19 20

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. By cooking with induction, you get all the advantages of electric with an even higher efficiency of up to 85% to 90%.12 13 That’s because through induction, you’re not heating the atmosphere or even any burners: just your cookware. An induction cooktop transfers heat energy straight to the pan and only the pan. How? With magnets.

When you cook with induction, an alternating current flows through the coils beneath the burner and generates a magnetic field. Magnetic materials like iron don’t conduct electricity well, so when a ferromagnetic pot or pan is placed within that field it heats up.21

This makes induction cooking significantly safer. The cooktop itself hardly warms up and can only heat metal. I mean, you can actually place something like a dollar bill right against an induction cooktop pot as its heating without any issues.22 So klutzes can breathe a sigh of relief, because you’re a lot less likely to burn yourself.23 Several models also have an automatic shutoff feature.24

Another huge advantage of induction is that it allows you to cook at precise, consistent temperatures in a way that you can’t do with gas or resistive electric heating elements. On some induction cooktops, you can set a specific temperature for perfect results every time.23 Basically, upgrading to induction is like going from analog to digital. Logistics-wise, swapping an resistive cooktop for an induction one can be very simple because you might be able to get away with keeping your existing outlet.16

However, there’s a reason why only about 3% of U.S. households cook through induction.23
The biggest barrier is cost. Broadly speaking, natural gas is a lot cheaper for the average household to use than electricity.25 But when you compare induction and gas stoves specifically, which state you live in seems to matter more than what fuel you’re cooking with, according to an analysis by Grist. In some states, the difference between the annual costs of gas and induction could mean saving $20. In other states, it could mean paying an extra $20.14 Keep in mind, though, that induction cooking is faster, so you’ll naturally be using less energy.22 If you want to see an excellent video on the differences in speed, you’ve got to check out Alec from Technology Connections. On his second channel, Technology Connextras, he made an epic video on the speed differences. I won’t go into the same detail here, but I found similar results in my testing.

Either way, making the jump from gas to induction is a hefty investment considering both the cost of installation and the stove itself. Right now it’s possible to snag an induction cooktop for around $1,000, but that’s about as low as it goes.22 That’s an intimidating price tag in comparison to gas or electric stoves, which can be as low as $400.14

You also have to factor in a potential need for new cookware. Because induction cooktops are magnetized, pots and pans have to be as well. Many stainless steel pans will work, but it depends on their composition. If a magnet can stick to the bottom of your pot or pan, you’re good to go.22

The technology is still going through a few growing pains, too. Induction can sometimes be a noisy process, so you might have to deal with whirring fans, buzzing, or clicking, especially at higher heat settings.19 26 27 Induction burners tend to be smaller, so there’s a hard limit to the number of pans you can work with at once and the diameter of the cookware you can use. Otherwise, you’ll notice a sharp boundary between the surface area where food is thoroughly and evenly heated…and food that is being left out.26 20 The effect of the magnets is very precise. One more hitch: the magnetic field can interfere with digital meat thermometers.27

That said, the U.S. is behind the curve on induction, with it holding less than 10% of the cooktop market share. Meanwhile, induction represents about 36% of Europe’s market share.23 The tides may be turning, though. During a June 2022 survey of 2,000 Americans conducted by Consumer Reports, 51% of respondents said they’d “maybe” consider induction the next time they were on the hunt for a new stove, and 18% said “yes.” The rest hadn’t heard of induction.28 That’s a problem.

Hopefully induction will become more commonplace as prices continue to fall. If your curiosity is piqued, you can give a single portable burner a try … like the one I used in my testing. Some models run for roughly $60, but you can find high end ones all the way up to $1,500. Obviously, experiment on the cheaper side first. As for my new home, I’ll definitely be going with induction. Energy efficiency and speed were the deciding factors for me.

For those of you that cook with gas, you’re not doomed if that’s your only option. To keep your air as clean as possible, the easiest thing to do is to just crack open a window when you use your stove. The fans in your bathroom can also help. And it’s important to note that even though ventilation is important, kitchen exhaust hoods are generally ineffective at dealing with pollutants.29 Research shows air purifiers can help cut down on nitrous oxides, though.30

Even better, avoid relying on your stove to protect both your health and your wallet. Smaller electric appliances like toaster ovens, tea kettles, air fryers, and crock pots can get you food heated faster and with less energy.231 That’s a smart practice regardless of what kind of cooktop you have.

In the end, the best stove for you comes down to your preferences. But for the sake of efficiency and your health, you’re way better off with electric, and induction is the safest option hands down.

  1. Using Gas for Cooking in Asia: History, Drawbacks And Future ↩︎
  2. Health Effects From Gas Stove Pollution ↩︎
  3. Indoor Air Quality Road Map: A Smart Range Hood ↩︎
  4. How to cook healthy food without ruining your air ↩︎
  5. Acrolein: Food Survey Values ↩︎
  6. Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) Factsheet ↩︎
  7. Is it true that grilling meat can cause cancer? ↩︎
  8. How the Fossil Fuel Industry Convinced Americans to Love Gas Stoves ↩︎
  9. Stanford scientists find the climate and health impacts of natural gas stoves are greater than previously thought ↩︎
  10. Facts About Benzene ↩︎
  11. Composition, Emissions, and Air Quality Impacts of Hazardous Air Pollutants in Unburned Natural Gas from Residential Stoves in California ↩︎
  12. 2021-2022 Residential Induction Cooking Tops ↩︎
  13. Induction Cooking Technology Design and Assessment ↩︎
  14. What’s the true cost of an induction stove? ↩︎
  15. Induction Vs Electric Cooktop: What’s The Difference? ↩︎
  16. Cooktop Buying Guide ↩︎
  17. Gas stoves aren’t really that fast – even standard electric is faster! ↩︎
  18. Kitchen Range Buying Guide ↩︎
  19. Some more Kettle Thoughts (including; Microwaving Water!) ↩︎
  20. Gas vs Electric vs Induction (Which Stoves Brown Best)? ↩︎
  21. How Induction Cooktops Work: Heating Induction Cooktops ↩︎
  22. CR’s Complete Guide to Induction Cooking ↩︎
  23. Induction stoves: The technology, the politics and why much of the world is on board ↩︎
  24. Pop Quiz: Are Gas Stoves or Electric Stoves Better? ↩︎
  25. Table 1—Representative Average Unit Costs Of Energy For Five Residential Energy Sources ↩︎
  26. Induction Stoves — Watch Before You Buy One! ↩︎
  27. Pros and Cons of Induction Cooktops and Ranges ↩︎
  28. June 2022 Omnibus Results for Consumer Reports’ American Experiences Survey ↩︎
  29. Performance Assessment of U.S. Residential Cooking Exhaust Hoods ↩︎
  30. Home interventions are effective at decreasing indoor nitrogen dioxide concentrations ↩︎
  31. Is Your Gas Range a Health Risk? ↩︎

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