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Kitchen Tips for an Energy-Wise Holiday

Traditionally, the winter holidays are a time for delicious food shared with cherished company. This year, as you count your blessings, you might give a thought to the reliable energy sources that enable you to prepare those culinary delights so enjoyed by family and friends. Today's new kitchen appliances use nearly 50 percent less energy than those built just a decade ago. Still, when holiday time rolls around, your energy bills can rise considerably, what with your stove, oven, and dishwasher running overtime, and the door to your refrigerator standing open frequently as family members search for hidden treats. Thankfully, it's not difficult to keep added holiday energy costs to a minimum. Just follow these few simple tips from the California Energy Commission.

Oven Tips

The turkey is traditionally stuffed early in the morning and roasted for hours. Since it's a long, slow cook, there's no need to preheat your oven, even when the recipe suggests it. This also holds true for a holiday ham. In fact, unless you're baking breads or pastries, you may not need to preheat the oven at all. Don't open the oven door to take a peek at what's cooking inside. Instead, turn on the oven light and check the cooking status through the oven window. Opening the oven door lowers the temperature inside - by as much as 25 degrees - which increases cooking time and wastes energy. As long as your oven is on, cook several items at the same time. Just make sure you leave enough room for the heat to circulate around each casserole and pie plate. In an electric oven, you can turn the heat off several minutes before your food is fully cooked. As long as the oven door remains closed, enough heat will be stored inside to finish cooking your meal. The same principle applies to your electric range-top - the metal heating elements stay hot even after the electricity is turned off. If you use glass or ceramic pans, you can turn your oven temperature down 25 degrees, and foods will cook just as quickly. Self-cleaning ovens use less energy for normal cooking because of the higher insulation levels built into them. (However, if you use the self-cleaning feature more than once a month, you'll end up using more energy than you will save.) Consider using the self-cleaning feature immediately after using your oven, to take advantage of the residual heat.

Stovetop Tips

When cooking on top of your range, match the size of the pan to the heating element. More heat will get to the pan and less will be lost to the surrounding air. Believe it or not, a six-inch pan on an eight-inch burner will waste more than 40 percent of the energy! Clean burners and reflectors provide better heating, while saving energy. If you need new reflectors, buy quality ones. The best on the market can save as much as one-third of the energy used when cooking on top of the stove.

Other Ways to Cook

Don't overlook the other cooking appliances at Thanksgiving. Fast and efficient microwave ovens use around 50 percent less energy than conventional ovens, and they don't heat up your kitchen. Consider using them to bake yams, steam your favorite fresh vegetables, or heat up leftover turkey and gravy for a midnight snack. They're especially efficient for smaller portions or items, but when it comes to the turkey or large items, your oven or stovetop are usually more efficient. Remember your small appliances, great energy savers that can save you money all year long. Slow cookers (crock-pots) are perfect for busy families. On average, they will cook a whole meal for about 17 cents worth of electricity. Electric skillets can steam, fry, saute', stew, bake, or roast a variety of food items - and some can double as serving dishes. If you're baking or broiling small food items, a toaster oven is ideal because they use one-third the energy of a bigger oven. If you're truly adventurous, don't confine your cooking to the kitchen. Most Californians live where the climate is mild enough to cook outdoors even in November. If you haven't tried roasting your Thanksgiving turkey on a charcoal grill, you're in for a treat. You might save a little on your utility bill, and you'll have plenty to talk about over dinner.

Refrigerator Tips

In addition to your stove, your refrigerator and freezer also get a real workout over the holidays. While newer refrigerators are much more energy efficient than older ones, they remain one of the largest energy consumers in your house, often accounting for as much as 15 percent of your home's total energy usage. Help your refrigerator and freezer operate efficiently and economically by keeping the doors closed as much as possible so the cold air doesn't escape. However, leaving the door open for a longer period of time while you take out the items you need is more efficient than opening and closing it several times. It's easy to keep your refrigerator and freezer full at Thanksgiving. It's also energy efficient, because the mass of cold items inside will help your refrigerator recover each time the door is opened. Don't cram it so full, however, that cool air can't circulate properly around your food.

Dishwasher Tips

One simple, fun, and cost-effective way to save energy at holiday time is to gather everyone together in the kitchen and wash and dry your dishes by hand. But don't keep a steady stream of hot water flowing, or you'll waste more energy than you'll save. According to research, a load of dishes cleaned in a dishwasher requires 37 percent less water than washing dishes by hand. However, if you fill the wash and rinse basins instead of letting the water run, you'll use half as much water as a dishwasher. If you opt to use the dishwasher, wash full loads only. If you must rinse your dishes before loading them, use only cold water so you're not running up your energy bill by heating water unnecessarily. Don't forget to use the energy-saving cycles whenever possible. Dishwashers that feature air power or overnight dry settings can save up to 10 percent of your dishwashing energy costs. Saving energy in the kitchen is a habit you should practice all year long - why not begin this Thanksgiving? Throughout the holiday season and into the New Year, you'll watch your energy bills drop even as you use less of our precious energy resources - just one more thing to be thankful for this holiday season.