Cooking on an electric stove isn't easy, but that's not something I learned until I moved to Berlin. Before then, I'd been blessed with frequent access to gas stovetops, which use live fire to heat evenly and quickly so you can cook efficiently. Electric stoves, on the other hand, can be pretty clunky. Their burners are slow to heat up and cool down, which can be especially difficult whenever you need to quickly change the heat to prevent something from burning. Obviously there are high-tech versions that buck the trend, but Berlin apartments in my price range aren't exactly equipped with state-of-the-art technology.
Instead of letting the old-school electric stove in my new place get me down, I decided to figure out how to make it work for me. With a bit of creativity (and a lot of desperation) I managed to develop a series of tricks that enable me to cook with it as well as I would on a gas stove. If you have an electric stove, these are the things I think are worth keeping in mind, both according to experts and also from from my own experiences.
Be cautious with the burners, especially if it's your first time using an electric stove.
"Everybody who has ever owned an electric stove has burned themselves on it at least once or twice," Joshua Sauer, executive chef at Avenue Restaurant in New Jersey, tells SELF. It's obvious when a gas stove is on because you can see a flame or smell gas, but the same isn't always true for an electric stove. Newer models are often equipped to notify you if a burner is still hot, but many older models don't provide any clear indications.
If you're not sure if a burner is hot or cold, place your hand several inches above it.
If it is hot, you'll be able to feel that heat without actually touching it.
Or, put clean pots and pans on the burners that are still hot after you finish cooking, so you know which ones to avoid.
Sauer says his mother used to do this to ensure no one would get burned and that it always worked. Alternatively, Christine Hazel, recent winner of Food Network's Chopped, says you can purchase a sign or a magnet to leave on or near the stovetop that indicates if it's still hot or not.
Be extra sure that you actually turn off all your burners—even if that means squatting down to get a better look at burner dials!
I've walked away from a still-on burner more times than I care to admit, and I've learned that sometimes all you can do is be extra vigilant, especially when you're still getting used to a kitchen appliance. After a while, though, it will start to become second nature.
When it comes to electric stoves, preheating is your best friend.
It can take a long time for a burner to properly heat up—in my experience, up to 15 minutes! That's why you should preheat your burners while you're prepping your food. Have onions to chop? Turn your burner on first, then get to work. By the time you're prepped and ready to go, your stovetop should be too.
If you need to preheat something a little more substantial than a basic pot or pan, like a cast-iron skillet or a Dutch oven, let your oven do that for you.
About 20 to 30 minutes before you plan to begin cooking, use a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven to bring it up to temp, and take it out (with oven mitts!) when you're ready to begin. According to Craig Rispoli, executive chef at Fresh & Co., it can be hard to maintain a high heat on an electric stove, and doing this little extra step will guarantee your food cooks more evenly.
If you have an electric kettle, use it to heat water before putting it into a pot to boil; it'll speed up the process significantly.
When you put a pot of cold water on an electric stovetop, it can take a really long time to come to a boil, especially because electric stoves heat up so slowly. If you don't have the time to wait for that, pre-boil your water in an electric kettle. It takes a matter of minutes and it's perfect for when you don't want to wait around all night to cook a pot of pasta.
When cooking, avoid cranking the heat too high or too low quickly; change the temperature gradually so the burner has time to properly adjust.
With a gas stove, life is simple. When you turn the heat up, it's hot right away, and it's cooler when you turn it down. Electric burners take far longer to adjust, which means you also need to be a bit more careful, says Hazel. For example, if you're trying to bring a pot of soup to a simmer, don't crank the heat to the highest setting right from the jump—that'll make it too hot and cause it to boil over. Instead, start low and work your way up slowly. If you've had the soup over a medium heat for 20 minutes and aren't seeing any results, turn it up a notch or two and go from there.
If you need to char something, throw it right on top of the burner.
For a dish that needs to be charred over an open flame, like the eggplant in this dip recipe, you don't actually need an open flame. Sauer says you'll get the same results by cooking your food directly on the burner. "It would give the same smoky and bittersweet taste that you would normally get," he explains.
And if you need to quickly lower the heat, experiment with having two burners on at once.
When you're cooking, you'll often find that you need to move something quickly from a high heat to a low heat, like when you're making a pot of stovetop rice or trying not to burn homemade caramel. It's harder to do that on an electric stove because the burners take longer to cool down. Instead, I keep two burners on at once, one at a lower temp and one at a higher temp. Bev Weidner, host of Food Network's Pressure Point, has had similar success with this method, telling me that it can definitely make things easier, especially when you need to seamlessly move between high and low heats. Just be triple sure to turn off all your burners when you're finished! With these tricks in your back pocket, no one will know have any idea how clunky your stove is.