8 Mistakes Everyone Makes When Cooking On A Gas Stove Top

Pot on gas stove top
Pot on gas stove top - Leka Sergeeva/Shutterstock

Gas stove tops have long been seen as the gold standard for cooking, with professional chefs and home cooks alike enjoying the ability they have to change temperatures almost immediately. However, climate change and concerns surrounding gas stoves' production of potentially harmful pollutants have caused an increasing amount of the American public to turn their backs on them. Despite these concerns, 38% of American households still use a gas stove, according to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Many of these individuals can't easily replace their stove, and they may have little desire to change.

Those who continue to cook with gas are also faced with culinary challenges. For example, the stove top's incredible responsiveness means that any erroneous temperature changes can cause food to suddenly burn. Thankfully, both the cooking challenges associated with gas stove tops, as well as their impact on human health, can be minimized if cooks avoid a few common mistakes. If these mistakes aren't made, there's no reason why gas can't continue to play an effective and safe role in the kitchens of many Americans for years to come.

Read more: 8 Baking Sheet Mistakes You Want To Avoid

Forgetting To Use The Exhaust Fan

Person turning on exhaust fan
Person turning on exhaust fan - Brizmaker/Getty Images

It has been widely reported that gas stoves emit a range of harmful compounds. These include benzene, nitrogen dioxide, and fine airborne particulates. Benzene is cited as a cause of blood cell cancers in an article published in Environmental Science and Technology. Nitrogen dioxide is known to be a lung irritant and was linked with the development of asthma in a meta-analysis published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Turning on the exhaust fan is a vital means of reducing the levels of these pollutants. As research scientist Eric Lebel explained to Scientific American, "You should always turn that exhaust fan on anytime that you're using your stove ... Even if what you're cooking doesn't smell, if that flame is on, you should have the exhaust on to help reduce the concentrations of the off-gassing, or those [nitrogen oxide] by-products, in the kitchen."

Unfortunately, not every kitchen is equipped with a ventilation hood. Furthermore, some ventilation hoods fail to remove the pollutants from the room. In these instances, those using gas stove tops should cook with the windows open to improve ventilation. Tests by New York Times writer Tim Heffernan in his kitchen showed that having the window open for just 20 minutes can significantly improve air quality when a gas stove top is on. Other methods can also be used to improve air quality, including the use of air purifiers.

Not Checking Flame Color

Blue flames on gas stove
Blue flames on gas stove - Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Unlike induction cooktops, gas stoves present visual cues that indicate how well the burner is performing, namely the color of the flame itself. Failing to keep an eye on this can cause home cooks to miss underperformance that can potentially be dangerous to human health.

The flames produced by gas burners should always be blue. This is true for burners fueled by propane, natural gas, butane, and ethane. A blue color indicates that the combustion of the gas is both safe and efficient. Yellow, orange, or red flames suggest that incomplete combustion is taking place, which may result in non-combusted carbon monoxide leaking into the kitchen, potentially leading to carbon monoxide poisoning. This is a very serious risk; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that carbon monoxide poisoning kills over 400 Americans every year. According to UC Davis' Environmental Health Sciences Center, incomplete combustion also produces fine particulate matter. Inhalation of these tiny particles has been linked with cardiovascular disease and immune dysfunction.

Keeping the burner clean helps to keep the gas flow channels free of blockages, minimizing the chances of incomplete combustion occurring. If a yellow, orange, or red flame is present, cooks are advised to turn off the burners and ventilate the room. The appliance should also be serviced as soon as possible.

Using The Wrong Size Burner

Skillet over two gas burners
Skillet over two gas burners - Mbolina/Getty Images

While a common practice, using cookware that is much larger or smaller than the gas burner it's placed on can have negative impacts on both the quality of the food and general energy efficiency. For example, using a small pot on a large burner can increase annual gas costs by nearly $20. What's more, using small pots on larger burners often results in flames climbing up the side of the pot. Aside from being inefficient, this is potentially damaging, as the pot's plastic handles melt and metal scorches. Using too large a burner also causes food around the periphery of the pan to cook quicker than that in the middle.

When large pots are used on smaller burners, hot spots develop at the center of the pot and often cause food located in the middle to burn before food on the periphery is properly cooked. As a result, cooks should always aim to use cookware that matches burner size. In instances where a pot is too large for this to be possible, it can be placed over two burners. A baking steel should be placed over the two burners first, thus ensuring an even transfer of heat across the entire pot. Of course, both burners must also be set to the same temperature.

Misusing Temperature Settings

Flames on gas stove top
Flames on gas stove top - Bloomberg/Getty Images

Gas stove tops are celebrated for their responsiveness, with temperature changes being almost instantaneous. This is extremely handy for cooks, who can quickly adjust temperatures depending on their wants and needs. However, such responsiveness means a false step can have disastrous consequences and result in food burning. For this reason, home cooks are advised to familiarize themselves with their gas stove top and learn which temperatures are suitable for which cooking processes.

Low settings, wherein the blue flames are small, correspond to temperatures between 250 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Medium settings produce temperatures between 350 and 450 degrees, whereas high settings can result in temperatures up to 600 degrees. The great differences between all these settings mean care and attention should be paid whenever a cook changes the temperature; a quick twist of the knob leading to a sudden jump from 250 to 550 degrees would be catastrophic for many dishes.

Not Getting It Serviced Regularly

Engineer working on gas stove top
Engineer working on gas stove top - berdiyandriy/Shutterstock

Gas stoves can pose a danger to human health due to gas leaks or incomplete combustion. As such, it is vitally important that those who own gas stoves get them annually serviced by a professional. Given their expertise, professionals can check that gas connections are secure and that there are no leaks throughout the system, ensuring the appliance is both safe to use and operating efficiently.

Yellow, orange, and red flames, strange noises or smells, and faulty igniters are all indications that the gas stove is malfunctioning. In these instances, cooks should not wait for an annual service but book one as soon as possible. They should also cease using the appliance and to turn off gas at the source to make sure their home is safe. If gas can still be smelled after doing that, there's a problem with the home's gas line, and all inhabitants should evacuate the property and contact emergency services.

Failing To Thoroughly Clean The Stove Top

Person cleaning gas stove top
Person cleaning gas stove top - Mikhail Sedov/Shutterstock

Due to their glass or ceramic covers, electric stove tops often only require a quick wipe to clean. Cleaning gas stove tops, however, is much more time consuming due to the number of separate parts that must be washed. That being said, cleaning is not a process people should rush or avoid; a failure to clean all the stove top's constituent parts can lead to the appliance malfunctioning or, at worst, a fire occurring.

The gas burners themselves are the most important part to clean. These are split into two pieces: the burner head and the burner cap. The burner cap is the disc which sits above the head or base. It should be scrubbed clean to remove any food that has burnt itself onto the surface. More important, however, is detaching the burner head and cleaning it thoroughly to ensure none of the channels -- through which the gas flows -- are clogged or blocked. Failure to keep these clean will result in the burner's flame becoming compromised and, ultimately, incomplete combustion occurring.

It is also important to thoroughly clean the surface of the stove top. Drips and splatters from cooking can see this surface develop a thick layer of grease, which, if left unchecked, poses a fire risk.

Forgetting To Turn Off The Burners

Gas stove top left on
Gas stove top left on - Gokhan Y/Shutterstock

Gas burners do not automatically switch off when the pan is removed from the stove top. The majority of cooks switch off the burner by habit, but it's always possible to forget. In addition, those with diseases such as Alzheimer's are at increased risk of leaving the burners on.

If the burner is left on, the exposed flame poses a significant fire safety hazard. Even if the flame is extinguished but the gas is left on, the stove top still poses a major health risk, as individuals in the kitchen and house may suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning. What makes this all the more concerning is that for many gas stoves, it's easy to accidentally turn on just the gas through erroneous twisting of the dial.

There are several measures concerned cooks can take. These include installing specialist knobs which must be both pushed and twisted before gas is released. Many companies also sell valves which automatically shut off the gas supply during certain predetermined hours, often for the safety of someone with Alzheimer's or dementia. These help prevent gas from flowing through the night.

Failing To Take Advantage Of The Naked Flames

Person using wok over gas stove
Person using wok over gas stove - SrideeStudio/Shutterstock

The majority of this article has focused on minimizing the dangers associated with gas stove tops. However, one of the most common mistakes with gas stoves is that users fail to make the most of the appliance's advantages, namely the fact it has exposed, naked flames.

For a budding cook, naked fire opens up a world of opportunities. It allows them to properly burn and scorch food, imbuing it with a smoky flavor. This is an essential step in many dishes, such as when poblano peppers are burnt to make chiles rellenos. The flames also play a vital part in some cuisines, most notably those from China. The reason for this was explained to Gear Patrol by chef and food writer J. Kenji López-Alt: "In some wok-cooked Chinese dishes, the flavor of a gas flame igniting aerosolized oil from the stir-fry will impart a smokiness called 'wok hei,' which can't be replicated without a live flame."

It's not impossible to perform similar culinary processes using electric stove tops and a little bit of imagination. However, these processes often result in an imitation of the original that is somewhat lacking. For this reason, those using gas stove tops are encouraged to make the most of their naked flames.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.