Cooking Tips for Hot Weather

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With restrictions on indoor dining during the pandemic, it may not be possible to flee your house during a heat wave to eat in an air-conditioned restaurant. And with high temperatures, it’s hard to keep your cool in a hot kitchen. The refrigerator is working extra hard, and cooking on the range or running the dishwasher just adds more heat to the room.

But with a few tweaks to your routine and your appliances, you can keep the kitchen comfortable and even save energy. Here are some hot-weather cooking tips from the experts at Consumer Reports.

Refrigerators

In our refrigerator tests we crank up the heat in our testing lab, but that’s not the ideal conditions for a fridge. To keep your refrigerator humming but not running overtime, make sure the front grille is free of dirt—keeping it clean will improve airflow to the condenser. Likewise, clean the condenser coil with a brush or vacuum, and make sure the door closes tightly by washing the door gasket with a mild detergent and water. And be sure there should be a few inches between the refrigerator and the wall so air can circulate.

When putting away warm leftovers, make sure you cover your food. That limits moisture evaporation so your compressor doesn’t have to work as hard to cool the moist air. When the compressor is running it expels heat into the room. Decide what you want before you open the fridge because every time you do, up to 30 percent of the cooled air escapes.

"And if you have a second refrigerator in an uninsulated garage like I do, it has to work even harder to keep your food cold," says Joe Pacella who oversees our refrigerator tests. To monitor the interior to make sure it maintains a safe temperature (37° to 40° F), use a refrigerator thermometer.

To find a fridge, see our full refrigerator ratings and recommendations.

Ovens and Ranges

Don't cook in the the oven if you don't have to. But if you need to use the oven, think twice about preheating it, which will just warm your kitchen. Instead, do your prep work first—slicing and dicing veggies, assembling all your ingredients—then turn the oven on. Keep track of how long it takes to preheat and use that as a gauge the next time you cook.

And remember to keep the oven door closed. An open door will release heat into the kitchen and lower the oven temperature and prolong cooking time.

On the stovetop, match the size of your pot or pan to the burner so the heat is warming the pan and not the room. Using a 6-inch pan on an 8-inch burner wastes heat and energy. And remember that covering your pots and pans helps food cook faster and contains the heat. Don’t forget to turn on your exhaust fan, especially if you’re cooking something like pasta in an open pot.

If you're in the market for a cooktop or range, consider an induction model. With induction, the cooktop stays cool because magnetic coils below the ceramic glass surface generate the heat directly to the pan. (Induction appliances require magnetic cookware.)

Find the right range for your home.

Dishwashers

Only run your dishwasher when it’s full. Run it at night when temperatures dip; your electricity rate might be lower then, too. Try letting your dishes air-dry; if you don't have an automatic air-dry switch, turn off the dishwasher after the final rinse and prop the door open slightly so the dishes dry faster, although that may release steamy air into the room.

Get the dish on our full dishwasher ratings.

Small Appliances

Cooking in a microwave not only keeps the kitchen cooler but also is more energy-efficient than cooking on a cooktop or in an oven. Consider using an electric frying pan, toaster oven, or convection oven for small meals rather than your large stove or oven. A toaster or convection oven uses one-third to one-half as much energy as a full-sized oven.

If you have a slow cooker or a multi-cooker with a pressure cooker function, put it to work. The first can make a meal without wasting much heat, and the pressure cooker speeds up the entire process so you’re spending less time in the kitchen.

Take a look below at the best toaster oven, microwave, slow cooker, and multi-cooker from our tests.

Fans and Lights

A ceiling fan in the kitchen or a nearby room circulates the air and can make you feel more comfortable. If you have a whole-house or attic fan, use it to pull the hot air out of the house.

Energy-saving lightbulbs like CFLs and LEDs provide light and run cooler, so if you’re still using incandescent lightbulbs, keep in mind that they give off unwanted heat. In fact, only about 10 to 15 percent of the electricity that incandescent lights consume results in light—the rest is turned into heat. Turn the lights off when you leave the kitchen. And keep blinds and curtains closed during the heat of the day to keep the sun out.

Grills

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen altogether by cooking on your grill. Today’s gas grills often feature a side burner for side dishes and enough cooking space to accommodate an entire meal. And you can do a lot with a charcoal grill, pellet grill, or kamado grill, which we also test. The best grills in our tests offer top-notch indirect cooking so you can grill a wider variety of foods. Of course, you have to stand nearby to tend your food, which may defeat the purpose of trying to stay cool.

Here are our top-rated gas, charcoal, kamado, and pellet grills.

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