What’s Cook’n?

From Bea Wray

As we count our blessings and pour out gratitude this week over the Thanksgiving holiday, I give thanks for access to electrical power. I begin to wonder, how much energy will preparing one Thanksgiving dinner for eight people take?

Let’s explore.

Here’s the menu: Turkey and gravy, oyster dressing, golden mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, cranberry salad, shaved brussel sprouts, and pecan pie. I can’t wait!

So how much energy is used to make this meal? First of all, this is a question not to guilt myself into eating a raw apple and carrot stick for the celebration, but just for perspective. The most important perspective regarding energy is that Thanksgiving is a very low overall usage day because it is businesses that have the highest demands for power and most businesses will be closed Thursday.

According to Electricity Local  the average South Carolina electricity rate is 11.77 cents per kWh (kilowatt hour). I cook my 12 pound turkey at 350 degrees for two hours and 36 minutes. To include preheat time the turkey in an electric oven chimes in at 7.2 kWh, sweet potato casserole in the oven will use 1.8 kWh, mashed potatoes on the stove will use .75 kWh, oyster dressing between stove and oven will use 2.73 kWh, the hand mixer only consumes .3 kWh for the cranberry salad, brussel sprouts chime in with only .38 kWh and pecan pie brings it home with 1.92kWh for a grand total of 15.08 kWh for the meal without accounting for the refrigerator before and after, dishwasher for cleanup and washing machine for table linens.  That’s just under $2 for this Thanksgiving meal.

What sorts of decisions impact total energy usage:

First, making dishes ahead of time and having to refrigerate and reheat is indeed a great way to decrease stress, yet there are added energy costs at each step. Similarly, using frozen versus fresh ingredients uses energy in storage and perhaps thawing. Third, menu choice and cooking style (i.e. the above calculation was based on store bought stock, not homemade — which can be delicious!). Appliance choice such as gas range versus electric has a large impact on energy use. Jenny McGruther of Nourished Kitchen calculated the energy cost of preparing chicken stock in three ways. Using an electric range (14 hours up to $4.20), a gas range (14 hours up to $1.12), or a slow cooker (36 hours up to $1.08).

Here are some general tips for decreasing energy using an oven and stove top.  Ones I use regularly are:

  • Turn oven off 10-15 minutes before the end of the cooking time
  • Using ceramic and glass dishes
  • Defrosting frozen foods in the oven not only to decrease cooking times but also helps keep the refrigerator cool.

When those gathered around your meal start the sometimes awkward circle of “what I am most grateful for” remember that if you are stuck for an answer, “access to electricity” is always an option!