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Energy Efficiency

Oven-Free Summer Cooking

Countertop appliances offer a cooler way to prepare meals

We are in the midst of the season of high air-conditioning bills, and nobody wants to stand over a hot stove or oven to produce a good meal.

With some creative use of your smaller countertop appliances—toaster oven, microwave, pressure cooker and slow cooker—you still can easily make the dishes you usually cook on the stove or in the oven.

Electric Pressure Cooker

Something of a phenomenon in the kitchen, these are bringing back time-saving pressure cooking. New electric ones have more safety measures in place than the stovetop sort, and most of them can take the place of slow and rice cookers.

Pressure cookers can hard-boil eggs in about 5 minutes and are good for quick-steaming a surprising number of foods you would normally boil or bake. Some models can even cut out stovetop steps, like browning meat, with a sauté function.

Slow Cooker

They’re not just for stews anymore! With the right recipes, slow cookers can perform a marvelous and surprising range of culinary feats, like making bread, yogurt and gooey brownie desserts. Of course, pork and pot roasts cook while you’re at work, and black-eyed peas are done overnight. But did you know that a slow cooker also can cook potatoes (properly pierced, oiled and foiled) to perfection in about 8–10 hours?

Rice Cooker

Besides making rice effortless, rice cookers are also good for cooking other grains, such as quinoa, and for steaming. Although making rice is already easy, many home chefs appreciate not having to turn on a stove or dedicate a burner to rice when the stove is already busy.

But many might not know of the rice cooker’s ability to make entire one-pot meals. And eggs can be hard-boiled perfectly upon a steamer rack set in the top, or set in with rice to be prepared simultaneously.

A steaming tray or basket is essential in many pressure and rice cooker recipes. Many rice cookers even come with steaming baskets, but if yours didn’t, you can buy one separately.

A common, useful style is a stainless steel, collapsible basket that fits in just about anything.

Toaster Oven

Besides making toast, a good toaster oven can save you the heat of turning on a full-sized oven. Although you might not trust one to heat evenly enough for baking a cake, it can roast veggies or fish in a snap. Some are also big enough to hold a 2.75-quart baking dish, the perfect size for casseroles and cobblers.


These can do a lot more than heat up your leftovers, you know. Microwaves work by spinning water molecules, which means they can steam things easily, too. Also, they melt chocolates and cheeses more easily than a double boiler or an oven, with much less excess heat.

Microwaves easily cook rice in about 15 minutes, scrambled eggs in about a minute and a half, and pierced and oiled potatoes in 10 minutes with one flip. Unshucked corn on the cob cooks in 3–4 minutes; handled with care, the corn should slide right out of the husk and silk after cooking.