Gas vs. Electric on Price and Usage

Comparing Gas vs. Electric in the Restaurant Equipment Match-up

For years, one of the major debates among those in the foodservice industry has been over gas-fired versus electric restaurant equipment. While gas has traditionally been the winner of that struggle, as evidenced by the fact that the majority of restaurants opt to use it, electric has some die-hard adherents who are willing to stand up for their source.

Though gas is a foregone conclusion for many because of the benefits it provides, there are plenty of "pros" for electric heat. With most cooking equipment available in both gas and electric versions, the debate now goes far beyond whether it's a gas stove or an electric stove that provides the features you want. We’re going to break down the pros and cons of each option below.

Electric Rates vs. Natural Gas Prices

One of the major reasons gas is more popular in commercial kitchens is that it’s typically cheaper than electricity when you compare how much heat each can produce per dollar. Gas heat is measured in British Thermal Units(BTUs), while electric heat is measured in kilowatts(kW). In order to compare equivalent heat output capacities, we must convert a kilowatt's heat output to BTUs. Using the conversion rate of 1 kilowatt equals 3,412 BTU/hr6, the following chart lists how much heat in BTUs a dollar of each common heat source will provide.

Heat Source BTU/Dollar
NG 59,468.82
LP 44,607.84
Electricity 34,120.00

Based on U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) data from August 2016, the national average price1 of a thousand cubic feet of natural gas was $17.62. The price has generally trended downward2 in recent years, with a few peaks in high-demand years, as exploration and production have increased supply.

Propane, which is used by restaurant equipment noted as "LP," has also experienced price stabilization and decreases as speculators have decoupled its value from that of crude oil. For October 2016, the price of propane3 in the United States averaged $2.04 per gallon.

The EIA also reports the national average for electricity in 2014 was roughly 10 cents per kilowatt hour for commercial customers. The price of electricity4 has been pretty steady in most areas, though rates have steadily increased as new environmental regulations and other factors have boosted the costs of production. EIA data indicates the national annual average retail price of a kilowatt hour5 of electricity for commercial customers went from 10.12 in 2012 to 10.70 in 2016.

Natural gas provides about 1.03 million BTU per thousand cubic feet, while a kilowatt hour of electricity is capable of producing 3,412 BTU. A gallon of the less popular propane, most commonly sold as LPG in America, has 91,000 BTU potential. So, to compare apples to apples, we need to understand that 301 kilowatt hours, 11.3 gallons of propane, and a thousand cubic feet of gas are equal in terms of heating power, making it possible to compare prices for each. The average cost for electricity at 10 cents per kilowatt hour would be $31.42 for the same heating capacity as $10.44 worth of natural gas would provide. Propane’s rate would be about $23.05 for the same amount of heating.

The difference between electric and natural gas costs may not be enough to convince a home chef to switch from an electric stove to a more expensive gas stove and pay for gas lines to be run to his or her home. After all, how many million BTU does the average home chef use in a month? However, that comparison shows a huge difference for a commercial kitchen.

Having said that, let's look at where electric restaurant equipment comes out ahead.

Benefits of Electric Commercial Cooking Equipment

Electric Range Eye
  • The equipment is typically cheaper and easier to install, since it often involves putting a plug into a socket, though some equipment will need to be hardwired to your building's supply.
  • Electricity is generally more efficient than gas, since all the energy coming in is converted directly into heat. With gas, some of the heat is sent up the flue.
  • Electric ovens tend to cook more evenly than gas-fired ones.
  • There’s some debate about this, but there’s ample research to suggest there’s less heat escaping during operation from electric sources, which should mean a cooler kitchen and lower HVAC bills.
  • Unlike with gas, there’s essentially no danger you’ll have an electricity leak that could put noxious fumes into your kitchen and dining area.

Advantages of Gas-Fired Restaurant Equipment

Gas Range Flame
  • The knob directly controls the flow of gas and, thus, the intensity of the flame, so you have more precise control over how hot each eye is. That should yield easier and more consistent cooking.
  • With gas, the flame lights immediately and begins producing heat, which means there’s no waiting for an element to heat up as with electric cooking equipment.
  • A power outage is typically no trouble for gas appliances, so you can keep serving when electricity-based kitchens are shut down.
  • Since the flame goes out immediately when the control is turned to "Off," these units cool down more quickly than their electric counterparts. That means less ambient heat produced during idle periods.
  • Thanks to the way the more spread-out heat from the flame moves, gas restaurant equipment heats the bottoms and sides of pans. That can mean it works faster.

1. Natural gas pricing information

2. Natural gas pricing trends

3. Propane price data

4. State-by-state electricity pricing

5. Electricity price trends

6. Kilowatts to BTU/hr Conversion. RapidTables. Accessed December 2016.