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Dinner’s In The Drawer

I want to be as energy efficient as possible in my kitchen. With busy schedules, it is difficult to get everyone together. Does it make good energy sense to cook a large meal in the oven and then use a warming drawer?—Cindy D.

Today’s family dining patterns are different from when I grew up in the 1950s. If I was not home minutes after my mom called out the window to have dinner with the family, I was in big trouble. Now, busier and more diverse schedules can make it difficult to prepare foods and serve them in an energy-efficient manner.

The most efficient way to prepare a dinner is a single meal large enough for the entire family, cooked in the oven. It takes about as much energy to bake one potato in the oven as it does to bake six potatoes, so it is generally more efficient to make as much as possible at one time. The heating element in an electric oven can easily use more than 2,000 watts.

A microwave oven can cook smaller quantities using less energy than a conventional oven, but some of the large models use almost 1,300 watts of electricity. A microwave does not develop enough residual heat to keep foods safely warm if not consumed immediately. Any extras saved for a late dinner have to be refrigerated and reheated, consuming even more energy.

Using a warming drawer is an efficient alternative to a microwave oven when family members eat dinner at different times. Warming drawers use between 450 and 600 watts of electricity to keep entire dinners warm. The heating elements are thermostatically controlled, so they are on only part of the time. Most foods must be kept above about 140 degrees to ensure they do not spoil. Warming drawers plug into any standard 120-volt electric outlet.

Warming drawers are typically sold in widths of 27 and 30 inches, but 24- and 36-inch wide models are available. A 36-inch wide model from Dacor will hold six 9-inch dinner plates side by side. The 27- and 30-inch models will fit four 11-inch plates and a 24-inch model will hold four 9-inch plates.

When closed, a warming drawer looks similar to just another drawer under the countertop. The controls are hidden behind the front cover, so it must be opened to access them.

A warming drawer can also be mounted under the oven for an integrated look. This is also a convenient location to transfer food from the oven to the drawer. By transferring food quickly, it cools down less, so the warming drawer uses less electricity to keep it warm. Keep in mind, a warming drawer is not designed to reheat or cook food initially. Always use a standard appliance to thoroughly cook food first.

The better models have built-in moisture controls. Most foods taste “just cooked” when kept warm at the moist setting. Others, such as baked potatoes and fried foods, are often better when stored at the crisp setting. You can experiment to see how your family prefers the crispness.

For food safety, always preheat the drawer before placing food in it. If it is not preheated, the temperature of the food may drop below a safe temperature for too long. Most warming drawer models preheat to 160 degrees in 20 to 40 minutes. Miele warming drawers use a small convection fan to reduce the preheat time to just 10 minutes.

The following companies offer warming drawers: Dacor, (800) 793-0093,; General Electric, (800) 626-2000,; Jenn-Air, (800) 688-1100,; Miele, (800) 843-7231,; and Thermador, (800) 656-9226,

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