When you first set out into the big wide world of street food, this is one of your big choices. We are currently going through the whole debate again for the Bedford, so here are the two different cooking methods, side by side. You can decide if cooking on gas or electric is better for you.
The main point to note about an electric setup is that it’s easy. Carry on film easy. You buy the equipment and you plug it right in. Once a year you need a PAT test, which costs less than £100.
Gas equipment may be a faff to get organised, but it is cheap to run. Especially compared to an electric setup. If efficiency were sexy, gas equipment would be strutting around topless. A minor consideration for those who do not trade from a large green van: you cannot use it indoors. Technically legislation blah blah blah you can theoretically get round this, but if any organiser tells you this is fine, you need to see some proof.
Cooking on Gas or Electric: The Great Debate
In the Bedford we have both options. A gas setup will be much more labour intensive and will require a whole bunch of safety features: gas shut off valves, extraction and not-setting-fire-to-yourself to name but a few. It is, as I have said before, dangerous stuff. However once you have your gas connected you are free. Not needing power means you can trade anywhere your van can travel, without having to worry about plugging in. This is what we have aimed for so far in the Jabberwocky. The Beast (long may he thunder despite a recent MOT failure) even carries a 1kva generator around with his just in case the need arises. It means we have been able to trade at some fairly random places and be flexible at short notice when things go horribly wrong.
But as street food becomes more of an industry and more traders arrive on the scene the change has invariably come pounding in. More and more venues are opening their doors to traders, and more and more traders are going for electric setups. This means that as the number of traders increases, so to do the power provisions. Three years ago I would never have considered cooking on electric, because it would have meant shipping a small car’s worth of generator around with us. Now, with power readily available all over the place, it seems terribly viable.
The personal generator has one other noticeable downside: It’s noisy. A silent generator will clock in at around 60-70 decibels. An open frame generator, which is a much cheaper option, ends up around 70-90. The different doesn’t seem huge, but an extra 10 decibels means something is twice as loud. So you need to be looking at a silent generator if you want to hear what your customers are saying.
Not just that, but electricity generation is not nearly as convenient as we are all led to believe, living in houses where it just comes out of the wall. To generate enough power to run a fridge, you need a generator the size of a microwave. For something big enough to run a grill, you need one the size of a small fridge. To run your fryer, bain marie, oven, air conditioning unit and 50″ TV (for the quiet times) you need one that comes on a trailer and is half the size of your unit again.
This does sway the decision back towards gas though. I would hate to be ruled out of an event just because the organisers didn’t have the power to run our gear. To sum up, here is a raunchy little comparison between cooking on gas or electric. Update: We went for gas.
- Cheaper to run
- Faster cooking
- More flexible
- No need for a giant generator or nearby power source
- You only need a tiny amount of electricity (at festivals, for example)
- Cook Indoors!
- No need to mess around with gas safety
- Less chance of blowing yourself up
- Replacements are easier to find
- If power is supplied at a flat rate to traders, it is actually cheaper than gas
- Lots of power isn’t really feasible because of the generators required.