COOKING tonight? Think carefully before flicking on the oven – it may be costing you an extra £100 over what you need to pay – and likely much more. 

There are various ways of heating food in the kitchen and – with the fuel costs soaring to an average £2,500 a year – it’s a good idea to know which is cheapest.

Here we look at the costs and how to keep them down.

MICROWAVE: 34p an hour on 1,000 watt setting

Microwaves have made cooking easier and cheaper since they became popular in the 1980s.

They are more efficient than ovens because the energy heats only the food, not the whole heating compartment.

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The other big advantage is you don’t need the oven to warm to a high temperature first.

People usually use them to heat up pre-cooked food, but you can make a lot of meals from scratch, like chilli, mac and cheese, mug cake and risotto.

The savings can be astronomical. Cooking a potato might take 10 minutes in the microwave but an hour in the oven.

That would mean £8.74 if you cooked one several times a week, compared to £110.76 in an oven.

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Cut the cost of using your microwave by spreading food more thinly and evenly and stirring it and flipping it at least once or twice.

This will speed up the cooking process, according to the Which? consumer group.

Opt for a circular or oval dish to ensure the microwaves are being evenly spread throughout the food.

And if reheating a tub of food, tip onto a plate or rounded dish instead.

Use your microwave’s automatic settings for different types of food – they are designed to stop it from drying out or burning it on the outside.

Place a cover like microwave-safe cling film or lid over the food to speed up the cooking process as well as keeping the moisture (and taste) from escaping.

OVEN: 71p an hour (2,100 watts) 

An oven with an average power rating of 2,100 watts is the most expensive way of heating food – so should be used as a last resort.

Be mindful of cutting the cost of running an oven.

You can do this by batch cooking as much as possible to make sure all the space and heat is being used.

Don’t keep opening the door to check the food, it means the oven has to work much harder. 

Boil potatoes and other root veggies in a saucepan before roasting them in order to reduce oven cooking time.

Other ways of cutting costs include using glass or ceramic dishes in the oven as they retain heat better than metal ones.

You can also turn the oven off ten minutes before the food’s finished cooking as the temperature will remain the same, and the food will keep cooking. 

AIR FRYER: 53p an hour (1,550 watts)

Air fryers have soared in popularity due to being quicker and more efficient than ovens. 

The gadgets use hot air to cook food rather than oil, making them healthier than deep-fat frying but still giving food a crispy fried finish. 

Foods that cook well in air fryers include chicken pieces, bacon, chips, and roast potatoes, but others are less suited, such as green leaves, cheese and wet batter.

To ensure even cooking, shake the basket a few times while it’s in progress and flip larger foods. 

Don’t overfill the basket as the air needs to circulate to cook everything – follow the manual’s guidelines on capacity.

Keep an eye on it as you can’t see the food cooking, like you can with an oven. 

It’s a good idea to have a thermometer handy to check the meat is cooked through.

SLOW COOKER: 3.4p an hour (100 watts)

Slow cookers simmer food at low temperatures over a few hours – with the ingredients benefitting from the slow, gentle heat to bring out strong flavours.

Models that use just 100watts now cost 3.4p an hour to run, after electricity prices rose in October.

Slow cookers are great for cooking meals in sauces, like stews, curries and casseroles, as they slowly blend the flavours over time.

According to BBC Food, they are better suited to cheaper cuts of meat which are tougher or higher in fat, as they won’t dry out during cooking. 

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That means you not only save on your energy bills, but also on your shopping budget by buying budget chicken thighs and pork shoulders.

The same rule applies to veg. Cheaper ones like carrots, shallots, celeriac, swede and beets are less likely to overcook than other types, such as tomatoes, aubergines or peppers.

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