What's a BTU and How Many Should Your Stove Have?

Professional quality! Blazing hot! Packed with BTUs!! These are some of the phrases that get tossed around when talking about dream kitchens and high-end cooktops. But what is a BTU, and how many should your stove have? Is bigger better, when it comes to BTUs? What's a BTU? British thermal units (BTU or Btu) are the units that measure the heat given off by your gas burner. One BTU will raise the heat of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit.

What about electric stoves? Do they have BTUs too?
The heating power of electric stoves tends to be measured in watts, instead of BTUs. You can directly convert a heat measurement in watts to BTUs (per hour).

More BTUs are automatically better than less, right?
Not necessarily! The macho stoves with enormous amounts of BTUs and crazy high flames are very fun to play with, and great for restaurants that are constantly putting out high-heat seared food. But in a home kitchen, the premium you will pay for a lot of extra BTUs is not necessarily better. Professional ranges can scorch your cookware and be hard to handle on a normal schedule of cooking.

How many BTUs should my stove have?
This is the key question, right? A home stove has, on average, about 7000 BTUs per burner. Some burners are lower, designed for simmering and low-heat cooking, and may put out 3000 to 5000 BTUs. And there may be one monster burner on a range that goes up to 12,000. (That's the one you always put your pasta pot on!)

Ultimately, you want to make sure your stove has enough BTUs to quickly boil a large pot of water, but that there is a large and effective dynamic range between all the burners. You need to be able to simmer on low, fry on medium, and sear on high. If your stove jumps quickly from low to high heat or doesn't ever do low heat at all, that's not very helpful. A responsive dynamic range and easy control is more important than sheer BTU numbers.

The one other place that BTU numbers come into play is choosing a range vent hood. Hoods are calibrated to handle certain amounts of BTUs, so when you are picking out a new hood, make sure you know how many BTUs your stove puts out.

Do you have a high BTU range?

Related: Survey: Is Your Oven Gas or Electric?

(Image: Flickr member twid licensed for use under Creative Commons)

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.

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