Cooking in a hot kitchen can be unbearable in summer, particularly in the hottest parts of Australia. But summer cooking needn't mean slaving over a hot stove or living exclusively on salad until the weather cools down.
If you mix things up with different cooking techniques, kitchen appliances and meal options, you'll be able to enjoy meals with family and friends instead of recovering from heatstroke.
"Being prepared and thinking outside the box is key to keeping your kitchen cool on those hot summer days," says CHOICE kitchen expert Fiona Mair.
CHOICE experts share their hot tips to help you keep your cool in the kitchen in the summer months.
1. Take it outside
Summer is prime barbecue season – and for good reason. Not only is dining alfresco more enjoyable in the warmer weather, but cooking outdoors quite literally takes the heat out of the kitchen. You can grill, sear, roast and bake to your heart's content and then head back inside to a cool house.
Cooking outdoors quite literally takes the heat out of the kitchen
The setup that Fiona favours is a BBQ with a hood and side burner.
"When you have a hood and a side burner the BBQ becomes more versatile," she says. "It's like combining an oven, cooktop and BBQ in one."
Here are Fiona's tips for versatile ways to use your barbecue:
- Invest in a pizza stone to cook pizza on the BBQ
- You can roast turkey, ham, chicken and lamb using indirect cooking
- Wrap a whole fish in foil and bake
- Grill seafood for an alternative BBQ meal
- Add a wok to your side burner for stir-frying vegetables
- BBQ vegetables for a different flavour
- For sweet and savoury dishes alike, sear fruit like pineapple and peaches on the chargrill plate
- Cook breakfast foods like omelettes and bacon and eggs on the BBQ (this works especially well when you're cooking for a crowd)
You could also get creative with an outdoor pizza oven to cook things other than pizza: think roasted vegetables, slow-cooked meats, jacket potatoes, fresh bread and baked fish. A portable induction cooktop is another way to get cooking outside the kitchen.
If cooking indoors is your only option, make sure the kitchen is set up to keep things as cool as possible.
"If you're using the oven or stove then ensure there's good ventilation to get that cooking heat out of the house," says CHOICE whitegoods expert Ashley Iredale. "And consider things like ceiling fans and pedestal fans to keep the air moving."
Antipasto makes a perfect summer meal that won't heat up your kitchen.
2. Cool it
Not every meal needs to be a hot one. Cool down from the inside with cold meals like salads, antipasto platters, sushi, poke bowls, rice paper rolls, no-bake cheesecakes and the like.
"If you normally have baked snacks for morning or afternoon tea or in your child's lunchbox, swap it out for a no-bake slice instead," says CHOICE food expert Rachel Clemons.
"You can also switch from hot drinks to cold to avoid using your kettle – think iced tea and cold brew coffee. Keep a jug in the fridge for refills throughout the day."
And if you must bake, do it on cooler days or at night-time when the temperature drops.
Do your cooking early in the morning if you can, before the house heats up too much
"Do your cooking early in the morning if you can, before the house heats up too much," says CHOICE home cooling expert Chris Barnes.
"It's not so useful if you want a hot dinner fresh from oven to table, but good if you want to prepare chicken for a cold chicken salad dinner or to make a meal that can be microwaved later.
"And if you're baking things like bread, biscuits and muffins, you'll have that lovely cooking smell throughout the house for the day."
Using your food processor will make quick work of chopping and shredding for salads.
3. Bench it
Using the appliances on your kitchen bench can really help you beat the heat. And they can help speed things up in the kitchen so you're spending less time prepping and cooking, and more time trying to cool down.
You can use your food processor to shred vegetables for salad, or for chopping onions to fry on the BBQ hotplate.
Switch up your appliances: using air fryers and portable induction cooktops also means that you won't have to preheat the oven and heat up your kitchen.
Using air fryers and portable induction cooktops means that you won't have to preheat the oven and heat up your kitchen
"If you want to cook meals in bulk to freeze them, you can use a slow cooker or multi-cooker to take care of things during the day without heating up your kitchen," says Fiona.
"Think things like curries, casseroles, shredded pork, corned beef and beef brisket.
"And cooking rice in a rice cooker or multi-cooker instead of the stove will reduce the heat and steam in your kitchen."
4. Nuke it
Of all your benchtop appliances, the microwave is your biggest ally in minimising the heat in your home.
Many of the things you'd be doing on the stovetop or in the oven can be done in the microwave – once you know what you're doing, of course.
You can use a slow cooker, multi-cooker or rice cooker to take care of meals rather than using the stove, but a microwave can take care of many of the same tasks – without raising the mercury.
A microwave can take care of many of the same tasks as a slow cooker, multi-cooker or rice cooker
Use it to steam vegetables, quickly rehydrate lentils and beans, cook rice, defrost a whole chicken and even bake a single-serve chocolate cake in a mug! You can also use your microwave to pre-cook potatoes for the BBQ – just chop the potato as small as possible to reduce the cooking time.
And by cooking in the microwave you can save on washing up, as you can often cook and serve in the same dish.
Consider a convection microwave
If you really want to take microwave cooking to the next level, check out a convection microwave – it combines the function of a microwave with the ability to brown and crisp food like a standard oven.
If you're really hanging out for a roast but can't bear the thought of having the oven on, a convection microwave is one way to whip up a small roast dinner. Or you could use it to roast vegies to have alongside the meat you cook on the BBQ.
It will still produce heat, but will heat up much faster than a regular oven, so you won't need to have it on for as long
Convection microwaves reheat food quickly, just like a regular microwave, but they can also make food crispy. And the grill function means you can melt cheese toasts and brown the top of gratins and pasta bakes. You can also cook biscuits and cakes in them.
It will still produce heat, but will heat up much faster than a regular oven, so you won't need to have it on for as long. And you can combine functions, such as roast or grill with the microwave function, to speed up the cooking time.
Convection microwaves can also be a good alternative to an air fryer – they do everything an air fryer does, but they're more versatile and have a larger capacity than an air fryer. Find out more at Should you buy a convection microwave?
5. Double it
Plan ahead: if you're roasting meat on the BBQ, double the quantity so you'll have extra for cold salads throughout the week. When you're grilling chops, throw some vegetables on too so you can use them in a salad. Cook two roast chickens at a time so you'll have leftovers to turn into another delicious meal.
And even if you're cooking indoors, make twice as much so you can pop some in the fridge or freezer to be reheated in the microwave on days you don't have the energy for cooking – that way you'll still have hot meals over several days but you'll only be heating the house up once.