Gas ovens were once the standard at pizzerias and restaurants across the U.S., but electric ovens are gaining ground
For decades, gas ovens dominated restaurant kitchens, including pizzerias. These days, however, electric ovens are cutting into that long-held supremacy.
While natural gas remains the preferred cooking energy source in U.S. restaurants – three out of four domestic restaurants use natural gas, according to a National Restaurant Association (NRA) Research Group survey – electric ovens continue gaining ground.
To be certain, technological advancements have propelled the increasing use of electric ovens, which have become more versatile and robust. However, the uptick in electric oven adoption may be attributed to another key factor: regulations forcing the use of electric ovens.
In 2019, Berkley, California, became the first U.S. city to ban natural gas hook-ups in new buildings. Numerous other cities, counties and states scattered across the map followed suit, including New York, where the state legislature passed a measure last May banning natural gas appliances in new buildings starting in 2026. The advocates of such regulations tout the environmental benefits of relying on electricity rather than gas as well as safety factors, including research linking gas stoves to toxic gases threatening employee health and the environment.
“Europe has been using electric for years and they’ve set the baseline showing it’s possible to maintain food quality and flavor profiles without draining natural resources or adding to one’s carbon footprint,” says Nathan Beucler of Ohio-based Burkett Restaurant Equipment & Supplies. “Still, that doesn’t mean restaurants here in the U.S. are ready to abandon gas.”
An earnest assessment of gas ovens
Compared to their electric counterparts, gas ovens offer some clear benefits.
First, gas ovens heat up faster and reach higher temperatures, two particularly appealing elements for many pizza-peddling operations.
Second, gas ovens are generally more affordable to purchase and operate as well as more durable. Beucler, who sells both electric and gas ovens, says gas units typically cost 30-40 percent less than comparable electric options. And as gas is a more accessible utility in most markets across the U.S., operational costs run about 10-30 percent less than electric, according to NRA reports.
Finally, many foodies believe gas ovens deliver a more flavorful taste, particularly with the char and flare ups gas ovens can provide. In particular, solid-fuel ovens, such as wood or coal with gas assist, help produce “a true rustic pizza taste,” notes Mike Rudd of KaTom Restaurant Supply in Tennessee, which is why those options remain popular with pizzerias, in particular.
Gas ovens, of course, have their drawbacks. They require a bigger fan on the hood, which increases the investment, and they fall short of their electric rivals on energy efficiency.
Yet more, heat distribution on gas ovens can be more uneven than electric, which can threaten product quality and consistency. Gas ovens also produce carbon monoxide emissions, carry the ever-present risk of a leak or explosion and require more effort to clean given their many dirt, dust and grime-capturing components.
Evaluating the electric oven
While electric oven sales have surged thanks, in part, to regulations, some pizzeria operators have voluntarily opted for electric over gas. (Of note, Rudd sees more electric oven varieties entering the marketplace, including open-hearth options that can serve as a pizzeria’s centerpiece.)
In the fast-paced restaurant environment and in an industry with notoriously high turnover, the operational ease of electric ovens, which can be conveyor, deck or convection, proves particularly enticing. Controls are generally more intuitive and feature easy-to-adjust settings.
Electric ovens also provide more precise temperature control and heat distribution throughout the cooking chamber. This helps drive product consistency and minimizes the risk of hot or cold spots on a pizza or dish. Meanwhile, the ability to control the electric oven with distinct temperature zones allows a restaurant to cook thicker or thinner pizzas on different decks of the oven, which is an attractive feature for operators serving various pizza styles.
Many view electric ovens as the safer option, too, for both staff and the environment. They are more energy efficient than gas and do not emit carbon monoxide, a greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Also, alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind, can power electric ovens, which is an appealing reality for some pizzeria operators and their clientele.
Yet, there are some trade-offs when swapping a gas oven for an electric model. Electric ovens are generally more expensive to purchase and operate, as electric is more costly per Kilowatt hour. Heating up at a slower pace than gas, the electric ovens also top out at about 700 degrees, well short of the temperature limits gas ovens can reach.
4 questions to ask before buying an oven
#1: Is there a regulation demanding electric ovens?
Such regulations remain rare, but they are increasing across the country. If such a requirement exists (or is
being debated), the gas vs. electric decision is made easier for the operator.
#2: Is three-phase electric present?
To accommodate a larger electric oven, the pizzeria will likely need access to three-phase electric, something Beucler says few buildings have. If three-phase electric is not present, Beucler has seen the cost to obtain it run as high as $85,000.
#3: What’s my menu?
A pizzeria’s menu will often dictate one’s decision to go with gas or electric. As electric ovens top out at about 700 degrees, shops serving Neo-Neapolitan pies frequently favor gas or solid-fuel ovens, Rudd says. Those serving multiple pizza styles, however, might prefer the versatility of electric ovens.
#4: Finally, what’s my budget?
Operators will need to investigate the cost of the oven itself, installation and operational costs. A gas oven will often be more economical than an electric option, both upfront and on a daily operational basis.
Beucler, however, is seeing a growing number of operators leaning toward electric conveyor pizza ovens, many of which are ventless. Such units eliminate the cost of the exhaust hood and the accompanying buildout required with a gas oven, investments that could touch $20,000 in total.
“There could be significant upfront savings there and you won’t have a hole in your roof,” Beucler says.
Daniel P. Smith Chicago-based writer has covered business issues and best practices for a variety of trade publications, newspapers, and magazines.