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Holiday Cooking With Kids: 8 Tips for Learning, Playing and Bonding in the Kitchen

A mother and her two children prepare a meal

By Savannah Chandler

Walton Gas Communications Coordinator

 

Will you be spending a lot of extra hours in the kitchen during the holidays preparing festive meals or making special treats? Don’t miss the opportunity to use this time to bond with your children or grandchildren.

 

Inviting children to help prepare a holiday meal

 is a way to share family traditions.

 

Whether it’s for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa, inviting children to help prepare a holiday meal is a way to share family traditions. It’s also the perfect time to teach children some basic cooking skills. They will have fun preparing foods and you’ll get some extra help. Even better: The young ones are sure to get a confidence boost when they see family and friends enjoying the food they helped to prepare.

As the mother of two, I’ve learned a few tricks for spending quality time with my young ones while also getting a meal on the table. Here are my top 8 ideas for cooking with your kids this holiday season.

Form a decorating committee. Get hard-to-motivate teens involved in holiday dinner preparations by putting them in charge of setting the table from start to finish. Tell them what you need, such as place settings, making decorations or a centerpiece, polishing silver or pressing table linens. Then, offer to show them the ropes or allow them to watch an online tutorial to learn on their own. Allow them to set and decorate the table with their own style, and you might be pleasantly surprised at what they can dream up.

  1. Have the safety talk. Be sure cooking together becomes a treasured holiday tradition and not a recipe for disaster. Cover a few safety ground rules before getting started in the kitchen. Teach kids to wash their hands with warm, soapy water while singing two choruses of "Happy Birthday" to wash away germs. If you’re using a natural gas cooktop, be sure to explain the hazards of gas flames and the need to keep loose sleeves, towels and potholders clear of cooktop grates. I suggest taking a moment to read these kitchen safety rules for kids (https://www.safewise.com/blog/safety-tips-for-cooking-with-kids-during-the-holidays/.
  2. Take it slow. Set aside ample time to enjoy the experience. Kids will have questions and limited attention spans. Resist the urge to rush without explaining exactly what you are doing in each step of a recipe — and why. Allow your helpers to gradually master simple cooking techniques as their age and abilities allow.
  3. Read the recipe. Time in the kitchen can also provide an opportunity for a reading lesson. Let one of your helpers read the recipe aloud. Help the child sound out words that are unfamiliar.
  4. Collect ingredients. Read the recipe a second time while helping children find and assemble the ingredients needed. Talk about the different ingredients and what they contribute, such as sugar is a sweetener.
  5. Assemble equipment and demonstrate. Show the children where you store equipment such as mixing bowls, and allow them to assemble the tools needed to make the recipe. Take a moment to demonstrate how to read measurements on a measuring cup and explain the importance of measuring the correct amount of each ingredient. Teach the difference between a teaspoon and a tablespoon.
  6. Assign jobs. Let’s get cooking! To keep everyone involved, assign age-appropriate jobs. Here are a few ideas:
  • Sous chef. Select one child to be your right-hand helper for each recipe you make. The sous chef’s first job is to measure ingredients for the recipe. This helper is also given the duty of setting the oven timer, monitoring the oven during baking or roasting and ensuring oven mitts are at the ready.
  • Stovetop attendant. This child is responsible for attending the bubbling pots on the stovetop. If you have a sensitive dish that needs constant stirring, have the monitor handle this task, too.
  • Chef’s assistant. As you perform tasks, show the children what you are doing and then allow them to model it. Children ages 3-5 can mix together simple ingredients, snap green beans, help roll dough and cut cookies or tear lettuce for a salad. Those ages 6 or 7 can use a vegetable peeler or crack eggs. Kids ages 8 and 9 can learn to use a can opener or peel citrus fruits. Children age 10 and older can slice or chop vegetables, prepare pie filling, microwave foods or bake foods in the oven.
  • Kitchen patrol. As you finish adding ingredients to your recipe, the KP crew takes food prep bowls and utensils to the sink and washes them. These lucky youngsters also get first dibs on any yummy ingredients that don’t make it into the oven, like wayward chocolate chips. Kids on KP also get to select the music playing in the kitchen while you work.
  1. Form a decorating committee. Get hard-to-motivate teens involved in holiday dinner preparations by putting them in charge of setting the table from start to finish. Tell them what you need, such as place settings, making decorations or a centerpiece, polishing silver or pressing table linens. Then, offer to show them the ropes or allow them to watch an online tutorial to learn on their own. Allow them to set and decorate the table with their own style, and you might be pleasantly surprised at what they can dream up.
  2. Have fun! While the goal is to get an edible meal on the table, don’t forget that cooking with kids at holiday time is a chance to make some great memories. Don’t stress if there’s a mess. Keep things moving and everyone involved to prevent bickering or frustration. Have the KP crew change up the music once in a while. Have kids swap jobs to keep them interested.

 

MORE: Looking for a new recipe to liven up your holiday cookie assortment, party platters or family meals? Check out the Walton Gas Gas Up the Stove recipes submitted by Georgia cooks and featured in issues of the Gasette newsletter.

10 Gas Stove Cleaning Hacks for the Holidays

The holiday season is almost here, which means your natural gas appliances — especially those in your kitchen — will soon be working overtime. Whether you're preparing a Thanksgiving feast for family, baking your famous Christmas cookies or hosting guests for a New Year’s Eve party, lots of cooking is sure to be on the agenda this holiday season. For safety’s sake and energy efficiency, take a few minutes now to get your natural gas stove ready.

Walton Gas offers these hacks using inexpensive supplies, which you probably already have in your cabinet, for an easy and affordable cleanup of your gas appliances.

Before cleaning your stove, ensure that all nobs for the cooktop and oven are turned off. All burners and oven interior should be completely cooled before cleaning. It’s also a good idea to lift a window or turn on an exhaust fan to keep your kitchen well ventilated while cleaning.

A dirty, greasy cooktop may not light easily, can affect your cooking and presents a fire hazard — none of which you need at holiday time.

Few kitchen appliances endure as much daily use as a gas cooktop. It gets covered with dirt, dust, food, liquid overflow, grease splatters and more. A dirty, greasy cooktop may not light easily, can affect your cooking and presents a fire hazard — none of which you need at holiday time.

Hack #1: Vinegar-baking soda paste. Lift off grates and burner caps; pile them in a deep sink. Perform an initial wash in a slightly diluted solution of liquid dish detergent, using a non-abrasive sponge to remove the greasy film. Drain water from sink. Then, create a paste by combining one part vinegar and two parts baking soda with a few drops of dish soap. Coat the grates and caps with the paste. Let the mixture sit for at least 20 minutes before washing off the softened food with the sponge. Rinse thoroughly.

Hack #2: Ammonia soak. Remove grates and burner caps, place each in a separate, sealable plastic bag (or covered plastic dish) along with ¼ cup of household ammonia. Seal and let them sit overnight (at least 8 hours). In the morning, grime should slide right off of the pieces with a wash with a soapy sponge.

Set aside clean grates and burner caps to allow them dry while you clean the rest of the stovetop. Note that burner caps should be completely dry before replacing them to avoid damaging igniters.

Hack #3: Paper clip or safety pin to clear ports. After wiping down heads with a damp (not wet) cloth to remove food particles, use the pointed end of a paper clip or safety pin to remove food particles that can block gas flow from ignition ports (holes). Wipe away the freed particles with the damp cloth. Finish with a gentle scrub with vinegar to remove grease and stains. Caution: Take care to avoid getting the electric starters (which sit on top of the stove under and to the side of each burner) wet. If an electric starter gets wet, it may malfunction and have to be replaced.

Hack #4: Vacuum crumbs. If your vacuum is handy, use it to quickly suck up any loose crumbs or food particles on the cooktop surface.

Hack #5: Vinegar-baking soda paste (again!). To remove cooked-on messes, mix another batch of the vinegar-baking soda paste as noted above. Spread it on any dirty spots and let it sit for 15 minutes. Then, gently scrub away gunk with a soapy sponge. Use a dry, clean cloth to dry the surface before replacing the dry burner covers and grates.

Hack #6: Hot towel mask. Wet a dish towel and wring it out. Place the damp towel in the microwave and warm it for 30 seconds. Take care when removing the steaming towel from the oven. Place the hot towel over any spots with cooked on food. After the towel cools, cooked-on food should be loosened and easily scrubbed away.

Food caked onto your oven can increase cooking times,

reducing energy efficiency.

Keeping gas appliances like your oven clean isn’t just a matter of good housekeeping, it’s a matter of home safety. Leftover food and grease in your oven can pose a fire risk. Plus, food caked onto your oven can increase cooking times, reducing energy efficiency.

Hack #7: Don’t use the self-cleaning feature. Though you may have a self-cleaning oven cycle, it’s not a good idea to use it the just before the holidays. Here’s why: Self-cleaning ovens use high heat to clean, creating a lot of smoke and odor that would be unpleasant for guests. The self-cleaning feature can also cause your oven to malfunction — not ideal when you have a turkey to roast and no time to call a repairman. Instead, substitute one of the holiday friendly cleaning hacks below. Save your self-cleaning cycle for after the holiday guests have gone home.

Hack #8: Ammonia pre-treatment. If your oven has a lot of cooked-on mess, pre-treat with ammonia before cleaning. Place 1/2 cup of ammonia in a shallow glass or pottery container in a cold oven overnight. The ammonia fumes will help loosen burned-on grease and food that can then be removed by other cleaning methods. Caution: Do not turn oven on while ammonia is inside.

Hack #9:  Steam bath. Remove the racks and wipe or vacuum out any loose debris. Replace bottom rack and place a large metal baking dish filled with 1:1 vinegar and water. Set the oven to 450 degrees and let it run at that temperature for 20 minutes and up to an hour, letting the water bubble and steam. Turn off the oven, then carefully spray the inner surfaces with the water/vinegar solution (don’t burn yourself!). Close the door and let it stand at least 30 minutes. Wipe down the interior of the oven after it has had time to cool. Don't wait too long, or the loosened stains and food bits will reattach to the oven's interior.

Hack #10: Baking soda mask. Remove oven racks. Mix 1 cup of baking soda and 1 cup of water until it becomes a thick paste. Spread the mixture over the entire oven interior. Let the mixture sit for 12 hours. Spray the interior of the oven with vinegar. Wipe the oven clean.

Not every gas stove is the same. Every make and model is likely to have slightly different features, so it’s always a good idea to read manufacturer tips in your owner’s manual before tackling any appliance cleaning project.

Game Time with Gas

Steaks are cooked on a gas grill

Whether you are a Falcons fan or Dawgs devotee — or both — October is prime time for entertaining outdoors on game days. Natural gas and the gridiron are a winning combination for a backyard party. In this post, Walton Gas takes a look at some natural gas-fueled appliances that can help you score big with guests.

  • Outdoor Kitchen

Outdoor kitchens top the home project trends list in the latest American Institute of Architects’ survey. Georgia homeowners are keeping pace with that statistic, says Jay Thornton. He and wife Casey own Southern Spa and Patio in Watkinsville.

 

The Thorntons have seen orders for outdoor kitchens climb steadily in the last three years. This year they are on pace to double the number of kitchens they’ll install on patios and in backyards in northern Georgia.

 

“Outdoor living spaces are booming now. They provide a place for relaxation and entertaining — and food is a big part of that,” Jay said, explaining why full-blown outdoor kitchens are often replacing the single natural gas grill on patios.

 

A quality, customized outdoor kitchen can be installed locally for as little as $5,500, Jay said. Prices will vary depending on the components and materials selected. An outdoor kitchen equipped with all the bells and whistles can carry a price tag of up to $30,000.

 

Appliances included in the average outdoor kitchen are a natural gas grill and cooktop with burners, faucet/ sink and refrigerator.

 

If you plan to make the investment, the kitchen designer advises shopping around to determine what components — appliances, cabinetry, countertops, etc. — fit your lifestyle, cooking habits and budget. The appliances included in the average outdoor kitchen are a natural gas grill and cooktop with burners, faucet/ sink and refrigerator. Icemakers and warming drawers are the top add-ons.

 

For ideas, ask your supplier for brochures and catalogues or look at manufacturer websites such as Naturekast (https://www.naturekast.com) and Housewarmings Outdoors (https://www.housewarmingsoutdoor.com/). Also, visit friends and neighbors who have built kitchens to see what they have and how they like it.

 

  • Gas Grill

Whether it’s incorporated into an outdoor kitchen or a standalone unit, a natural gas-fueled grill is essential for preparing football food favorites like burgers and hotdogs. Gas grills are the go-to option for easy grilling because they offer excellent control over cooking temperature, plus they ignite with the push of a button, heat up quickly and are easy to clean.

 

Early fall is the best time to get a deal on top-rated gas grill models.

 

If your old standalone grill is ready for retirement, there’s more good news: Gas grills are heavily discounted at this time of year. Early fall is the best time to shop for top-rated gas grill models, according to dealnews.com. About 30 percent of the grill deals that popped up last October were Editors’ Choice picks listed by the consumer website. Granted, you may be getting a floor model, but the deep discounts can’t be beat.

 

Walton Gas offers these hacks and tips (https://www.waltongas.com/index.php/news/gasette-newsletter/up-your-grilling-game) to up your grilling game.

 

  • Score Extra Points

In addition to firing up the gas grill for football fare, consider these natural gas-fueled additions that are sure to earn points with guests.

 

Pool heaters: What about inviting everyone over for a dip in the pool before the game? With a natural gas pool and spa heater, you can keep water temperatures comfortable to extend your swimming season. Gas pool heaters are up to 97 percent energy-efficient and warm the water twice as fast as electric heaters, according to the American Gas Association. Read our article on pool heaters posted earlier this year (https://www.waltongas.com/index.php/blog/article/come-on-in-the-waters-fine).

 

Porch fireplace: “Half of the screened-in porches we build include a gas fireplace,” says Rodney Jones, owner of Athens-based Frameworks Unlimited. Add an outdoor TV to make your pigskin party a true outdoor affair.

 

Fire pit: What better way to hash over the first half than around a natural gas fire pit? One of the top-selling gas appliances now, fire pits bring the warmth of a cozy campfire to your home’s patio or deck — without the mess or hazards of a traditional fire. Stock up on marshmallows for roasting for a halftime treat.

 

A patio heater lets you continue the party in an outdoor space long after the sun — and its heat — have disappeared.

 

Patio heater: Win or lose, every game needs a postgame wrap up. A patio heater lets you continue the party in an outdoor space long after the sun — and its heat — have disappeared. Natural gas patio heaters add about 10 degrees Fahrenheit to the surrounding air (12- to 20-foot diameter), so they're best when temperatures range between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Read more (https://www.waltongas.com/index.php/blog/article/enjoy-an-endless-summer-with-a-patio-heater)

 

Outdoor lighting: If the sun goes down before the final whistle blows, outdoor gas lights can provide a warm glow for your outdoor area. Gaslights can be mounted on a post or wall or on top of a brick or stone wall. Automatic light sensors mean you won’t have to worry about wasting energy. Read more https://www.waltongas.com/index.php/blog/article/give-your-home-exterior-the-gas-light-glow

Fireplace Facelifts and Flips

Pardon the pun, but fireplaces are what’s hot in homes once again.

Designers are placing extra emphasis on integrating beautiful, functional fireplaces in new Georgia homes. At the same time, existing fireplaces in older homes are getting a facelift to improve their aesthetics, convenience and energy efficiency.

Natural gas fireplaces:  The hearth is hot in 2019.

Whether in a new luxury home in Athens or a modest rancher in Marietta, fireplaces here in Georgia are typically fueled by clean-burning natural gas. Wood-burning fireplaces can’t beat the no-fuss efficiency of gas. Today’s gas-fueled units are far superior to those of a few years ago, meaning you can get as much as 75 to 99 percent of gas energy back as heat, as compared to 30 percent or less from wood.

Fireplace technology has improved to the point where most homeowners can affordably have a gas fireplace in their home — new construction or renovated. Below, Walton Gas takes a look at the area’s most popular trends in natural gas fireplace designs, upgrades and accessories.

  • Fireplace flip: Direct Vent Inserts

Though it’s been popular for a while, the direct vent gas fireplace insert continues to be the “hot” topic for home renovations. These low-maintenance units provide a quick and easy fix since they can be installed in most existing fireplace spaces. They can replace a messy, labor-intensive wood-burning unit or an antiquated gas log setup. More importantly, direct vent gas inserts today are energy-efficient, heat-producing dynamos. Instead of burning your heated inside air to keep the flames bright, they use outside air to support combustion.

Direct vent gas inserts are

energy-efficient, heat-producing dynamos.

  • Warming up: Radiant Heat Gas Logs

Make no mistake, these aren’t your father’s gas logs. Vented, radiant heat gas logs are gaining in popularity locally, says Jay Thornton, co-owner of Southern Spa and Patio in Watkinsville. The local retailer says manufacturers have stepped up their game to offer ceramic fiber logs that look and burn like real wood. Even better, they create radiant heat that stays in the room rather than disappearing up the chimney.

  • Welcome addition: Direct Vent Fireplace

Is your home hearthless? Cheer up because fireplace technology now makes it relatively simple to add a direct vent gas fireplace to most homes. Installation is fairly simple because no chimney construction is required. These fireplaces are vented directly through the wall to the outdoors via a dual-chambered single pipe, so they can be installed almost anywhere in your home where natural gas is available. And zero clearance construction, which requires minimal space between the fireplace and wallboard or wood, means you have even more options for placement in your home.

Fireplace technology now makes it relatively simple to

add a direct vent fireplace to most homes.

  • Location, location: A Fireplace in Every Room 

Fireplaces aren’t just for the home’s family rooms anymore. How about a see-through fireplace above the tub in the master bath? A small corner fireplace can bring warmth into the dining room or add romance in the bedroom. Cut the evening chill and add a flickering glow to your surroundings with a low-profile gas fireplace in your outdoor living space.

  • The shape of things: Linear and Square Styling

Traditionally, gas fireplaces have been rectangular in shape but in recent years their shapes have altered to offer better views of dancing flames. Linear fireplaces, which have been a key feature in modern homes for a while, are now showing up in a wider range of interior design styles. Also, large, square fireplaces are also appearing in more new homes this year.  

  • Innovations: Heat-resistant Surrounds

Heat-resistant materials such as brick, stone or tile have been the go-to materials to surrounded fireplaces. New technology now allows for combustible materials to be placed directly above and surrounding the fire. This innovation allows designers and homeowners to apply any finishes such as wood and wallpaper to the very edge of the gas fireplace and allows for art or televisions to be mounted directly above the fireplace. The most popular fireplace surrounds are shiplap walls, creative wallpapers and custom wood accent walls.

New technology now allows for combustible materials to

be placed directly above and surrounding the fire.

  • In control: Smart Remotes

With programmable remotes and thermostats, you can maintain a consistent temperature or set your fireplace to turn on or off during specific times. No more walking into a frigid home after a long day of work or worrying about leaving the fireplace overnight. Another plus: Remotes now act as a portable thermostat. If you have set the fire to a specific temperature it will maintain the temperature based on where you and the remote are sitting. If you move across the room, the fireplace will automatically adjust to ensure the ambient temperature of wherever you are located matches the preset.

  • A matter of style: Log Alternatives

If you’re looking to update your fireplace to match a modern home décor, try a gas log alternative. These options use glass or shaped refractory ceramics to create a contemporary ambiance in your fireplace. Tempered glass chips, black ceramic lumps of “coal” and rustic calico-colored ceramic rocks are among the alternatives available.

Tackle Fall Maintenance Now

Labor Day has come and gone, so it won’t be long before the leaves start falling and cooler weather arrives. Early autumn is also the time to set aside time for tackling maintenance tasks that will improve the performance, safety and efficiency of your natural gas appliances.

Tackle fall maintenance to improve the performance,
safety and efficiency of your natural gas appliances.

Walton Gas has prepared this to-do list to help natural gas customers prepare their homes for chilly weather. Ready. Set. Tackle!

  • Schedule a FURNACE checkup.

Make an appointment to have your furnace serviced by a qualified technician. Without this yearly cleaning and inspection, a system can wear itself out quickly, pump deadly carbon monoxide into your home, or simply stop working. Energystar.com says a typical checkup should include inspecting thermostat settings, controls, gas line connections, gas pressure, burner combustion and the heat exchanger.

  • Change the FILTER.

Inspecting, cleaning or changing the air filter is also the easiest task you can complete to help your furnace operating at peak efficiency. Change your air filter before turning the heater on, and remember to check it once a month through the winter. Remember: While some filters are advertised to last several months, people with pets or old houses with a lot of dust should change filters monthly.

  • Flush the WATER HEATER.

It’s an easy, do-it-yourself project to flush your water heater’s tank each fall. This prevents the build-up of mineral sediment deposits that can rust through its steel shell. This Old House offers good step-by-step instructions for routine water heater maintenance. 

  • Clean the FIREPLACE.

Although gas fireplaces are known for efficient clean burning fuel, they do need to be regularly maintained just like any other type of heating appliance. There are a variety of components including the burner, logs and grate, that can become damaged, clogged or worn from normal use. Also, soot can build up on the surfaces inside the firebox, on the doors and on the burner, which will reduce the fireplace’s efficiency. Have your fireplace and chimney professionally cleaned and inspected prior to using it. If you make an appointment now, you’ll get ahead of the busy fall season and possibly score an early-bird discount.

  • Upgrade the THERMOSTAT.

Consider upgrading to a smart thermostat for improved energy efficiency and comfort. This type of thermostat offers lots of new features that out-perform traditional thermostats. See this month’s Walton Gas blog for more information.  

  • Check DETECTORS.

While it doesn’t save you energy, checking your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can save your life. It’s smart to test the devices and replace the batteries every six months, making this a chore for fall and spring. Learn about carbon monoxide.

  • Winterize the GRILL.

If you close the grill for winter, first give it a thorough cleaning to remove grease and food scraps so there won’t be any unpleasant surprises next spring. After shutting off the gas, remove and clean the burners and other metal parts with cooking oil to prevent rust. Then wrap the unit in a plastic bag to keep out spiders and insects that might try to nest in it. Put a protective cover over the entire grill after you’ve finishing cleaning it.

  • Adjust CEILING FANS.

Adjust ceiling fans to turn clockwise. This will create an upward draft that redistributes warm air from the ceiling to the lower portions of the room.

  • Clean VENTS.

Atlanta Gas Light advises natural gas consumers to keep natural gas vents unobstructed and free of debris. Be aware that some direct-vent and high-efficiency appliances have direct side wall outdoor vents and air intakes that could become obstructed in the event of an unusually heavy snowfall or ice storm.

  • Inspect CLOTHES DRYER ducts.

Clean the dryer’s exhaust duct and space under and behind the appliance. Inspect the duct to ensure it hasn't become crushed, kinked or otherwise restricted. Remove lint and dust that may have accumulated inside the dryer in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendation. Periodically have a qualified professional clear the interior of the exhaust duct.

  • Seal WINDOWS and DOORS.

Keep your natural gas heat inside where it belongs by checking windows and doors for gaps and drafts. Caulk or install self-adhesive rubber foam weatherstripping as needed. Remember: Caulking and weatherstripping wear out over time, so replace as needed. Check out this handy tutorial on do-it-yourself weatherstripping installation

  • Note RECALLS.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) occasionally announces safety recall programs for certain natural gas appliances and equipment. Information about product recalls that may affect your appliances is available at the CPSC website or by calling the CPSC at 1-800-638-2772. TDD/TTY 1-800-638-8270.

MORE

See the Home Maintenance Checklist prepared especially for Georgia homeowners by University of Georgia Extension.

Program Your Thermostat to Slash Heating Costs

For the typical home, heating and cooling costs are one of the largest expenditures. To make matters worse — and the energy bill higher — we often heat and cool our homes when it isn’t needed. Installing a programmable thermostat is an easy way for Walton Gas customers to reduce your heating bill this winter.

Here are three very good reasons why it’s a practical idea to replace your manual thermostat with a new programmable one:

1. Energy savings. By maintaining comfortable temperatures for only a few hours a day, a programmable thermostat helps you use less natural gas for home heating. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates you can save 10 percent on your heating bill by rolling back your thermostat 10-15 percent for just eight hours each day — the amount of time many families are away from home for work and school.

2. Comfort and convenience. Rather than constantly resetting the temperature manually, you can preset your thermostat to adjust the temperature at different times of the day. For instance, you can set your thermostat to lower the heat while you’re away at work and automatically raise it before you come home.

3. Increases life of heating system. By programming your use, you can reduce the time the system is run, which can cut down on system stress and repairs.

Choose a thermostat for your lifestyle

Programmable thermostats have been around for several years. However, older versions were often too difficult to program, which negated the energy-saving feature. Now, consumers have a variety of programmable thermostat choices that are easy to install and easy to operate. Even better: Prices are dropping on the most popular models.

Programmable thermostats generally fall into two categories: “smart” connected ones or non-connected programmable models. Both have benefits, depending on your lifestyle and budget.

Smart thermostats

  • Generally save the most on heating and cooling bills.
  • Intelligently adjust your home’s temperature by “learning” your behaviors and routines.
  • Select models turn down when you’re away, suggest energy-efficient settings and provide monthly energy reports.
  • Can be monitored, set and managed over Wi-Fi from a computer, smartphone or tablet.
  • May use multiple sensors to monitor temperatures and balance heating throughout the home.
  • Prices start around $80 for a seven-day programmable thermostat with built-in Wi-Fi. Models with all the bells and whistles average $200 each. Sensors are typically sold separately.
  • Not all support all types of HVAC systems, so check compatibility specifications carefully before buying.
  • Professional installation may be required.

Programmable thermostats

  • A cost-efficient option for homeowners who tend to follow a regular schedule.
  • Makes the most efficient use of your system by adjusting temperatures automatically based on preset preferences.
  • Basic models start at about $20.
  • Most models can be easily wired into an existing heating system.
  • A separate thermostat is required for gas furnace and electric cooling systems.

LEARN MORE

Install a Programmable Thermostat

7 Things You Should Know About Natural Gas Standby Generators

During the hot, dry days of August, few of us are thinking about hurricanes or ice storms. But now is exactly when you should consider what you’ll do in the event of a power outage that could occur when storms blow in to Georgia.

Natural gas from Walton Gas is a reliable source of energy for your home no matter the weather. If your home is equipped with a natural gas stove, water heater or gas logs, you’ll be able to cook, have a hot bath and keep warm — even if the power is out.

But what about home appliances or medical equipment needing electricity to operate?

Severe storms can occasionally result in prolonged power outages here in Georgia. Minutes, not to mention hours or days, without power can be crucial to some. If that’s your story, it’s time to think about installing a natural gas standby generator to ensure on-demand, dependable energy when it’s needed.           

Here are seven things you should know about a standby generator.

1. No power? No problem!

A stationary standby generator sits in a location beside your home and is permanently connected to your Walton Gas line. It is also connected directly to your home's electrical panel and can provide uninterrupted backup for days in the event of an electricity outage.

2. Power is restored in seconds.

Within seconds of an electrical outage, a standby generator equipped with an automatic transfer switch automatically starts and restores power. First, the transfer switch disconnects you from your utility. Then the generator turns on automatically and generates electricity that goes through the electrical panel to feed the home, just like the electricity that comes to your home from the electrical grid. When your electric service is restored, the generator automatically shuts down and reconnects your house to the grid. Note: Some manufacturers offer a manual start-up generator for a lower cost.

3. You don’t have to refuel.

You’ll never have to worry about having enough fuel on hand with a generator fueled by the same underground pipelines that bring natural gas to your home.

4. Installation is not a DIY project.

You’ll need to hire a qualified installer to help you assess both your load needs and the logistics of installing a standby generator at your home. To find a qualified contractor, check out this list recommended by Atlanta Gas Light. 

5. Know what you need to power.

The size of your generator should be determined by your needs in an emergency, temporary situation. To get an idea of how much electrical capacity you'll need, use this online size selector calculator. However, be sure to consult a professional for an accurate load analysis before making a generator purchase.

6. Expect to pay $4,000 and up for a whole-house generator.

For the average 2,500-square-foot home, a quality standby generator equipped with an automatic transfer switch starts at around $4,000. Installation is additional. Keep in mind that investing in a natural gas, whole-house generator can add significant value to a home.

7. A portable generator may fit your needs.

If a standby generator is too costly for your budget, a portable natural gas model might suit your needs. Portable models can’t generate enough power to operate many major appliances in the home, however they can provide enough emergency power to charge cell phones and run the refrigerator — which may be all you need in a pinch. Prices (without a transfer switch) start as low as $1,500. Note: A portable generator requires a natural gas outlet (quick disconnect) for its fuel supply and should have a transfer switch for safety and ease of operation. Purchase of these items should also be added to the price of the generator. Learn more about transfer switch options at Global Power Products of Lawrenceville. 

Before you buy, compare the benefits of standby and portable generators.This article by Consumer Reports provides details. 

A generator is an important investment for protecting your home and family during power outages. If a generator is in your future, schedule installation now before storm season arrives.

Enjoy an Endless Summer with a Patio Heater

It’s hot as blazes outside now, but chilly temperatures will become the norm all too soon. Don’t let cooler weather prevent you from spending time in your outdoor living space. Instead, enjoy an endless summer by installing an outdoor natural gas heater now.

Natural gas heaters are powerful, energy efficient and useful for residential outdoor areas like the patio or deck. Installing one now — before cool, crisp air arrives — will keep you and your guests comfortable long after the neighbors have gone inside.

Walton Gas has done the research to help you decide if a natural gas outdoor heater is a good investment for your lifestyle. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Provides exceptional warmth. Because of the combustion of natural gas, natural gas heaters have a greater heat output than other fuel options. The average natural gas patio heater radiates heat downward to warm a 12- to 20-foot area. They are most effective when the outdoor temperatures are between 40 and 60 degrees.
  • Good for the environment. Natural gas burns clean.
  • Never runs out of fuel. Because it’s connected to your Walton Gas line, fuel is always available.
  • Easy placement. Patio heaters must be placed in a ventilated space. Wall, ceiling and post mounts, as well as portable models, are available.
  • Choose from two ignitions. Manual ignitions have a push button that creates a spark to light the gas and use a knob to control the flow of gas to the heaters. Automatic ignitions require electricity to ignite the heater. They can be controlled with an on/off switch or hand-held remote. Both ignition types have built-in safety systems to shut off the gas flow if the flame goes out and can’t be relit.
  • Fits your style. Many outdoor heaters feature sleek exteriors and can blend in with outdoor décor. These features are excellent for outdoor bar decks, patios and pool decks.
  • Requires special plumbing and installation. If a gas line isn’t already available, you’ll need to hire a licensed professional to install a line for you.
  • Shop wisely. Look for patio heaters that are UL approved and CSA certified. These approvals ensure each heater has undergone rigorous testing to verify that they are a reliable and safe heating appliance.

How much?

A 45,000 BTU heater, which will heat an area of about 300 square feet, can be purchased in the Atlanta area starting at about $325, according to Homewyse.com

Prices can go much higher, depending on a unit’s style, size and heating efficiency.

Natural gas to fuel the average outdoor heater is about 50 cents per hour.

Ready to keep the party going? Summer is an ideal time to get a great deal and arrange installation of a natural gas heater for comfortable outdoor entertainment this fall and winter. Providing heat when and where it’s needed allows more time to enjoy the patio and deck, making a heater an investment that can easily pay for itself the first season you use it.

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Locate a qualified professional for installation or contact Atlanta Gas Light at (800) 599-3770.

Backyard Burger Basics

Think all burgers are created equal? They’re not, say grilling experts. You need the right ingredients, preparation and grilling techniques to make burgers that can truly be declared “best.”

Fire up your natural gas grill
to celebrate National Grilling Month.

In honor of National Grilling Month, Walton Gas has combed the internet for tips from butchers and leading outdoor cooking authorities to prepare this backyard burger basics guide.  

1. INGREDIENTS

DO: Work with a butcher.

The best burgers begin with the right meat and the right grind. To get exactly what you want, step up to the butcher counter at your favorite store and ask for help, advises Walter Apfelbaum, executive butcher at Detroit steakhouse Prime + Proper

DO: Choose the right meat.

Basic ground beef doesn’t make the best burger, but neither do the priciest cuts. The best bet: ground chuck, advises grill master Kelsey Heidkamp in a video for Weber.com

Its deep beefy flavor with ample, but not excessive, fat makes ground chuck the best meat for burgers. Ground chuck, which comes from the shoulder, falls right in the sweet spot of 15 to 20 percent fat.

Other — even more expensive — cuts of meat have insufficient fat content. Round and sirloin, for instance, are too lean to make good burgers.

DON’T: Skimp on the fat.

In our weight conscious world, it’s tempting to want to lower the fat content of your burger. But burgers need fat, reminds Apfelbaum. 

“You’re going to want a higher percentage of fat if you’re grilling, because you lose a lot of the fat on a grill when it drips through the grates. More fat will help create a juicier burger and a better crust,” he explains.

DO: Mix meats.

If you’re using a lean meat, like ground turkey or chicken, consider combining it with ground pork or bacon, recommends thespruceeats.com. Not only will the additional fat balance out the leanness, it will contribute a lovely porky flavor. 

2. PREPARATION

DO: Form patties with care.

Ground beef is not Play-Doh, remind the editors at cookscountry.com. The more you handle it, the denser and more rubbery it will become when cooked. After you’ve seasoned the meat, divide it into individual portions and, with lightly cupped hands, gently shape into patties that are 1-inch thick.  

Also, fight the temptation to load the meat with seasonings and flavoring ingredients, adds thespruceeats.com. Too many additions, particularly if the pieces are large, will weaken the patty, causing it to fall apart on the grill when you try to turn it. Best bet: Use 1 teaspoon of table salt for 1 1/2 pounds of ground beef, the amount you will need to make four burgers.

DO: Prep the grill.

Burgers 101 outlines these steps to get your natural gas grill burger ready: 

  • Heat up your grill and clean it with a sturdy grill brush to remove any debris left from the last cookout.
  • Then, grab a wad of paper towels with a pair of long-handled tongs and dip them in a bowl of vegetable oil. When the towels have absorbed the oil, run them over the cleaned grill grate. The oil will burn off at first.
  • Continue to dip the towels into oil and slick down the grate; it will become "nonstick."
  • When the grate turns black and glossy, your grill is ready for the burgers.

DON’T: Start with a flat patty.

Burgers tend to puff up in the middle as they cook, making the tops rounded and awkward for piling on toppings. A good trick for avoiding this problem is pressing a little indentation into the top of each raw patty with your thumb or the back of a spoon, advises Heidkamp.

3. METHOD

DO: Grill over high heat.

“You want to make sure to grill your burgers over substantial heat to form that nice crust (flavor/texture) that we all love,” recommends Matt Moore, host of the Art of Manliness podcast. Cook your burgers between 450 and 500 degrees to achieve immediate searing, which locks in juices.

DO: Flip only once.

Flip the burgers just once — after they’ve developed deep brown grill marks — and don’t be tempted to press on them, advises cookscountry.com. Pressing down on the burgers as they cook squeezes out the flavorful juices, which end up in your grill (causing flare ups) instead of in your burgers.

DO: Close the grill if there’s a flare up.

Cutting off the oxygen should quell the flames, adds Moore. 

DON’T: Guess about doneness.

For consistently delicious burgers cooked to just the right degree of doneness, Use an instant-read thermometer to take the temperature in the center of each burger, instructs Burgers 101.

Medium rare: 125 to 130 degrees, 2 to 3 minutes per side.
Medium: 135 to 140 degrees, 3 to 4 minutes per side.
Medium-well: 145 to 160 degrees, 4 to 5 minutes per side.
Well-done: 160 degrees and up, 5 minutes and up per side.

Note: Keep in mind that eating burgers rare or even medium does carry certain health risks.

DO: Allow your burgers to rest.

Let your cooked burgers rest for a few minutes before serving, suggests Moore. This will ensure that the juices redistribute into the meat.

If you follow these easy tips for making the best burger ever on your natural gas grill, they will make you the star of the summer grilling season. Happy National Grilling Month from Walton Gas!

Up Your Grilling Game With These Tips and Hacks

July is National Grilling Month. Why not invite family and friends over for a cookout to celebrate?

A natural gas grill

While the idea of a barbecue sounds fun, you might feel that your grilling skills aren’t up to the task. To help, Walton Gas offers this handy cheat sheet filled with cooking tricks to elevate your grilling game.

So, turn on your natural gas grill and get those tongs ready. Let’s cook!

1. Apply rub in advance.

If you're using a seasoning rub, apply it to meat about an hour before grilling, suggests Johnny Trigg, two-time grand champion of the Jack Daniels World Championship Invitational barbecue competition. Trigg recommends using equal parts salt, pepper, granulated garlic and grilled onion for a flavorful rub.

2. Allow steaks to reach room temperature.

Celebrity chef Bobby Flay says steaks should be removed from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before you plan to grill them. Grilling steaks at room temperature will allow for an even cook.

3. Start with the right gear.

Have these tools on hand for easy — and safe — grilling: tongs for the meat; two spatulas, one for raw meat and one for cooked meat; a meat thermometer to check doneness for cuts that are harder to gauge and a brush for applying sauces.

4. Make a brick press.

Achieve an even cook on cuts like butterflied chicken breasts with this easy trick from seriouseats.com: Wrap a brick in foil. Place it over direct heat for 5-10 minutes to warm. Then, place the wrapped brick on top of meat to flatten it and ensure even contact with the grilling grate.

5. Add ice or butter for juicy burgers.

Avoid a dried-out, hard-to-swallow hamburger by adding an ice cube or pat of butter to the center of the ground meat patty. Cover it with more meat. As the ice or butter melts, it'll keep the interior moist.

6. Spiral cut hotdogs.

To evenly cook a hotdog, skewer it and roll as make a spiral cut. Not only does the cut look cool, you’ll have more crevices to hold condiments, advises firstwefeast.com.

7. Pre-cook meat.

If you’re pressed for time, pre-cook meat most of the way through by microwaving or boiling it. Then, throw it on the grill to finish cooking and impart the look and flavor of a fully grilled cut.

8. Add flavor with juice.

For ribs, chicken or pork, add in some sweet flavor by periodically spraying it with 100 percent apple juice, suggests pit master Johnny Trigg. In addition to flavor, it improves color and tenderness.

9. Avoid stuck fish with citrus slices.

To prevent fish from sticking on the grill, Martha Stewart suggests placing some citrus slices directly on top of your grill and laying the fish on top of the slices. This will prevent sticking as well as infuse your fish with extra flavor.

10. Use a skillet.

If you own a cast-iron skillet, don’t leave it inside when you grill. It is perfect for distributing heat, and is great for foods that tend to fall apart like fish.

11. Flip meat only once.

Flipping repeatedly causes a lot of natural juices to fall off the meat, explains grill master Nicole Davenport. Cook one side fully then flip it over and let the other side do its thing.

12. Get perfect grill marks.

To get those professional-looking, diamond-shaped grill marks, barbequelovers.com says to think of the grill as a clock and angle your meat towards 10 o'clock. Cook the meat about halfway through, then flip it and angle it towards 2 o'clock.

13. Use two skewers.

To prevent little pieces of meat and veggies from rotating around a skewer, stab them with two skewers. Your food won’t rotate, so it will flip easily and cook more evenly. Plus, it’s easier to eat, advises thechefwithredshoes.com.

14. Know when to add sauce.

Don’t add sweet barbecue sauce until your meat is almost fully cooked. If a sweet sauce is cooked too long, it will burn. If it’s a non-sugary marinade, you can baste meat as often as you like.

15. Remove meat right before it’s done.

Meat continues cooking after you take it off the grill because there's a lot of heat trapped inside it. Remove meat from the grill about a minute or two before it’s done to get the desired cook. If you wait until the food looks done, it’s likely to be overcooked and tough.

16. Let meat rest.

For extra flavor and moisture, let meat rest for 10 minutes under a loose foil tent to help keep it warm and moist —so it can soak up its juices evenly.

17. Label buns.

To easily know remember how everyone wants their burger cooked, label buns with ketchup before you begin grilling.

Use these grilling hacks compiled by your friends at Walton Gas to prepare flavorful fare quickly. You’ll spend less time hovering over your grill and more time visiting with family, friends or neighbors. Your guests will think you’re a grilling pro!