Even as manufacturers add new bells and whistles to ranges, one physical feature has stuck around: burner knobs. These controls are often an integral part of an oven's profile, even on models that have adopted digital displays and touchpad settings for baking. Not so much with the Kenmore Elite 97723.
Kenmore has gotten serious about upgrading its ovens to compete with higher-end models. We've seen the company introduce slide-in units and induction cooktops , two characteristics that you typically find in premium price categories. Now, the Sears brand has gotten rid of burner knobs on the freestanding 97723 in favor of touchpad controls, which the company says adds precision and modern design to stovetop cooking. The design choice does indeed give the electric double oven a sleek profile: other than the two oven door handles, nothing protrudes from the appliance's body. But the addition of touch controls means you have to relearn how to control the temperature on your burners.
Once you get over the touchpad learning curve, the 97723 can put together a heckuva meal. The range performed well in nearly all of my cook tests, and even outperformed similar models in boiling and broiling times. I also enjoyed using the equally sized double oven cavities that provided a lot of flexibility for simultaneous cooking.
Unfortunately, the Kenmore Elite 97723's $2,600 price damped my warm feelings toward this oven. The cost dwarfs that of similar freestanding electric models such as the Maytag MET8720DS , and the controls are too much of a pain for this much of an investment. With that much money, you'd be better considering the Samsung NE58H9970WS , a slide-in model equipped with induction and a Flex-Duo insert that divides the oven cavity for simultaneous baking. You can even save money and stay with Kenmore with the brand's 95073 , a single-cavity oven with an induction cooktop that costs $1,700.
At first glance, the Kenmore Elite 97723's physical stats don't stand out much from the other ovens we've seen in the test kitchen: 30 inches wide, stainless-steel finish, and black ceramic glass cooktop with four burners and a warming zone. The differences become most apparent on the control panel, a complicated collection of buttons that looks like it belongs on a movie spaceship rather than a kitchen appliance. This isn't a model you can wheel into your kitchen and use right away. The back panel of needs a Rosetta Stone to decipher.
Using a knob is simple. This is technology I've worked with since I first started using an oven. But the Kenmore's controls require you to learn a new number system to gauge how high the heat is on a burner. To operate each burner, you have to press the burner's on/off button, then adjust the temperature settings with the "Hi" and "Lo" buttons for each burner. Temperature settings include Lo, Hi and increments of 2 through 9 in between. The use and care guide provides a scale for what temperature level to expect from the numbers, but it's not as intuitive as turning a knob clockwise. There are additional display screens for adjusting the Turbo Boil Flex burner and Simmer Flex burner, and the words "Hot Surface" pop up in red on the back panel after a burner has been in use, a useful addition that makes it crystal clear which burner to stay away from.
The oven controls are also located along the already-crowded back panel. Because each of the double oven cavities have the same cook settings (traditional and convection bake, traditional and convection roast, slow cook, pizza and self clean), you have to select which oven cavity you want to use on the control panel, then select the oven setting. You have to press a lot of buttons to get the ovens on and baking. One feature that brightens up the back panel is a theater-style light that turns on when the oven is in use. I'd like to see Kenmore put more utility into this strip of light, such as color-changing effects while the oven preheats or flashes when the oven is ready to use.
For the most part, Kenmore doles out features equally to both of the 97723's double ovens. Both cavities are equipped with a broiler and convection fan (unlike the LG LDG4315ST , in which the broiler was located only in the upper oven and the convection fan was in the lower oven). In many double-oven models, the upper oven is usually smaller than the lower oven so you can bake something relatively flat like a casserole on top while a chicken roasts below. The ovens in the Kenmore Elite 97723, however, each have 3.6 cubic feet of space, which provides you with more flexibility to cook two larger items at the same time. Kenmore even includes three oven racks in each oven cavity (two of them are gliding racks), so there's never any worry of not having enough tools to bake a big meal.
The only feature that isn't uniform in both ovens is a removable meat probe, which is located in the upper oven. This is a useful addition because you can set a target temperature for a meat you are cooking, and the oven will automatically change to Warm and Hold when the temperature is reached.
The 97723 performed well in most of my cooking tests, despite a few quirks that bugged me during cooking.
The convection fans in each of the double ovens sound like old sports cars warming up during the winter, which was not the ambient sound I'd like to hear when roasting a chicken for an hour and 10 minutes. Fortunately, the chicken I cooked on the convection roast setting was juicy and delicious, so the convection fan became more tolerable.
When I baked two trays of biscuits on the convection bake setting, I used the Kenmore's convection convert feature to automatically decrease my bake temperature to account for the faster cooking we often see when a convection fan is in use. The biscuits were still browner than I would've preferred, but they were at least a moderately even level of brown. The biscuits on the bottom right of the oven came out lighter than the others during each of my three rounds of baking, so I question how well the fan is circulating hot air to that area.
The Kenmore also performed well when I baked a single rack of larger biscuits without the convection fan (which gave my ears a much-needed break). These large biscuits bake at 350 degrees F for 15 minutes, which gives me the chance to see how the oven performs when baking something bigger than our traditional biscuits and for a longer period of time. The front row of biscuits that was located closest to the oven door were ever-so-slightly lighter than the biscuits near the back of the oven, but overall, the color consistency was good.
I continued to test the oven's nonconvection features when I broiled hamburger patties in the upper oven. It took an average of 15.05 minutes to bring all of the hamburgers to 145 degrees F, a time that's comparable to that of other electric ovens. The burgers that were positioned toward the back of the broiler cooked faster than the ones located in the front, so the back burgers were often way more charred on the outside than those on the front row.
After studying the use and care manual and fumbling with the touchpad burner controls, I eventually felt comfortable enough to perform some cooktop testing. I used the Turbo Boil burner to boil 112 ounces of water, and the burner lived up to its name. It brought my pots of water to a rolling boil in an average of 8.68 minutes, which makes the Kenmore Elite 97723 the fastest noninduction, electric cooktop in this test.
On the other end of the performance spectrum, I used the Simmer Flex burner to simmer cans of tomato soup. I brought the tomato soup to 165 degrees F, then let it simmer for 20 minutes. The temperature dropped a lot more than I've seen with other electric cooktops, but this was the only set of tomato soups I've cooked that didn't burn onto the pot because of the lower temperature. I imagine this burner would be wonderful for melting and warming more delicate foods, like chocolate.
I really wanted to like the Kenmore Elite 97723. I wanted to feel comfortable with the touch controls. I wanted to find enough redeeming qualities to justify a $2,600 price tag. But I walked away too frustrated with the knobs and perplexed with the price to give this range a hearty endorsement.