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Not to disrespect to the other products I've tested, but I'd never called an oven "cute" until I unboxed the SMEG C30GGRU. This compact, fire-engine red range made me smile, especially since I work in a test kitchen full of hefty stainless-steel appliances. The bright color, plus the sleek Italian design and the $3,200 price (about £2,247 or AU$4,517, converted directly), gave me high hopes about the cooking I would do with this high-end gas range.
But when I began testing this SMEG oven, I realized that using this range was like opening a bag of Cheetos and discovering that it's only half full: the outside held lots of promise, but the interior was a big disappointment. The oven managed to both under-bake and over-cook in my bake tests and often took a long time to do so. And finicky control knobs made using the decent stovetop difficult.
Now, the SMEG's cooking wasn't all bad; the stovetop did a good job at boiling water and holding a steady temperature when I cooked tomato soup on low heat. Unfortunately, it just wasn't enough to redeem this range. The SMEG shows the downside of holding premium appliance brands on a pedestal; sometimes, you pay a lot of money for looks and prestige, and not actual cooking capability.
There's more to life than just physical beauty. It's just hard to remember that when you first lay eyes on a SMEG product. The Italian company, whose name is an acronym for Smalterie Metallurgiche Emiliane Guastalla (Guastalla Emilia Enamel Works), puts a heavy emphasis on the aesthetics of its large and small appliances, which have steadily become available worldwide since the company began in 1948. You might even be familiar with the brand's 1950s-style refrigerators that have been featured (with some backlash) on the BBC's Great British Bake Off.
The SMEG C30GGRU upholds the brand's dedication to design. This gas, freestanding range is made of stainless steel with its front and sides covered in a cherry-red coating.
And it's not just the color that's striking: the SMEG is petite. The oven has only has about 3.5 cubic foot capacity, which makes it the smallest single oven cavity we've ever tested (the Dacor ER30DSCH, another high-end range, narrowly beats the SMEG with its 3.9 cubic foot oven). And the SMEG range is only 31 inches (78.75cm) tall; the appliance comes with four adjustable beige feet that add about 4 to 6 inches to the unit (about 10-15 cm).
Another notable feature of the SMEG's appearance is its seemingly simple use of only knobs to control the oven's functions. But these finicky knobs were my first peek into the "looks can be deceiving" theme I would experience throughout my tests. It was hard to adjust the burners to the desired heat levels: the flames either roared or barely whispered without a lot of in-between.
The oven knob was also problematic in that common American baking temperatures were not marked on the dial, so you had to make a good-faith effort to gauge temperature if you wanted to cook something at, say, 425 degrees F. And speaking of oven temperature, there is no light or alarm that goes off when your oven has reached its set temperature. SMEG says it omitted this feature to minimize electrical components and keep costs down and it's not unusual for gas ovens to be slim on additions like this (the Dacor RNRP36GS gas range, for example, also relied heavily on knobs, but there was an LED light to tell you when it was time to bake). Call me kooky, but I'll pay a little more for something helpful like a preheat light.
Though I was initially distracted by the hot red exterior, I discovered a cold truth in my cooking tests: This oven's performance doesn't live up to its physical appearance.
Let's start with biscuits. To test how well the oven's convection fan evenly distributes heat, I baked two sheets of biscuits (a dozen on each sheet) on two separate oven racks. Problems began with the user manual, which said that preheating isn't necessary when you use the convection fan. But when I didn't preheat, my biscuits were still raw after nine minutes of baking. I added 15 minutes of preheat time to each round of baking. Fortunately, the biscuits were cooked through. But the level of browning was vastly different between the top and bottom racks of biscuits:
I expected a better outcome when I baked larger biscuits at a lower temperature without the convection fan for 15 minutes, a test that has produced fluffy, golden biscuits in other ovens. Turns out that this was a challenge for the SMEG. Take a look at these biscuits, some of which still had a sliver of raw dough on the inside:
On the savory side of the cooking tests, I broiled burgers and roasted a chicken in the SMEG. These results paired with the biscuit tests showed me that this oven takes its sweet time to cook food. The roast chicken, for example, took nearly two hours to cook. And the SMEG was near the back of the gas-oven pack in terms of the time it took to broil six burgers.
The stovetop was the highlight of the SMEG C30GGRU. The five-burner cooktop is unique in that the center burner, a double-ring unit that emits up to 17,000 BTUs of power, takes up the most space on the range's surface (many gas ranges such as the Kenmore 74343 have an oblong center burner designed for use with a griddle). And that center burner can boil water faster than many gas models I've tested:
The four other burners are also good at keeping soup at maintaining a fairly steady temperature over 20 minutes. And I liked that each of those surrounding burners was the same size and power output, so you could have a lot of large (or small pots) cooking, depending on your needs.
The SMEG C30GGRU is the ideal product for someone like Tom Haverford, the entrepreneur/city government employee from the show Parks and Recreation who cared a lot about outward appearances and overall levels of swag in his life. The SMEG will be a showpiece in whatever kitchen it finds itself in. Your swag levels will increase exponentially once you show off the SMEG at a dinner party. Just make sure you have the food brought in.