Ranges and ovens are investments worth thinking over -- they cost at least $500, you use them nearly every day and you're going to hang onto them for at least a decade. You need to take your time when it's time to add a range or oven to your home, and we're here to help you sift through the options.
First, let's get a few vocab terms out of the way to make sure we're on the same page:
- Oven -- the appliance in which you bake or roast; this can be part of a range or separate and placed in a wall or counter; typical capacity is between 4 and 6 cubic feet
- Stovetop/cooktop -- the burners on which you cook; can also be part of a range or separate and built into a counter
- Range/stove -- an appliance that has both a stovetop and an oven; standard width is 30 inches wide
You should also answer a few questions before you start to shop for an oven or range:
- What type of home cook are you? Do you take your cues from Top Chef challenges, or are you a frozen pizza type of cook? Do you love baking pastries, or do you stick with the stovetop? Be realistic about the features you need and will use in an oven or range to keep yourself from wasting money on upgrades you'll never use.
- What type of appliance does your kitchen accommodate? Do you have a built-in wall oven and separate cooktop, or do you only have space for a range? Stick with a product that will fit into your current setup, unless you're ready for a big renovation to accompany your new appliance purchase.
- What type of power hookup do you have? Check to see if you have a gas line or just an electric outlet.
- What's your budget? Some ranges can cost as much as a year's salary (I'm serious). With that said, set a budget so that shiny stainless steel finishes and touchpad controls don't blind you to the reality of what you can afford. Fortunately, our testing has shown us that you can find a good appliances at any price point. Here's a broad view of what to expect in different price categories:
- $500 - $1,000: This is a bare-bones appliance. You can perform basic cooking functions. Your options for finish are black, white and bisque, though you can find a few stainless-steel-covered models in this price range.
- $1,000- $3,000: You have more options when it comes to cooking modes, style and finish, such as stainless steel.
- $3,000-$6,000: Here is where you can start to get fancy with options like dual-fuel power, slide-in design and convection fans.
- $6,000-$10,000: Products in this price range emulate professional-grade appliances you'd see in commercial kitchens. For ranges, you'll see all-stainless steel construction (not just a finish on doors and control panels), models that are wider than the standard 30 inches to accommodate six or more burners,
- More than $10,000: If you're playing with this kind of money, you can get a customized appliance. Ranges and ovens in this category come in multiple colors and finishes, along with unique, built-in features such as a water connection to automatically release steam during baking.
Now let's get into the meat of what to look for when you pick an oven or range.
Power options for stoves and ovens
The heat output from electric cooktops is measured in watts. Output varies from stove to stove and burner to burner, but the output generally falls somewhere between 1,200 watts for low heat on a small burner and 3,800 BTUs for high heat on a large burner, though we've seen outliers on both ends of the spectrum. There are different types of electric cooktops from which you can select:
Smoothtop (glass-ceramic cooktop): These cooktops are made of smooth glass-ceramic with heating units under the surface. A built-in sensor lets you know when a burner is still hot. This is important with smooth electric cooking surfaces because the burner doesn't always turn red if the heat is low. Keep in mind that this type of cooktop is prone to scratches, and not all cookware is safe to use on the surface (the appliance's manual will let you know what's safe to use).
Electric coil: These burners convert the electricity that runs into the coil into heat. These cooktops contain thermostat sensors that notify you when a burner is on, but not necessarily whether it is still hot. Electric coil stoves are notorious for uneven cooking because of uneven distribution of the coil. In short, it is hard to keep the coil perfectly level, which can make all of the food in the pan slide to one side. In addition, electric coil stoves are slow to heat and slow to cool. But ranges with this type of cooktop are cheaper than comparable models.
Induction cooktops: Induction burners use the heat created from electromagnetic energy to cook your food. An element just below the surface of an induction cooktop creates a magnetic field. When you put a piece of cookware containing iron on top of that magnetic element, it causes a vibration of sorts that converts to heat through a series of magnetic interactions with iron (you can read more about the science behind induction here).
These cooktops are safer than gas or electric burners because they don't use flames or direct heat -- induction burners won't start to heat if you put something on them that doesn't contain magnetic material. Induction cooktops are also more efficient and heat things quicker than other types of burners (the ones we've tested have boiled a large pot of water in an average of 6 minutes).
There are a few downsides to induction cooktops. You have to make sure you have cookware that will work with the cooking surface, and ranges with induction burners tend to cost more money than comparable electric or gas ranges.
Electric ovens: This type of oven uses a heating element that is either visible on the top or bottom of the oven, or hidden. Our baking tests show that they often cook more evenly than their gas counterparts.
Gas cooktops: Both home and professional cooks have valued gas stovetops because of the how uniform the heat output is. An open flame surrounds the bottom of your cookware, which evenly distributes the heat around it. This heat output is measured in BTUs (British thermal units). Like electric models, the power range varies from model to model, but the output generally falls somewhere between 5,000 BTUs for low heat on a small burner and 18,000 BTUs for high heat on a large burner. We've seen burners on high-end ranges get as low as 800 BTUs and as high as 20,000 BTUs. If you're a speedy cook, be aware that our cooking tests show gas cooktops tend to take longer to boil large pots of water than electric or induction cooktops.
Gas ovens: When it comes to gas ovens, we've seen in our cook tests that they have a harder time producing even baking results than electric ovens.
Some ranges use two types of power: gas for the cooktop, and electric in the oven. These dual fuel ranges are a good compromise for folks who want the direct heat of a gas burner but the even cooking of an electric oven. However, these hybrids cost more than traditional one-power-source ranges.
Freestanding ranges are designed to fit anywhere in a kitchen. Oven controls are often located on a back panel that raises up above the cooktop. These are less expensive than slide-in models.
These ranges don't have a back panel and are meant to fit in flush with the surrounding countertops. countertops. Slide-in ranges are often more expensive than freestanding models because of the mechanics that go into putting all the controls up front.
Drop-in ranges are similar to slide-in models -- they sit flush with the surrounding countertops and all the controls are located at the front of the unit. But this type of range looks like you dropped it between two cabinets because of a strip of cabinetry you place beneath the appliance.
The search for an oven or range can resemble a visit to a car dealership -- there are always opportunities to upgrade. Assess your needs and decide if these bonus features are worth throwing down more money for an appliance.
Companies have become more proactive in including wireless capabilities such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and near-field communication (NFC) in their ovens and stoves so you can control your appliance from your smartphone. For example, you could begin to preheat your Wi-Fi-enabled Samsung NE58K9850WG on your way home from the grocery store so it's ready for your frozen pizza by the time you get home.
Manufacturers have also started to connect appliances with smart-home products to add some automation and voice control in the kitchen. For example, GE's Wi-Fi-connected ranges work with Alexa, Amazon's voice-activated virtual assistant, so you can give voice commands to control your appliance. And Jenn-Air wall ovens work with Nest Learning Thermostats so you can automatically lower your home's temperature when the ovens get hot.
Convection fans are built into the back of oven walls. They circulate the heat in the oven so hot air is more evenly dispersed, which means your food will bake more evenly. You'd want convection fans if you're baking food like cookies on more than one oven rack at the same time. Midpriced ovens will have at least one convection fan. Some ovens have what's called "true" or "European" convection, which means there's a heating element that surrounds the fan that warms the air as the fan blows. Read more about the science of convection here.
Special cooking modes
Your basic oven can bake and broil. But as the price for ovens increases, you'll see that there are more cooking options. For example, ovens with convection fans will have modes for convection baking and convection roasting, which will enable the fans and heating elements. Some ovens also come with cook settings for specific foods, such as pizza or turkey, or food preparation methods, like dehydration or bread proofing.
Bottom drawers (baking/warming/broiling)
Some ranges come with a bottom drawer that can serve one of many purposes depending on the model. Some range ovens offer a baking drawer, which enables a person to use the main oven to roast or broil, and the baking drawer for smaller dishes, so you can cook more than one thing at the same time using different temperatures. A warming drawer will keep food warm, but it won't cook the food. Some ovens have a broiler drawer, which functions like a traditional broiler and must be watched just as closely to ensure that food does not burn.
Temperature probes plug into the wall of your oven, and you use them to monitor the internal temperature of meat as it cooks. The temperature displays on the control panel of your oven, so you don't have to open the door to see if your dish is done.
Double ovens in conventional space
The ovens on some ranges have dual baking chambers, which give you the flexibility of double wall ovens without the need for more space. These ovens allow for the convenience of simultaneous cooking at different temperatures. Some ovens come with a divider that allows you to divide your single oven into two unique temperature zones that will remain separate as long as the divider is in place.
Buying an appliance is a personal experience. You have to pick the stove or oven that works best for you and your needs. Sure, there are a lot of extras that you can select to add some convenience or consistency to your cooking. Just remember that all you really need is a stovetop that heats pots at a decent clip and an oven that will cook your food evenly.