Buying Guide

Stove and oven buying guide

A comprehensive buying guide to make selecting that stove or oven a more pleasant and worry-free experience.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Shopping for a new oven or stove can be a daunting experience. Gone are the days when stoves came in two options: a gas stove with a gas oven attached or an electric stove with an electric oven attached. You will likely find yourself inundated with options and a slew of new vocabulary to learn. And while all of those new options might seem overwhelming at first, in most cases, they mean great things for you in terms of accessibility, usability, and overall quality. We hope that this buying guide will give you all of the information you need to be comfortable in your shopping and, ultimately, your purchase.

Three rules for buying a stove and/or oven

1. Know your needs
Do you bake a lot? Do you need double wall ovens, dual range ovens, or a single oven? These are important questions to have in your back pocket before shopping for a stove and oven, as they will enable you to narrow the selection significantly.

2. Consider variety
Many manufacturers offer multiple stovetop and oven combinations to fit your specific, practical needs. For example, you may be interested in new ranges that include two smaller ovens. Or, you may want to consider dual-fuel ranges, which give you both the benefits of a gas stove and the temperature precision of an electric oven.

3. Know your budget
Shopping for a stove and/or oven is a lot like shopping for a wedding dress - don't try on the $10,000 dress if you're not willing or able to spend that much. Set your budget from the beginning and keep in mind that many retailers have sales, particularly around holiday weekends. We recommend subscribing to emails from Lowes, Home Depot, Sears, and Best Buy. Doing so gives you access to emailed coupons, as well as the dates of sales and presales, both in-store and online.

Types of stoves

Stove designs fall into two basic configurations: a cooktop with a separate wall or counter-mounted oven, or a freestanding range that includes both the oven and the cooktop in one integrated unit.

$469 to $3,149
Gas stoves have long been valued for the uniformity of their heat output. An open flame surrounds the bottom of your cookware, evenly distributing the heat around it. This heat output is measured in BTUs (British Thermal Units) and the range varies from stove to stove, and from burner to burner, generally falling between 5,000 BTUs for low heat on a small burner and 17,000 BTUs for high heat on a large burner.

In addition to even cooking, in states where natural gas is very affordable, gas stoves are popular for their economy. Gas stoves also don't require electricity for their core cooking functions, so you can still use them in the event of a power outage.

This gas cooktop from KitchenAid drops into your counter and is not a part of a range. KitchenAid

Electric smoothtop (Glass-ceramic cooktop)
$549 to $3,599
Many consumers are drawn to the sleek, shiny appearance of smooth cooktops. Rather than separate coiled burners, these cooktops are made of completely smooth glass-ceramic cooking surfaces. The heating units, usually in a traditional four-burner layout, sit under the surface. A built-in sensor lets you know when a burner is still hot. This is important with smoothtop cooking surfaces - if the heat is on very low, the burner does not always turn red. The downside to this cooktop is that is is prone to scratching and limits the kind of cookware you can use.

Cast iron is never appropriate, nor is stoneware or glass. If you do buy one of these cooktops, it is important to place your cookware on the stovetop. Never drag it into place or it will cause scratches. It is also important to never let your cookware "boil dry" on a smoothtop stove, as overheated metal can bond with the glass. You may love the sleek look of the glass-ceramic cooktop, which is easy to clean with a solution that can be purchased at almost any hardware store or supermarket. If you live in an older house or are unsure about the wiring in your home, you might want to look into the minimum circuit rating. Many cooktops require 50 amps while certain houses are only wired to support 30. If in doubt, double check.

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Electric coil
$399 to $1,649
The electric coil stove heats cookware by converting the electricity running into the coil into heat using conductible metals. These stoves contain thermostat sensors which notify you when a burner is on, but not necessarily whether it is still hot. Some people prefer them to gas stoves because there is no risk of a gas leak. Electric stoves also have no open flame, reducing the risk of a kitchen fire. Electric coil stoves are, however, notorious for uneven cooking. In many cases, this is due to 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 you may prefer this stove because of its affordable price point and simplicity.

Induction cooktops
$1,699 to $2,999
With traditional cooking, the stove top applies either an open flame or electric heat to the bottom of your cookware. This causes the heat to transfer more or less throughout the piece of cookware. We say "more or less," because electric stoves are notorious for uneven heating, mostly because it is difficult to keep the coils perfectly level. But with induction cooking, the cooking vessel itself becomes the heat source. This works via an element just below the surface of the cooktop that creates a magnetic field. When you place a piece of cookware containing iron on top of that magnetic element, it causes a vibration of sorts, which, through a series of magnetic interactions with the highly resistant iron, is converted into heat.

This is fascinating technology for a lot of reasons. First, the induction top will only heat the area in direct contact with the cookware, meaning that any surrounding cooktop surface will remain completely cool to the touch. Second, due to the fact that this heating reaction happens on a molecular level, cookware, and thereby its contents, can be heated very, very quickly while still allowing allowing precise temperature control.

If you're curious about cost of operation, induction cooktops are the most efficient, costing the least to operate due to the direct nature of their heat delivery. With traditional cooking tops, energy is first converted into heat and then transferred into the cookware. With an induction cooktop, the energy is directly applied to the cookware, which becomes the heating element.

$1,259 to $9,880
Commercial-style stoves are gas powered ranges and generally include 8 or more burners. They are therefore appealing to people who cook either large volumes of food or require several burners for simultaneous cooking projects. With very few exceptions, they are not designed to fit into a traditional kitchen. If this is a stove you're wanting, you will likely need to rebuild your cabinet space if a large area is not already available. They require a one-inch gas hookup. (Standard residential gas hookups are » inch.)

A 10-burner restaurant range from Vulcan. Vulcan

Additional cooktop features

Updated touch pads/screens
Many cooktops now have done completely away with dials or knobs and allow you, instead, to control the temperature through touch pads or screens. Some of the newer models of stoves and cooktops have "disappearing" touch screens. When you press the screen, all of the options and buttons become visible, but then disappear after a small period of idle time, leaving behind a smooth, elegant surface.

Downdraft cooktop (gas and electric)
Cooking creates steam. That steam can damage your kitchen over time if your range is located under a close cabinet or low ceiling. Cooktops with downdraft capability feature exhaust ventilation, set down in the cooktop itself, drawing the steam downward and out through a vent before it can rise above the cooktop. In addition to collecting steam, this ventilation can remove cooking odors from the kitchen. When shopping for a stove or range, it is important to look at your complete kitchen layout. Traditional oven hoods and over-the-range microwaves also solve the ventilation problem. If you have neither, a down draft cooktop might be a good solution.

Downdraft ventilation, courtesy of the Whirlpool SC8720EDB. Whirlpool

Types of ovens

As with cooktops, you will find a couple of options when it comes to buying an oven. It's important to assess your needs, both special and practical, before beginning to shop. Oven designs fall into two basic configurations: single or stacked double ovens which are built into the wall, or oven as part of a freestanding range that includes both the oven and cooktop in one integrated unit.

$999 to $1,349
Gas ovens are powered by the same gas as are stoves. They feature electronic igniters. You will find them as part of a freestanding range, as single wall ovens, or, though rare, in double wall ovens. Typical complaints about gas ovens are that they do not maintain a consistent temperature and, therefore, cook food unevenly. You should keep in mind that while almost all homes are equipped with electrical hookups for stove and ovens, often gas oven hookups do not come standard. This means that if your house does not have the hookup in place, you will need to pay to have one installed. Gas ovens are available in both traditional and convection varieties.

$849 to $4,699
Electric ovens cook food through the radiation of heat from a heating element that is either visible on the top or bottom of the oven, or hidden. The heat waves created by this heating element bounce off of the metal walls of the oven and cook the food contents. Electric ovens have the reputation of much more even temperature and cooking that gas ovens. They are easy to use, easy to clean, and easy to find. Electric ovens are available in both traditional and convection varieties.

A Whirlpool double electric wall oven. Whirlpool

Dual fuel
$1,999 to $9,599
In many freestanding ranges fueled by gas alone, some consumers complain of uneven heating in the oven. Electric ovens have a better reputation than gas-powered ovens in terms of even cooking. Many consumers want to be able to cook with gas on the stove, but also enjoy the benefits of an electric oven. Manufacturers have provided a solution to this problem by developing dual fuel ranges, which run the stovetop off of gas, and the ovens with electricity. These ovens are available in both traditional and convection varieties.

$1,249 to $3,699
Conventional ovens use a coiled heating element and rely on the radiation of those heat waves around and off the sides of the oven to cook food. In some ovens, this can lead to uneven heating and "hot spots." Convection ovens, on the other hand, use fans to circulate the hot air inside the oven so that it is distributed more evenly and, therefore, food receives the same amount of heat no matter its position in the oven. Many bakers prefer convection ovens, citing the fact that their baked goods are more evenly cooked throughout and across. A good example is cookies - with convection cooking, the cookies on the far edges of the pan should not be more done than the ones on the interior. They will cook faster, but much more evenly.

The LG Smart ThinQ LRE3027ST has an electric convection oven that also uses infrared grilling technology. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Dual conventional/convection
Ovens which can function as either conventional or convection at the touch of a button do everything their name suggests. They enable you to select what you will be doing with the oven and what setting you want to use. Examples include separate Bake and Convection Bake settings. It's the best of both worlds.

Let's talk oven space

Most single wall ovens have a volume of 3.1 cubic-feet, whereas most range ovens have a volume of between 4.2 and 4.8 cubic feet, generally. If you're a casual cook preparing simple meals a few times a week, the standard smaller oven is probably just fine for you. If you're an avid baker, or if you regularly cook for large groups of people, you might consider a larger oven or dual ovens. The following chart is a good rule of thumb. Generally, larger ovens will be more expensive. You obviously also need the corresponding amount of space in your kitchen.

One to two people: 2 to 3 cubic feet

Three to four people: 3 to 4 cubic feet

Four or more people: 4-plus cubic feet

Standard oven features

Multiple, adjustable racks
Standard ovens come with at least two racks inside of them, sometimes three. The racks can be moved to different heights within the oven and those not in use can be removed altogether to make room for larger items.

Door lock
Ovens come standard with a door lock to be used when the oven is being cleaned. Self-cleaning ovens, in many cases, heat to very high temperatures. The door lock prevents the door from being opened during the cleaning cycle, preventing burn injuries.

All modern ovens include a broil feature, which applies very high heat closely over the food. It functions, essentially, as an upside-down grill. To use a traditional broiler, the top rack is moved as close to the broiler as possible. It is a very quick cooking method and as such, you must watch the food carefully and often. Most broilers require the oven door to be cracked an inch or so.

Ovens come standard with a window in the door, so that you can look into the oven to check on the cooking progress of your meal without opening the oven door and losing heat.

A light is also a standard feature for ovens. It is located inside the oven but can be turned on by either a button or switch on the exterior of the oven. Its purpose is to illuminate the contents of the oven so that you can better check up on the progress of whatever is inside.

Additional oven features

Hidden bake element
In a traditional oven, the heating element is exposed on either the top or bottom of the oven. With a hidden bake element, the heating element is located below the oven floor, making the interior seamless and, therefore, very easy to clean.

The oven in the Samsung NE58F9710WS range features a hidden bake element, not to be confused with the broiler. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Baking drawer
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 cookies, breads, pies, etc. This offers a lot of freedom, allowing for simultaneous cooking.

Warming drawer
Similar to a baking drawer, a warming drawer will not conduct the same levels of heat, but will keep food warm for as long as it is needed.

The Samsung NE58F9710WS features a warming drawer with three different temperature options. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Broiling drawer
In ovens where the heating unit is not exposed, the broiler will be located in a drawer. The broiling drawer functions like a traditional broiler and must be watched just as closely to ensure that food does not burn.

Double ovens in conventional space
With a traditional, freestanding range/oven unit, dual baking chambers allow the flexibility of double wall ovens without the added space requirement. These ovens allow for the convenience of simultaneous cooking at different temperatures. They can also be more energy efficient, since it's easier (and faster) to bring a half-sized oven to temperature. In addition, 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.

Dehydration seems to making a comeback, you know, since the 1800's ended. It requires you to cook food very, very low heat (think 150 degrees Fahrenheit) for longer periods of time to evaporate all of the moisture in the food, therefore preserving it naturally. Fruits and vegetables can be dried in a matter of hours, while turning meats into jerky can take longer. Most ovens do not go lower than 200 degrees Fahrenheit, but some do in order to allow for dehydrating. This is wonderful if you use a separate, standalone dehydrator and are looking to consolidate.

Dacor Renaissance 30" Double Wall Oven series
This Dacor Renaissance Double Wall Oven has low enough temps to dehydrate food. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Sabbath mode
According to Jewish law, it is prohibited to cook or prepare food at any point during the Sabbath, which takes place from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. In response, a few manufacturers have created ovens with Sabbath Mode settings. Star-K is a group that compiles information about kosher products, from food to cleaning supplies to appliances. For a list of Star-K certified appliance brands, please check out the Star-K webpage dedicated to appliances. GE also provides a comprehensive page explaining how Sabbath Mode functions.

Self-cleaning cycle
Many self-cleaning oven cycles heat the oven interior to between 900 and 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit. This super-high temperature reduces any food particles or soiling to ash, which you can sweep out without too much difficulty. Some require additional cleaning product, though most do not. Self-cleaning ovens are designed to remain locked during the superheating process to prevent any potential injuries caused by burns. The process, generally, takes about three hours. Due to the high temperatures involved, self-cleaning ovens are better insulated to protect against fire.

There are a few ovens that offer a much quicker self-clean. They require only that you spray the inside of the oven with water and the self-clean cycle takes less than 30 minutes. The steam created by the water and low heat lifts the stains and cooked-on food particles as effectively as super high heat and cleaning solvents in other ovens. Without the harsh chemicals, high heat, or time involved, ovens with an easy-clean setting are definitely worth a look.

Updated touch screens
As with stove and cooktops, many ovens now have done completely away with dials or knobs and allow you, instead, to control the temperature through touch screens. Some manufacturers' newer models have "disappearing" touch screens. When you press the screen all of the options and buttons become visible, but then disappear after a small period of idle time, leaving behind a smooth, elegant surface.

The Samsung NE58F9710WS features a touch screen to control the oven. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Delayed start
Some ovens come with a delayed start option, which allows you to preprogram cook times and temperatures. Most ovens with this feature will allow you to delay baking for one to twenty-four hours. This is handy if you want to put something in the oven, but but don't want it to start cooking immediately so that it will be done at a certain time. You can program the oven to turn on at a prescribed time. This could also be useful if you want to program the oven to be preheated and ready for use by the time you get home from work.

Infrared cooking
LG has developed some of their ovens to include infrared cooking technology, the same that has been used in grills for year. Infrared cooking reduces preheat time by approximately 20 percent, says their Web site. This ultra-fast cooking allows food to remain juicier than traditional thermal cooking.

The LG Smart ThinQ LRE3027ST features an infrared grill, much like the ones seen in traditional outdoor grills. Colin West McDonald/CNET

Green stoves and ovens

The Environmental Protection Agency uses its EnergyStar rating system to recommend products that save energy without sacrificing features of functionality. As of now, the EPA has not given an EnergyStar seal of approval to any stoves or ovens. But there are choices you can make for a greener kitchen even without an official rating. For example, most dual-oven range combos contain a larger oven and a more efficient, smaller oven compartment. You can save energy by only using the larger oven when necessary, as it will require more energy to power.

As far as your cooktop, it's a toss-up between gas and electric cooking as to which is more "green." Gas appliances are run on natural gas, a fossil fuel, while most of our electricity in this country comes from the burning of coal, also a fossil fuel. Gas stoves are energy efficient in that they deliver heat faster and more directly. But if you like electric cooking, a ceramic or glass stove or cooktop is more efficient than the standard coil versions, which are the least efficient. Overall, induction cooking is the most energy efficient since the bulk of the heat comes from a physical reaction within the cookware itself and not the conversion of electricity into heat which then must be transferred to the cookware. Eliminating the extra steps makes a big difference.

Smart/next-gen features

Remote monitoring, smart timers, and settings
Some ovens will allow you to monitor cooking from your smartphone, meaning that you could check on the progress of a meal from another room. This feature isn't as advanced yet as we hope it will be eventually, but essentially it will allow you to keep track of oven temperature and how much time is left on your timer from a remote location. This feature also lets you confirm remotely whether the oven is on or off. Other models will allow you to turn on your oven remotely and control the temperature and time at which it is set. (Wireless network required)

GE's oven iOS app. Screenshot by Megan Wollerton/CNET

Some newer ovens come with connections to a mobile app, which allows you to send a recipe to the range, which will adjust adjust its timer and temperature accordingly. (Wireless network required) Others have presets that will allow you to save your most frequently used temperature settings. Some can also adjust temperatures automatically during the process, allowing for recipes that begin and end at different temperatures.