Do you prefer to have a range or a separate cooktop and oven?
Being able to easily transition items from the oven to the stovetop is one reason Chef James Holmes prefers using a range.
Chef Holmes: Professionally I like having a range because often times I’ll be searing something in a pan and finishing the dish in the oven.
Chef Vizethann: In my home they are separate. And I don’t mind that at all. But in a commercial kitchen you almost always find a range.
Verdict: Ranges were preferred for restaurant kitchens. As Chef Holmes alluded to, ranges make it easy to transfer a pan from the cooktop into the oven, or vice versa. At home it can come down to a matter of style and what is most functional for your kitchen layout. None of our chefs stated there was a difference in performance from one to the other.
When you’re cooking at home, are microwaves shunned or are they saviors?
Warming up liquids is one of the few things a microwave was deemed suitable to do.
Chef Holmes: I refuse to have a microwave in my kitchen, in both my home and my restaurant kitchen. Maybe there are decent microwaves out there now, but that type of cooking is just weird to me.
Chef Selland: I think if you do use them to do any sort of cooking, it’s going to cook things really unevenly. With just a little bit of effort you can cook anything without it and it’ll turn out much better.
Chef Subido: I’m proud to say I don’t use a microwave at home or at my restaurant. My microwave at home broke two years ago, and I just never replaced it.
Verdict: Our chefs pretty much stayed away from microwaves in both their homes and their restaurant kitchens, although a few mentioned a microwave is useful for melting butter or warming up coffee. It’s certainly not breaking news, but if taste is a higher priority than convenience, then a microwave might be an unnecessary appliance.
Types of Heat: Electric Ranges
An electric range offers the convenience of easy installation-it can just be plugged in and ready to use, unlike a gas range. While you can still buy electric ranges with exposed coil burners, many modern electric ranges use radiant heat or halogen heat as a heat source, placing a smooth cooktop surface over the heating elements.
This glass ceramic surface provides a sleek appearance, and is also easy to clean because there are very few crevices for food and dirt to fall into.
Oven Properties: Electric ovens provide a dry heat, as opposed to gas ovens, which can sometimes produce a more humid type of heat. Depending on what you like to bake, you may prefer the dryer heat produced by electric ovens.
Do you like cooking with induction cooktops?
Courtesy of Gaggenau
Induction burners distribute heat well, but are they something pro chefs like to use?
Chef Holmes: I don’t. I need to see a flame and control it. I don’t care if [induction burners] can bring water to a boil in five seconds: I don’t need that.
Chef Selland: I think induction burners are great, but the one problem with induction is that it’s expensive technology, and then you have to buy specific pans for it. We use induction burners for our pastry area, and they are great, but they cost a lot of money.
Chef Subido: I have used induction for cooking pastries and omelets, because induction burners help cook those things evenly. So if you’re using it for making caramel or sugar work, it works really well.
Verdict: Our chefs who liked induction burners used them primarily for pastries. If you like — or want — to frequently make pastries, you can purchase a portable induction burner if you’re not ready to commit to an induction cooktop or range.
Who's Who on Our Appliance Panel
Chef James Holmes
Austin chef James Holmes has received a culinary stamp of approval from a wide range of people, from country singer Willie Nelson — for whom Holmes has catered — to the editors of Bon Appétit magazine, who named his restaurant, Olivia, one of 2009’s “Top 10 Best New Restaurants in America.”
The fare at Olivia is described as “Mediterranean cuisine with a seasonal, Southern spin.” The restaurant specializes in house-made pasta, select cuts of meat like lamb T-bone steaks, and the signature dish, lamb’s tongue fricassee, which is described as “a crispy tongue cooked in a Dijon pan sauce and matched with a sweet fruit mostarda.”
Chef Kristine Subido
The top floors of Chicago’s W Lakeshore hotel are known for their spectacular views, but its first floor restaurant, Wave, does for taste buds what the higher floors do for the eyes.
Before coming to Wave, chef Kristine Subido’s culinary background included stops in restaurants that specialized in Italian cuisine, North African cuisine and French cuisine. Her worldly background lends to Wave’s menu, which includes braised waygu beef short ribs, grilled Mississippi quail, and desserts such as spiced pumpkin meringue tart.
Larry Matthews, Jr.
Back Bay Grill
Consistently named as one of Maine’s top restaurants, Back Bay Grill is owned by Chef Larry Matthews. He became Executive Chef in 1997 and took over ownership of the Portland restaurant in 2002.
Back Bay Grill focuses on regional and seasonal fare and also includes a wine selection that has received several awards from Wine Spectator magazine. The menu changes frequently, but continually features great selections of fresh seafood and select cuts of beef and lamb.
Chef Randall Selland
The Selland Group
Chef Randall Selland has spent more than 20 years whipping up delicious meals and racking up experience in the restaurant business. At his restaurant The Kitchen, Chef Selland is known for his culinary events and cooking demonstrations, giving patrons an inside look at the cooking process before a great meal is delivered to their table. This unique dining experience has made him one of the most well known chefs in Sacramento.
The Hungry Peach Cafe
As a certified personal chef as well as certified culinarian, Atlanta chef Suzanne Vizethann has taken on double duty by doing both private catering and opening a café, called The Hungry Peach café.
Some dishes on her catering menu include shrimp bisque, bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with a creamed corn puree, and vanilla-bean crème brûlée.
Before starting her own catering business and café, chef Vizethann worked at the Atlanta catering company Added Touch and also worked under Bravo’s Top Chef runner-up Richard Blais at his Atlanta restaurant, One Midtown Kitchen.
How many burners do you prefer on your cooktop or range?
Courtesy of Thermador
For chef Randall Selland, this is the ideal burner configuration.
Chef Selland: I wouldn’t mind having more than four burners, but in my home, I just don’t have room for a bigger stove. Eventually I’ll be remodeling my home kitchen and I plan on getting a six-burner range. I saw the perfect one; it had four burners together, then a griddle and two more burners to the side.
Chef Vizethann: I like having six burners. Because I use an electric stove, what I like to do is put one burner on high, and the burner right next to it on medium or low, so if I need to switch my heat really quickly, I can switch it over to the other burner.
Verdict: Just about all our chefs preferred having six burners in their restaurant kitchen and home kitchen. Of course, they are used to cooking many different items at once.
A Range With It All
Of course, each of these options isn't mutually exclusive. You can find ranges that have all these options, like the one pictured above from KitchenAid. It's a double-oven range with dual-fuel capabilities (the industry's only dual-fuel double oven range) and has the industry's largest double oven capacity available. With the help of a convection fan it bakes evenly on all oven racks, and also roasts up to 30 percent faster than with a conventional oven.
While most ranges won't be loaded with so many options, it's good to know what features are available, and which ones will suit your needs. Peruse the rest of our range slide show to learn more.
The Easiest Appliance in the Kitchen
Over-the-range microwaves, or microhoods, save counter space and provide enough ventilation for standard 30-inch ranges.
Microwaves cook by getting water molecules in the food moving in a rapidly alternating electrical field. The National Kitchen and Bath Association recommends that microwaves operate on 750 to 1,000 watts to cook effectively.
Special features include programmed buttons for popping popcorn and for reheating everyday foods, such as pasta and veggies, and sensors that cook according to the moisture level of the food. Microwaves can be placed on the counter or built into a tall cabinet or shelf that's been mounted under a cabinet.
- Cooks food much faster than conventional and convection ovens.
- Great for warming up leftovers and side dishes.
- It's easy to overcook food.
- Food doesn't brown as it does in conventional or convection ovens.
Price: $100 to $500.
Additional Range Features: Grill Top
Most ranges have a broiler in the oven that is meant to mimic an indoor grill, at least in the sense that you cook with direct heat. But if you want your range to truly function like an indoor grill, consider buying one with grilling grates on the rangetop (some manufacturers call this feature a char-broiler or a char-grill). Made from porcelain or cast iron, these grates are placed over a gas or infrared burner.
Something to consider: If you're using a range with a grilling feature, make sure you have proper ventilation above your range. Indoor grilling is sure to produce a great deal of smoke and grease.
Gas, Electric and Induction Cooktops
Courtesy of Fagor America
This 28-inch gas cooktop fits five burners into a small space.
Cooktops can be fueled by gas or electricity, and offer a number of different burner and surface options.
Better know your Btu, or British thermal units, which measure the heating power of gas cooktops and ovens. Technically speaking, a Btu is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit-or about the amount of heat produced by burning one wooden match. The higher the Btu capacity, the hotter the cooktop or oven can get.
For everyday cooking, 9,000 Btu should suffice. But if you plan to do a lot of sautéing, stir-frying, or other high-heat cooking, you'll want to top out at 12,000 Btu or more. Commercial burners can go as high as 20,000 Btu, and some designed for home use can hit 15,000. With that kind of heat, you can get 8 quarts of water boiling in six minutes.
Also consider what kind of precision you can get for low-heat cooking. You may want some burners, for example, that can go down to 5,000 Btu and cycle on and off so that you can simmer without scorching.
- Allow you to instantly turn the heat on or off.
- Give you more precise control over the temperature when you're searing meat or simmering sauces.
- Some new models can use 30 percent less gas by relying on pilotless ignition instead of continuously burning pilot lights.
- Can release gaseous fumes that, without proper ventilation, can lead to indoor air pollution.
- Require certain gas hook-ups.
Price: Ranges from $200 to $2,000
Electric Cooktops with Coil Burners
Electric black coils-metallic tubes covered with insulation-create heat through electrical resistance. The heat moves from the coils to the pot or pan through conduction and radiation.
- Don't cause indoor air pollution.
- Allow you to boil water faster on larger burners than you can on some gas cooktops.
- They're easy to maintain and repair.
- You may pay less initially but electric can cost more than gas over the long run.
- Don't make a strong design statement.
- Don't offer precise control over temperatures.
Price: About $200 to $350
Electric Cooktops with Glass Ceramic Surfaces
Glass ceramic cooktops often have a touchpad rather than knobs, to maintain the smooth, sleek look. Circular patterns on the surface indicate where to place your pots and pans. Rather than coils, these smooth cooktops have radiant, halogen or induction heating elements. Radiant or ribbon elements heat similarly to standard black electric coils; halogen works like ultra hot lightbulbs; and induction creates magnetic fields that generate heat.
- Their smooth, flat surface makes cleanup easy.
- When not in use, you can use the smooth surface as extra countertop space.
- You get a clean, uncluttered look to the countertop.
- Induction cooktops offer the same kind of precise heat control as gas cooktops, and are more energy efficient.
- Induction cooking only works with steel and cast iron pots and pans.
- Induction cooktops are more expensive than other electric cooktops.
- You have to be careful that you don't burn yourself by accidentally hitting the touchpad controls or knobs.
- You won't get the same kind of precise temperature control that you can with gas, unless you choose magnetic induction.
- Hard to tell if the burners are still hot when they're turned off.
Price: About $500 to $1,400; $2,000 and up for induction
Modular burners allow you to switch the configuration of your cooktop, whether electric or gas. Options for replacing standard burners include grills, griddles and French tops.
- You can use them on islands because they typically come with downdraft vents.
- You can vary the type of cooking you're doing on the same cooktop.
- You have to deal with switching and cleaning the modules.
Price: $500 to $1,000 for the cooktop; modules sold separately