Buying the Best Kitchen Range

You don't have to limit yourself to the traditional kitchen range with a 4-burner cooktop that sits atop a standard oven. By determining your fuel and functional needs, space constraints and necessary additional features, choosing a kitchen range doesn't need to be a hassle. With a little research, you can get the best kitchen range for your budget and household needs.

Big Choices, Small Package
A kitchen range almost seems quaint in an age where homeowners are renovating their kitchens with enough cooking stations to support a restaurant. But the humble kitchen range is still the best space-saving appliance for a small kitchen, and some cooks prefer having the cooktop above the oven so they don't have to move too far to keep an eye on everything.

A basic kitchen range offers four independent burners mounted above an oven. Some kitchen ranges include a broiler or a storage drawer beneath the oven. If you cook a lot of big family meals, you may find the extra broiler well worth the higher price tag. Larger kitchen ranges may offer extra burners or warming stations on the stove surface.

Consider how much cooking space you need, then get out the measuring tape. Kitchen ranges come in a variety of sizes, and you'll need to account for the exterior measurements so that the kitchen range will fit in your kitchen and through your doors. If you've got clearance above the kitchen range (and the budget), consider adding a matched oven or microwave above the kitchen range instead of a basic kitchen range hood, which may be needed to vent steam and smoke. A matched appliance includes a vent and fan for your kitchen range's cooktop.

Larger kitchen ranges may offer a larger oven cavity, but you need to check the manufacturer's specifications carefully, as some kitchen ranges have thick walls that reduce the oven cavity. Think of the largest pans or foods you'll put in the oven and then select a kitchen range that will accommodate them. Be aware that most manufacturers don't include oven rack holders or protruding heat elements in their cavity calculations, so a kitchen range's cavity may be a little smaller than advertised.

Gas or Electric?
Gas was once the preference of professional chefs, but digital controls, faster warming times and convection technology have evened the playing field. However, this choice has been made for you if you've only got a gas or electric hookup available. If you have a choice, you can opt for a duel-fuel kitchen range that includes gas and electric heating elements.

Technology wise, new gas kitchen ranges are a bit more efficient than older models but offer the same functions. Analog dials control the gas flow and set the temperature. Some cooks prefer gas kitchen ranges because they heat immediately and they can tell the temperature by looking at the height of the flame. Gas kitchen ranges also cool more quickly, which has benefits in a home with pets or children. Look for pilotless electronic ignition that increases fuel efficiency and reduces the danger of gas buildup.

The most exciting technology can be found in electric kitchen ranges. Convection kitchen ranges include an oven with a fan that circulates air around cooking food. This reduces roasting time and provides more even heating. Some kitchen ranges include a third heating element near the fan. Choose a kitchen range with a third element below the fan for pizza and breads or one that encircles the fan for roasting.

Look for an electric kitchen range with digital controls. These take the guesswork out of cooking and give you precise control over cooking temperature and time. Kitchen ranges with digital controls include built-in timers, and some kitchen ranges include an auto shutoff or auto warming feature that turns off the heat at the time you choose.

Choosing a Cooktop
Most cooks are used to the traditional open-faced cooktop design that supports pots and pans on a removable metal rack or directly on electric heating coils. This is still the most economic choice for kitchen ranges, but anyone who's owned one knows they can be a chore to clean.

The modern kitchen range offers sealed gas burners and glass or ceramic cooktops that keep foods away from the heating elements. These surfaces wipe clean when they're cool, so you won't have to take the kitchen range apart to clear out those spatters and spills. You may need to purchase a specialized cleaner to keep your kitchen range's cooktop sparkling, and you should consider its durability, as some cooktops can be scratched if you move pots and pans across their surfaces.

Decide how many burners you need your kitchen range to have. Most gas kitchen ranges offer just four burners. Electric kitchen ranges with glass or ceramic cooktops may offer more and include a "bridge warmer" that will keep cooked food hot while you're waiting to serve it. Higher-end electric kitchen ranges give you control over the size of the burner, usually with two adjustments for small or large pots, which helps to save energy.

Make sure that kitchen ranges with solid cooktops include a bright, well-placed thermal indicator light. The cooking surface can take a while to cool down, even on gas kitchen ranges. A thermal indicator will warn you if the kitchen range's surface is too hot to touch. Also be aware that the area around a burner can get hot, so you shouldn't let anything that will burn or melt get too close.

Features and Extras
Look for thick, sturdy oven racks that will hold 20 pounds or more. A kitchen range should also offer a six-pass broiler-a pass is a coil in a heating element. More passes deliver faster, more even heating.

Most kitchen ranges offer a self-cleaning or continuous-clean feature. Continuous-cleaning kitchen ranges have ovens lined with nonstick materials that convert spills to ash over time. A self-cleaning kitchen range oven uses high heat to vaporize messes. If you choose a kitchen range with a self-cleaning oven, make sure it uses the bottom element for heating, as this is where most spills and crumbs gather.

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Your cooktop choices may be limited by your existing fuel hookups, but you'll still need to wade through a variety of features to make the best buying decison. Focus on energy efficiency first, then how you like to cook before prioritizing advanced cooktop features that meet your budget and your culinary needs.

With all of the recent developments with ranges, choosing a new oven and cooktop has never been so complicated. You have to decide between electric and gas, freestanding or separate cooktop and oven units, and on top of all of those decisions, you must pick and choose your additional features.

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