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Know what the best kitchen appliances are for your cooking needs

There are several key factors to explore when purchasing kitchen appliances. Of course it is nice to have appliances that match one another as well as the rest of the kitchen décor. Depending on your kitchen layout, you should consider freestanding or built-in appliances. Freestanding stoves are available, but appliances blend better when they are built-in. There are various options with gas and electrical cooktops and ovens.

Ask yourself what is important to you: design, functionality, and capacity and its use. Kitchen appliance manufacturers have as many options and features as you could wish for, tailored to meet specific needs. It's a lot to think about, but new appliances are ultimately one of the most rewarding kitchen remodeling features. Consider these before buying your next appliances.

Types of kitchen appliances

There are three categories of kitchen units: ranges, cooktops, and wall ovens. There are four types of ranges: freestanding, slide in, drop in, and high/low. Freestanding ranges have finished sides and rest on the floor. Slide-in ranges come with unfinished side panels to slip between kitchen cabinets. Drop-in ranges have unfinished sides and are built into cabinets and typically rest on a low wood base. A high/low range offers two ovens-one above the cooktop and one below. Ranges can be finished with porcelain enamel or stainless steel exteriors and sometimes have glass cooktops.

Cooktops drop in to any type of counter. Cooktops may have electric coils, radiant elements in a smoothtop surface or sealed gas burners. Cooktops can also be frameless or flush frame, which is recessed into a metal frame and sits even with your countertop. The surfaces of cooktops range from glass to porcelain to stainless steel.

Wall ovens slide in to kitchen cabinets and have unfinished sides. Options include a single or double oven and a combination of thermal and convection heat. Wall oven exteriors are also finished with porcelain enamel, glass, or stainless steel.

Factors to consider

What type of energy source do you want to fuel your cooking unit? On gas cooking units, heat can be controlled more precisely. But unless you're remodeling your kitchen or want the expense of extending lines or installing a liquid propane tank if gas is not available in your area, it's best to stick with the source you already have.

What are your cooking needs? Consider the types of food you cook-and the number of people you cook for. If you have a large family or entertain often, a six-burner cooktop might be handy. If your kids trickle home after dinner, a warming zone or warmer drawer may be perfect. If you often sear meats, perhaps a modular grill will suit your needs. Maybe you bake a lot. In that case, scout for a range or wall oven with good performance and a large viewing window.

Who will have access to your cooking appliance? If small children frequent your kitchen, look for safety features such as knobs or touchpads placed on the backsplash, push-to-turn knobs, and surface-on indicator lights to alert you of hot elements. If your elderly mom will be doing most of the cooking, avoid units with heavy grates, small illegible type, and small, hard-to-grasp knobs.

Who cleans your cooking appliance? If you have teenagers who are not self-cleaning, you'll want to prevent food from dripping inside your unit. Look for a self-cleaning oven and a cooktop with upswept sides and few cracks, crevices, and seams. Smoothtops are generally easy to clean. On the flip side, smoothtops require flat-bottom pans to cook and special solutions to clean the surface. Except for low-budget ovens, both freestanding and built ins are generally self-cleaning.

Cooktop heat sources

The traditional electric coil cooktop is the least expensive heating system. The coils are reliable, easy to replace if damaged, and can heat up quickly. The downside is they cool down slowly, so reducing a boil to a simmer may take longer, and drip pans can be difficult to clean.

Gas heat can be controlled precisely. If you're sold on gas, you have to decide whether to buy conventional gas or a sealed burner. Conventional gas burners can be time-consuming to clean. Sealed burners prevent spills from dripping into hard-to-reach places.

Modular heat is a variation of a gas or electric cooktop that lets you interchange various modules that contain conventional burners and accessories such as a grill, griddle, wok, or deep fryer.

Halogen heat comes from vacuum-sealed quartz glass tubes filled with halogen gas, creating instant heat and emitting a red glow. The tubes are hidden beneath a smoothtop surface.

The most common source of heat in smoothtops is radiant heat. Electric radiant elements are installed beneath a glass-ceramic surface, and designs on the smoothtop indicate the heating areas.

Induction heat is created in a magnetic field by the cooktop and an iron or steel pan connecting. It's fast, responsive and expensive. Copper-bottom and some stainless-steel and aluminum pans won't work on this type of heat surface. The elements are concealed beneath a smoothtop surface.

Cooking unit features

If you regularly use the oven, be aware that larger interior dimensions will give you more cooking flexibility. What's more, research the number of racks and the number of rack positions. Here are other features worth noting:

  • Dehydration: circulates air at a low temperature for drying herbs or preserving fruit
  • Continuous grates: allows pots and pans to slide across the cooking surface easily

Costs and sizes

No-frills freestanding ranges with electric or conventional gas burners generally start at $300, while feature-loaded professional-style ranges start at $1,800. Most ranges are 24 inches deep and 30 inches wide, but some manufacturers offer 36- and even 48-inch widths. You typically pay more as the size increases. For $600 to $800, you'll likely get an electric or sealed gas burner range with dial oven knobs and electronic controls for the oven. Most ranges in this price category offer self-cleaning ovens, which use intense heat to burn spills to a powdery ash that wipes off easily after the process is complete. Ranges with this price tag generally offer two oven racks and come in white, almond or black.

Step up to the $750 to $1,300 price range, and you'll get sealed gas burners with possibly heavy cast-iron grates and easy-to-clean surfaces or a smoothtop, a warmer drawer, numbered pads to set oven cooking time, and a flashy backsplash with fluorescent readouts. Models from $2,000 to $5,000 boast four or more gas (or electric) burners. They usually include convection ovens. On all gas ranges, the amount of heat produced depends on the BTUs (British thermal units) generated. A standard gas range generates 8,000 to 10,000 BTUs per burner. The heavy-duty burners on pro-style ranges generate 15,000 and sometimes higher BTUs. And the higher the BTUs the quicker food will cook.

For a basic cooktop model, anywhere from $300 to nearly $1,000 will have interchangeable modules for woks, deep fryers, grills, and griddles. Most cooktops are 30 inches wide. Many manufacturers offer 36- or 42-inch widths. At the $300 to $400 end, you'll likely find an electric cooktop with coil elements. These units typically are 30 inches wide with rotary controls and sport porcelain finishes. For roughly $100 more, you'll be cooking with gas.

Jump up to the $600 to $800 price range, and shoppers can get an easy-to-clean smoothtop and a variety of widths. Since smoothtops and electric ranges can be slow to heat and cool, most come with a hot surface indicator lights. Cooktops in the four-digit price tag often boast 42-inch widths, six burners or cooking elements, stainless-steel surfaces, cooking modules, and more. If price is a factor, remember a cooktop/wall oven combo will cost, on average, $400 more than an all-in-one range.

Wall ovens cost from $600 to $2,000 and up and come in 24-, 27-, and 30-inch widths. Tack on another $200 or more for a double conventional oven and an additional $150 to $200 or more for a conventional convection oven with all the accoutrements. If two ovens are a must and you want self-cleaning with both, shop carefully. Not all double wall ovens offer self-cleaning in both appliances.

Cooking appliance exhaust

An exhaust is not required, but it can help prevent your kitchen from filling with smoke if you do lots of stovetop cooking on high heat or buying a professional-style range. Either way, you can get a cooking surface with a built-in downdraft or an overhead vented hood, which is generally more costly to install.

There are less effective ventless hoods that simply circulate air through a charcoal filter. Downdraft systems are often found in cooktops that are installed in islands and where design preferences or restrictions prevent the installation of a hood.

Cooking appliance delivery

Before ordering your cooking unit, think about how your old appliance will be removed. Some towns offer curbside pick-up while others don't. Also consider the need for new outlets and gas lines if you're remodeling your kitchen. And you may have to juggle your schedule for the delivery of your new cooking unit.

Installing a cooking unit

For a freestanding range or a wall oven, measure the width and height of your space. To measure for a cooktop, record the width and depth of your countertop opening. Depending on the width of the lip on your new cooktop, however, there's some wiggle room with the dimensions. Whether you're buying an all-in-one range or a cooktop and separate wall oven, you'll need to connect your appliances to an energy source.

When you buy a gas cooking unit, you have to hook it up to a gas line and a three-prong 120-volt outlet if it has a pilotless ignition (which most are today). Be aware that most local codes require a licensed and certified gas professional to install a gas unit.

When you buy a freestanding electric range or an electric cooktop, you'll need a dedicated 240-volt outlet-and the assistance of an electrician. If you're eyeing a dual-fuel-cooking appliance, you'll need both gas and a dedicated 240-volt outlet.

Kitchen Appliances Glossary of Terms

A-C

BTU: British Thermal Unit--a means of measuring the power of a gas burner. The higher the BTU number, the quicker food heats.

Bridge element: An extra element positioned between two main elements on a smoothtop that can be turned on to create a large surface area for long pans such as a griddle or fish poacher.

Broiler: The gas burner or electric heating element on the ceiling of the oven cavity or in a separate compartment underneath the oven cavity that is used to cook foods.

Burner: The devices on a gas cooktop that produce flame or heat. A burner has a grate over it to keep pots and pans elevated above the flame.

Cast-iron element: A solid electric heating element made of cast iron. This element is also known as a hob, which is popular in Europe.

Coil: A type of heating element found on electric cooktops that delivers heat through a piece of metal wound in a spiral and set in a recessed area.

Controls: The knobs, buttons or electronic touchpads that regulate cooking functions. The most common types of controls are: rotary, which offer control by turning a dial; pushbutton, which are controls that invert at the press of a finger; electronic, which are low-profile press pads; or a combination of the three options.

Convection: A cooking method in which a fan continuously circulates heated air in the oven cavity while foods are cooking. May have a third heating element around the fan.

Cooktop: A cooking surface with burners (gas) or elements (electric) that is built into a cabinet or kitchen island. Cooktops are designed to be installed separately from an oven.

D – G

Door latch or lock: A lever, usually positioned above the oven handle, that locks the oven during the self-cleaning process to protect the user from the extreme heat generated during the cycle.

Double oven: A cooking appliance that features two separate ovens to let you cook or warm at different temperatures. Typically double ovens are built-in and feature two conventional ovens, although they may also be available in various combinations including conventional, convection and microwave ovens. Ranges may also feature double ovens.

Downdraft venting: An option on cooktops and some ranges that allows smoke and food odors to vent down through the unit as opposed to being pulled out by a range hood fan. The location of the intake for the vent varies.

Drip pan: On a gas burner or electric element, this pan is designed to catch cooking spills.

Dual radiant element: A small element on a smoothtop surrounded by a larger ring element. The user can turn on just the center portion when using a small pot or turn on both portions to create a larger element for larger pots.

Elements: The way in which electric cooktops deliver heat. The two most common varieties are coil elements and radiant ribbon elements featured in smoothtop cooking units.

Grill: A heating element with a rack on top of it for grilling foods.

H - P

High burner: A burner that provides more cooking power than a standard burner so foods will quickly heat up. Typically, a high burner will have 10,000 BTUs or more.

High/low: A range with a second oven above the cooktop.

Oven: The cooking cavity of a gas or electric range or a cooking unit designed to be installed separately from a cooktop.

Oven capacity: The volume of the inside of the oven measured in cubic feet. An oven has an average capacity of 4 cubic feet.

Pilot light: A small flame in gas units that burns constantly and is used to automatically light the burners and oven. Pilot lights are rarely found in today's cooking appliances.

Pilotless ignition system: Employs an electric spark to light the burners or oven, dispensing with a pilot light or constantly burning flame. Gas units with this feature must be fueled by both electricity and gas. This kind of system is an energy saver.

R - Z

Removable elements: Electric coil elements that can be unplugged or tilted up for easier cleaning underneath.

Safety: Safety features are designed for children and adults. On a smoothtop, look for control lockout options, so touchpads can't be activated when pressed; surface-on indicator lights that tell you which burners are on, and knobs placed on the back of the cooktop. On any cooking appliance, shop for knobs designed to be pushed in and then turned, making it difficult to start accidentally.

Sealed burner: On gas ranges or cooktops, a burner that is sealed to the cooktop preventing spills from flowing underneath.

Self-cleaning oven: Allows a user to lock the oven and set it to clean automatically using very high heat to burn off food soil.

Simmer burner: A burner that provides less cooking power than a standard burner to prevent foods from overheating. Typically, simmer burners have 5,000 BTUs or less.

Smoothtop: A cooktop or cooktop unit of a range in which the elements are placed under a glass-ceramic surface. Also called a ceramic cooktop. Smoothtops may feature one of three cooking elements: ribbon radiant (similar to a coil but set under the glass or ceramic top); halogen (halogen elements produce instant heat from a halogen bulb located under the cooktop); or induction (an element that uses a magnetic field for cooking and requires cookware made of magnetic materials).

Storage drawer: A drawer, usually placed below the oven of a range, designed for cookware storage.

Surface on indicator: A light often found on smoothtops that indicates a cooking element is on or is still hot, sometimes called a hot surface indicator.

Touchpads: A smooth electronic control panel that replaces knobs and dials and is frequently featured on ovens or smoothtop cooktops.

Warming drawer: A bottom drawer in a range designed to keep cooked food at serving temperature.

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