When it comes to home cooking appliances, there have never been more options to choose from, in every price category. Increased consumer awareness, new technology, and Europe design influences have all played a part in creating the broad selection now available:
More than 60 percent of kitchen projects today include at least some built-in appliances, and the cooktop is one of the most popular. Cooktops, which are installed in a countertop, an island, or a peninsula, have either a gas or an electric heat source. The following types of burners are the most common in use today:
- Gas Burners, the most popular heat source for today's cooktops, heat and cool quickly and, because the flame is visible, can be controlled easily. Although the models of the past relied on standing pilot lights, modern designs ignite electronically, thus lowering energy consumption as much as 40 percent. Take note that the amount of heat a gas cooktop produces varies depending on how many British thermal units (BTU's) it generates per hour. A standard household gas cooktop produces between 8,000 and 10,000 BTU's per hour, per burner. The heavy duty burners of commercial style models can go up to 15,000 BTU's. Units with higher levels of BTU production can cook foods at a higher heat, boiling water more quickly, for example. If you opt for a gas cooktop, look for a model with sequential burners, which offer a "simmer and hold" feature: At timed intervals, an electric device alternately ignites and extinguishes a low flame. This feature allows for lower temperatures than were traditionally available with gas, a handy feature when simmering a broth or a sauce. Finally, look for models with a bridge elements to link burners. These connected grates accommodate standard-sized cookware as well as oversized pots and oblong and rectangular pans. They also allow the cook to easily slide a heavy pot between burners without lifting it.
- Electric coil burners, a common alternative to gas, provide low, even heat. Because these burners heat and cool slowly, temperature adjustment does not occur immediately. As a result, reducing a boil to a simmer, for example, takes longer than with other types of elements. The traditional exposed coil is the least expensive heating system. Coils are reliable and easy to replace if damaged.
- Smoothtop cooktops possess may of the characteristics of electric coil units. They are, in fact, composed of electric coil burners covered by a glass-ceramic surface. Slow to heat and cool, some units retain heat for up to an hour after they are turned off. The flat surfaces are easy to clean but must be handled with special care to prevent scratching and discoloration, and they require flat bottomed pans for cooking.
Most cooktops are 27" to 36" wide, 18" to 22" deep, and available with two to six burners. A number of manufacturers offer extra wide cooktops with modular components such as grills, griddles, and woks - that are interchangable. Jenn-Air, for example, has a modular 48" wide downdraft gas cooktop featuring three bays that can be customized to include from four to six burners. Cooktops are generally finished with porcelain enamel, but glass, stainless steel, and even granite are also popular options. When it comes to color, black and white are common choices; however, surfaces with textured appearances that blend well with contemporary countertops are increasingly in demand.
Built-in ovens are typically 24", 27" or 30" wide, and, with the exception of the budget models, they are all self-cleaning. Separate wall ovens are popular for the flexibility they offer: One can be placed on a wall near the cooktop, beneath a separate cooktop to create a custom range (make sure the oven is designed for undercounter use), or in another area of the kitchen outside the main work zone. Many folks select an extra capacity double wall oven for baking and roasting-handy for holidays as well as for entertaining-and a microwave that's closer to the main dining area for preparing quick snacks and easy reheating.
Most build-in ovens are electric, although gas units are available. Also, some manufacturers produce ovens that can switch between thermal, convection, and microwave cooking settings. Viking, for instance, manufactures a 36" wide commercial style gas oven with convection capability. With a 3.3 cu. ft. capacity, it is one of the largest ovens on the market. Gaggenau offers and extra wide oven with convection capability that allows up to four racks of food to cook evenly. It is also equipped with an infrared grill and a rotisserie. If size matters to you, look for a model with the heating elements built into the walls of the unit, instead of inside the oven cavity. Such a design allows for more cooking space in the oven.
Gaining popularity in the marketplace are warming ovens, which look like drawers and hold prepared foods at a low heat-without drying them out-until the meal is ready to be served. They are available as separate units, perfect for a serving station, or as an accessory to an oven or a range.
Electric controls - another development in ovens - are also simplifying the job of the home chef. The controls are easy to read, allow for more precise temperature regulation, and often come in the form of easy-to-clean glass covered keypads.
You will encounter ranges in four standard styles: freestanding, slide-in, drop-in, and high/low. A freestanding range can stand alone, clear of other appliances or cabinetry. It has finished side panels and rests on the floor. A slide-in range, similar to a freestanding model, has raised edges and rests on the floor but has unfinished side panels in order to fit between to base cabinets. A drop-in range has unfinished sides and is built into a cabinet. This type of unit usually rests on a low wood base. A high/low range features to ovens - one above and one below the cooktop. Often the upper unit is a microwave with a vent hood.
Most ranges are 30" wide, but some manufacturers produce 24", 36", 48" and even 60" wide models. Range cooktops are usually level with or slightly higher than counterops, with the exception of the high/low design. The cooktop on this type of model is slightly lower than standard counter height in order to accomodate upper-oven clearance.
Like their built-in counterparts, ranges are fueled by either gas or electricity. For those who want the best of both worlds, a number of manufacturers now offer dual-fuel ranges - commonly with a gas cooktop and an electric oven.
The popularity of ranges with professional styling and capabilities continues. And for those who don't have the space for one of the oversized ranges that forged the trend, many manufacturers make standard sized 30" wide ranges with commercial features.
Finally, some ranges - and cooktops, too - contain built-in downdraft ventilation units, which vent vaporized grease to the outdoors. If the range or cooktop you select does not include an integrated ventilation unit, you will need to install an overhead ventilation hood.