What the best range has
- Reliable cooktop performance. The burners on any range should be able to accurately and consistently reach a variety of temperatures, from high heat (for boiling, sautéing, stir frying) and low heat (simmering, melting) duties.
- A variety of burner sizes. A range should have a both small and large burners to accommodate pots and pans of different sizes, from larger, 12-inch skillets (which we cover in a separate report), to the tiniest butter warmer. A fifth, oval burner, or a bridge element that combines two smaller elements, to accommodate a griddle or other large pans is a nice extra. Some ranges have a low-power element to act as a warming area -- typically in place of a warming drawer.
- Consistent oven temperatures. Some settings, like convection, keep-warm, rapid preheat, etc., can help overall oven performance, but accurate and consistent temperatures are most important for baking.
- A good capacity. Total oven capacity should take into consideration the size of your family and the amount of cooking and baking you do on a regular basis. Most double ovens have two smaller capacity ovens, which is great if you need the flexibility of cooking different foods at different temperatures, but that might not accommodate the largest food items, like a big turkey. Samsung offers a Duo Flex system that lets cooks choose between one large oven or two smaller ones depending on the cooking tasks at hand.
- Flexible space options. Experts say an oven with five or more rack positions is best to bake multiple items of various sizes.
- Convenient features. The sky is the limit when it comes to features. Some of the most popular and user-friendly features include a confection mode, self-cleaning cycle, warming or baking drawers, sealed burners (on gas cooktops), indicator lights, audible timers and control lockout.
Know before you go
Freestanding or slide-in? Ranges can be are either freestanding or slide-in. Freestanding ranges allow for the most flexible installation. They have finished sides and generally -- but not always -- a backsplash with controls. Slide-in ranges provide a seamless, built-in look. Slide-in ranges have unfinished sides and are a bit wider on top so that they slide over kitchen countertops. This feature keeps spills and crumbs from falling into the gap between the range and the counters. There is no backsplash on these models, which allows owners to showcase a tile or other custom kitchen backsplash -- or to install the range in a center island. Some freestanding ranges are styled like slide ins, with front controls and no backsplash, but lack the top overhang. These can be a consideration if you want the look of a built-in, but your counters and cabinetry are designed to fit a freestanding model.
Where will you put your range? This is an important consideration in order to know the size and style of range that is best. Will it fit into an existing opening between countertops? Will it slide onto or into existing cabinetry? Most ranges measure 30 inches wide, although it's possible to find compact models as narrow as 24 inches and professional and designer ranges that measure 36 inches or larger.
Measure your space. If you need or want anything other than a standard-size freestanding range it's important to measure the height, width and depth of your space to make sure your new range fits properly.
Check your hookups. If you plan on purchasing a gas or dual-fuel range, you'll need to make sure you have a gas line in your kitchen. Gas stoves can run on either natural gas or liquid propane. For an electric range, make sure that the circuit it will use has sufficient capacity; if not, plan to budget for an electrician to handle any needed upgrades.
Do you want a convection oven? Convection ovens use a fan to circulate air within the oven, cutting cooking time and heating food more evenly. They've become standard now on all but the least expensive gas and electric ranges.
Is induction cooking for you? Induction stove tops work by heating the cookware rather than its surface. In addition to providing faster performance, that's a great safety feature for households with small children. However, induction cooking requires the use of either cast iron, stainless, or enameled steel cookware, which we cover in a separate report. The ovens in induction ranges are identical to the ones in standard electric ranges and offer conventional and, usually, convection cooking.
What's to come
Ranges, like just about everything else these days, are getting "smarter." Some high-end models already come with programs that allow users to store their favorite settings. Others enable owners to communicate with their range via their smartphone. Although the features aren't too advanced -- they don't yet allow for much more than monitoring of oven temperatures and timers -- they will likely become more so as technology continues to advance.