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How to Buy an Oven or a RangeOnce upon a time, life was easy. That's what we tell ourselves anyway, but when it comes to most major home appliance categories, it's true. Long gone are the days of simple choices, and every year sees new advances, new features, and new complications to make an already difficult choice even harder. As great as it might be, does my range really need an automatic potato de-louser? (Yes it does.) It can be a pretty maddening process sorting through all the features and options. Where once upon a time, the choice was just between gas or electric, there is now a truly dizzying array of options. But don't worry. We're here to help.
First, let's clarify some terms.
An oven is the enclosed space used for cooking methods such as baking, broiling, and roasting, employing concentrated heat delivered via heated coils on either side of the interior. These are usually paired with cooktops in ranges, but can be purchased individually in single or double wall oven configurations.
A range is a combined unit including both an oven and a cooktop/rangetop in a single device.
Questions to askThe first thing you need to do before you start is clarify two points: (1) What you need, and (2) How much money you have to spend on it. Let's look at these in a bit more depth.
What are my needs?Ultimately, you need an oven. You need a solid piece of equipment that will work well for a long time, because you don't want to have to replace it in a year. Your cooking needs might extend to needing access to two independent cooking spaces, more burners on top, or even remote operation because you are extraordinarily busy and getting your oven ready taxes your already-strained home time. Do you bake a lot? These are reasonable needs, and you need to consider them. Beyond that, examine what would be nice to have, but isn't strictly necessary; these might included small things like inset clocks and timers, or more exotic options like a self-cleaning feature. Whatever it is, take a little bit and list out what exactly it is you want your new range to accomplish. That will help you sort it all out much easier.
What is my budget?Next, examine how much you want to invest on a new oven. This eliminates vast swathes of the range market, and lets you narrow your focus on real choices without getting distracted by machines you won't be buying. Remember that retailers like Appliances Connection always have some kind of sale or promotion going on, so you may be able to find a top-of-the-line model at cut-rate pricing.
Homes without access to natural gas lines can use liquid propane as a substitute, and most manufacturers offer LP conversion kits to make your oven LP compatible.
Ovens are also available as standalone units. These are generally installed directly into the wall, and are called wall ovens, and are available in single or double configurations, and are also frequently sold with an attached microwave oven.Wall ovens do not come with a cooktop, which will need to be purchased and installed separated.
How big of an oven do you need? There is actually considerable variation on this front, and while most people will never run into an oven too small, as the standard 4.2 cu.ft. is generally enough for everyone, you may find you require a large capacity, or in fact might be able to save money by scaling down. If you're an avid baker who regularly cooks for large groups of friends, you may want to look into a larger size. Here's a rough breakdown on what your needs might be:
- One to two people: 2 to 3 cubic feet
- Three to four people: 3 to 4 cubic feet
- Four or more people: 4+ cubic feet
Freestanding Ranges are standalone units which don't require custom cabinetry or construction. A freestanding range will come with a back guard since they are intended to be operated without the need of being placed against a wall.
Slide-In Ranges have a protruding "lip" on each side of the cooktop, that extends past the width of the oven located below it. In this configuration the cooktop actually rests on the counter with the "lip" being placed on the top of both the left and right counters while the oven is freestanding
Drop-In Ranges are designed to have a cooktop that protrudes past the oven below (like a slide-in range), but the oven below is not freestanding (unlike a slide-in range). It must have custom cabinetry.
Wall Ovens are built into the wall in your kitchen saving you space and all the while being easy to clean. They are available in single and double oven units.
Now that we've gone through the basic types of range, let's go through, define, and discuss the various features you might run across in your search for the perfect cooking solution.
You should expect these; any oven that lacks them is probably a cheap bargain-basement model and you want nothing to do with it.
- Multiple racks - Standard ovens come with two or more cooking racks; this lets you take advantage of all that space in there more efficiently. Multiple rack arrangements are often adjustable, meaning you can remove and add and adjust the levels as needed.
- Lock - An oven lock is especially helpful if you have small children in the house who are prone, as kids are, to get into places they don't belong. An oven is a bad place for a child to be, so locking it is a great safety feature.
- Broil - Broiling is cooking by exposing food to direct radiant heat, such as an open flame, live coals, or an electric coil, at much higher temperatures than roasting.
Extra FeaturesHere is where things start getting interesting. Over the years, developers have invented new and remarkable improvements to the standard hot-box and open flame. These are advances that can really make a range something special.
- Convection Convection ovens attempt to solve the "hot and cold" problem that has always plagued ovens by the use of a fan to blow and circulate the air and heat around the cavity, distributing heat much more evenly than conventional ovens. This means faster, more even cooking across the board, because all the food will be receiving roughly the same heat at the same time. That means your oven is more reliable to get the job to done.
- Steam Ovens/Steamers - A steam oven uses water from an inbuilt reservoir to create a cloud of steam within the oven chamber. The end result is food that hasn't dried out, easy cleaning, the retention of more flavor and color in vegetables and of nutrients in everything. However, steam cannot brown the outer skin of meat, so you can't achieve the crispiness you normally get with a traditional steamer. Some manufacturers, however, use dry heat to brown the skin, and then release the steam for the bulk of the cooking
- Hidden Bake Element = This feature places the heating element beneath the oven floor rather than leaving it exposed. This allows for a seamless, easy-to-clean oven
- Self-Cleaning - Self-cleaning ovens don't wash themselves down with suds, but they do provide a valuable service. They will self-heat their interior to an ultra-high 1000 F, reducing any food particles to ash, which you can sweep out with ease. While additional cleaning product might be required, self-cleaning ovens very rarely require a good scrubdown, making them some of the easiest to maintain and upkeep.
- Sabbath Mode - Observant Jews are prohibited to engage in any creative work on the Sabbath, running from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. To make kitchen maintenance easier for these customer, some companies offer a sabbath mode, which keeps pre-cooked food warm until mealtime. Essentially sabbath mode deactivates automatic safety shutdown, allowing the Sabbath-observant to cook as needed without violating their religious obligations.
- Delayed Start - For the maximum in cooking control and flexibility, the delayed start feature allows you to pre-program cook times and temperatures. With this, you can program the oven to start cooking or begin preheating at a specific time. This is a great feature if you want the oven to be ready right when you get home from work.
- Broiling Drawer - Common in hidden bake configurations, a broil drawer is useful when the heating element isn't exposed, giving you access to broiling functionality without hindering the clean, seamless oven look. These function just like a regular broiler, and need to be monitored just as closely.
- Infrared Cooking - Like induction cooking in the cooktop category, infrared is a wild technology that promises to reinvent cooking by making it more direct. Similar to induction, infrared cooking removes the middle man. In traditional cooking, a heated element transfers heat to the air, which then transfers heat to the food. But infrared skips the air entirely, using a superheated element to emit infrared radiation -- which is entirely safe -- onto the food, heating it directly. This is the same way that the sun on your skin feels warm even when it's cold out; the infrared radiation of the sun is heating your skin itself, not the air.Infrared cooking reduces preheat time by 20%, and cooks dramatically faster, meaning the moisture has less time to cook off, leaving you with juicier food every time.