My husband has been nagging me to buy a new stove. He can’t stand “Mr. Click Click” -- the burner that won’t ignite without help. Every time he reaches for the lighter stashed in the nearby drawer, he says, “You deserve a better stove. When will you buy a new one?” When it breaks down.
Last week, I went back on my word. I wanted a better stove. My 4-year old, $650 Kenmore (on the left) still worked but was looking scruffy from my scrubbing off various kitchen disasters, including soy milk boil-overs. (Mind that pot and no emailing or texting!) The stove endured Asian Dumplings and Asian Tofu, and began showing its battle wounds. I spent several days shopping for a higher-end replacement. Yes, my husband was right: I deserved to step up!
I researched online, queried friends and chatted with salespeople – who were well poised to share their knowledge and move merchandise, given the Black Friday sales that are already underway; it’s no longer a post-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy.
Each time I buy a new stove, I have to get up to speed on the latest models and trends. My 2012 adventure in stove shopping included these basic reminders and revelations:
Buy for Needs, Not for Looks
I approach appliance salespeople by telling them what I do for living and what I need. My hope is that they’ll be frank. This time around, I told them I could go as high as $2000 (yowza!). One salesman said that at that price point, many people buy for status, not for actual cooking. As a result, they have high-performance, showroom quality kitchens that are rarely used. Occasionally, customers don’t take the appliance labels off after installation! Seriously?
Because I do most of my cooking stovetop, my top priorities are burner output and grates. For recipe developing, I need at least 1 regular (9,100 BTU) burner to approximate what the average cook may experience in their kitchen. Wok cooking, a stockpot of pho, and volume cooking are easier with extra heat from a booster burner (15,000+ BTU). I’d visited the test kitchens at Saveur, Gourmet, Bon Appetit and Cooking Light magazines where relatively common stoves are the workhorses. There was no point in getting too fancy.
It didn’t seem outlandish to get at least one booster burner, if not two, in addition to a regular burner. Turns out that mid-range home stoves these days often come with simmer burners (5,000 BTU), which I have little use for. (Shouldn’t all good burners be able to simmer?) Additionally, there is usually an oval shaped griddle burner for pancakes, etc, which I rarely make; my comal for tortillas works fine on two regular round burners. I was stuck with the simmer and griddle burners in the LG stove that I eventually bought. Aside from heating griddles, what can the oval burner do?
BTU output aside, the grates are key to efficiently heating pots and pans. I like relatively hefty ones that’ll conduct heat well, but that can also be scrubbed with relative ease. I slide pots and pans around the stove and continuous grates help. At the store, I often pick up the grates to imagine dealing with them on a regular basis. You can deal with them better in the sink if they’re in 3 sections. I think about clean-up when shopping for kitchen appliances and tools.
Convection vs. Conventional vs. Double Ovens
At the mid-range price levels, many stoves come with convection ovens. I wasn’t interested in convection ovens but fellow authors and test kitchen pros Amanda Hass (Williams Sonoma, OneFamilyOneMeal.com) and Kate Leahy (A16, Preservation Kitchen, SPQR, ModernMealMaker.com) said that they loved convection ovens. However, for recipe testing and development, their default was the conventional oven. Andrew Janjigian (Cook’s Illustrated, WorldLoaf.org) pointed out that you don’t know what kind of convection oven cooks have (there are variations in the technology) so it’s better to stick with a regular oven for recipe development.
Gawd, I was worried that I’d be stuck with a convection oven once I stepped up from my beat up Kenmore. Alas, you can switch between the two, I was told. Fabulous.
Stoves with double ovens are pricier than single oven stoves. What gives? If you have kids and have to cook different things for them, double ovens are useful, I was told. Functionally, the broiler in a double oven tends to be weak, a salesman told me. “Don’t get it for what you do,” he added. Love salesman straight talk.
Stainless Steel Ups and Downs
Kitchen appliances finished in stainless steel look fabulous but they can be hard to keep clean, I’ve been warned for years. I didn’t care because I could never afford them. This time shopping for kitchen appliances, the price for stainless steel didn’t seem as scary. I may have adjusted my brain to be willing to spend more but some stoves on the market are combining stainless with black. The hybrid approach brings the price down. Nice surprise.
Nevertheless, appliance salespeople advised against a stainless cook top like the one above because every scratch becomes noticeable. I don’t really buy that because every mark on my black ceramic coated stove is visible. They’re culinary battle wounds that my stove wears with pride. But will I notice the stainless steel mars faster? The first dent or scratch is always the most painful.
On the other hand, if you go the Full Monty and get a stainless steel cook top, you’re bound to pay more but not get better performance. The lack of bang for my buck made going full stainless steel a moot point. "Stainless steel look" was more my speed.
The stove is my best friend in the kitchen. After I got the skinny on the functional basics and appearances, I dug a little deeper. I realized that I didn’t need to spend $2000 on a stove. The next post delves into stove add-ons and tips for finding a good deal. Stay tuned.
Have savvy stove shopping experiences or tips to share?