Ranges — which integrate both oven and cooktop into one appliance — are big purchases that impact the day-to-day functionality, style, and usability of your kitchen. They vary widely in features — and cost — so it's worth asking yourself how you'll actually use your new appliance, before going out and blowing your budget. Avid bakers, for example, might prioritize a convection oven, while home chefs gleefully eye a gas cooktop. If you're unhappy with your current appliance, or it's just time for a new one, use the guidelines here to get the range of your dreams.
The first thing to consider is what type of heating fuel —usually either natural gas or electricity, but dual-fuel models (with gas burners and an electric oven) are also common. Electric ovens are known for their ability to maintain a consistent, even temperature —making them preferable over gas.
Fast response time, versatility, and ease of control makes gas cooktops a favorite with many serious cooks. If your heart is set on gas, first check whether your home has a gas line, or whether one can be installed, before you make the switch. Gas lines may not be available in your building or area (or worth the cost) so find out first if it's even an option.
There are two main options for electric cooktops: radiant smoothtop, or induction. Radiant smoothtops have supplanted the electric coils that were the standard for decades. The smooth surface is more aesthetically pleasing to most people, cooks more evenly, and is much easier to clean. But the glass-ceramic top is also easier to scratch, so you have to be careful not to drag cookware across it. Plus, most manufacturers recommend against using stoneware, glass, or cast-iron cookware because it could crack or otherwise damage the surface.
Electric induction models use electromagnetic fields to heat iron or steel cookware meaning that, if a magnet doesn't strongly stick to your pots and pans, an induction cooktop won't heat them. Cookware also needs to be perfectly flat on the bottom for even heat induction. The tradeoff for the cookware limitations are speed, precision, and energy efficiency. Since only the pan is being heated, not the cooking surface, the risk of burns from a hot stovetop are eliminated, and the smooth surface is easy to clean. Like the radiant-heat version, however, the glass-ceramic surface is prone to scratches if mistreated.
If you want the least expensive range option, and aren't deterred by uneven cooking, or slow heating and cooling of burners, electric coil ranges are still available. The lack of open flame means that they're less likely to cause a kitchen fire, and you don't have to worry about gas leaks with this old standby.
Freestanding vs. Slide-In
This is a rather confusing distinction, because technically, both range types slide into the space between cabinets. But a freestanding model has finished sides, and a backguard with oven controls on it. They also tend to be less expensive. A slide-in range has unfinished sides, oven controls on the front, and a top designed to overlap the counters that surround it. Slide-in ranges look more built-in, don't block the backsplash, and are easier to keep clean because there are no gaps between the range and the cabinets where crumbs and drips can accumulate.
Most ranges are 30 inches wide, but pro-style ranges are also available in 36-inch (or wider) models. Some of the larger luxury pro-style models look spectacular, but come with a much higher price tag, and don't necessarily work better than smaller, less expensive models. But the extra burners, larger oven capacity, or looks might be enough to justify the cost for you.
You might think that because they come in a standard-sized exterior package, the oven space on a range would be pretty much the same between models. But usable oven space actually varies pretty widely, by up to a factor of two. If you're an avid baker or entertainer, be sure to compare the oven capacity across models you're considering. In general, for one to two people, you'll want two to three cubic feet, for three to four people, you'll want three to four cubic feet, and for four or more people, you'll want at least four cubic feet.
If you've ever run into the dilemma of needing to heat two dishes at two different temperatures at the same time, then you might want to consider a double oven. Some split the space between two-equal-sized ovens, while others have one larger and one smaller space. I have the latter, and it's fantastic. If I ever need to cook three racks-worth of anything at the same temperature, I can still do so, but the flexibility of the two different spaces is invaluable. Also, if you're just using one of the ovens, it heats up faster and is more energy-efficient than a larger oven. Two small caveats that don't bother me, but might give you pause: There's no storage or warmer drawer, and if you're not a vegetarian like me, you might need a full-sized oven for roasting something like a giant turkey.
Convection ovens use fans for circulating hot air, cooking food more quickly and evenly. Some people swear by them, but they do require recipe conversions for shorter cooking times and lower temperatures, and you don't want to use them for everything. Want guidelines on what types of dishes are best suited for convection use?
Griddles that fit over oval burners are a feature usually available on gas cooktops, and come in very handy if you're fond of a pancake breakfast. Some smoothtop electric ranges also have extended elements that will fit a griddle pan, too.
For safety, look for warning lights on the element of a smooth cooktop to alert you to a hot surface on a burner-by-burner basis. On models with front controls, a control-lock function can also be valuable for people with small children.
Want to get started? Here are some of our favorite range picks, arranged by kitchen style.