2000s Archive

Living Kitchens

Part 4

Originally Published August 2000
Heart of the home: Our series really heats up here—the stove is where the action is, and we’ve got everything you need to know about cooktops, ovens, and ventilation.

It is the central prop in the creation of the sights, aromas, and sounds of a thousand memories in the making. The sass of caramelizing shallots, the fragrance of chocolate melting into cookie dough, the acid-sweet piquancy of tomato sauce bubbling with oregano—all combine to make the stove the emotional core of a kitchen, the modern-day hearth.

Stoves generate not only heat but heated debates. Gas-stove lovers dismiss fans of electric cooking. For each cook who swears by halogen cooktops, another swears at them. Devoted convection users sneer at those who cling to conventional ovens. And microwave fanatics may be just that.

Yet the first thing to consider before choosing a new stove is where to put it. The cooktop should be next to or just a step away from the kitchen’s main preparation area. The oven, on the other hand, can be outside prime kitchen real estate—after all, few oven procedures are tethered to the sink. This raises another key question: Do you want a range, or a cooktop and wall oven(s)?

Separating the two makes sense. It gives you a better shot at the features you want in each. Plus, why labor over an oven’s heat on a summer day? And wouldn’t you rather open a waist-height oven door to fill a water bath for a crème caramel than lean into an oven around your knees, standing in your own shadow? Sometimes you can even—surprise—save money with separate units.

As with all appliances, decide which features you want. Then seek out the brands that offer them (with a minimum of redundant doodads that can go haywire). Limit yourself to makers known to offer good service in your area. If you plan to have your kitchen long-term, invest in the best you can afford, favoring heavy-gauge stainless-steel and porcelain-enamel finishes versus plastic and aluminum.

Look for beefy, pull-off knobs that can be popped in the dishwasher; sturdy, easy-to-disassemble (and reassemble) burner units; plain oven handles; and straightforward latches. Is the drip pan easy to get at? Sized for your sink? Can the oven-rack supports be removed for cleaning if a toffee pudding overwhelms the self-cleaning system? However traditional your kitchen, a sleek, smooth stove looks a lot less daunting after you’ve fried a pound of bacon than its grease-veiled baroque cousin.

Subscribe to Gourmet