Stoves: Electric coils vs. Electric flat top?
January 13, 2010 1:18 PM   Subscribe

Stoves: Electric coils vs. Electric flat top? Cost of propane tank installation?

We need a new stove and we're used to cooking on electric coils but the stores only stock electric flat tops (special order is no problem). We told the sales people that we've seen people really struggle to keep a flat top clean and their response was to suggest we keep a thin film of Ceremabryte on the surface at all times. To us, this felt like we'd be cooking with chemicals. The sales people also scared us with 'nobody will buy your house with a stove with coils'.

1. keeping it clean (including the edges between the counter and stove)
2. chemicals
3. selling the house (~5 years away)

Not of concern:
1. cost (they're roughly the same - coils are actually a bit more)

PS We don't get natural gas in our neighborhood. Has anybody installed a propane tank? How much does installation cost (assume we have an easily accessible place in the backyard that is close to the stove as well.)
posted by maulik to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I have a flat top and it is difficult to keep it looking brand new, for sure. However, I never liked coils, either. Gas is the way to go but, like you, there is none available in our area.

If appearance is your main cleanliness issue, I would just buy the darkest colored flat top you can find. Despite my best efforts, after four years ours has a few small black spots that seem to be permanent discolorations at this point. This is less of a big deal to me than coils, though, which seem unsightly on their own and collect grime underneath. At least the flat top is easy to wipe down.
posted by something something at 1:30 PM on January 13, 2010

We built our house 7 years ago and installed a buried, 1000 gallon LP tank as natural gas is not available at our location out here on the prairie. It runs our boiler (for hot water and in-floor radiant system) as well as cooktop and outdoor grill. It's a simple process: contractor digs whole, places tank in ground, runs the gas line to the house, and backfills the hole properly (sand/gravel/drainage if necessary). Costs will vary widely depending on local permit requirements, excavation rates, etc..., so check around your area. If you can tell them how far the gas line needs to be run from tank to house entry point, you can probably get a pretty rough estimate of the installation costs without much effort.


1. As a general rule, LP gas lines are not located by OneCall, so note the location of the buried gas line from tank to house very carefully (photos/measurements) for future reference; and,
2. Buy your tank outright. This allows you to move from supplier to supplier as prices change.
3. Buy or forward contract an entire season's supply in advance if you can and tell supplier to put you on auto-refill so you don't have to watch the supply gauge yourself. My local LP deliveryman is so good I haven't look at the gauge for about 5 years now.
4. While you're hooking up the kitchen stove/cooktop for LP, have the plumber run a line to your outdoor grill. Free yourself forever from suddenly running out of gas from the little white tank while the steaks are cooking.

Personally, I would never ever go back to cooking over electric.
posted by webhund at 1:32 PM on January 13, 2010

We've had an electric flat top for many years now. Personally, I find the flat top to be pretty easy to keep clean. Certainly, the process of cleaning it is far simpler than keeping drip pans under coils clean.
Two items are indispensable for keeping a flat top clean:

Bar Keeper's Friend Cooktop Cleaner (a liquid/cream cleaner specifically for flat tops)
A blade scraper. This is great for removing dried-on drips and glops of sauces, sugars and whatnot.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:33 PM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you don't have many aluminum pans, you could go for an inductive cooktop, which some argue work even better than gas. It heats the pan itself using magnetic induction, but the pan has to be magnetic (like copper, cast-iron, steel. Anything a fridge magnet will stick to). The pan heats up faster, and less heat goes into the air, saving you energy twice (less electricity to heat pan, and less electricity to cool down the room in the summer).

I like the idea of a buried liquid propane tank, but it sounds expensive. Maybe an induction cooktop could be a compromise?
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:39 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

A minor point re: induction cooktops. Copper or stainless steel won't work on them. As mccarty.tim said "...anything a fridge magnet will stick to."
posted by Floydd at 1:45 PM on January 13, 2010

Let me drop straight down to the issue of propane. We have moved into two homes during the past ten years and lived in one for 13 years before that, all with propane stoves. In the first two homes we had Jenn-Aire Dual Fuel stoves and in this one we have a Frigideaire Professional Series Dual Fuel stove. In each case we had to install a propane tank, plumbing and connections for the stoves. In the case of the Jenn-Aires we also had to install an outside vent under the house for the downdraft vent. (This eliminated the need for an overhead vent hood.) I highly recommend installing propane if you intend to stay in your home for at least five years. Selling each of our homes with these stoves actually added value and were featured by the sales agents as upgrades. Lastly, my wife loves the infinite variability of the flame on each burner and the ability to instantly change temperatures while cooking.

Propane installation varies by the region in which you live. If you can lease a tank, it will cost you a minor set-up fee +/- $100 and an annual rental fee that varies by the size of the tank, maybe $50 to $75. If you buy your own tank, it will cost something around $1 per gallon of tank size and you will have to pay for installation only. Generally, the propane company will plumb their line from the tank to the point where it enters the house. They require that a licensed plumber install any plumbing from the point where it enters the house to the point of use in the kitchen. The plumber's work has to be done and, if you live in such a jurisdiction, inspected, before the propane company will connect. I suggest, if the stove is the only appliance on propane, that you get at least a 200 gallon tank. That way you will only have to fill it up roughly once a year. If you are like us, you will get a 350 gallon tank and not worry for a couple of years at a time. If you like to use a propane grill out on the back patio, have the plumber tee off of the line where it enters the house and leave you a way to connect the BBQ later. We use our BBQ at least once a week and it is handy not to have to fiddle around with refillable bottles.
posted by Old Geezer at 1:46 PM on January 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Follow-up to Floydd's follow-up to mccarty.tim: Copper won't work, but stainless steel will. Steel is just iron with a bit of carbon.
posted by echo target at 2:00 PM on January 13, 2010

We just installed a new kitchen in a rural house that was too remote for gas lines, so our choices were similar: electric or propane.

Propane never stood a chance. We opted for an induction cooktop, and after 18 months of using it, I can say that it absolutely, without any doubt, works better than the professional Viking gas stove we have in the city. The heat is more even and consistent, easier to control, and much more efficient. Its only downside is that it doesn't allow for direct-flame charring, as a propane or gas stove would. But for us at least, we tackle those tasks with our grill.
posted by yellowcandy at 2:02 PM on January 13, 2010

Gas is definitely best, and as mentioned, installation isn't that expensive. Something you may not have thought about with flat-top - it can be difficult to tell when a flat top is or has been on. The pain of putting my hand directly on a hot flat-top a few years ago has ensured I will never use one in my home. Interestingly, the flesh burned off onto the top with a perfect handprint. Shudder.
posted by smoke at 2:23 PM on January 13, 2010

We have an electric flat-top, and generally like it; it's somewhat annoying to keep clean but I just use Soft Scrub on it once every couple weeks and it's fine. Our flat-top has a small red light built into it (right on the top, between and slightly in front of the front two burners) that stays on until the heat from it has dissipated to the point where it's safe to touch, as well.
posted by pdb at 2:58 PM on January 13, 2010

We've moved 3 times in the last 3 years, and had to buy stoves each time. The thing that keeps me buying coils is the cost of replacing the flat tops when they crack. That's quite pricey. If a coil ever goes (and I've only had that happen once in 15 years) it's a very small fraction of the replacement and installation cost for the flat tops. I've heard of several pricey flat top surface replacements among my small group of friends and family.

As well, once they crack, they have to be replaced; no mucking about - it's not safe to leave the surface chipped or damaged. This AskMe talks about cracked tops.

I also don't like the discolouration that inevitably seems to happen with flat tops. That to me pretty much nullifies the visual bonus of owning a flat top.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 3:03 PM on January 13, 2010

Something you may not have thought about with flat-top - it can be difficult to tell when a flat top is or has been on...

Yeah. There IS that. Most flat tops will have a little warning lamp that comes on when one of the burners is hot. Most, though, won't tell you WHICH burner is/was on. I just recently did the hand-plant on a still hot burner on our flat top. OW!

One other down-side to a flat top is that, psychologically, it looks like a counter top. It's real easy to absentmindedly plop stuff on the cooktop. Like that big bag of groceries.

For the record, my preference has always been gas. But, it wasn't available when I had to replace the stove in this house. Thus, the electric flat-top.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:04 PM on January 13, 2010

We recently moved into a house with an electric flat top, and I love it. I find it so much easier to clean than the coils.
posted by Ruki at 3:05 PM on January 13, 2010

I have had them all--propane, natural gas, electric coil, electric flat top, and now induction, and I can say without any doubt that induction is the best by miles and miles and miles. I adore mine and will never go back to any other type of cooktop.

Also, you needn't worry about the use of Ceramabryte or similar "white paste" cooktop cleaners. I'm extraordinarily sensitive to cleaning products and these don't bother me at all. They're completely odorless.

Get induction!
posted by HotToddy at 3:56 PM on January 13, 2010

wow! thank you for all the advice! I think we will look into propane installation as well as induction. Meanwhile, I'll try BarKeeper's and SoftScrub as well.
posted by maulik at 4:16 PM on January 13, 2010

Nthing induction. I went from a gas stove to an induction cook top. The reaction time to changes in heat settings is just as fast, it's tons more efficient & you can boil water in 60-90 seconds. I am in awe of this incredible cooking machine!

Added bonus: you can use silpat pads under the pans to prevent scratches & catch spillage.
posted by torquemaniac at 5:19 PM on January 13, 2010

I'm not totally wild for our flat top. It cooks well but I've chipped an edge with a cast iron pot and ours has a rougher texture to indicate the cooking areas and this rougher finish picks up marks from aluminum pots. I'd only consider getting another if it had a really subtle cooktop pattern.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:59 PM on January 13, 2010

Propane tank installation, and plumbing a house for fuel gas is rather constrained, compared to getting an electric range, and I would guess at least 4 times the cost of buying the nice electric stovetop.

You'll have to get building permits for the propane tank placement and piping to the house, and a permit to plumb the house for gas. You will need at least 2 inspections, one for the trenching between the tank and the house, and one for the pressure test for the house plumbing. There are setback requirements for the tank placement from the property line, and from the house, and there are bollards that are required for the tank if it is subject to impact from cars. As other posters have mentioned, be sure to plan for any future usage of propane, and make sure that your piping can deliver the extra gas (the planning is more expensive than the piping in this case).

You'll want to get permits if you're going to sell your house. Insurance companies and new buyers are fussy about making sure that flammable gasses are plumbed right :-)

You'll have to hire someone to bring the tank, which must be bolted to the slab or interred, and for someone to dig the trench. You'll need a plumber for the outdoor and indoor plumbing. Then you get the inspections and sign-off by the local controlling authority. After you've gotten your tank flushed and filled, you'll need a technician to test the regulators, to make sure that they operate properly on the first connection to the tank (using a manometer), who will probably flush the lines and do the final connection between your new fuel gas plumbing and your stove. The propane will cost about the same as gasoline, per gallon, although we have found that it is economical and convenient to cook with.

You're getting electric, I predict :-)
posted by the Real Dan at 12:12 PM on January 14, 2010

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