Hopelessly adrift on a sea of gas-range choices
June 19, 2014 10:09 AM   Subscribe

I desperately want to swap out my electric range for a gas range. I want one that will serve my long-term needs and am totally bewildered by the variety of choices.

I'm looking to get a new gas range (I've run out a gas line to the location and everything), and have been poking around at Lowe's online and finding the range of offerings bewildering. I've filtered on my "absolute necessities" and I'm still faced, even within a single brand, with several different models with slightly different model numbers and widely different prices and surprisingly small featureset variations. I need to figure out (a) what's important, (b) how these things differ in ways that don't show up on a product-spec grid, and (c) which brands to trust.

I do a fair bit of mostly low-ambition cooking -- stir-fries in a flat-bottomed wok, stews and pasta sauces on the range, and cookies, brownies, biscuits, and bread in the oven. But someday I may grow my skills and I'd like a range that can meet the likely demands of a home cook. I'd like to keep it under $1500, but price is not the deciding factor here.

So, the things I figure are things I must have:
  • Convection: I hear it really significantly improves baking quality.
  • Five burners: Seems pretty standard on the mid-to-righ range, and most of them have nice variety in what the burners do.
  • Self-clean: Preferably an effective one. I've heard the steam-clean doesn't cut it.
The things I would like but am dubious about paying a real upcharge for:
  • Integrated griddle: Seems potentially useful.
  • Keep warm setting: Dunno how useful these are vs. just using very low heat.
  • Rollout racks: Nice, but that's why God invented oven mitts and push-pull sticks.
The things I'm not sure I understand the importance of at all:
  • Different convection modes: dual fan? European elements? How much of a difference do these make?
  • Automatic convection temperature adjustment: some seem to say this actually makes ovens work worse, lowering the temperature and not actually compensating with quicker cooking.
And mostly I'm just confused in general, because spec grids will only tell you so much. The "names" of, for instance, a Samsung NX58H5650WS and NX58H5600SS are exactly identical, and the model numbers are nearly identical, but the specs are different. Are these two items likely to have identical build quality? Are model numbers at all decipherable? And which brands are trustworthy, and what non-spec-sheet differences should I watch out for? Basically, I'm at sea but would like to get something durable and effective.
posted by jackbishop to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
This seems like a job for Consumer Reports. (You can get a one-month subscription for $6.95 or you might be able to get it through your local library.) They have specific recs for currently available ranges and you can look at historical information on brands as well. That said, most of the gas ranges they recommended in the article I linked are above your $1500 mark (though their highly-recommended best buy is much less).

Honestly though any half-decent range is going to accommodate a lot of growth in your cooking skills. I love this article about Mark Bittman's Bad Kitchen.
posted by mskyle at 10:20 AM on June 19, 2014

The good news is that mechanically, there just isn't a whole lot that can go wrong on a gas range.

The bad news is that more of them have some fancy electronics, which are of unknown provenance and durability. But, they are mostly pretty simple, as well, so should be fairly reliable as well.

I bought this range last night at Home Depot. It's a good price, has great reviews and - this is the part the mattered most to me - the grills don't rattle, like at all. rattling grills are sooooooooo irritating!

The other thing you should be aware of is venting - if you do not have a range hood that vents outside, it may not be code for you to install a gas range without it. full International Fuel Gas Code here, section 501.8 is the relevant part.

You need a vented hood if the total BTU output of the range and stove exceeds 20 BTU per cubic foot of space in the kitchen and any attached area that cannot be closed off - any area that does not have a door between it and the kitchen.

This range has a max output of 152,500 BTU, and so you need an open space of of at least 7625 cubic feet (762 sq feet with 10 foot ceilings, for example) to be up to code without a vented hood.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:44 AM on June 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's cheaper to just get a griddle like this.
posted by mareli at 10:53 AM on June 19, 2014

Our stove has the optional griddle piece where you switch out the central grate. I've tried using it a couple of times and don't think it's worth paying extra for - we've found it hard to clean and can be difficult to use (tried doing burgers and pancakes at separate times and would rather just use a pan).
posted by brilliantine at 10:53 AM on June 19, 2014

Slightly off topic, but induction ranges are a possibility as well. You need to make sure your cookware is compatible, but their performance is generally very good. You'd still be able to use any stainless or cast iron pans, and it would let you avoid the venting issue.
posted by Ham Snadwich at 10:56 AM on June 19, 2014

This is probably throwing fuel on your indecision fire, but have you considered a dual-fuel range? Gas cooktop, electric oven. An electric oven provides much more even heat than gas, which is much better for baking. This was most important to me. I have a Jennair range and I love it. Nthing the Consumer Reports subscription. It was invaluable to me when I had to research appliances for our kitchen remodel. Good luck and happy cooking!
posted by killy willy at 11:18 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Consumersearch.com always provides a good buying guide for whatever you're looking to purchase, plus they read and integrate all the various product reviews out there so you don't have to. It looks like their article on gas ranges was just updated.
posted by DrGail at 12:08 PM on June 19, 2014

The integrated griddle is pointless, just get a heavy stove top one and you should be fine. Keep warm setting? Yeah, just turn it down. Roll out racks? If they're free...maybe.

Traditional self-cleaning is wonderful. Do it in the winter though because it will heat up your kitchen like no-body's business!

I liked my convection oven, and I used gas for burners and for the oven. Convection decreases cooking time and really makes a difference in baked goods.

Whirlpool/Kitchenaid have always been good, reliable brands for me. General Electric, not so much. Nor has GE to be honest.

I tend to get the cheapest one that ticks all of my boxes, in brands I like.

If you're getting stainless, you want to stay in the same brand family so there's not a noticable difference. Ditto Almond.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:29 PM on June 19, 2014

You don't mention if you're getting a gas range or a dual fuel range. If you're not sure, I would suggest you get a dual fuel range, especially if you don't have a 120V plug handy. Electric ovens are better, from what I understand, and use your existing 240V plug.

Some suggested induction. Having used both (and since you already ran gas), do NOT get induction. It's a really cool technology and good for some people, but it's NOT better than gas (unless you're scared of fire or something). It's expensive. It needs special cookware (so you can't use a wok or the stovetop espresso maker on it). And in general, while it was really cool, I don't think it actually gave the cooking experience we wanted.

convection: Yes. It's faster and cooks more evenly. Also, most modern recipes assume you have a convection oven.

5 burners: Not super useful. There just isn't that much space. If you need 5 burners, you're probably cooking a big meal for lots of people, which means your other 4 pots are going to take up the entire stove top.

Self-clean: Again, not that useful for us. The self-clean is really destructive to the oven, and we found that there were other ways to keep it clean (by hand) that would help the oven stay alive.

Integrated griddle: Totally gimmicky. Get a $20 cast iron Lodge griddle, and you'll get all the functionality and none of the funkiness.

Keep warm setting: It's nice if you make bread/yogurt. Otherwise, you can just keep it in the oven without the keep warm, since the oven is already very well insulated. Heat up the oven briefly, then turn it off, then put the "keep warm" item in the oven.

Rollout racks: This is actually something I would pay extra for, if I have to choose something. It makes cooking heavy and delicate things much easier without burning myself. But maybe I'm just weak/clumsy. Cooking turkeys and taking out souffles are much easier with rollout racks.

Other things to consider: BTU per cook top, and how easy it is to (hand clean). Also, if you care about the timer, make sure that it is a noise that is loud enough that you like.

We ended up buying a $550 used Kenmore dual fuel range (white to match our dishwasher) and it was wonderful. We might upgrade, one day, but probably not until it's broken or we're doing an entire kitchen reno.
posted by ethidda at 12:40 PM on June 19, 2014

Obligatory appliance professional checking in! I work for GE, let the record show.

The "names" of, for instance, a Samsung NX58H5650WS and NX58H5600SS are exactly identical, and the model numbers are nearly identical, but the specs are different. Are these two items likely to have identical build quality? Are model numbers at all decipherable?

I do not work for Samsung, but I can confirm the following differences based on their website:

NX58H5650WS: True Convection cooking in the oven, which usually means that--in addition to the fan to circulate the hot air--there's a heating element surrounding the fan as well for better heat distribution; a grate designed to support grills and woks; and more powerful gas burners, maxing out at 18K BTUs.

NX58H5600SS: regular convection oven and a stovetop griddle.

Convection cooking typically means a fan circulates hot air so your baked goods are evenly cooked and browned. That circulation often results in shorter cooking times and/or with a lower temperature, and you don't have to switch the food from shelf to shelf, rotate the food, or turn the food when baking. Convection roasting provides the same results as using a rotisserie.

Are model numbers at all decipherable?

Well, yeah, but if I get into the details, we'll be here all day. In general, though, the beginning of a model # indicates the type of product (stove vs. refrigerator vs. clothes washer, etc.), the middle indicates the "features package", and the end indicates color. Generally not very helpful to a consumer unless you know for sure that you have to have a certain feature.

Here's what I suggest:

1) Consumer Reports has already been recommended, but I also suggest you take a look at the Good Housekeeping reviews.

2) Sealed burners and self-cleaning. Makes clean-up a breeze. Also: self-clean oven racks--made so you can leave them in the oven during the self-clean cycle, and they won't warp or discolor.

3) I don't like a center burner unless it's oval, for those really big pots. If you're not prone to cooking for a couple of dozen people at a time like I am occasionally, skip it.

4) Speaking of big pots: continuous grates. Getting pretty standard on most mid- to upper-end ranges these days. Makes it a breeze to move pots full of food.

5) I for one HAVE to have a light in my oven.

I own this model from five years ago, and love it dearly, but my favorites from our current gas range stainless line-up are these models here, are this one and this one.

Good luck!
posted by magstheaxe at 1:16 PM on June 19, 2014

Thanks all for the input! I reckon I might splurge on a dual-fuel after all: the GE Profile (Model P2B940SEFSS) looks like it has a whole bunch of solid features and at a price point I can swallow.

Oddly, even with the good deal I can currently get from Lowe's (10% cashback in June on Chase Freedom, bringing it down to $1800 effective), it seems like there's an even better deal through Amazon (3% cash back on Amazon card brings it down to $1550 effective). I guess the question is whether it's worth $250 to get it through a more trustworthy retailer that can also do the install (for a fee, of course).
posted by jackbishop at 1:02 PM on June 22, 2014

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