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How to Buy a Kitchen Range

Manufacturers are serving up new names and claims as they prod you to spend a little more on your next cooking appliance. But our tests show that when it comes to good cooking, it often pays to pay less. But our tests continue to show that "pro" isn't necessarily a step up in either performance or reliability.

Types of kitchen ranges

Stand-alone ranges are best for kitchens where you're simply replacing a range or where the range is the centerpiece, as with professional-style ranges. There are two types of ranges: electric and gas.

Electric ranges

Most smooth top ranges have four surface elements in three sizes: one or two medium-power elements (about 1,500 to 1,800 watts), a small element (about 1,200 watts), and one or two large ones (about 2,500 watts or more). Some have a fifth element -- typically a 100-watt warming element -- in the center section.

Coil-top electric ranges still offer the most performance for the dollar. But smoothtops, which place the elements beneath a sleek ceramic surface, have displaced coil tops in all but the lowest-priced models. Induction elements use magnetic coils below the ceramic-glass surface to generate heat directly in the pot or pan rather than the cooking surface.

Pros: Coil tops generally heat faster than smoothtops, and they're less expensive as a group. Smoothtops are sleeker and make it easier to wipe up spills because there are no electric coils or gas burners protruding above the surface. Induction cooktops take the cake for quick heating and energy efficiency.

Cons: Coil-top models won't win any styling awards. Induction elements add to the price and require magnetic cookware.

Gas ranges

The capacity of a burner is measured in British thermal units (Btu) per hour. Most gas ranges have four surface burners in three sizes: one or two medium-power burners (about 9,000 Btu), a small burner (about 5,000 Btu.), and one or two large ones (about 15,000 Btu or more). Some have a fifth burner instead of a center section. Gas-on-glass models that mount gas burners above a smooth ceramic surface are an option.

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