Walking into an appliance store to pick out your new stove starts with excitement and anticipation. But it can quickly become overwhelming once you see all of the different choices. Doing your research before shopping helps you compare the types of stoves so you can narrow down your shopping to the specific type you want.
Stove Power Source
The most basic way to categorize stove tops is by the power source. The two options are gas and electric. If you're replacing an existing stove, you'll likely go with the same type of power source because it's easiest to replace. If you're building a new home, you have more flexibility because you can have the builder supply the kitchen with your preferred power source for the stove.
If you want to switch from gas to electric or electric to gas in an existing home, you'll need a professional to install the proper power source to your stove area. Electric stoves typically require a 220-volt outlet instead of the standard household 110-volt outlet. You'll need an electrician to install the proper outlet for your electric range if your kitchen doesn't already have one.
Gas Stove Top
Gas stoves use open flames to heat the pans. The flame distributes heat evenly on the bottom of your pots and pans, which helps the food cook evenly. Unlike electric stoves, which take time to heat the burners, gas stoves provide instant intense heat to your pans so you can start cooking immediately.
Many cooks like seeing the intensity of the flame as a guide to the heat setting. The flame grows and shrinks as you adjust the knob, giving you more precise temperature control. Most cookware is compatible with gas stoves. They tend to use less power than electric stoves.
Cleaning is more challenging on a gas stove because of all of the nooks and crannies. The open flames can present a fire hazard. Breezes or drafts from a nearby window can cause the flames to diminish, which can cause uneven cooking at times.
Electric Stove Top
Electric stoves use heating elements to warm up the pans and cook food. They tend to heat up more slowly than gas stoves, and it's more difficult to get precise temperature adjustments. But you can usually reach a lower burner temperature than is possible with a gas stove.
All types of electric stoves tend to work best with flat-bottomed pans. The smooth bottoms give the pans more direct contact with the burner for better heating. Cookware with ridges on the bottom may take more time to heat on an electric stove.
Traditional coil type cooktops use metal spiral heating elements with an electrical wire embedded in them. Electricity passes through the wire and heats the metal coils, which then heats up your pan.
Electric coil burners are usually the cheapest stove option, which helps when you're on a budget. You can use any type of pans with them. The coils are strong and difficult to break, but they're also inexpensive to replace if something goes wrong.
The coils can cause uneven cooking, especially if they're not level and cause the food to collect on one end of the pan. They're also more difficult to clean because of the open spaces under the coils. The drip pans collect some spills, but it takes more work to clean them out than it does with a smooth-top range. Coils also take longer to cool down, which can cause burns if you don't realize the burner is still hot.
A more modern option is the electric smooth-top stove, which features a continuous, smooth top made of a glass and ceramic material. You'll see the outline of the burners printed on the glass, but you won't see the actual heating elements when the stove is turned off. When the burners are on, the heating elements often glow orange below the glass, making them visible.
The smooth, flat surface lets pans sit level on the burner and allows for even heating. A smooth electric stove top is also easier to clean since it doesn't have any cracks or gaps. Many models come with extra features, such as double burners that work as small or large burners and warming zones to hold food at a consistent temperature without overcooking. Another perk for many homeowners is the more modern look of smooth-top stoves.
One potential drawback is the possibility of the glass top breaking, which is a costly repair. The tempered glass top is strong and generally won't break, but it can crack or shatter if you drop something heavy directly on it. Glass-top stoves can also be difficult to clean if food cooks onto the burners, especially sugary foods that caramelize. The glass top is also prone to scratching, which can happen when you use cookware that's rough on the bottom.
Induction stoves use a special type of element below the smooth top to create a magnetic field. Only induction-compatible cookware can cause heat generation, cooking the food directly without heating the surface of the stove. The magnetic field causes the cookware to heat due to the iron in the pans. That means if something other than induction-ready cookware goes on the burner, it won't burn or get hot.
Induction stove tops heat quickly compared to other stove types and allow for more precise temperature adjustments. They also heat and cook your food evenly, which can give you better results and prevent burnt food. Induction stoves are typically the most energy-efficient option, and since they heat the food directly, they don't create lots of extra heat that you get with other cooktops. Like the traditional smooth electric stove, induction stoves have a solid top that's easy to wipe clean.
The main drawback is the cost of induction stoves. They tend to come in at the high end of the stove options. You'll also need induction-compatible cookware, which may mean you need to buy new pots and pans.
If you can't decide which type of stove works best for you, consider a modular cooktop. These custom stoves let you choose a mix of electric, gas and induction burners so you can have the best of every type. You may have the option to incorporate an indoor grill, wok, fryer or griddle on the modular stove top.
These cooktops use different modules with the various tops of cooking surfaces or methods. You choose the options you want, and they go together into a custom cooktop. This option gives you more flexibility in the types of burners you have.
Cooktop vs. Range
Another decision you have to make is choosing between a stand-alone cooktop and a complete range. The cooktop goes on top of your counter and only includes the stove top burners. A range includes a full unit with the oven and cooktop integrated into one.
Much like your stove power source, the cooktop or range decision often depends on your current kitchen setup. It's much easier to replace your existing unit with the same size and type to avoid any construction or changes to your kitchen layout. If you're building your home, you can choose which option you prefer.
Some cooks prefer a separate oven installed in the wall at a taller height for easier access. This arrangement can leave more room for kitchen cabinets. Choosing a range is often the most cost-effective option for getting both stovetop and oven space.