What Is the Best Cooktop?

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When choosing a cooktop for your kitchen, your options are no longer limited to gas and standard electric. Electric and gas cooktops are still readily available, of course, but you now have the option of an induction cooktop too. While this is likely the first decision you make, many more will follow as you narrow the field and find the best cooktop for you and your family.

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The best cooktop is one that fits your particular budget and cooking style. If you want to go top of the line, choose a brand-name induction cooktop with easy-to-clean electronic controls and a pan sensor that will turn off the cooktop if you forget.

Cooktop vs. Range

Before buying a cooktop, make sure that doing so is the best option for you. Essentially a cooktop with an oven built in underneath it, a range enables you to buy one appliance instead of two. This saves space in a small kitchen and is less expensive than buying a cooktop and a wall oven, which are two separate appliances. Unless you have room at the end of your kitchen countertop, a range means leaving a gap in your counters and the cabinets beneath them that is large enough to accommodate the appliance.

A cooktop works a bit differently in that there can be kitchen cabinets beneath the appliance. You will, however, need to cut a hole in your countertop to install it in much the same way that you would install a drop-in sink. You will have much greater flexibility in your kitchen design with a cooktop, however, and you can even install it in your kitchen island if you like.

Another benefit of the cooktop and wall oven combination is that it improves the workflow when more than one person is in the kitchen. It also allows you to buy your appliance in different sizes if, for example, you want an oven that is wider than your cooktop.

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The Gas Cooktop

Typically fed by a natural gas line, gas cooktops are quite popular among home chefs. Gas cooks quickly and evenly while giving you superior control over cooking temperatures. If your home doesn't have natural gas but your street does, you can have your gas company run a line to your home for a fee. You can also opt for a model that runs on propane and get a tank installed in your yard, but you will need to check local zoning laws and requirements first.

Many gas cooktops and stoves now feature double burners with a small ring in the middle and a larger one on the outside of the burner. The smaller ring is perfect for simmering food, and the outer ring is excellent for quickly boiling water or pan searing.

When using gas, you actually sit your pot on top of a metal trivet above the actual burner. Look for a gas cooktop with a continuous trivet that covers the entire surface rather than with a separate trivet for each burner. A continuous trivet lets you easily slide pots and pans from one burner to the next. Choose basic cast iron grates rather than enamel ones, as bare cast iron lasts longer.

Whenever you install a gas appliance in your home, install carbon monoxide detectors as well.

The Electric Cooktop

Gas is not an option for every homeowner, and some people simply prefer electric. If you want an electric cooktop, you can now choose between a traditional style with coiled burners or a smooth, glass-top stove. Both cost about the same and use electricity to heat their burners. Some people assume that an electric cooktop with coiled burners is old, so keep this in mind if you think you might sell your house in the foreseeable future.

Glass-top cooktops are much easier to clean, but you will have to actually clean them. If you have a nasty boil-over on a traditional cooktop, you can simply throw away and replace the drip pan under the burner. This is not an option with glass-top cooktops.

Note, too, that you do need to exercise some caution when using glass-top cooktops. Sliding pots and pans across the surface can cause permanent scratches and so can abrasive cleaners.

The Induction Cooktop

Induction cooktops look very similar to their electric glass-top counterparts, but they function differently. An induction cooktop uses electricity to create an electromagnetic field rather than heating a burner. This field reacts with certain pots and pans, heating the entire pan to cook food quickly and evenly.

This method of cooking is faster than gas and electric, and it doesn't create hot spots in your pots and pans. It doesn't work with just any cookware, though. Only pots and pans capable of attracting a magnet will work with an induction cooktop. Despite the need for specific cookware, many homeowners love the safety of induction cooking. Because they heat the pan and not a burner, induction cooktops are cool to the touch within seconds of being turned off, which can help keep curious little hands safe from burns.

The most common complaint about induction cooktops is a lack of visual cues. You can tell when a gas cooktop is on because you see the flames. The burners on electric cooktops tend to turn red when they are hot, offering another visual cue. If you want a visual cue that your cooktop is on at a glance, choose a model with an indicator light on the display or one that illuminates the "burners" when they are on.

People with pacemakers should avoid using induction cooktops so the electromagnetic field doesn't interfere with their medical device.

Choosing an Efficient Cooktop Option

Saving money on your gas or electric bill means opting for an energy-efficient cooktop. According to appliance dealer P.C. Richard & Son, only 65 to 70 percent of the heat produced by an electric cooktop goes into heating the food. Gas cooktops faresworse, with only 40 to 55 percent of the heat going to the food. They claim that induction cooking is the fastest and most efficient, directing 90 percent of the heat generated into the food.

Things aren't quite that simple, however. If your efficiency concern is more about the overall environment rather than your utility bill, you may want to opt for gas. Electricity loses about 70 percent of its energy by the time it travels from the generator to your home, making it less energy efficient overall. Unlike many other appliances, cooktops are not given an EnergyGuide label. You will have to check the appliance manufacturer's website directly for energy-efficiency information.

Downdraft vs. Vent Hoods

Sometimes, the foods we cook (or burn) leave behind unwelcome odors. The usual solution to this problem is to install a vent hood over the cooktop. Vent hoods work well, but they can be tricky to install depending on where you want your cooktop. They can also be unsightly. If, for example, you are putting your cooktop in a kitchen island, you may not want a vent hood clogging up the space above it.

If that is the case in your kitchen, consider a cooktop with a downdraft feature. These cooktops have built-in vents between the burners to carry odors down and away rather than up and out. You will need to install some ductwork under your floor and run it to the outside of your home, but the finished product will be less intrusive in your kitchen.

A Few Nice Extras

There is absolutely nothing wrong with choosing a basic cooktop that will get the job done, but there are a few extra features that can be nice to have when your space and budget allow. One is extra burners. Basic cooktops usually come with four burners, but you can get one with five or six if you have the space. Some also have a built-in griddle.

If you have small children at home, consider buying a cooktop with a control lockout. This will keep little fingers and accidental bumps from turning on your cooktop when it shouldn't be on. You may also wish to consider digital controls, which are much easier to clean than traditional knobs. As an added safety feature, some cooktops have a pan sensor that automatically turns off the cooktop if it doesn't sense a pot or pan.

At this stage of the game, however, Consumer Reports recommends against paying extra for cooktops with a cooking sensor. The idea behind this tech is to put your food in a special pan that comes with the stove. This pan then uses a sensor to adjust the cooking temperature for you as needed. Although it is a neat idea, testers found the device not quite up to par, although it could improve in the future.

What's in a Name?

If you want to get a good deal on kitchen appliances, it is better to shop during sales events rather than going with an unheard-of bargain brand. You don't want to pay for a name, but kitchen appliances aren't the place to go generic. Off brands may create safety concerns, and it can be hard to find service when needed later.

If you are looking for a luxury feel on a budget, consider Bosch. It makes high-end cooktops but is known for keeping costs down, with quality cooktops starting around $800. Ranging from $800 to $1,500, Whirlpool and GE both offer mid-level consumer products backed by a good reputation. Frigidaire and Electrolux also earn high praise from reviewers.

LG is perfect for home cooks who like a techy feel. At around $1,000, its LCE3010SB model cooktop has futuristic electric controls reminiscent of a spaceship bridge. If you want gas and you are on a tight budget, consider the Empava 30GC5B7-C. Available at Home Depot for less than $400, this is a fantastic option for budget-conscious shoppers.

references

Home is where the heart is, and Michelle frequently pens articles about ways to keep yours looking great and feeling cozy. Whether you want help organizing your closet, picking a paint color or finishing drywall, Michelle has you covered. If she's not puttering in the house, you'll find her in the garden playing in the dirt. Her garden articles provide tips and insight that anyone can use to turn a brown thumb green. You'll find her work on Modern Mom, The Nest and eHow as well as sprinkled throughout your other online home decor and improvement favorites.

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