Best Cooktop Buying Guide: Our Top Picks for 2021

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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 is kitchen range and it 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. You will have more cooktop options as you're choosing your oven and cooktop separately.

Image Credit: Stephen Paul for Hunker

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.

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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. Many also include a power burner, so you can quickly boil food when you're in a pinch. This temperature control is pivotal if you're looking to create a wide variety of dinner options. Luckily, many gas cooktops have control knobs that let you turn up the flame in seconds. That's one of the reasons we love gas cooktops over here.

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, as it is a sealed burner. 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. Take a look at one of our favorite gas stoves below.

The Gourmet Chef Option​: Bosch 800 Series 30 in. Gas Cooktop in Stainless Steel with 5 Burners, $1,399

This safe gas cooktop is great for both your overall kitchen needs and food quality. With control knobs and temperature controls, you can stir-fry on high heat or simmer a sauce. And with a dual ring power burner, you can quickly boil water for some impromptu tea time or a spontaneous pasta night. Gas cooktops are great as they heat up quickly, and this one is no exception. The cast-iron grates allow for a durable finish and easy movement as you're cooking. This kitchen appliance also has built-in safety features and is effortless to clean once your cooking session is over.

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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. With that being said, coiled burners still have great control knobs and temperature control so they can still be a great addition if you prefer a more classically styled kitchen.

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. Below, you'll find some of our favorites.

The Budget-Friendly Option​: Whirlpool 30 in. Coil Electric Cooktop in White with 4 Elements, $599

So you have your wall oven and now you're ready to invest in a solid cooktop. Electric and induction are loved by many for how easy they are to navigate. This Whirlpool cooktop burner is the kitchen appliance that will change everything. With control knobs, an easy-to-clean design, and built-in "hot light" for safety, you'll be able to easily cook a wide variety of meals. Plus, you really can't beat that price.

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The Ultra-Modern Option​: GE 30 in. Radiant Electric Cooktop in Black with 4 Elements including Power Boil Element, $1,079

Want another option that's ideal for the modern chef? This minimalist electric cooktop is sure to create contemporary kitchen vibes while also being extremely functional. With a smooth ceramic glass surface, cleanup time is a breeze. You also have digital temperature control and touch controls for easy adjustments during your cooking process. And with built-in safety features like a "hot surface indicator light," you can avoid painful mistakes.

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. This added safety feature makes this cooktop offer a great choice for families with young children. Not to mention, there's the easy-to-clean cooktop burner that also helps when you have little ones running around.

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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. Here is one of our favorite induction cooktops.

The Speedy Option​: GE Profile 36 in. Induction Electric Cooktop in Black Stainless Steel with 5-Elements and Exact Fit, $1,998

If you're between electric and induction, this cooktop may be the reason you join team induction. With a quick-cooking speed and ultimate safety, induction cooktops are loved by many homeowners. This particular model has a black glass cooktop and stainless steel finish as the trim, giving it a distinctly modern appeal. With touch control temperature controls, you'll feel like you're navigating a smart kitchen. Other great features are the use of a SyncBurner and built-in pan sensors that turn off when no pan is present. This kitchen appliance also has easy-to-clean cooktop burners so when the meal is over, cleaning up is a breeze.

Opting for an Energy-Efficient Cooktop

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% of the heat produced by an electric cooktop goes into heating the food. Gas cooktops fare worse, with only 40 to 55% of the heat going to the food. They claim that induction cooking is the fastest and most efficient, directing 90% of the heat generated into the food.

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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% 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 More Things to Consider

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.

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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.

Shop Sales but Don't Skimp on the Brand 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.

And once you find that ideal cooktop, get ready to create chef-quality meals with ease! Bon appetit!

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Lucy is a freelance writer based in Washington D.C. She loves modern design, travels often, and gets weekly bubble tea. She's a big believer in "less is more" (except planner stickers) and is always looking to create that perfect 10-piece capsule wardrobe.