If there's one decision I poured more time and effort into than the rest of our kitchen renovation, it was definitely our new range. I'm pretty sure my mom and husband were seriously worried about me as I dug deeper and deeper into my research. After spending way too much time making this decision, I've come up with a guide to help you make the best decision without quite so much time and agony. I'm only going to cover the most popular features the average family would be considering, because there is SO MUCH information out there, and a huge variety of features on the market.
Step 1: Do you want gas or electric?
For may people this will be dictated by the existing utility lines, but if you're on the gas line and have an electric range currently, or have a gas range and you're interested in switching to electric, you might wonder what the pros and cons are to each. Gas ranges are generally the choice of chefs, the adjustable open flame on the stovetop gives you the ability to really control the heat, but electric ovens are generally known to be more accurate, which can be a boon to bakers. Ceramic top electric stoves generally can't be used with cast iron, which was a huge deal breaker for us. In most areas, gas ranges will be cheaper to run utility bill wise.
Step 2: What is your price range?
It's critical to know your budget for a range before you start looking. There's no point in falling in love with a range that's out of your price bracket before you know how much you can spend. We were looking in the $500-1000 bracket, which is pretty middle of the road for new ranges.
Step 3: Take your exhaust into account
It's easy to get sucked into the glamor of having a professional grade range in your kitchen, but you have to consider the level of exhaust they need. Be sure to check with your local code enforcement office regarding venting requirements if you're switching from electric to gas, or making the jump to a professional grade range which often requires a higher powered exhaust system.
Step 4: Know the brands that meet your standards
When we first started looking at ranges, the Samsung models seemed pretty sweet. They won all kinds of tests by outlets like CNET, and they had a lot more bells and whistles than other comparable ranges in our price range. Then when I started digging into actual user reviews of people who had these ranges, the issues that came up a few months into use were substantial, and the customer service seemed sorely lacking. After reading way, way too many reviews of individual range models from people who actually owned them, we narrowed our search down to just a few brands: GE, Maytag, Frigidaire, and Kitchen Aid. All these brands had well liked domestic customer service, and people who owned them seemed happy with their purchases more than a few months down the line.
Step 5: Know the features you care about, and how they relate to your cooking habits
This part can be tricky. It's easy to get sucked in to wanting the model with all the bells and whistles, but when you take the time to understand your cooking habits and what your needs are in a range, you can make a more informed decision that you'll be happy with for years to come. Some of the main variables to consider are:
Do you tend to cook a lot of dishes in your oven at once? Do you host all the big holidays at your house? If so, a larger capacity oven probably makes sense for you. If you don't bake or roast very often, but tend to cook on the stovetop most of the time, don't shell out extra money for an extra large oven. We upgraded from 3.5 cubic feet to 5.8 cubic feet and it's a huge upgrade, but I love baking giant loaves of bread on the weekend so it's worth it for us.
-Number of/type of burners:
Many ranges have 5 burners now, some with a large oval center burner, some with a standard round one. Many ranges also have different powered burners for different purposes; I really enjoy our simmer and quick boil burners for those exact purposes.
- Color and style:
As the centerpiece of your kitchen, it's important the style of your range works for you. both GE and Frigidaire have Gallery lines that are a bit fancier looking than the other models, but don't actually have a different function. Slide in ranges are super popular for a more custom look, but they skyrocket the price of the range, without improving the features. Decide how important those extra visual details are to you before you start shopping.
You'll also want to narrow down the finish you are interested in, whether that's determined by your existing appliances, or if you're starting over with a whole new set. Something to consider is how long it's going to be until you replace the rest of your appliances; if it's only going to be a few years, get the finish you love even if it doesn't match what you currently have, and get new matching appliances down the road, rather than lock yourself into another decade with appliances you only tolerate.
- Convection or not?:
There can be a huge price difference between the same model of range with convection vs traditional baking. While it's easy to assume that of course you want convection, it's worth a little thought to figure out if it's a feature you will really use. Convection baking uses a fan to circulate the air. This is a great function for extra crisp and perfect french fries and cookies, but not awesome for cakes and breads, which can be made lopsided or even splatter because of the fan's airflow.
You'll also want to look out for the difference between true convection and single fan; true convection has an extra heating element with the fan that heats the moving air, while a single fan just moves the air in the oven around. Convection ovens can cook faster, but they also have more moving parts that can break and need replacing or repair.
- To griddle or not to griddle?
Many ranges now have integrated griddles on their stove tops. We are a big pancake family, so this was very appealing to us! Once we started checking out ranges in person though, we realized that a stovetop with a continuous grate (instead of little ones that just cover each burner) and an after market cast iron griddle made way more sense, and would leave us with a more flexible cooking environment.
One of the features I knew I wanted was a broiler IN the oven, not a separate drawer on the bottom. Many people who have only had it work one way or the other never realize until they get a new range that not all of them are the same. I find liquids end up spilling and causing an inaccessible mess in lower broiler drawers, and I'd rather have the drawer space for my sheet pans.
-Self-Cleaning? if so, which kind?
Self-cleaning is a feature that comes standard on all but the most entry level range options now. What does "self-cleaning" mean though? Pyrolytic self-cleaning is the most common process, and it is a function that makes your oven so hot it burns off all the stuff stuck to it. It takes a big chunk of the day to get to temperature, burn off the stuff, and then cool back down, and you'll want to really crank up your exhaust fan while it runs. Alternately, some newer ovens have a steam clean option, that involves pouring water in the bottom pan of your oven, and it creates steam that loosens the crap stuck to the inside, but you have to wipe it off yourself. The cycle only lasts about 30 minutes, and is great for small spills. Beware ranges that only have a steam clean option, as it really isn't self-cleaning at all.
Okay, now that you have a good idea of what you're looking for, it's time to start actually searching for your range!
The large home improvement stores have great tools for filtering your search by the criteria we just came up with together. Even if you don't intend to make your purchase at one of these stores, use the tool to find out what is out there that checks all your boxes, and then take note of the model numbers, and bring those to the store you do want to shop at. Here check out how much easier this makes our choice:
That's 202 ranges you don't even need to think about.
I would also highly suggest using the "compare" tool on these same websites, that allows you to look at the differences between similar models in your search. You may find out that one of the models has a special feature that isn't a deal breaker, but might be nice to have. Here's the feature comparison of three models we considered:
It's really nice to be able to look at the features right next to each other like that instead of trying to remember which range had which ones. Once you've got it narrowed down to two or three models, its' time to go look in person even if you're going to buy online! A range is a huge purchase for your home, and you need to be able to see and touch it to make the right decision. Do the knobs feel flimsy? Are the burners too close together to use more than one at once? Does the construction look sound or does it feel cheap?
After these in person visits (you'll probably have to go to multiple stores to see all the ones you're interested in), you should have it narrowed down to one model you'd like to buy. Look at the prices at all the major retailers. Lowe's and Home Depot will both price match -10% the other store's price if you bring it up, so it actually makes sense to go to the store charging more and ask for the match, if you're going to purchase from one of those two. If you're buying from a local retailer, let them know how much you've seen the product for in other stores, and ask if they can match that. Major appliances are a purchase you can definitely haggle on.
This process might seem ridiculous. It probably is. BUT it will take you less time than the trial and error I went through to create it. Even if only one person takes advantage of this definitive guide to how to choose a new range, that's enough for me. This is an appliance you're going to use more than almost anything in your home other than your sinks, toilet, and refrigerator, and it's worth making sure you get the right one for you.
Obviously you need to pin this, if only to make sure some poor lost soul trying to buy a range finds it later: