Friday, January 15, 2016

Tools of the Trade: The Oven

I’m in the middle of shopping for the single most important piece of equipment a home chef can purchase for the kitchen: an oven.

I’ve had mine for as long as I’ve been in my house. Mine was chosen for me by the home builder and should have been replaced a long time ago! It’s an inexpensive, low-quality stove and since it has numerous problems now, it’s high time.

Since I’ve never shopped for a stove before, I’m learning a lot about them. Just like with anything else, once you start researching something you discover features you didn’t even know existed!

To start, there are a number of things you will have to ask yourself about what you want.  I think the most important question to ask first is the fuel source. There is gas and there is electric. Gas is the preferred fuel source for chefs in restaurant kitchens and there’s a reason for that: precise control. You will not get as precise with an electric stove.  What your kitchen is currently outfitted with will likely determine the choice for you, although if you own your home you could get a plumber out to change it from gas to electric, or vice versa, for you if you want it badly enough. As with anything else, there are pros and cons to either gas or electric. To make matters even more complicated, there is also something called a “dual fuel” stove, which combines a gas stove top with an electric oven and is supposed to be the best of both worlds, but keep in mind that this option will cost more.

Convection technology
Something else to decide is whether or not you want a convection oven. What is convection? It’s an oven with a fan circulating hot air around food. Conventional ovens which do not have fans rely primarily on radiation from the oven walls and to a lesser extent, on natural convection caused by temperature differences within the oven, to transfer heat to food. Convection ovens distribute heat evenly around the food, removing the blanket of cool air that surrounds food in an oven, allowing food to cook more evenly in less time and at a lower temperature that in a conventional oven. I’m going for this feature, because it also uses less energy.

Will it be free-standing, or a slide in? This is mainly determined by the height of your counter. Here’s a great You Tube video explaining the difference.

Your oven can also be built-in to your existing kitchen cabinets. You could also have the range and the cooktop separated (see photo to left) but for the purposes of this article, let’s assume you are shopping for the kind of oven that simply sits on the floor, which is more than likely the type most of us have.

Then finally we come to the big question: your budget. You might be surprised that I didn’t list this first. I think it’s important to ask yourself what kinds of features you want your stove to have first, because some of the ones you may want may not really cost that much more. So, establish what you are willing to spend. After answering some of the above questions and doing a preliminary search on the internet, you will have an idea for what this thing will cost you.

Color is another consideration: most come in either white, black, or stainless steel. In my opinion, stainless looks the most professional, but it will be more expensive than the other options.

Back or backless: if you have a backsplash (the wall behind your stove) that you don’t want to cover up (maybe you have some lovely tile work you don’t want to hide), you may want to go backless. In that case, your controls will be in the front. Otherwise, pay attention to where the controls are located. If they aren’t where you want them, it may drive you crazy later on.

Self-cleaning: I think this goes without saying – a feature well worth having.

By addressing these questions, you’ve narrowed the field considerably, and can now start delving into some of the finer features, like the accessories. Some of the choices are a warming oven, a griddle plate, a wok adapter, etc.

Extended warranties, delivery, and installation costs as well as what it will take to haul away your old one are all extra, and you should factor them in to your overall cost.

I have narrowed down my choices to 2 or 3 stoves that I am seriously considering and hope that I can soon share photos of my new “baby” with you. Stay tuned. 

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