Features

Oven Smarts

The latest models are tech-savvy and ultra-efficient
By Alice Liao
May 10, 2012

Technology can have a democratizing effect, especially in relation to cooking. For those who pride themselves on their ability to, say, produce the perfect roast, today’s ovens may present a bit of a double-edged sword. Smarter, faster and now better at communicating, they make capable assistants to gourmet chefs. But then again, how much art and expertise are required to navigate a touch-control panel? For the rest of us who could use the help, increasing sophistication in both oven design and performance is minimizing the guesswork in meal preparation, while enhancing user convenience and experience.


USER-FRIENDLY UPGRADES

Some developments, however, can be appreciated by all, regardless of skill level. Features such as improved lighting for better visibility into the oven cavity, soft-close doors and drawers and additional extension racks are becoming more commonplace, noted Malte Peters, senior product manager, cooking, for Thermador, and only make life easier. Companies, such as LG, are offering convection across a broader price spectrum, and just as much of the world is operated by simply touching a screen, so too are ovens. Sleeker in look and increasingly intuitive to use, the latest touch-control panels have incorporated everything from LED backlighting to colorful, animated graphics to images of actual food or pots and pans to failsafe cooking.


Equally welcome is boosted oven capacity, be it in wall models, with some offering as much as 4.8 cu. ft., or ranges. In fact, with mobility rates at a historic low and homeowners opting to work within existing kitchen footprints, space- and time-efficient double-oven ranges have “gained enough popularity to possibly become their own appliance category,” said Jennifer Golba, senior cooking brand manager at Jenn-Air. Smaller, the dual oven compartments require less time to preheat, saving energy, yet enable users to cook at two different temperatures simultaneously, thus making it “possible to bake a cake, slow roast a turkey with all the side dishes and have all of these ready by mealtime,” Golba noted.


STEAM & MORE
Of course, no oven discussion would be complete without mentioning steam. Using steam to take the sweat, heat and chemicals out of cleaning an oven interior is gaining popularity, with several models on the market that offer this feature. And then there’s the steam oven. Sure, sales remain modest—Peters noted that Thermador estimates they represent 5 to 10 percent of wall oven sales among brands that offer them—and are largely to the well-heeled, but many experts are seeing growing interest. According to Nadine Hanselmann, marketing manager for Miele, a report by Research Institute for Cooking & Kitchen Intelligence (RICKI) listed steam ovens as one of 10 innovations consumers would most want in their ideal kitchen, and last year, Thermador introduced its 48-in. Pro Grand Steam Range, which incorporates a steam convection oven and incidentally won Most Innovative in the K+BB Product Innovator Awards. As suggested by Hanselmann, steam ovens will no doubt get a leg up as consumers continue to embrace healthier living, farm-to-table dining and slow food.


So what of the future of oven technology? What else can be done? Peters cites the use of Smart Grid connectivity, and according to Ellis Mass, director of brand communications, home appliances, for LG Electronics, LG has announced plans for a new WiFi-equipped smart oven that will allow users to monitor temperature and cooking time via smartphone. In addition, users can remotely choose a dish from the oven’s recipe bank and have the ingredient list sent to their phone. “Taking advantage of connectivity will really make appliances work together for consumers as more of a home solution, rather than independently,” Mass said, adding that more on this trend will develop “in the coming months.”

Whatever that may be, foodies should rest assured that while ovens may make better cooks out of everyone, its technology can not be a consummate stand-in for true culinary art…at least for now.

Click here to see the latest in oven innovations.
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