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Ranges are stepping up their game both on top and below
By Alice Liao
March 19, 2010

A certain romance surrounds the idea of a home-cooked meal and thanks to outlets like the Food Network, its appeal has never seemed more obtainable and even exotic. But while more of us may be dining in nowadays, time and convenience often take precedence over our culinary ambitions. Fortunately, today’s ranges understand this quandary and offer features and functions that not only take the guesswork out of cooking, but do so with greater efficiency and style.

Of course, as any foodie knows, temperature control is always key. For those who prefer the drama of gas, many commercial-style products have upped their firepower to 20,000-22,000 Btu to ensure the perfect sear or to accommodate wok cooking, which, said Gail Bruce, cooking expert at Whirlpool Corp., is part of a growing interest in ethnic cuisines. For simmering delicate sauces and melting chocolate, burners that can be turned down to low temperatures—though not new—are much more commonplace, as is convection cooking. And some makers have added steam to their ovens to boost cooking or to facilitate cleaning.


SMARTS AND SIZE

But beyond convection and steam, ranges and their ovens have acquired considerable electronic smarts to ease kitchen life and produce restaurant-quality results. Many already come with a robust program of preset cooking modes that reduce achieving the perfect roast, broil or bake to pushing a button. According to Robert McKechnie, manager—new product development for Electrolux, the latest ranges incorporate software that allows for a Sabbath mode, can store menu and “favorite” selections and, in some cases, wires the units for Smart Grid compatibility.

Oven capacities are also expanding, with some as roomy as 5.3 cu. ft. on a 30-in. range. If double ovens are more your style but space is an issue, a 30-in. range with twin cavities is one option that saves on space, budget and time. In addition, as consumers tend to use only the smaller upper oven for everyday meals, “it can use up to 50 percent less energy when compared with an oven on a full-size range,” Bruce noted.

Those who truly desire energy efficiency, however, may want to look into induction technology, which is 90 percent efficient, said Sue Bailey, director—major appliance product management at Viking Range Corp., and is no longer limited to drop- or slide-in cooktops. Although gas, electric and dual-fuel ranges still dominate the market, induction has gained some ground, especially as affordable models can be had for under $2,000. In fact, with prices continuing to fall, Bruce sees much promise in the technology and more companies may introduce products of their own.


SLEEKER DESIGNS

But what about looks? Although pro-style ranges continue to hold the upper hand, makers are also seeing an increased interest in sleeker designs that integrate better with the rest of the kitchen. Similarly, control panels are taking on a more discreet appearance with mirrored displays that reveal settings only when activated and “disappear when not in use,” said Bailey. For the upscale consumer, more companies are offering the ability to customize their ranges with different burner configurations, griddle and charbroiler options, as well as colors and design details. “We’re very focused on customization, as we feel that that’s where the high-end market is going,” said Keith Wolf, VP of marketing for BlueStar.

Bruce agrees. “Customization will continue to be something we’ll pay close attention to,” she said. “Consumers want a variety of options to fit their specific lifestyle.” After all, Bailey said, ranges are about “the emotional gratification that comes from the act of preparing food.”
trends in ranges

[1] Electrolux’ new 30-in. Electric Built-in Range With Induction Cooktop features 6-, 7-, 8- and 10-in. cooking elements, a main oven with a capacity of 4.2 cu. ft. and a second oven that measures 1.4 cu. ft. The Wave-Touch control panel activates with a simple touch, revealing a variety of cooking options, including a “My Favorite” setting for customized baking or broiling. [2] If wall space is a problem, Whirlpool’s new Resource Saver Double Oven Range offers one solution that can also help reduce energy consumption. At 2.2 cu. ft., the upper oven is large enough to accommodate everyday cooking yet uses 50 percent less energy and preheats in half the time of a full-size oven. For larger meals, both compartments can be used to bake at two different temperatures simultaneously. [3] Available in 30-, 36- and 48-in. models, the Viking Professional Series custom electronic control range combines the traditional feel of a knob with push-button oven controls and a mirrored digital display. A total of 14 cooking modes takes the guesswork out of baking and broiling, while functions such as timed bake allow users to schedule meal preparation around their busy lives. [4] From KitchenAid’s Commercial-Style collection of cooking appliances, this 48-in. dual-fuel range offers a variety of features to satisfy the serious at-home chef. These include two 20,000-Btu Ultra Power Dual Flame Burners, which can sear as well as simmer; a dual-fan convection system with steam-assist technology for moist, tender results; and an Even-Heat Chrome Electric Griddle option, which retains its like-new appearance while providing even heat distribution. [5] Last year, BlueStar rolled out “Build Your BlueStar,” a five-step online tool that allows consumers to select the size, color, burner configuration, door and trim details of their ranges before they buy. Once they’ve made their selections, the information can be emailed to a BlueStar dealer or printed out and taken to a store. Customized ranges take six to eight weeks to ship from the date of order.
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