What qualities make one range stand apart from the rest? We initially turned to experts at Consumer Reports, The Sweethome, and CNET for guidance on how to assess budget-priced gas and electric stoves. Of course, everyone has their own style of cooking and feature preferences. Ultimately reviews by home cooks posted on the websites of manufacturers and vendors such as Home Depot, Lowe's, Best Buy, AJ Madison, Abt, and Sears proved invaluable and led us to our final choices.
While the models we recommend generally meet users' expectations for cooking performance and durability, none escaped some protestations over weak burners or heating elements, lengthy preheating and inaccurate oven settings, electronic failures or hard-to-master digital controls, cleaning challenges, and housing that gets hot to the touch. But as long as a stove generally cooks and bakes well, reviews indicate, consumers are happy with their purchases.
Cooking and Baking Performance
For the stovetop, good performance means power burners or elements boil water rapidly or sear meat to a golden crust, and simmer burners or elements hold heat to a low enough level that gravy and soup don't boil. One reviewer writes on the AJ Madison site that our top-rated gas range, the Samsung NX58K3310S, is so powerful that the burners must be set to a lower level than past experience would suggest. A customer review of the electric Frigidaire FFEF3013L on BestBuy.com notes that the lowest-wattage element offers much more control over simmering than a previous appliance did.
Ovens should preheat quickly and bake or roast evenly at a consistent temperature. Here, too, our picks pass muster with users. The well-insulated oven on the electric GE JB645 keeps the heat in, where it belongs, according to a review on the Lowe's website. On Home Depot.com, others give a shout-out to the precise temperatures in the Whirlpool WFG515S0E, a gas range. But it's the models with convection ovens, the GE JGB700 and LG LRE3193, that really score with users. They make baked goods look better, brown more uniformly, and cook multiple food items more quickly and more evenly.
The Kenmore 93002, on the other hand, irks some of the few users who have reviewed it on the Sears site for oven heat that warps the top cooking surface, as well as other, more minor sins like a failing clock and odd noises.
A gas burner or electric heating element that provides very high heat is one of the most coveted features on a range. Usually, the higher the maximum heat output, the higher the quality and cost of the appliance. For gas ranges, heat output is measured in BTUs, or British thermal units, and stovetops generally range between 5,000 BTUs (usually reserved for simmer burners) and 20,000 BTUs, a threshold generally attained only by power burners on professional models. Electric ranges go as low as 100 watts for simmering and as high as 5,000 watts for power burners on premium stoves.
All our top choices except the Frigidaire FFEF3013L come with a power burner or power heating element. The Whirlpool WFG515S0E even features two 15,000-BTU burners -- compare that with the lackluster GE JGBS10DEK's four 9,100 BTU burners. The GE JGB700 sports a burner with 18,000 BTUs for power boiling. Our frontrunner among electric ranges, the GE JB645, is fitted with two 3,100-watt dual-size power-boil elements that heat up to 6 inches or 9 inches in diameter, depending on the pot being used. Induction technology on the Frigidaire Gallery FGIF3061NF enables an unusually large 10-inch element to draw a whopping 3,800 watts of energy. Reviews say the heat produced by these burners is perfect for a variety of cooking chores, from stove-top grilling to quickly boiling a pot of water for pasta.
Standard stoves have four burners and a space in the middle, which is useful for holding spoons, ladles, and other small utensils. But the rise of smooth tops on electric ranges and continuous grates spreading across the entire surface on gas ranges has encouraged the insertion of a fifth burner, often placed smack in the middle. The additional gas burner often is oval -- as is the case on our top two picks, the Samsung NX58K3310S and GE JGB700 -- and well suited to a griddle or an extra-large pot or roasting pan.
Several reviews of the GE JGB700 on Abt.com note that the (removable) griddle integrated into the cooktop proves more useful than expected. It can fit up to six grilled cheese sandwiches at once.
Only two of the four electric models we researched, the LG LRE3193 and the induction-heat Frigidaire Gallery FG1F3061NF, feature a fifth element. Unlike on gas ranges, the extra element is often meant for warming or very quiet simmering. Users of the Frigidaire Gallery consider this feature a real plus, according to reviews on HomeDepot.com.
Oven sizes for the models we researched range between 4.8 cubic feet (Frigidaire FFEF3013L and GE JGBS10DEK) and 6.3 cubic feet (LG LRE 3193). The pricey LG LRE3083, in particular, garners accolades for the commodious size of its convection oven, which is particularly favored by serious bakers. Users don't fret about the size of the smaller ovens, though, and many find them plenty spacious.
In a step up from the other models we researched, the gas-powered KitchenAid KFGD500E (currently a steal starting at $1,498, given its $2,099 suggested retail price) features two ovens: a 3.9-cubic-foot convection oven on the bottom and a small 2.1-cubic-foot oven right above it. Reviews posted on HomeDepot.com point to the practical advantages of simultaneously cooking different foodstuffs at different temperatures, or heating only the top oven when preparing something like pizza.
Wiping up after a round of cooking is never fun, but some stoves are easier to clean than others. One feature users like on the bare-bones GE JGBS10DEK is the old-style grates, one atop each gas burner, because they're easier to lift and clean than continuous grates. Smooth electric cooktops, lacking coils and drip pans, pose no such problem -- simply swipe a cloth across (but be sure to follow the cleaning instructions in the owner's manual).
That said, complaints about cleanup do surface here and there. Every little spill shows on the ultra-shiny top of the GE JB645, a few users gripe in reviews on BestBuy.com. And some report that spills on the Frigidaire FFEF3013L and are difficult to clean off if they harden. The Frigidaire FG1F3061NF, by contrast, is a breeze to clean because induction technology heats the pan and not the stove, so spills don't bake onto the cooktop.
Self-cleaning ovens are common these days, although several models we researched -- the gas Samsung NX58K3310S, Samsung NX58F5700WS, and GE JGBS10DEK and the electric Frigidaire FFEF3013L and Kenmore 93002 -- must be cleaned manually. In most ranges with a self-clean function, the oven heats to an ultra-high temperature that turns residue to ash, a process that may give off unpleasant smells and takes several hours (the Frigidaire Gallery FGIF3061NF offers two- and three-hour cycles).
A newer technology, found on the electric LG LRE3193, is a water-based system that uses low heat and cleans the oven in 20 to 30 minutes. Some cooks really like this feature, but others are ambivalent. One owner of a steam-clean range who also happens to be an appliance specialist says the steam cleans the bottom well but doesn't get the splatter in the back or on the sides; many users say their ovens still look dirty after cleaning. The gas convection GE JGB700 strives to keep everyone happy: Users can choose a low-heat steam clean for lighter-duty work or the regular self-clean mode for a full-throttle attack.
Ranges generally last a long time. The rule of thumb, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors, is 13 to 15 years for electric stoves and 15 to 17 years for gas ranges. These figures haven't been updated recently, however, and as electronics and even Wi-Fi spread into this appliance category, longevity may be compromised. Indeed, the LG LRE3193, which has only electronic controls, raises some potential concerns. Reviews of the previous model in the line, the LG LRE3083, sometimes cite motherboards and other functions, like the clock, that burned out well before users thought they should. On the other hand, basic entry-level stoves may have short life expectancies as well. The typical warranty is one year.