Choosing a Range
Buying a range is a big deal. It's a major appliance, after all, and a purchase consumers make only sporadically. What they expect -- and generally get regardless of price, according to reviews -- is reliable and consistent performance atop the stove and in the oven. Cheapism.com scoured online reviews to identify the best gas and electric ranges that deliver in both those dimensions and cost less than $600. We also found two convection ovens that are relatively inexpensive.
Editor's Note: Listed prices were accurate at the time of publishing in late June 2017, but prices in this category are particularly fluid. Ranges are subject to frequent sales and we often see prices fluctuate from one week to the next, sometimes by as much as $100 to $200. Waiting to make a purchase may sometimes be a wise choice.
Brands.At the budget end of the market, consolidation has left just a few corporate parents that sell under several brand names. The biggest players include GE, which owns Hotpoint; Frigidaire, which is owned by Electrolux and makes most Kenmore ranges; and Whirlpool, which owns Maytag, Amana, and KitchenAid. Samsung and LG stake a claim in the lower price segment as well. Most of these brands also offer upscale models alongside top-drawer labels such as Bosch, Thor Kitchen, Viking, and Verona.
If you're in the market for a range, the first and most critical decision involves the type of heat. Assuming you have a choice -- and in many homes, you don't -- there are two options: gas or electric.
Gas Ranges.Gas ranges usually cost more upfront than electric models but are cheaper to operate. They give cooks more precise control over stovetop heat but less consistent oven heat. The best models, including several on our list, boast at least one high-powered burner (15,000 to 21,000 BTUs) and a low-powered simmer burner (5,000 BTUs). Sealed burners are now standard and simplify cleanup by preventing spills from seeping underneath. Continuous grates, usually made of cast iron, make it easy to move pots around the stove without lifting them and can be found on all but the cheapest models. They can be heavy and cumbersome to lift when cleaning, though.
The very best budget gas range our research uncovered is the Samsung NX58K3310S (starting at $498), which has a large oven and an oval-shaped fifth burner. Next in line is the Whirlpool WFG515S0E (starting at $498), a counter-depth gas range with two high-powered burners among the four. The gas GE JGBS10DEK (starting at $348) stands out for its low price but lacks basic features like a clock and a timer.
Electric Ranges.Electric ranges may provide more consistent heat than gas models, especially in the oven cavity. Many come with a high-power burner (at least 3,000 watts) and some have a simmer burner with just 100 watts. According to their proponents, electric ranges are easier to clean, especially if they have a smooth-top cooking surface. Although some cooks still like coil burners, the difficulty of cleaning them has made smooth-top stoves an increasingly popular feature, no doubt helped by a slimming price gap between the two. Beware, though: One common critique of smooth tops is how easily they crack or shatter and how costly they are to replace.
On the electric side, our star pick is the GE JB645 (starting at $499) for its smooth ceramic cooktop and two dual-size heating elements to accommodate different size pots. The Frigidaire FFEF3013L (starting at $494), another smooth-top model, holds second place for overall value. The electric Kenmore 93002 (starting at $300) is a very basic model that struggles to find enthusiastic support from consumers.
Convection Ovens.Many ranges now feature convection ovens. While standard ovens have heating elements at the top and bottom of the oven cavity and rely on radiant heating to cook food, this increasingly popular cooking technology employs a fan (and often an additional heating element) to circulate the hot air throughout the oven. With hot and cold spots eliminated and the temperature more regulated, food is more evenly cooked in less time than with a traditional oven.
Not surprisingly, ranges with convection ovens tend to cost a bit more, but we managed to find two highly rated models at prices that don't fall all that far from our Cheapism threshold, and even dip below $600 on sale. Claiming a top spot in the gas category is the GE JGB700 (starting at $598), which features a five-burner cooktop with an integrated griddle. For a good electric range with convection technology, we settled on the LG LRE3193 (starting at $698), which features a huge oven and powerful heating elements.
Induction Ranges.Induction stoves marry the best qualities of a gas range (heat instantly on and off) with the convenience and easy cleaning of a smooth-top electric. They also tend to cook food faster. Induction ranges use magnetic heat to excite the molecules in the contents of a metal pan, which keeps the top of the stove cool and energy use low. But even the "cheap" models are expensive. The Frigidaire Gallery FGIF3061NF (starting at $1,529), for example, wows users for a host of reasons, not least of which is speedy and accurate heating. Consumers willing to pay about three times more than the price of our pick for the best cheap electric range should be satisfied with this cutting-edge cooktop, which also has a convection oven.
Expensive vs. Cheap Ranges.Ranges come in three configurations: freestanding, drop-in, and slide-in. But frugal consumers don't have much choice: The cheapest option by far is a freestanding stove with fully finished sides and a backsplash, which generally holds the electronic controls. All the models we researched are freestanding. Slide-in ranges, which lack finished sides and fit flush between two cabinets, cost more than twice the price. Drop-in ranges, which have no backsplash and sit atop a cabinet baseboard for a very built-in look, also are priced far above our Cheapism ceiling.
Configuration aside, the difference between high-priced and low-cost ranges usually boils down to the features and the build quality. High-end stoves often include more powerful burners, more electronic controls, more ability to fine-tune heat levels, premium finishes, and a sharp, upscale aesthetic. They may come with perks like multiple self-clean cycles, two ovens, a choice of broiling temperature, and a dual-fuel system (gas for the cooktop and electric for the oven). And many provide a longer warranty.
Some features once reserved for expensive models, however, are filtering down to the Cheapism zone. These include continuous grates on gas ranges, dual-power heating elements on electric ranges, a fifth burner, a convection oven, a self-cleaning cycle, and a stainless steel finish (expect to pay extra). Observant Jews can easily find a budget range with a Sabbath mode, which overrides the auto shut-off feature and allows the oven to continue running -- with no light or display functions -- during Shabbat and Jewish holidays that forbid the manual operation of electronic devices. Mid-tier models like the Samsung NX58F5700WS gas range (starting at $1,529) come with additional features such as a warming drawer, which keeps cooked foods at an ideal temperature for serving. This particular model also has a 5.8-cubic-foot convection oven, a griddle, and a wok ring for use on a high-power burner.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
Range Reviews: What We Considered
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.
Cooktop Burners.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 Size.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.
Cleanup.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.