Features to Look for in a Kitchen Stovetop
The Cooktop and Rangetop are similar types of stoves with the key difference being a cooktop is entirely set into the countertop and the controls are on top. A rangetop has a visible front, with about six inches of depth, that drops into the kitchen cabinet and the controls are on the front. Both styles are roughly equivalent and the choice is based primarily on appearance and your preference for the location of the controls.
Gas versus Electric Stoves
Professional and avid cooks typically choose a gas stovetop because it gives them greater control over the temperature. The flame is infinitely variable from low to high, and provides steady, continuous heat. On the other hand, electric stovetops cycle on and off. Instead of staying on continuously, the electric element heats up, turns off, then heats up again trying to approximate the temperature set on the control. This kind of heating is not ideal because it can scorch foods and makes it difficult to provide the precise temperatures required by things like delicate sauces, candies or even simply simmering food.
Induction cooking is another alternative and gaining popularity. While it is also an electric cooktop, an induction stove uses a magnetic field's interaction with the metal of a cooking pot to generate heat. It does not cycle on and off like an electric heating element. Precise and stable control can be achieved with induction cooking. The stovetop is smooth, making cleaning easier. Also, it is somewhat safer since there is no open flame. Also, no heat is generated unless ferrous metal is placed on the burner. The surface can get hot, but only from the heat transference from a hot pot or pan. One important note about induction cooking is the cookware must be made from a ferrous material (it must be magnetic) so aluminum, glass and some stainless steel cookware will not work on a induction cooktop.
Notes About Various Features:
Star burner - The standard gas burner provides a small ring of flame. This leaves unheated space in the center of the ring and concentrates the heat somewhat, which can lead to scorching. A star shaped burner eliminates the cool center and increases the total amount of heat delivered. This allows for both more even heat and for faster heating, very useful for boiling water more quickly.
Ultra-low or Simmer burner settings - In order to simmer sauces or hold food warm for an extended period, a very low heat is required. Most burners do not have a low enough setting to avoid scorching. Ultra-low burners manage to provide very low heat levels, usually, by cycling on and off.
Continuous grates - Gas stoves use grates to support cookware above the flame. A stove can have grates for each burner that leave space between the burners or it can have grates that butt against each other, providing a continuous support surface for cookware. The continuous grate is very useful for shifting heavy pots out of the way, setting a pan partly off the flame and for supporting oversized cookware.
Wok Ring - Several stoves offer a built-in, removable support for a wok, usually in the center of the stove, to allow traditional stir-fry cooking. Typically the burner is an oversized gas burner so as to provide the intense heat required for cooking in a wok.
Grill or Griddle - A built-in grill or griddle is a popular addition to a stove. It typically is offered only on larger stoves of 36 inches or more. A griddle is handy for cooking pancakes, bacon, eggs, hamburgers, warming and many other things. It provides even heat over a larger area than a separate griddle plate set on top of a stove can do. A grill feature is ideal for small scale grilling, similar to what you could do on a small outdoor BBQ grill. A grill is great for searing meat, and adding that grill flavor that comes from intense direct heat.
Location of controls - Burner controls can be mounted on top of the stove, facing upward or mounted on the front of a rangetop, facing outward. Top mount controls tend to catch more spills, and take up some of the cookspace. They are easier to see and are less likely to be turned on by small children. Front mount controls are more out of the way, leaving more cooktop space. They are less prone to spills but are a little less convenient to see. They also are more reachable to young children, although some have a push to turn feature making accidental operation less likely.
Removable grates - In order to clean the grates and beneath them, they must be removable.
Sealed burner vs: Unsealed - The key advantage of a sealed burner is that the drip pan underneath closes around the burner so as to catch all spills, making for easier clean-up. However, unsealed burners provide more air flow to the burner and allow for higher BTU burners, which in turn provides more heat, faster. However, the hole in the center means that some spills may miss the drip pan and go into the range; though most spills tend to happen at the outer portion of the ring. We favor unsealed burners for their higher BTU rating.
Smoothtop - Electric stovetops with burners hidden beneath a solid glass cooktop provide an elegant, uncluttered look. They are easy to clean and provide a continuous surface to support cookware. For electric stoves, we favor the smoothtop for their ease of cleaning.