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Professional Style Kitchen Appliances:
Are They Right For You?

Kitchen appliances are a large remodeling budget item. If you choose high-end, "professional style" appliances, they may cost as much or more than your cabinets. We have some suggestions for you to consider and we can help you cut through the manufacturer hype.

First off, let us bust the myth of professional style appliances. The key word in "Professional Style" is style. These appliances are made to resemble the "style" of professional equipment. They are not the same appliances used in restaurant kitchens. Building codes do not allow true professional models to be used in private homes. Pro style appliances resemble restaurant equipment but beyond that they are more similar to conventional grade appliances.

While they are not true restaurant equipment, in many ways, professional style equipment is better than restaurant equipment. Pro style ranges offer bigger burners, more BTU's, heavy-duty burner grates, heavy-duty oven racks and many of the most useful features of restaurant equipment. However, in recent years Pro style equipment has improved on restaurant equipment by making it easier to clean and maintain. Restaurant equipment is design for heavy use with the expectation that a crew member will be thoroughly cleaning the equipment at the end of each day. Pro style equipment has started incorporating design details that make it heavy duty and quick & easy to clean.

You pay a lot more, in some cases ten times or more than the price of standard appliances. Pro style appliances typically come in stainless steel, are often larger, sometimes offer unique features and in some cases can do something standard appliances cannot. One thing you shouldn't expect is better reliability. The opposite is often the case, as reported in Consumer Reports. While pro style appliances may be stylish, they often don't do anything you can't do just as well or better on standard appliances. Furthermore, the traditional appliance manufacturers are starting to offer appliances that incorporate the appearance and features found on pro style appliances for a much more down to Earth price.

Pro style appliances are available in larger sizes than standard appliances, but this isn't always what it is cracked up to be. In the case of giant commercial refrigerators, they are wider, but they don't necessarily have more storage space. They trade wide shelves for shallow shelves. That makes things easier to reach, but it doesn't add any capacity. In fact, it ends up reducing the amount of space for cabinets and thus reduces your total kitchen capacity. In the case of an oven, the added space can be a virtue. Extra space for more dishes or large items, like a turkey, is nice. On the other hand, a second oven does the same thing and allows you to set a different temperature in each. Need extra burners? Two stoves could solve that for less the one pro style unit.

Now for the upside. In the interest of full disclosure, when I remodeled my kitchen, I bought a large Thermador range with four high BTU burners and a large center griddle. It cost more than my first car, but like my first car, I love it. It has a presence in the kitchen that conventional ranges do not. I can boil water faster on the high-BTU burner. Two of the burners can also be set to ultra-low, allowing me to simmer a sauce all day without burning. I can easily slide pans from one burner to another because of the unitized, heavy iron grates. I can bake 6 dozen cookies at a time. It is a fantastic appliance. I wish it hadn't cost so much, but it is a pleasure to use.

Our refrigerator was another of the pro-style appliance we chose. It is a large, cabinet depth, side-by-sdie unit. The reason we chose it was not because it was pro style, but because of a requirement we had. We wanted to put cabinet panels on the fridge so it would look like the cabinetry in the kitchen. There were cheaper models that could do that, but they weren't cabinet-depth, which meant it would stick out past the counter by a couple inches. However, that wasn't even the critical issue. In our case, the refrigerator was to be placed right next to a wall. This meant the door on one side could not open more than 90 degrees. Most refrigerators will not allow access to drawers unless the door opens to at least 110 degrees or more. Out Thermador fridge was the one fridge we found that could accept panels, was cabinet depth and would allow us to operate the drawers with the door open only part way.

We did not select a pro microwave. I looked for a microwave that could be installed into a wall, like a wall oven. I found none that was not a high-priced upscale appliance. That may have changed since I remodeled. But the real point is that sometimes the pro style models fulfill a need that conventional models do not. You could get by with a conventional appliance, but if you have a unique requirement, an upscale model may be the only choice.

One product that concerned us was a built-in coffee maker that used a proprietary pre-packaged coffee puck. If that company stops making those coffee pucks, the coffee maker becomes an obsolete museum piece. We urge people to avoid choosing products that rely on parts, supplies or anything that is not readily available on the market from multiple sources.

Bottom line, pro style appliances are not a good value. Their capabilities alone do not justify the higher price, nor does their reliability. The reason to choose a pro style appliance is if it fulfills a special need that conventional models do not. Large units do provide greater cooking capacity, but adding a second oven, range, dishwasher or whatever, can do that too, for less money. If the look is the important factor, manufacturers are offering the pro look on more and more conventional grade appliances. The size, capacity, appearance and to some extent features are the unique factors of a pro style appliance. If those combined factors are important to you, then only a pro style appliance will do.

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