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Range features that make cooking less of a chore

Published: Monday, Sept. 24, 2012 4:27 p.m. CDT

There are people who live to cook. The rest of us just cook to live, whipping up pasta or roasting a chicken between work, soccer practice, music lessons and PTA meetings.

If getting dinner on the table night after night is hardly your idea of relaxation, you may want to consider upgrading your range.

In the past decade, manufacturers have introduced — or improved upon — features that trim cooking time, offer flexibility and make cooking considerably more enjoyable. A few of our favorites include:

Induction cooking

Induction cooking delivers heat through a high-frequency electromagnetic field, which penetrates the base of the pan and transfers heat evenly to the pan’s contents. Because induction heats the pan itself — not the air or the cooking unit — it cooks food up to 25 percent faster than traditional gas or electric cooktops.

Many companies that sell induction ranges also sell pans specially designed to transfer the energy. Cast iron, enamel-coated cast iron and many stainless steel pans will also work. (You can use a magnet to see if your cookware is induction-ready.)

Induction cooking has been around for years, but it’s only been in the past three to four years that it’s become widely available. Prices range from $1,500 to $6,500 and up.

The ‘high-powered’ burner

If induction cooking isn’t your thing, look for at least one high-powered burner or element when you buy your next gas or electric cooktop or range. Medium-power gas burners put out 7,000 to 9,000 BTUs; high-powered burners put out 12,000 to 15,000 BTUs.

Are the kids screaming for mac-n-cheese? A high-powered burner will boil water faster, thus quieting the rioting mob in considerably less time.

Convection oven

Convection ovens differ from conventional ovens in that they use fans to force air movement. When hot air is blowing onto food, as opposed to merely surrounding it, the food cooks more quickly. Food cooked in a convection oven is usually done 25 percent to 30 percent faster than it is in a conventional oven.

Critics say convection ovens work great for cookies, biscuits or muffins but not so well when it comes to baking loaves of bread or pound cakes. Convection tends to brown the outside of these larger items, so they look done even while they’re still uncooked in the middle.

Want the best of both worlds? Buy an oven that features a switch to turn the convection feature on and off.

Double ovens

It’s not easy orchestrating a meal. The steaks need to be broiled at 500 degrees while the squash bakes at 375. If you have just one oven, you must cook one dish then the second — and then figure out how to ensure they’re both the proper temperature at serving time. A double oven remedies this problem.

No, a double oven isn’t for everyone, but if you have a large family or cook very often, it really can be handy.

Telescopic shelves

If you’ve ever done battle with an oven rack that wouldn’t budge or burned your hand on a rack that only pulls out a few inches, this feature may be just what you need. A telescopic shelving system allows racks to extend fully, providing safe and easy access to even the heaviest dishes.

Warming drawer

You don’t need to entertain a lot to love a warming drawer. In fact, one of the most practical, efficient uses of this feature is to keep food warm for family members who must eat on different schedules. Warming drawers use between 450 and 600 watts of electricity to keep entire dinners warm.

In addition to saving energy, warming drawers help keep food moist — no more drying out as often happens when you reheat food in the oven or microwave.

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