How to outfit your home kitchen like a professional - Part 2Published on September 21, 2015

  • Executive Chef Geoffrey Morden; Shaw Centre

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When it comes to stoves, there are a lot of options today and if you ask someone for their opinion, they're likely to champion whatever they've chosen to install in their own home. As you consider the various technologies available - natural gas, electric, ceramic and induction - bear in mind that you should balance how much you actually plan to cook against how much the range is going to cost to purchase and install. Form commercial kitchens, most chefs will choose either natural gas or induction, however it's important to remember that location will influence choice. Some professional kitchens won't have sufficient industrial exhaust hoods, therefore limiting the choice to electrical ovens and cooking ranges. Others, such as a cruise ship or remote work camp, simply won't have access to a natural gas (or propane) supply leaving no option but electric. Here are my thoughts on the options for home kitchens. 

Natural gas is certainly the choice of most professional chefs. A well-made natural gas range will provide instant heat which is evenly distributed and offers the additional benefit of a relatively low operating cost. The one downside is that some gas ranges can be more difficult to clean and usually require more parts to operate which may need replacement over time. Overall my preference is natural gas; it provides such great, even heat and responsiveness.

The most common type of range in Canada is electric. These are perhaps costing a little more to operate today as electricity prices continue to rise, however, it is a proven technology which provides reliable service. The downside of electric ranges is that they are slow to respond to temperature adjustments, given that the elements (whether stovetop burners or in the oven) are made of metal which needs time to heat up or cool down. The stovetop elements are slightly less convenient to use compared to a gas element given that your pot or pan must have a fairly flat bottom, whereas the open style of a gas element allows for a curved bottom.

Ceramic cooktops look very nice as they provide an uncluttered-looking surface, but it's important to remember that these are essentially electric ranges built with a smooth, high-temperature ceramic cook top. The burners are heated using electric elements so they behave very similarly to electric ranges with a few subtle differences.  They are easy to clean, provided you are careful to use an approved cleaning compound or mild soap and water, but if you don't clean them thoroughly and consistently, the cooktop can discolour. Because the cooktop is completely flat and seamless they won't have the tendency to form cooking "buildup". But be forewarned: if you are a serious cook you may not appreciate the clean-up benefit as these ranges have their limitations. Firstly, your pots and pans need to have completely flat bottoms, as direct contact with the heating element is very important. Secondly, they can be particularly slow to heat up and cool down. Additionally, whether you have young children or not, be aware that the range top can stay very hot for quite some time after you are done cooking so you need to be extra careful as the element may not look hot at all. Lastly, because the cooktop is made of hardened glass you cannot use a pot or pan such as cast iron that has rough edges, and this is a huge detraction as cast iron is a favourite cooking medium among many chefs and home cooks thanks to its durability, even heat distribution and versatility. Similarly ceramic or stoneware tend to scratch the glass, leaving the cooktop looking dull and scratched over time. Also beware that these cooktops can crack easily if they are subjected to a blunt force impact or extreme temperature change. Once the glass top is cracked, not only is the sleek look compromised, the operation of the range may fail.

Induction is becoming many chefs' second or even first choice versus natural gas, primarily because they are a pleasure to cook on. They use an electrically-driven magnetic current to heat the pot or pan. It sounds complicated, I know; I prefer to think that they heat using magic. Because these burners use "magic" only the pot or pan is heated, therefore the actual induction cooktop itself does not get directly heated. That being said only certain induction compatible cookware will work on an induction burner. In essence, because the elements use magnetic currents to provide heat the cookware must contain iron or steel of some fashion. Most cookware will usually indicate this somewhere on the pan or packaging but if you are using older pots or pans, you might have to test them to find out whether they'll work. The cooktop is similar to a ceramic range and are therefore vulnerable to scratches and cracking if subjected to a blunt force impact or severe temperature change. Induction stovetops are extremely energy efficient while offering unequaled temperature control and responsiveness. The technology only applies to range burners, currently there isn't an oven outfitted with this type of technology. I personally wouldn't recommend this for your home kitchen as the technology hasn't yet been proven over the long term in the domestic market.

There are a couple of other considerations to think about when choosing a range for the home kitchen. I like having different burner sizes on my range at home and I use them all as they were designed. I have a simmer burner which is great for low-heat cooking of stock and sauces, large burners for bringing pots of water to a boil quickly or for high heat when sautéing, and medium sized ones for everything in between. Having a variety can be useful provided you understand their function, so I encourage you to read the manual, particularly for ceramic cooktop ranges.

In terms of size, I agree with the standard minimum of four burners, along with one oven and a warming drawer. Additional stovetop burners can be useful as long as the width of the range top is big enough to handle 5 pots or pans of various sizes cooking simultaneously - be wary of ranges that cram in extra burners that are unusable because the space is too tight. Trust me, I have 5 burners on mine at home, but rarely can use I use my preferred configuration of pots and pans that will allow for all 5 to be going at the same time.

As for ovens, one is still the standard these days, but were I to replace my appliances at home, I would love to incorporate two ovens. When entertaining I could easily use a second oven to say, bake a flan at 375 F while simultaneously slow roasting Cornish hens at 275 F in the other. So while the second oven at home is just dream, at this point I utilize my warming drawer constantly. Whether I am proofing bread dough or resting a roast prime rib a variable temperature, the warming drawer is a must. Convection is a must as well. While convection technology is based upon nothing more than a strategically-positioned air circulating fan, convection ovens cook more evenly and quickly than a conventional oven. The fan circulates the hot air in the oven cavity, delivering quicker cook times and improved, more even colouring, particularly when you are cooking more than one dish in the oven.

While appliances don't last for 20 or 30 years like they used to, you still want to choose wisely to be sure your purchases will serve you well for many years and enhance your enjoyment of preparing delicious food. 

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