A range is arguably the most important appliance in the kitchen. Not convinced? Just think back to your college days when, chances are, all you had to work with was a hot pot and a microwave. If you're in the market for a new range, you want to make sure you're investing in a good one.
But how much exactly should you spend? When is it worth it to shell out an extra hundred dollars (or two) and when is it totally not? Whether you're a first-time range shopper or it's been a while since you've purchased one (they can, knock on wood, last 15 years or more), you may have no idea what you're in for, financially or feature-wise.
Luckily, we're here for you — and so is Thomas Lazzara, the buyer for cooking appliances at Sears. He's had his job for nearly a decade and knows the market better than anyone. Here, he explains what you'll get for the budget you have.
The Bare Minimum: Starting around $350
This is the general starting place for a very basic option, without any bells and whistles. That goes for gas or electric, although Lazzara says sometimes there's a $50 upcharge for the former. "For $350 to $400, you can get an appliance that will allow you to cook for your family," Lazzara explains. "You can make mac and cheese, you can bake in the oven." You know, the total basics.
What you'll get: The very basics
For example: Amana 5.1 Cu. Ft. Freestanding Gas Range, $387 at Best Buy
Better than Basic: Around $600
Invest another $250 or so and things get more interesting. For one, the stovetop may have more cooking zones (aka burners) or better ones, or both.
"At the $350 level, you get four burners, all with the same power output," explains Lazzara. "At $600, you usually pick up a fifth zone (such as a griddle burner) as well as a high-output burner and a low-output burner (the first so you can sear, and the second to simmer)."
The oven usually gets a couple worthy upgrades here as well. First, self-cleaning, which Lazzara says is highly under-appreciated. More importantly, you'll start to find fan convection, which is pretty much what it sounds like: a fan that circulates the heat so you get more even and more efficient (faster!) results in your cakes, cookies, and roasts.
You'll also start to notice sleeker design elements, such as full-width grates that go across all the burners on a gas stove, so you can slide your pots across the surface more easily, and stainless steel finishes. At this price point, you should expect to pay around $100 more for stainless steel than for the same appliance in white or black.
"My advice is to never go below this price point," Lazzara says. But if any of his friends or family members were asking for a recommendation, he'd send them to the next price point.
What you'll get: Better burners, nicer finishes, and possibly convection heating
For example: Samsung 30 in. 5.8 cu. ft. Gas Range with Self-Cleaning Oven and 5 Burner Cooktop with Griddle, $649 at Home Depot
Best Value: Around $700
For just $100 more, you'll start to see what Lazzara calls "true convection" — an additional heating element at the back of the oven that warms the air that the fan blows around. "If you bake cookies, you can cook on all three racks at once and get consistent, even results without having to flip the trays halfway through," he says.
At this price, the computer that powers the controls is smarter, and makes adjustments so you don't have to. Although it's worth noting with entry-level convection: You may have to take your food out sooner or adjust the temperature down from what the recipe says, so things don't overcook.
At the $700 threshold, you'll also see a lot more stainless — and possibly no additional up-charge from white or black — as well as fancier-looking, easier-to-use controls.
What you'll get: Stainless steel finishes, better burners, convection heating, and smarter oven controls
For example: Whirlpool WFE745H0FS 6.4 cu. ft. Electric Range with True Convection, $750 at Sears
Value Plus: $1,000
For a grand or more, the oven will have advanced convection that uses multiple fans to completely eliminate hot or cold spots. The cooktop gets some impressive upgrades as well, such as higher high temps for crazy-hot searing and lower low temps for delicate tasks like melting chocolate. In gas, you may see dual burners that have two rings of fire, and in electric, you'll see a single burner that can heat from a six- to 12-inch diameter, all to accommodate different pan sizes.
"A lot of it is also design," Lazzara says, citing features like soft-close doors and even more stainless options, including the newly popular black stainless.
What you'll get: Better cooktops, smarter ovens, and better design features
For example: LG 5-Burner Freestanding 5.4-cu ft Self-Cleaning Convection Gas Range, $999 at Lowe's
Induction: $2,000 to $3,000
Pretty much all professional chefs claim a preference for a gas stovetop — a flame is simply more responsive than an electric coil, getting hot and cooling down almost instantly when the knob is turned.
And then induction came along. This electric cooktop uses magnets to heat special pans, and man is it speedy. It's now, finally, approaching affordable in the U.S. market — that is, if you've got $2,000 to spend.
Pay a little more (closer to $3,000) and you'll also see dual-cavity ovens — two ovens in the place of one, which have independent controls and, yes, still enough room in one for that 20-pound Thanksgiving bird.
"This is what we have at home, and we love it," Lazzara says. "You can cook a casserole at one temp and something else at another and they're done at the same time." (We didn't ask about his corporate discount, though.)
Finally, at this price, you'll get WiFi connectivity and start to see commercial-esque pro styling in terms of the heavy grates and chunky knobs and stainless everything.
What you'll get: Induction cooktops, WiFi connections, dual-cavity ovens, and commercial-level design features
For example: GE Profile Series 30" Free-Standing Convection Range with Induction, $1,999 at GE
Top of the Line: $4,000 (give or take)
Viking, Wolf, Dacor, Thermador, — they're synonymous with quality and professional kitchens. They're also really, really expensive.
"Yes, those companies make quality products, they're beautiful, and they cook really well," says Lazzara. "You can get a 30-inch Viking or Wolf — the most common size — for $4,000. For a like-featured design in a major brand's 'pro' line, you'll pay around $2,500 for Kitchenaid, Frigidaire, or Kenmore, and you're getting very similar performance."
Whether you get the same resale value on your home as your neighbor, however, is probably up for debate — and about the only reason Lazzara sees for making the splurge.
What you'll get: A high-end name brand and a professional-level appliance
For example: Viking 5 Series 30 Inch Pro-Style Gas Range, from $3,999 at AJ Madison
How much would you spend on a range?