Choosing a stove was pretty simple in your parents' day. A freestanding upright cooker in white enamel of course. If you had the gas on, you'd buy a gas cooker, otherwise it was electric. If you wanted to upgrade, how about a clock with a timer — maybe even digital. Want to go modern? Get a wall oven and separate cooktop ... generally, you guessed it, in white enamel!
Just as our tastes in food have moved on from steak and three veges, so has our choice in ovens. Choosing between a freestanding cooker or cooktop/wall oven is still the most basic decision, but now you can also consider an array of features and options: wok burners, fish burners, BBQ grills, teppanyaki plates, multiple ovens, self-cleaning, dual-fuel systems, and even deep-fryers and spit roasting. Buying such a staple kitchen item has never been more complex.
So first let’s dispense with some of the terminology. A freestanding oven, also known as an upright range, has the hotplates on top and the oven underneath. They are available in all electric, all gas or as a dual-fuel system (gas cooktop and electric oven). The clearest advantage of a freestanding cooker is that you don't have to buy a cupboard to mount them in. This also makes them simpler to install.
The alternative to a freestanding cooker is to mount a cooktop — the hotplates or burners — in the bench and have either a wall or underbench oven. The bench-mounted cooktop allows the kitchen to have uninterrupted bench space for an attractive integrated design, and can also be a great solution for saving space. A wall oven — generally mounted in a cupboard at about waist height up — eliminates the need for the cook to be constantly leaning down to use the oven. These ovens are also out of reach of toddlers and small children.
If you're replacing an existing stove you will most likely be limited in your choice of style and size, however if you're building a new kitchen you’re free to choose from a freestanding oven, or a wall or under bench model.
In the kitchen, size matters
Cookers are commonly referred to by size, and generally this means how wide the cooker is on the outside. For those building new kitchens, there is an array sizes to choose from:
• 600mm wide: The most common width for cooktops and ovens — wall and freestanding alike. Most existing kitchens will be designed for this size. A 600mm cooktop will generally have four hotplates or burners.
• 900mm wide: The next most common size, particularly for freestanding ovens (900mm wall ovens are available but are less common). In fact, a 900mm cooker seems to be the must-have item for a stylish kitchen these days. Looks aside, a 900mm freestanding cooker is very functional. It will generally have five or six hotplates/burners with the option of extra features such as wok burners and teppanyaki plates. The width of the oven also means that you can fit more inside, which is great if you regularly cook large meals. 900mm cookers are also available with two separate ovens (generally about 600mm and 300mm). These are handy for cooking two items at once that need to be roasted/baked at different temperatures.
• 700mm, 800mm, 1200mm and 1500mm wide: Freestanding cookers are also available in these sizes. 700mm and 800mm models provide more room around the hotplates/burners than a 600mm cooker, allowing multiple large pots or pans to be used more comfortably at the same time. The larger two sizes often have two or more ovens, extra hotplates/burners and sometimes extra features such as BBQ grill plates.
• Other sizes: Bench-mounted cooktops come in a range of other sizes including 300 to 360mm wide single width units. These are suited to either small apartments or to combining different types such as two electric hotplates, a gas wok burner and a BBQ grill plate. A number of sizes are also available especially between 600 and 900mm.
Cooktops also require free space on either side. This is an important consideration when planning for your new cooktop, and manufacturers can supply you with this information.
Whether you buy a wall oven or a freestanding cooker, ovens have common features to look for.
• Cavity size. Not all ovens that are 600mm on the outside are equal in size on the inside. The internal height of the oven is an important measurement to look at. The internal height should be enough so that you can place — for example — a roast chicken and a leg of lamb on each shelf at the same time.
This internal height is also good to look for in 900mm ovens as, although you can place the two roasts on the same shelf, you are probably choosing a larger oven as you expect to cater for larger groups. Be sure to measure the useable space in store, especially when the shelving is in place. Can it be adjusted? Some of the marketing material may be deceptive.