Primary considerations for cooktops include:
- Range vs. Cooktop
- Heating type: gas, electric coil, ceramic or induction
- Cooktop size (dimensions, and number of burners)
- Energy efficiency
Range vs. Cooktop
Ranges are basically just a single large appliance that combines a cooktop with an oven. Your choice of which option – range vs. separate cooktop and oven – comes down to personal preferences, available space, and design considerations.
For more on oven choices, check out our Oven Buying Guide
Heating Type: Gas, Coil, Ceramic or Induction
Cooktop types can be organized by energy type (where the heat comes from), or, by the cooking surface. Here is a way of thinking about cooktops that we find particularly useful:
Gas cooktops have long been the preferred choice by most chefs and avid foodies. Heat control is nearly instantaneous, and visual confirmation of heat levels is always useful.
Also, gas as an energy source is relatively inexpensive and efficient.
The greatest drawback is in the cleaning: gas cooktops have more parts to clean, and the cast iron grates on gas cooktops can be heavy.
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Induction cooktops are newest to the scene and gaining in popularity. They heat and cool as rapidly as gas, and, they cook faster than gas.
Induction cooktops use ceramic surfaces. The cooktop heats the cookware while the cooking surface itself remains cool.
These cooktops require induction-friendly pots and pans –stainless steel or cast iron. So, you might need to update your pots and pans collection if you go this route.
Keep in mind that even with induction-friendly pots and pans, the smooth ceramic cooking surface can still scratch.
It's also important to note that induction cooktops are more expensive than other cooktop types.
Non-Induction Ceramic Cooktops
Non-induction ceramic cooktops offer sleek, simple design and are easy to clean, making them very popular with many consumers.
Most non-induction ceramic models come with special features like low-heat settings to keep dishes warm, connected "bridge" burners for large pots and pans, and digital displays.
Heating elements can be metal coils, halogen bulbs, or a combination of the two. Like standard electric coils, heating is not precise. And as with all kinds of ceramic cooktops, some kinds of cookware can scratch the cooking surface, so ask your retailer about that.
Electric Coil Cooktops
Electric coil cooktops are the most affordable alternative, and they are durable.
The greatest downside is heat control: they are slow to heat up, and slow to cool … so do not purchase one if you require precise and instant heat control when you cook.
Cooktop Size – Dimensions and Number of Burners
Cooktops come in a variety of sizes from 12" all the way up to 48". Standard sizes are 30 or 36 inches. Most kitchens have a limited amount of available space, so the size of the cooktop really matters. Most homeowners opt for the largest size their space and budget can afford.
For homeowners who really like to cook, it's all about the number and function of the burners. Most cooktops have four or six burners. Home chefs rarely require more than four burners, but for those who entertain large groups or simply like to put a lot of food on the table, six burners can be useful at times.
Next comes burner size and function. Bigger burners, for example 12-inch units, are great for larger pans. Some cooktops – especially flat, ceramic surface models – offer connecting "bridge" capability that allows two burners to function as one elongated burner.
Mid-sized burners are appropriate for middle-sized pans and tall pots. Smaller burners are great for small pans and simmering.
Some cooktops also come with add-on options like grills, griddles, woks, steamers and even deep fryers, so think about those options also.
Once you've thought through how you use your cooktop, you will be in a better position to decide what specific size and burner configuration works best for your needs.
BTU's are a measure of heat-producing ability. If you are an avid cook, you will know the frustration of cooking food on a burner that doesn't generate enough heat on demand…a problem that can produce mushy or greasy-tasting results.
It used to be that a 12,000 BTU burner was considered powerful, but some higher-end cooktop models now offer up to 25,000 BTU's. In our experience, one 12,000-15,000 BTU burner will be sufficient for most in-home cooking needs. Those who do a lot of stir-frying or wok dishes may wish to go higher on the BTU rating. Again though, it's up to you to determine what combination of burners will best address your individual needs.
One more note: The more BTU's a cooktop generates, the more ventilation you will need, so be mindful of this when making burner and BTU choices. Be certain that you have, or will have, adequate ventilation.
If ease of cleaning is particularly important to you, then flat surfaces – ceramics and induction models – are the best option. One downside of ceramic models is that food can sometimes burn onto the hot surface. However, that issue is not present with ceramic induction models since induction surfaces never really get hot.
If you are opting for gas, then sealed burners are easier to clean than open burners. Sealed burners are more common in residential models; open burners are more closely associated with very high-end and professional models.
There's no question that induction cooktops are currently the safest choice, all things considered.
Gas cooktops of course require some caution when cooking: food and clothing can catch fire, burns can occur, and in rare cases gas can leak.
Electric cooktops sometimes remain hot even after the red color diminishes. Non-induction ceramics can remain hot for a while after they are turned off.
Energy Efficiency: Induction cooktops are the most energy-efficient option of the major cooktop options. Between gas and electric, gas is more efficient.
Finally, as we recommend in all our buying guides, there's no substitute for seeing first-hand what your choices are, so we strongly recommend visiting a retailer or two during the planning stage. This will help you better understand your choices, and balance available options with budget and space considerations.