Oven and Cooker Buying Guide: A good oven should last for years and be something you can rely on to produce great dishes every time! Whatever your budget and lifestyle, there’s a huge choice available. It’s also a big purchasing decision, so you’ll want to make sure you get it right. Here’s what you need to know when buying an oven.
Double or single ovens
Single ovens are a great choice if space is tight, if you tend to cook for one or two or don’t cook much for pleasure. Single ovens are about 60cm tall and can be slotted under-counter or at eye-level. Remember, though, you won’t be able to cook and use the grill at the same time.
Double ovens offer more versatility and are good for families. Electric cookers, where the main oven is fan or multi-function, have a smaller, traditional second oven. Make sure you can fit some of your popular weekday cookware in it; some second ovens tend to be very shallow.
There are two types available – double built-in which measure about 90cm high and built in at eye-level, and the smaller double built-under, measuring 72cm high, which are under-counter.
Remember: main ovens or double built-in ovens are usually roomier than the smaller, double built-in under-counter ovens. You may be better off with a larger single oven which may offer more space for a large roast. When it’s an under-counter model, don’t necessarily think double is larger.
There is always a grill on a double oven in the top oven, and on some of the pricier models you may find a second grill in the bottom oven.
These are less widely available and generally found in basic models. There are electric elements are in the sides or top and bottom of the oven. These have zoned heating: the top of the oven is usually hotter than the bottom. Some top and bottom elements work independently, which is ideal for base crisping, or browning the surface of some foods.
Most electric cookers and ovens now have a fan to circulate heat more evenly, so the temperature is the same throughout the oven. In ‘fan-assisted’ ovens, the air is heated by electric elements in the oven sides and is then circulated by a fan, while in true fan or convection ovens the element is wrapped around the fan. The advantages are:
✔ Cooking is quicker.
✔ Colour is even, but usually paler and less glossy than on food cooked in a conventional oven.
✔ Pre-heating is usually unnecessary.
✔ Repositioning shelves is unnecessary, as is swapping trays hallway through cooking.
✔ Good for batch baking (cooking on more than one shelf) because of the even heat distribution.
✔ Cooking times and temperatures are always less than traditional ovens but by variable amounts depending on the make of cooker. So follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
✔ The food surface may be drier and less crisp.
Conventional (British) gas ovens
The gas mark you set relates to the temperature at the centre of the oven. The hot air rises so, you’ll find the top shelf is slightly hotter, lower shelf slightly cooler and the base cooler still. ‘Zoned heat’ is ideal for cooking complete meals, where dishes require different temperatures. Gas is a much moister form of heat than electric, particularly noticeable when baking. The end result is food with a glossy appearance on the outside and a moist texture inside.
Imported gas ovens
Many built-in gas cookers sold in the UK are of European origin. The burners are concealed under the base of the oven, so food is crisped from underneath. They are ideal for pizzas and pastries, but don’t be tempted to use the base plate of the oven as a shelf. Cooking techniques are similar to fan cooking, and heat is more evenly distributed throughout the oven, and cooking tends to be quicker.
More traditional in design, you can get gas or electric freestanding cookers. Around 10% are duel fuel -with an electric oven and gas hob – obviously, this makes them more expensive. Check the oven is at a comfortable height for you. Some models have a storage drawer, which raises the oven above ground level.
Freestanding cookers offer great value for money and there’s a wide range of styles available to suit most kitchen designs. If you have an existing gap in your kitchen they’re easy to slot in and, of course, you can easily take them with you if you move home.
Choose from a double oven, a single oven with a separate grill, a single oven with built-in grill, and a single oven with a grill at eye level. An eye level grill means you’re not continually bending down to keep an eye on something that’s grilling. Some freestanding cookers have a drop down lid which covers the hob when not in use. This can be used as extra work surface if counter space is tight.
Freestanding cookers come in three standard widths: 60cm, 55cm and 50cm. Most are about 80cm tall and 60-65cm deep, so they should sit flush with your work counters. If you’re planning on buying one with an eye-level grill, make sure you have enough space above as they stand about 150cm tall.
For the built-in look. A slot-in oven is streamlined because the cooker is the same height as the adjoining work surface. Unlike a built-in cooker, you can take it with you when you move. Grills are low level, situated in the main oven cavity or in the second smaller oven. Some manufacturers recommend grilling with the door open, others with the door closed – it’s important to follow manufacturers’ instructions on this for safety reasons.
The type of hob depends on the price- most have a ceramic top but top of the range you’ll find induction hobs.
These have either two side-by-side ovens or one extra-wide oven with an internal grill, plus a storage or warming compartment and a substantial hob. You will not, however, get more cooking space than with a conventional oven – external dimensions are larger but the oven may be of normal size or even smaller. Check the number of shelves supplied and usable space. In most cases, the hobs put range cookers in a class of their own because they are quick, powerful and versatile. Most have useful extras such as a wok burner, an extra burner for fish kettles, a griddle or barbecue plates and warming zones.
Heat storage ovens
Heat storage or Aga-type cookers use stored heat. They take approximately six hours to heat up so once on you leave them on. Heat inside the oven stays relatively constant, but there is a large variation in temperature between gradients, so you’ll need to move dishes up and down to control how wuickly they cook. Aga-type cookers look beautiful and help to create a warm heart to the home, but they can be expensive to run and require practice to use effectively.
They can use various types of fuel, including electricity, gas, oil, wood and solid fuel. Most, except all electric, require a flue and are very heavy to install.
Grilling is done by intense radiant heat at close range. It is quick, and provides even browning over the whole heated area. Depending on the type of cooker, there is a grill either at the top of the main oven cavity, in the small oven, in both ovens, or in a separate grill cavity.
Most cookers use radiant elements that need about five minutes of pre-heating. On the more expensive cookers, grills are faster and more efficient and require little or no pre-heating.
- Sometimes separate or in the main oven cavity. There are three types to choose from:
- Fret burners: Sited either at the back or in the middle of the grill cavity. They require no pre-heating, but browning can be uneven, especially when the grill pan is at full capacity.
- Ceramic grills: Sited behind a heat-resistant glass panel giving a very even heat distribution. Easy to clean, but takes longer than a normal gas grill to heat up. Once pre-heated, grilling is very fast.
- Surface combustion burners: These concealed behind mesh and provide a more even heat distribution, resulting in even browning.
Things to consider
•If you batch bake and cook traditional foods, opt for a multi-function oven.
• If you only cook traditional foods choose a static type; otherwise a fan oven is better for batch baking, quick cooking (reheating ready meals) and defrosting.
• Alternatively, look for a separate grill and main oven for versatility and convenience.
• Check for cool-touch oven doors, especially useful if you have young children. Even on a high temperature the oven door will remain warm only.
• Eye-level grills are the most convenient to use but don’t look as streamlined. Otherwise, check that a grill below the hob is comfortable for you to use.
• To save money and energy choose a half-grill facility for small batches of grilling.
• Check the oven is at a comfortable height for loading.
• Choose side-opening or drop-down doors to suit your needs.
• Clearly marked and easy-to-use controls. Some are illuminated for easier use.
• On gas appliances look for safety and flame-failure devices.
• BSI approval or equivalent Continental standards.
• Storage drawer and plate-warming racks. Grill can double for plate warming.
• Reversible door hanging to fit in with your kitchen layout.
• Minute minders may be useful.
• An oven light and clear door-viewing panel.
• Automatic timers that will switch the oven on when you are out.
• Childproof controls.
Electric ovens are graded from A – G with A being the most efficient.
Most ovens are finished in hardwearing enamel, which is resistant to grease and food particles burning on, making them easy to clean. Normal linings are less expensive and may be cleaned with an oven cleaner.
Some models have catalytic stay-clean liners which make the oven self-cleaning at high temperatures. They should never be cleaned manually and may need replacing during the lifetime of the cooker. You may need to ‘service’ the liners, by putting the oven on its highest heat setting for approximately one hour.
Top-range ovens use a high temperature Pyrolitic cleaning system that cleans every part of the oven’s interior. During the cleaning cycle the internal temperature rises to around 260°C/500°F and soiling is converted into ash, which collects on the floor of the oven, and can then easily be swept out. You’ll need to do every few weeks and the process takes two to three hours to complete.