If you do a lot of cooking, I’m willing to bet you have more than a few different kitchen appliances – and I don’t just mean your mixer, blender, and juicer. From crock pots to deep friers to rice cookers, there’s a whole industry of specialty appliances designed to do one thing well. But recently there’s been a pretty awesome backlash against the unitasker, and in its place we’re starting to see more (and better) multi-purpose cooking devices, including the king of all: the modular kitchen range. New stoves offer a whole lot more variety and utility than your conventional cook-it-on-the-top bake-it-on-the-bottom. So if you do a lot of cooking, but don’t want a lot of appliance-clutter, here are a few things to look for.
Long a staple of burger joints and short-order diners everywhere, the griddle (also known as a fry plate) is a single, thick sheet of stainless steel that covers a section of the cooktop on a range like this Pro Series from Bertazzoni. They usually take up about as much space as two regular burners. These are specifically designed to distribute heat evenly (the same way a professional griddle does) and are great for cooking all sorts of the same things – pancakes, eggs, bacon, burgers, and so on. Some are fixed in place while others fit over two burners and can be removed, and many come with catering or restaurant-style accessories, like a burger-sized cover (to help concentrate heat, say to melt cheese), steamer basket, or bain-marie style cooking and serving dishes.
Many gas ranges come equipped with cast iron heating covers, but some, like this Majestic Range from ILVE, have optional built-in or add-on cast iron grill plates. These, like the griddle, heat up evenly, and work just like an outdoor grill, allowing you to sear meat and veggies at high heats (and even get the traditional grill marks) from the comfort of your own kitchen. You can also place odd-shaped pans on these rectangular grill plates, allowing you to get even heating even on an oversized cooking vessel.
Making authentic stir fry in a traditional kitchen isn’t easy – it requires a very high, very hot heat, and authentic woks are difficult to position over a normal sized stove. Many people opt to buy electric woks, or even special standalone gas pilots just to get an authentic and manageable wok experience. But gas ranges these days often come with wok rings – a small, simple cast iron ring that sits over your flame, giving the narrow-bottomed wok a sturdy base. These can easily be removed when you aren’t using them, but can help evenly distribute the high high heat to your pan for safer, more accurate cooking when you need it.
Coup de Feu/French Top
Some ranges, like this 60 Inch Range, also come with an optional coup de feu, also called a French top or a French style burner. A coup de feu is a multi-function simmer plate that’s perfect for low slow cooking, handling several thick pots that can be freely moved around the surface, simmering sauces and cooking multi-part dishes. This is again a double-burner style set up similar to the griddle, but with a single cast iron plate underneath to help distribute the heat and maintain a constant temperature. These typically also have a single removable disk in the center that allows you access to the more direct heat.
Now, it’s all well and good to turn your stove top into a whole host of appliances, but newer kitchen ranges don’t stop there. In fact, as luxury kitchens rise in popularity, so do more efficient, more flexible European convection ovens like the one on this Pro-Series Range. These often have one or even two more heating elements than traditional ovens, and are assisted by one or more fans that help move heated air through your oven and to your food, cooking it faster than a conventional oven, even at lower temperatures. Convection ovens are not only more energy efficient, but are also more flexible in terms of the type of cooking they can do as you can control which heating elements and which fans are active. This turns your oven from something that simply bakes to a single appliance capable of many multiple uses, from defrosting and proofing bread to high-heat grilling and broiling inside your oven.
Many new professional-style ranges like this 48 Inch Range also come with rotisserie spits that attach either to the side walls of the oven, one of the adjustable racks, or an additional pan. This allows you to cook poultry and other large cuts of meat with a 360 degree heat for an all over, even crisping and browning. Rotisseries not only allow you to cook meat faster, but also allow fat to drip away, improving browning as well as making for a slightly healthier roast beast.
Finally, many new kitchen ranges, like this Majestic Range come equipped with warming drawers and sometimes shelves. In place of a traditional storage drawer underneath the oven, these lined metal drawers absorb some of the heat of the oven, maintaining a warm temperature (usually around 120 degrees F) to help keep food serving-ready even if all your dishes aren’t ready at the same time. Similarly, ranges with integrated range hoods sometimes come with a fold-out wire shelf that serves a similar purpose. Just put a finished dish on the shelf, and an infrared light inside the range hood will keep your dish warm until it’s ready to serve.
Even ordinary stoves are capable of cooking a wide variety of dishes. But modular kitchen ranges definitely make it easier. Any one of the features above add enough versatility to greatly widen a budding chef’s repertoire. Combined with the precision controls and wide range of heats you’d expect from a high-end range, you get a truly professional experience. Which add-ons do you find most desirable?