Shop Smart: Electric wall ovens take the cake and cooktops depend on the heat

Separating the cooktop from the oven puts both these kitchen appliances closer to eye level than they might otherwise be in an all-in-one range. That can spare the iron chef in you from -- among other things -- having to bend excessively when basting.

But while you can pay dearly for some cooktops and wall ovens -- and get better design and more features in the bargain -- our tests have found that they don't necessarily outperform their less-expensive counterparts. And our repair histories -- gathered from the real-world experiences of Consumer Reports readers -- show that spending more for pricier appliances doesn't guarantee better reliability. Indeed, some of the most costly brands -- such as Dacor, Jenn-Air, Thermador and Viking -- were relatively repair-prone.

Still, our tests of cooktops and wall ovens found several that stood out for their performance, value and reliability.

If you're considering dual appliances, look first to the source of heat in your cooktop. Electric models are faster at heating and better at simmering than gas, but they take longer to cool down when you change the setting. A third type, induction, operates by passing electricity through magnetic elements located under the cooktop's glass surface. The elements heat just the pot and remain relatively cool. Yet induction models typically cost two to three times as much as mainstream gas or electric cooktops. And though they offer faster heating, flawless simmering, rapid response to temperature changes and burners that shut off automatically when you remove the pot, the technology's reliability is unproven.

When shopping for a wall oven, decide if you want convection cooking. With this feature -- common among wall ovens, not so on ranges -- a fan circulates hot air, so you can bake and roast at lower temperatures and for shorter times. Most wall ovens with convection automatically convert these differences for you. A drawback to convection: The fan eats up space.

Of our three stand-out electric ovens (electrics are more capacious and easier to install than gas models), two incorporate convection cooking. The GE Profile JT915WF ($1,500) and the Maytag MEW6530DD ($1,100) did very well in our baking and broiling tests. For the higher price, the GE Profile features a covered bottom heating element. Lacking that and convection, the GE JTP20WF ($850) also sacrifices some baking performance, but adds capacity.

Among 30-inch electric cooktops, the Electrolux Icon E30EC65E ($1,200) got high marks for cooking and convenience, though the reliability of this relatively new brand is unknown. Scoring slightly lower overall, the Kenmore 4273 includes a powerful 3,000-watt element, features faster heating on high and carries a proven reliability record. That and its $550 price tag make the Kenmore a CR Best Buy. Another stand-out model, the Maytag MEC5430BD ($600) has single elements for high- and low-power heating, and two for moderate heat. The Kenmore has no medium-power elements, but two each for high heat and low heat.

The 36-inch gas cooktops we tested have more burners (typically five) for making bigger meals. Standouts here are the GE Profile JGP975WEK ($1,200) and the Maytag MGC6536BD (at $750, it's a CR Best Buy). Both have continuous grates -- they make it easier to support large pans or griddles and slide pots around -- while the GE Profile features two high-powered burners to the Maytag's one.

The Maytag MGC6536BD gas cooktop isn't available in stainless steel, but many other cooktops and wall ovens we rated can be had with this popular feature for an additional $150 to $300. As well, some companies offer ovens with glass-covered front panels.


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