19 March 2010

Don't get Burned by Costly Restaurant-Style Ranges

Detroit Free Press
When you're choosing a range for your dream kitchen, bigger -- and more expensive -- isn't always better.

Luxury appliances are modeled on the looks of their siblings in commercial kitchens, but they have been modified for home use. Most offer insulated ovens, electronic controls and devices such as timers that are not found in the original models.

That pushes the price up considerably, with 36-inch home models from manufacturers such as Viking, Wolf and Dacor starting around $6,000 or more. Ranges with double full-size roaster ovens and up to eight burners reach into five figures.

Some experts say these luxury appliances are far from a necessity. And in many cases, they're overkill.

"We've tested a lot of those ranges," said Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home editor at Consumer Reports. "They really haven't performed better than ranges that cost a fraction of the price. We're testing for boiling, simmer, broiling, baking -- the things people really use these ranges for. We haven't really found they are worth the extra money just for their cooking prowess."

Steve Swayne, regional technology leader for North America cooking for Whirlpool Corp., said shoppers tend to fall into two camps. "You have the people who want the look, that heavy feel and higher output burners available on a pro-style range.

"And you have the general population, the home enthusiasts who like cooking and don't need something big and massive to feed their family." Often enough, indoor grills will provide the 'professional taste' you are looking for.

Michael Robinson, director of communication at Factory Direct Appliance, said: "The huge stainless range was definitely a big trend.

"In years past, we dealt strictly with home building and getting new kitchen appliances to furnish them. Now our business is more remodels, and when you go to a 36-inch range, it's not a small step up -- it's a big step up. Money just isn't there the way it was before the recession."

"A lot of people wanted the big ones strictly for show," he said. " ... That high end has shriveled up quite a bit."

Some kitchen remodeling professionals think stainless appliances are already looking a bit passé. "Those pro-style ranges can be the Hummers of the kitchen," Kuperszmid Lehrman said.

Chefs who spend their days in front of 30,000 -Btu burners and commercial ventilation systems often approach home cooking entirely differently from their work.

Michael Foust, executive chef and owner of the Farmhouse in the River Market in Kansas City, cooks on a restaurant range in his home. The 20-year-old model from a used restaurant supply company "doesn't have any gadgets or gizmos," he said.

His parents sometimes cook on his range, but they can't always get the desired results from its heavy firepower. "I like such high heats, and I use thicker pans, but that equipment isn't really out there for the home cook, so you wouldn't really need something like that," he said.

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