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Selecting The Right Appliance

My first job out of design school was as a kitchen and bath designer for a local Washington, DC design-build company. My job was to design the kitchen (or bathroom) layout, help clients sift through the myriad choices for cabinets, countertops, tile and fixtures and then manage the installation. While all that may seem like a lot, it was actually pretty easy. The hard part was helping clients determine which appliance would be appropriate for their cooking style. During this time, I travelled out of state to visit almost every major US cabinet manufacturers’ factories and facilities. I sat through numerous trainings on the different types of countertops and the benefits of each. I became well aware of the various gauges of stainless steel and depending on which gauge you select, how noisy it can be when you run water in the sink. I knew about all the gadgets, soft closing doors and drawers, tilt out sink drawers, etc. and all the storage organizing solutions. But I did not know about appliances. It wasn’t until I went to work for a mid-sized kitchen and bath company that I began to really learn about appliances. I not only learned how to sell them but I also learned why some appliances come with a much heftier price tag than others. If you want to select the appliance that is right for you there needs to be an understanding of how you use your kitchen and how you expect your appliance to perform.

Kitchen design by Birmingham Home and Garden

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Refrigerators are one of the larger ticket appliances in the kitchen. You can spend as much as 8K and up on a high-end refrigerator. One of the main reasons for the difference in cost between a high-end refrigerator and a more economical option is that most refrigerators have one compressor that regulates the temperature in both the refrigerator and the freezer. Higher end refrigerators like Miele and Sub-Zero have two compressors, one for the refrigerator and one for the freezer. These two compressors work to eliminate flavor transfer and preserve produce up to 40% longer than a typical refrigerator with only one compressor. Several of my clients have confirmed they can keep produce 3-4 weeks with these higher end models as compared to a week and a half with their previous refrigerators.

Kitchen design by Jodie Rosen Design

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Other large ticket appliances in the kitchen can be the range or stove and for those who have more space, a cooktop with a separate oven. In areas where space is a premium, most of my clients tend to stick with the freestanding or slide-in range option. A freestanding or slide-in range features an oven and a cooktop in one appliance. When it comes to professional cooking appliances, several important factors to consider include the BTU (British thermal unit) output for gas burners, convection and self-cleaning capability, simmering options and whether you prefer sealed versus open gas burners.

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A BTU is the amount of heat it takes to heat one pound of water one degree Fahrenheit. Professional cooktops and range tops will offer gas burners with BTUs of 15,000 or more. Some brands will vary the amount of BTU output allowing one or two of the burners a higher BTU to allow for more flexibility when cooking (simmering vs. high heat). A high BTU indicates hotter cooking temperatures and faster cooking times but conversely, the ability to cook at lower temperatures, i.e. to simmer, is also important. I mentioned that some brands offer professional ranges with one or two power burners and a low or medium capacity burner, this is helpful for those who want to cook at lower temperatures for longer periods. Ranges with all high BTU burners may cycle on and off to achieve the lower cooking temps while some brands have developed low BTU burners that consistently cook at low temperatures without cycling on and off.

Sealed vs. open gas burners is another buzz phrase you hear when you are shopping for gas cooking appliances. Sealed burners cover the gas flame to protect against spills and make cleaning easier. The gas comes out the side rather than going straight up to the bottom of the pan like with open burners. Open burners are a bit more efficient in that the gas goes directly to the pan but a disadvantage is the difficulty when cleaning up spills.

The most efficient method of surface cooking is induction, which is similar to cooking with an electric cooktop in that the surface of the cooktop is smooth. However, rather than using radiant heat, induction cooking uses an electromagnetic field. Induction is the fastest and safest way to cook. The cooking element only heats up once a pot or pan is in contact with the surface and once the pan is removed, heating stops. It should be noted that induction cooktops require special induction-capable or magnetic cookware in order to work. You can usually tell if your pans are induction-capable by testing whether a magnet will stick strongly to the bottom.

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When purchasing a new oven, the biggest decision is convection or conventional. Convection or the ability to cook with heated forced air to achieve more even cooking is pretty common among professional cooking appliances. Some manufacturers offer conventional ovens that have a convection option in addition to their convection only options. People who bake a lot tend to prefer convection as it distributes the heat evenly and provides more control over the final baked good than does a conventional oven.

Now that you have prepped and simmered and cooked (or at least thought about it), it is time to clean. Between self-cleaning ovens and the myriad choices of dishwashers, there is certainly an appliance to make cleaning easier. Most professional ovens will offer self-cleaning. Although, a few gas options do not. Some will allow you to leave the oven racks in during the self-cleaning while others require that you remove the racks and scrub them yourself to clean. Dishwashers offer a wide array of cycles and styling options. The most common concerns I hear about dishwashers are noise and capacity. Most dishwasher models have racks that can be raised or lowered to accommodate larger plates and glasses. A few offer additional trays that can be removed and utilized as needed. There is a multitude of research that has been done to determine which brands offer the least noisy dishwasher and studies have shown that the most highly recommended dishwashers are those that are no louder than 50 decibels.

There is no one right answer for which appliance is the best for you. Selecting the right appliance depends on your cooking habits and how you utilize your kitchen. Before spending a lot of money to purchase a new appliance, take time to assess your needs, make a list of the things you like about your current appliances and the things you don’t. Once you have your list in hand, speak with a knowledgeable salesperson that can address your concerns and help you make an informed decision.

Interior design by Aidan Design

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