What's new in kitchen appliances

Start your research with these helpful tips to make the most of your time and money.



Shopping for kitchen appliances is like shopping for a car: every year, there’s a new feature or style that makes that year’s model more enticing and exciting.

Unlike fifteen or twenty years ago, when picking a color may have been the only decision, now there’s an array of brands, styles and models. “We see customers coming back two, three, even four times to make sure they’re choosing the right appliance,” says Paula Kimball, sales representative at State Street Discount in Portsmouth.   

Many appliances come with high-tech gadgetry or options designed to make life easier. Because there’s a lot to think about, experts advise customers to think about their needs and then prepare a list of questions.

Here’s a look at the three major kitchen appliances—ranges/cooktops/ovens, refrigerators and dishwashers—along with some food for thought for each group.

What’s cooking with ranges, cooktops and ovens

Lifestyle drives choice in ranges, cooktops and ovens. If you entertain often or cook for a crowd, a larger stove and oven (or two) may be a good choice, or perhaps a cooktop and separate wall oven. Hate cleaning messy stovetop grills? An electric or induction cooktop (separate from an oven) is easy to clean. Enjoy baking? Gas responds quickly, but electric ovens heat faster and maintain low heat more precisely. “People don’t know they have so many decisions to make,” says Brian Ellis, store manager for Baron’s Major Brands in Manchester. “It’s like going to a restaurant with two hundred items on the menu.”

What’s the difference between cooking with gas or electricity?

First, gas ranges respond quickly to temperature adjustments and offer the home cook more control. There are ranges that offer gas on the stovetop and in the oven, or there are dual-fuel ranges that combine a gas cooktop with an electric oven. “We’re seeing a lot of interest in dual-fuel units,” Ellis says. “Electric ovens are more consistent, so you can roast and bake with more accuracy.” 

Induction ranges and cooktops, long popular in Europe and gaining popularity in the United States, use an electromagnetic field to quickly heat specific pots and pans (those with ferrous metals in the base). The cooktop surface stays cool because the heat is applied directly from the glass top to the pan. Boiling happens very quickly, and spatters and spills can be wiped up easily.

Selecting a range or an oven/cooktop combination is another choice. Here are some options to consider:

• Stand-alone ranges are best for replacing a current range. Coming in a standard thirty-inch width, they easily slide in between existing cabinetry. Models either come with controls on the range front, allowing a back splash to show, or with a back guard housing the controls.

• A built-in cooktop with a separate oven offers more flexibility in your kitchen design and traffic flow. The cooktop, for example, can be placed in a center island; an oven can be placed separately in a wall.

• Wall ovens can be at eye level, eliminating the need to bend down to take something out of the oven.

• Double ovens, either built-in or as part of an existing range, allow you to cook multiple items at different temperatures at the same time, for example, roasting a turkey and baking a pie. Some ranges offer two ovens of the same size, or one larger oven on top with a smaller oven on bottom.

• Steam ovens use steam (introduced via a water container inside the oven) to cook without sacrificing flavor. These are only available as wall ovens.

Ovens offer even more cooking flexibility with a regular thermal temperature setting and/or a convection option,
depending on the make or model. “Convection uses fans to make the oven an even heating environment so you can cook on multiple levels,” Kimball says. “You could put three cookie sheets in there at once without turning them.”

Cool features for refrigerators

In-door icemakers, custom finishes, increased interior drawers and shelving—there are more choices than ever before in refrigerators.

When choosing, however, your available space is the major consideration. There is no standard refrigerator size; residential refrigerators can run anywhere from twenty-four-inches to sixty-inches wide and with varying heights. ”If you aren’t remodeling or building a new kitchen, you have limited options for a new refrigerator,” Ellis says. “That narrows down your choices a lot.”

Once you’ve measured the space for your refrigerator, consider your food and beverage storage needs. Refrigerators come in the following styles:

• Single-door with freezer on top.

• Single-door with freezer on bottom.

• Side-by-side freezer and refrigerator.

• French door (or armoire style) with side-by-side doors on top and a freezer drawer(s) on bottom.

French-door refrigerators are top sellers. “They just make sense,” Ellis says. “When you open the refrigerator, everything’s at eye level and it’s easier to reach items in your middle drawers. And it’s easier to see items in your
bottom freezer.”

 Depending on your preference, you can also find models with extra interior drawers or trays to accommodate different types of foods at different cooling levels. Some offer two freezer drawers: a large one for bulkier items and a smaller drawer for smaller frozen foods or specialty items.

Refrigerators are also available in different models, depending upon your kitchen configuration:

• Freestanding: the refrigerator sticks out from cabinetry.

• Counter-depth: the refrigerator is flush with cabinetry.

• Built-in: the refrigerator is generally taller than other models to offer a sleek look; they can be fitted with paneling to match the cabinetry.

• Under-counter: the refrigerator fits standard-depth counters. These built-in units are made with specific temperature levels to cool items such as wine. Models are available in single- and dual-temperature units (separate freezer and refrigerator drawers), offering additional storage options in the kitchen or other areas of your home.

Cool features include on-door ice/water dispensers; water filtration systems; temperature- and humidity-controlled drawers; even high-tech gadgetry, such as an alarm that notifies you of a power outage or a built-in media center.

These technical innovations come with a price: new refrigerators last about ten years. Kimball suggests
purchasing an extended warranty with a new appliance. “If you have a power surge, your appliances are at a big risk,” Kimball says. “After big storms, some people have to replace appliances because the regular manufacturer’s warranty doesn’t cover damage from a power surge.”

Dishwashers

The newest trend in dishwashers is flexible storage. Adjustable racks; holders for silverware and glasses; and slots for flatware allow you to better organize each load. “We sell a lot of dishwashers that have cutlery racks on a separate tray that pulls out,” Ellis says. “You don’t have a lower cutlery basket, and the dishwasher is easier
to unload.”

Most dishwashers have three basic cycles: light, normal and heavy. All three are sufficient for most types of washing. Other options include:

• A rinse/hold cycle to rinse dishes before washing.

• An auto-wash setting that adjusts the wash cycle according to the amount of soil in the water, taking the guesswork out of choosing between normal, heavy, extended wash and rinse settings.

• A manual or self-cleaning filter that keeps food out of the washwater. Most dishwashers have a manual filter, because self-cleaning filters tend to be noisy.

• An energy-efficient half-load option for smaller loads.

The most popular dishwasher finishes, according to Kimball, are stainless, black and white. Many models can be custom-finished to match wooden cabinetry and fit seamlessly into any style of kitchen design. There are also choices of door style; you can get a handle on the door, similar to a refrigerator, or a recessed handle for a more high-tech look.

Noise level is still important. “Consumers want quieter dishwashers,” Ellis says. “There’s a variety of models at different decibel levels. Some you can only tell the machine’s running because the lights are on.”

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