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Cooktop conundrum

Photo courtesy of Wolf AppliancesA mixed bag of options, this modular cooktop offers both electric and gas burners.
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A client from years ago called me recently, asking for my recommendations concerning a cooktop replacement. Her Jenn-Air cooktop was almost 17 years old; the back burner had lost its stamina to perform on high months ago, and now the built-in downdraft vent system had quit working.

When her kitchen was remodeled back in 1987, she didn’t have a lot of cooktop choices with the cooktop in an island and an all electric kitchen.

She has lots more to choose from this time around, especially now that they installed a gas line a few years ago for a new heating system. Want to go shopping with us?



If you, too, are looking around for a cooktop, some planning ahead can save time and help to avoid mistakes. Space and budget limitations, desired features and the style of your kitchen needs to be carefully considered (my client doesn’t want to spend too much over $1,000 and she doesn’t want to have to replace her cabinet or counter to make it fit).

Natural gas, propane or electric? Updraft or downdraft venting? Contemporary, commercial, or a traditional look? Where will the new cooktop be located?




SIZE: With her island limitations, my client needs to choose a new cooktop that fits in the same 30-inch space, which is a common size for cooktops.

But they come in many widths ” from a 12-inch single-burner unit (paired up with a microwave, this could function as a second cooking zone) 36, 42, 45, 48 ” up to 60-inch wide models.

These wider, restaurant-sized, heavy-duty units are wonderful if you have the space (and budget) to accommodate them, but a 36-inch cooktop can provide five good sized burners, lots of useful features, and will almost always fill the needs of most families.

When planning the cooktop’s location, make sure you have plenty of countertop space around the burners ” the National Kitchen and Bath Association recommends at least 15 inches on each side,

minimum.

I try to design in more space ” 30 to 36 inches on at least one side of the cooktop. This gives you plenty of room for prepping and organizing your cooking.

FEATURES: This is the area in the cooktop industry where choices have really exploded. Versatility is the key word.

A high-end European manufacturer makes a line of wonderfully diverse modular units that allows you to design your own custom cooktop.

You can string together 12- and 15-inch units that feature a deep fryer, wok burner, barbecue or steamer, plus a mix of gas and electric burners. You can have the controls built in the surface of the units, or order separate controls that can be located at any convenient place.

Another desirable feature to look for is a simmer burner or plate.

Allowing you to hold foods just under boiling, this feature is readily available in several mid-range lines, as well as in the more

expensive ones.

Sealed burners keep cleaning up easy, and automatic re-ignition is

a safety feature to look for in your new gas cooktop. Watch for large, continuous grates in a low-profile pattern that allow sliding pots

and pans easily from one side to another.

STYLE: Most manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon and offer a line in popular stainless steel, “commercial look” gas cooktops. They complement almost any theme, and it seems this trend is here to stay. Some are designed to project out past the counter with control knobs positioned at the front.

Other, more traditional cooktops, fit within a cut-out hole in the countertop.

Smooth, glass top electric burners have their proponents, too. Easy to care for and clean, they are available in 30-, 36- and 42-inch widths. Some have ribbon elements embedded in the glass and touch controls.

These cooktops are as flat, smooth and wipeable as any countertop. Besides stainless steel, most manufacturers offer cooktops in black, white and a few can be found in almond or bisque. And yes, those electric coil burners are still available.

VENTILATION: Many brands manufacture both updraft (overhead hoods) and downdraft vent systems to go along with their cooktops. You don’t have to buy them that way, however.

You can mix and match vent systems with cooktops, based on their individual features, style and price. All things being equal, updraft systems are superior to downdraft by virtue of gravity.

To allow overhead hoods to perform at their best, it is recommended you allow three inches of hood size on each end to capture as much grease, steam and odors as possible.

For example, place a 42-inch hood over a 36-inch cooktop. In any case, look for a high-quality motor for quiet operation, and make sure it is rated for at least 300 to 600 CFM (cubic feet of evacuated air per minute) for efficiency.

If you need to choose a downdraft vent unit (like my client does), there are quite a few choices ” much more than in 1987! Jenn-Air still offers its center vent system, which is positioned between the burner units.

Dacor, Thermador and others offer a back vent system that raises and lowers at the rear of the cooktop and telescopes out of the way when it is not in use.

If you can afford it, explore the advantages of installing a remote blower ” the noise is significantly reduced and it takes up less cabinet space below your cooktop.

Look for higher CFM ratings from downdraft and remote units to offset the reduced efficiency inherent in downdraft ventilation systems.

Karen Austin, certified kitchen designer and home economist, has designed area kitchens since 1983. You can reach her at Creative Kitchens and Baths, 272-4963.


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