By LAURA T. COFFEY
Buying a stove for your kitchen sounds oh so simple. But beware: You're about to be confronted with a bewildering array of choices.
1. Gas, electric or both? Is gas available in your home? That likely will have a major impact on your decision. Be aware that some models on the market are hybrids; for example, a gas range may have electric warming zones and smoothtop surfaces.
2. Gas ranges. Most free-standing gas ranges, which include ovens, cook well. Gas burners don't heat as fast as electric elements, but their heat can sometimes be adjusted more precisely.
3. Electric ranges. Free-standing electric ranges, which also include ovens, provide fast heating and do a good job of maintaining low levels of heat. Electric ranges typically are controlled with mechanical dials.
4. Pro-style ranges. Designed for serious cooks, such ranges have powerful burners, continuous grates and stainless steel exteriors. Large pro-style ranges have up to eight burners, a grill and a double oven, and require extra ventilation.
5. Cooktops. A cooktop, which requires a separate wall oven, is essentially the set of burners found on a range. Installed in a countertop or on an island, cooktops provide more flexibility for your kitchen design and make it possible for you to select separate fuel sources -- electricity or gas -- for your stove top and oven.
6. Wall ovens. Wall ovens can be gas or electric. Electric wall ovens tend to be slightly more efficient and heat food with more uniformity than gas wall ovens, which usually have one burner at the bottom.
7. Traditional coil heating elements. Coil burners are inexpensive and easy to replace. They do a good job of heating even if your pots and pans are dented or warped.
8. Smoothtops. Most electric stoves sold today have smoothtops with no exposed elements. They're easier to clean than coil burners, but they cost more, must be treated with special cleansers and work best with undented pots and pans.
9. Cleaning features. The ovens in almost all ranges, with the exception of pro-style ranges, have a self-cleaning cycle that uses high heat to transform stuck-on goo into ash. The cycle typically takes four or five hours.
10. Count the costs. You can find a high-quality gas or electric range for $500 or $600. Here are price ranges for your options: free-standing ranges, $200 to $1,800; electric cooktops, $200 to $900; gas cooktops, $300 to $1,200; wall ovens, $700 to $1,800; pro-style ranges, $2,500 to $8,000.
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