Cooktops can be fueled by gas or electricity, and offer a number of different burner and surface options.
Better know your Btu, or British thermal units, which measure the heating power of gas cooktops and ovens. Technically speaking, a Btu is the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of 1 pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit-or about the amount of heat produced by burning one wooden match. The higher the Btu capacity, the hotter the cooktop or oven can get.
For everyday cooking, 9,000 Btu should suffice. But if you plan to do a lot of sautéing, stir-frying, or other high-heat cooking, you'll want to top out at 12,000 Btu or more. Commercial burners can go as high as 20,000 Btu, and some designed for home use can hit 15,000. With that kind of heat, you can get 8 quarts of water boiling in six minutes.
Also consider what kind of precision you can get for low-heat cooking. You may want some burners, for example, that can go down to 5,000 Btu and cycle on and off so that you can simmer without scorching.
- Allow you to instantly turn the heat on or off.
- Give you more precise control over the temperature when you're searing meat or simmering sauces.
- Some new models can use 30 percent less gas by relying on pilotless ignition instead of continuously burning pilot lights.
- Can release gaseous fumes that, without proper ventilation, can lead to indoor air pollution.
- Require certain gas hook-ups.
Price: Ranges from $200 to $2,000
Electric Cooktops with Coil Burners
Electric black coils-metallic tubes covered with insulation-create heat through electrical resistance. The heat moves from the coils to the pot or pan through conduction and radiation.
- Don't cause indoor air pollution.
- Allow you to boil water faster on larger burners than you can on some gas cooktops.
- They're easy to maintain and repair.
- You may pay less initially but electric can cost more than gas over the long run.
- Don't make a strong design statement.
- Don't offer precise control over temperatures.
Price: About $200 to $350
Electric Cooktops with Glass Ceramic Surfaces
Glass ceramic cooktops often have a touchpad rather than knobs, to maintain the smooth, sleek look. Circular patterns on the surface indicate where to place your pots and pans. Rather than coils, these smooth cooktops have radiant, halogen or induction heating elements. Radiant or ribbon elements heat similarly to standard black electric coils; halogen works like ultra hot lightbulbs; and induction creates magnetic fields that generate heat.
- Their smooth, flat surface makes cleanup easy.
- When not in use, you can use the smooth surface as extra countertop space.
- You get a clean, uncluttered look to the countertop.
- Induction cooktops offer the same kind of precise heat control as gas cooktops, and are more energy efficient.
- Induction cooking only works with steel and cast iron pots and pans.
- Induction cooktops are more expensive than other electric cooktops.
- You have to be careful that you don't burn yourself by accidentally hitting the touchpad controls or knobs.
- You won't get the same kind of precise temperature control that you can with gas, unless you choose magnetic induction.
- Hard to tell if the burners are still hot when they're turned off.
Price: About $500 to $1,400; $2,000 and up for induction
Modular burners allow you to switch the configuration of your cooktop, whether electric or gas. Options for replacing standard burners include grills, griddles and French tops.
- You can use them on islands because they typically come with downdraft vents.
- You can vary the type of cooking you're doing on the same cooktop.
- You have to deal with switching and cleaning the modules.
Price: $500 to $1,000 for the cooktop; modules sold separately