Get to Know the Many Benefits of Warming Drawers
Courtesy of Kenmore Pro
Warming drawers can keep food hot, warm dinnerware and proof breads.
You're in the middle of making a culinary masterpiece when you realize that not only have you run out of counter space, but you also need to keep the food warm until the guests arrive. What's a cook to do?
Most home chefs don't have a team of line cooks on multiple cooktops, so a warming drawer provides a place to store gastronomic delights between prep and serve. As the name implies, warming drawers are designed to keep hot food warm and moist (or crispy, as the case may be), not to actually cook the food. They're also ideal for warming dinnerware or proofing yeast-based breads.
Fueled by electricity, a warming drawer uses about a quarter of the power-from 450 to 600 watts-that an electric oven would typically draw to heat food. Most warming drawers have hidden controls; low, medium and high settings; a rack on which to place food; and a control or sensor to regulate humidity. Use the moist setting to keep your mashed potatoes perfectly moist; use the crisp setting to keep your French fries crispy. White, black, biscuit and stainless steel are the standard finish options.
For more money, you can add more bells and whistles on your warming drawer:
- A timer allowing you to keep dishes warm for up to four hours.
- Multiple warming pans and racks (These are often available as accessories.)
- A proof setting. This is between 75 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit; the low to high settings usually span from 135 degrees to around 230 degrees.
- Drawer fronts that accept custom wood panels to match your cabinets. Some manufacturers also offer designer colors.
Sizes: 24, 27, 30 or 36 inches wide. Most warming drawers fit into a standard kitchen cabinet space.
Price: From $600 to $1,700, with most in the $800 to $1,000 range
Things to Think About When Selecting Cooking Appliances
To help focus your selection process, ask yourself the following questions. You also can print out the questionnaire and refer to it while visiting a kitchen designer, appliance showroom or retail store.
1. What are the dimensions of my current appliances? Does my current kitchen layout allow for any changes in these dimensions? Or will the layout be changing?
2. What kind of utility hookups do I have in my kitchen? Am I willing to pay to change them if I want to change my cooktop, range or oven from electric to gas or vice versa?
3. What look do I want to create with my cooking appliances? For example, professional kitchens use stainless steel appliances; a sleek modern space might use a glass cooktop and glass-front wall ovens; and an Old World kitchen usually has a big range with a wood- or stone-covered vent hood.
4. How many people typically do the cooking in my home? For how many people am I or are we usually cooking? Does this affect the size or number of ovens, burners, etc. that we need?
5. How do I/we cook? Do I use the oven or the cooktop more? Am I interested in features such as convection, steam or induction cooking? What about grill, griddle or wok modules as part of the cooktop? Do I need a professional level of cooking power and precision, or are standard Btus or wattage sufficient?
6. Do I use enough power when cooking to require a serious ventilation system? Do I have the appropriate ductwork for an updraft vent hood, or is a downdraft system more appropriate? Would a microhood be sufficient?
7. Do I entertain and cook enough that having a second oven, a warming drawer or built-in coffeemaker will be useful?
8. Should I consider a microhood or a compact range or cooktop to help save space in my kitchen?
9. Do any household members have physical limitations that would make a wall oven easier to use than a stove? Would a smooth-surface cooktop or one with continuous grates also be easier to use?
10. Do I want options that save time spent cooking and cleaning-for example, a speed oven, self-cleaning oven, sealed burners or pre-programmed cooking modes?
What's Hot in Cooking Appliances Today.
A kitchen may be many things to its owner: a hub for gatherings, a command center, a venue for showcasing great works of culinary delight. Regardless of its additional roles in the home, the kitchen is first and foremost a room where separate ingredients are combined to produce full-fledged meals.
Unless you have an open fire pit in your home, every kind of cooking or heating activity is going to require an appliance of some kind. In most homes, a cooktop and an oven, either separate or combined in a range, are musts. Microwaves have become standard, too. Yet the range of cooking and heating appliances available to the modern cook extends much further.
Old technologies have made a comeback and new ones are offering homeowners more conveniences. Americans have welcomed warming drawers into the fold, but we're taking a little longer to warm up to induction cooking. Dual-fuel ranges combine the best of both electric and gas fuels, while speed-cook ovens combine the shortened time frame of a microwave with the cooking ability of a wall oven.
Power is as important in your kitchen as in your car, with Btus rivaling horsepower for household bragging rights. All that heat and energy requires ventilation to remove the grease and odor, and today's range hoods are works of art as well as healthful necessities.
Hand-in-hand with the coffee craze came a new generation of coffee and espresso makers designed to provide restaurant- or café-quality coffees, lattes, Americanos, macchiatos, cappuccinos and espressos. Like other high-end appliances, many of these can be built right into your cabinets.
Grills and griddles, convection and steam, slide-in and built-in the list of features to choose from seems endless. Whether or not you know a burner from a broiler from a blower, we'll show you everything you need to know.
The Professionals Weigh in on Appliances
Appliances fit for a chef won't transform you into a culinary whiz, but they might give you confidence to cook more daring dishes.
Perhaps you put your chef’s hat on every few months for a dinner party. Perhaps it’s every weekend to treat your significant other, or maybe it’s every night as you embark on your own Julie and Julia type adventure.
If at any point during your culinary adventures you’ve looked at your appliances and cooking tools and wondered, “Would an actual chef be caught dead using what I’m using?” this is the section for you. Five great chefs from around the United States answered our questions about the type of appliances and cooking tools they like to have in their work and home kitchens. Our Appliance Q & A includes the best responses from our panel of chefs.
To learn more about the professionals we interviewed, check out our Meet the Chefs area.
Gas, Electric and Induction Cooktops
Courtesy of Fagor America
This 28-inch gas cooktop fits five burners into a small space.
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
What was the biggest change you saw in kitchen appliances during the last decade?
Courtesy of GE
During the last decade, kitchen appliances have offered professional quality as well energy efficiency, like this Energy Star rated GE refrigerator.
Chef Holmes: Professional kitchens haven’t really changed. I know in the home, more people do want a professional kitchen, and I think that’s maybe because of the exposure of chefs and cooking shows on television.
Chef Selland: In the last decade more ranges with a lot more power became available. I think it’s great that a lot of restaurant-type appliances have been made for home use.
Chef Subido: I think the biggest improvement I saw was that more manufacturers started making energy-efficient appliances. It was good to see energy saving become a priority.
Verdict: From 2000 to 2010, kitchen appliances have offered more professional features and have become more efficient. Since we don’t foresee a dark ages of kitchen appliance innovation, expect these trends to continue.
How important is ventilation for you when you cook?
Courtesy of Broan
When you cook like the pros, ventilation is usually important.
Chef Holmes: Honestly at my home, I don’t like using ventilation appliances. I have a stove with a downdraft, but I really like to infuse the house with the scent of whatever I’m cooking. In a restaurant you need something so you don’t smoke out the place. But at home, I think you want to come into a kitchen that smells good. And if you burn something, live with your mistake.
Chef Matthews: Ventilation is really important, when pro chefs cook at home we generally use much higher heat than the home cook, this results in way more than just aroma.
Chef Vizethann: I think if you cook a lot at home they are very important, especially if you are cooking something like fish. Right now I don’t have anything in my home, but I don’t cook at home that often.
Verdict: With the exception of Chef Holmes, all our chefs thought ventilation units were important for anyone that frequently cooks at home. While Chef Holmes' idea of “living with your mistakes” has a certain charm to it, everyone else in your house dealing with the smell of burnt food might not think so. Your wood cabinets might not want to be covered in grease, either.
Who's Who on Our Appliance Panel
Chef James Holmes
Austin chef James Holmes has received a culinary stamp of approval from a wide range of people, from country singer Willie Nelson — for whom Holmes has catered — to the editors of Bon Appétit magazine, who named his restaurant, Olivia, one of 2009’s “Top 10 Best New Restaurants in America.”
The fare at Olivia is described as “Mediterranean cuisine with a seasonal, Southern spin.” The restaurant specializes in house-made pasta, select cuts of meat like lamb T-bone steaks, and the signature dish, lamb’s tongue fricassee, which is described as “a crispy tongue cooked in a Dijon pan sauce and matched with a sweet fruit mostarda.”
Chef Kristine Subido
The top floors of Chicago’s W Lakeshore hotel are known for their spectacular views, but its first floor restaurant, Wave, does for taste buds what the higher floors do for the eyes.
Before coming to Wave, chef Kristine Subido’s culinary background included stops in restaurants that specialized in Italian cuisine, North African cuisine and French cuisine. Her worldly background lends to Wave’s menu, which includes braised waygu beef short ribs, grilled Mississippi quail, and desserts such as spiced pumpkin meringue tart.
Larry Matthews, Jr.
Back Bay Grill
Consistently named as one of Maine’s top restaurants, Back Bay Grill is owned by Chef Larry Matthews. He became Executive Chef in 1997 and took over ownership of the Portland restaurant in 2002.
Back Bay Grill focuses on regional and seasonal fare and also includes a wine selection that has received several awards from Wine Spectator magazine. The menu changes frequently, but continually features great selections of fresh seafood and select cuts of beef and lamb.
Chef Randall Selland
The Selland Group
Chef Randall Selland has spent more than 20 years whipping up delicious meals and racking up experience in the restaurant business. At his restaurant The Kitchen, Chef Selland is known for his culinary events and cooking demonstrations, giving patrons an inside look at the cooking process before a great meal is delivered to their table. This unique dining experience has made him one of the most well known chefs in Sacramento.
The Hungry Peach Cafe
As a certified personal chef as well as certified culinarian, Atlanta chef Suzanne Vizethann has taken on double duty by doing both private catering and opening a café, called The Hungry Peach café.
Some dishes on her catering menu include shrimp bisque, bacon-wrapped pork tenderloin with a creamed corn puree, and vanilla-bean crème brûlée.
Before starting her own catering business and café, chef Vizethann worked at the Atlanta catering company Added Touch and also worked under Bravo’s Top Chef runner-up Richard Blais at his Atlanta restaurant, One Midtown Kitchen.
An Overview of Microwave Drawers
Courtesy of Sharp
Located under the counter, microwave drawers offer streamlined design and easy access.
Microwaves need not apply for a position on the countertop any longer. For years, designers have moved built-in microwaves and microwaves that look like built-ins under the counter to put the appliance within reach and to make room for attractive plate racks, open shelving and other wall cabinet displays.
In-drawer microwaves, where you load food from the top rather than through a front-facing door, are relatively new. Dacor and Sharp are the only two manufacturers releasing them at the moment.
Most models open automatically, with the door sliding open at the touch of a button, but the electronic control panels can be locked to prevent children from operating them.
These microwave drawers also feature a "micro warm" or "keep warm" option that allows them to be used as warming drawers for up to 30 minutes, making them two-for-one appliances.
Finishes: Stainless steel, black and white
Power: 950 to 1,000 watts
Sizes: 24 or 30 inches wide; 1.0 cubic foot
Price: From $800 to $1,050
What refrigerator style do you prefer, and do you like fridges with lots of different drawers and features?
Refrigerators with a freezer drawer were most popular with the chefs we talked to.
Chef Holmes: If I could afford a commercial refrigerator at home, I definitely would. But commercial refrigerators are expensive. At my house I have refrigerator with a freezer below, and I really like it. And I think new refrigerators are really great because they are much more energy efficient.
Chef Selland: Personally, I don’t need all the bells and whistles. I’m used to dealing with commercial equipment where you don’t have a bunch of different drawers and such. You can create your own little humidified area for produce. I think the most important thing is if your refrigerator holds temperature.
Chef Subido: I prefer having lots of room in a refrigerator. I find the side-by-side fridges don’t have enough room to store food. I like having the freezer on the bottom with basket containers.
Verdict: The spaciousness and simplicity of commercial fridges are clearly what our chefs are used to and like. But for home use a bottom-mount fridge gives them closest to what they need.