Back-to-School Appliance-Buying Guide

Consumer Reports News: July 27, 2009 03:15 PM

Hard times don't mean college students have to give up healthful, tasty food. These appliances will come in handy whether your son or daughter lives in a dorm or an off-campus apartment. And while this gear won't turn your college-age cooks into an Iron Chef, it can save them some money and add variety and spice to their diet. (Suggested reading for rising college students worried about packing on the pounds during freshman year: " Fast Food Nearby: Convenience, But at What Cost?" )

Be sure to check your school's guidelines about appliances, and see the rest of our back-to-school coverage.

Compact Refrigerators
The "dorm-room refrigerator" moniker shows how closely compact refrigerators have become identified with college life, but only some of the models we tested made the grade. Many models have a single temperature-control dial, so you can't find an ideal temperature between the refrigerator and freezer sections. And all that we tested for this report are comparative energy hogs.

Only two refrigerators we tested had freezer sections that were able to keep frozen confections from turning to mush, and the 3.7-cubic-foot Avanti 308YWT, $200, flunked basic refrigeration. Choose the 4.6-cubic-foot Frigidaire FRC05L5D, $150, if your student will be a frequent frozen-food diner. Tell your kid to discard frozen foods that have been stored above 40°F for more than two hours, and print out these food-storage tips for him or her.

If you're willing to sacrifice capacity and freezing ability, the 2.5-cubic-foot capacity Sanyo SR-2570M, $130, combined reasonable performance and capacity with quiet operation; it also falls within the size limits imposed by many colleges. The 1.8-cubic-foot Haier HSA02, $100, the only recommended small cube-sized model, performed the best by far as a refrigerator and was quiet.

See the ratings (available to subscribers) for full details.

Many a college student has relied on coffee to get through finals, but these countertop appliances can also save your kid some real money by keeping them out of overpriced coffeehouses. Check out our March 2009 report on coffee.

If your student will make just a cup or two at a time, consider the standout $25 Melitta and $30 Cuisinart in our ratings (available to subscribers); both brew in a thermal container that can be taken to class. Multiple-cup standouts include a $40 Michael Graves model and the top-rated Cuisinart model, $99. If you want a model with a built-in grinder, check out the Mr. Coffee GBX23, $50, or the DGB-600BC, $160.

Smaller-footprint pod coffeemakers would seem an excellent choice for college, especially since they're simple to use and create less mess. But they require more expensive custom pods to brew coffee, so you might be better off stuffing your care packages with a top-rated coffee from our latest report.

Microwave Ovens
As with compact refrigerators, the usable space microwave ovens provide often is less than manufacturers claim, sometimes by up to 50 percent. When shopping, bring the boxes or clean, empty containers from your kid's preferred frozen foods to the store to see whether they fit inside the oven.

The best countertop models take the guesswork out of cooking and have settings for foods like popcorn, oatmeal, and pasta as well as for reheating or defrosting.

Among recommended models (available to subscribers) the Kenmore 6325[2], $130, bested the sharp-looking Panasonic Inverter NN-SD697[S] $160, at defrosting. And although it's not a conventional microwave oven, the $150 NuWave Pro Infrared Oven excelled at cooking some foods (especially chicken); it takes up about the same amount of space as a microwave.

Toasters and Toaster Ovens

If your choosing between these two appliances, go for a toaster oven. You lose some bread-toasting performance but will be able to cook up snacks to satisfy late-night snacks munchies. Some toaster ovens can even roast a whole chicken or toast six slices of bread at a time.

The T-Fal Avante Elite's convection cooking and four-position rack make this $100 model an excellent oven. Its electronic touchpad and a removable crumb tray make for easier cooking and cleanup. If you want a regular toaster, one capable Proctor Silex Cool-Touch model costs only $15, while a $50 KitchenAid model offers offers increased style and performance. Full ratings are available to subscribers.

Blenders and Food Processors
These appliances will let students create nutritious smoothies—and those over 21 can concoct postexam potables—but you'll want to watch our noise ratings to keep your kids from awakening neighbors. The Braun PowerMax MX2050, $50 was the best of the bunch in these areas. A capable food processor can help students vary their diets, and the KitchenAid KFP715[WH], $100 excels in nearly every category except kneading dough. Check out these recipes designed for a food processor.

Small vacuums, sweepers/brooms, and hand vacuums
can keep dorm rooms neat. The problem is to get kids to use them. The Bissell Versus 76T8, $80, boasts bright colors and a boomerang-shaped head that lets it fit into tight corners and edges better than almost every other stick vac. Its nonconformist design might inspire students to appreciate its form enough to actually use its functions, although it's not an option for carpets since it lacks a brush. The Black & Decker PivotPSV1800 $100, boasts a unique design that folds for better reach under furniture and for storage and is cordless. Check out our free buyer's guide to vacuums (ratings available to subscribers).

Kitchen Knives
While a pricey forged-steel set might be too much of an extravagance unless your student is attending a culinary institute, there are some excellent stamped-steel sets for as little as $60. Read our latest report on kitchen knives. —GianTrotta | | Twitter | Forums | Facebook

E-mail Newsletters

FREE e-mail Newsletters! Choose from cars, safety, health, and more!
Already signed-up?
Manage your newsletters here too.

Appliances News


Cars Build & Buy Car Buying Service
Save thousands off MSRP with upfront dealer pricing information and a transparent car buying experience.

See your savings


Mobile Get Ratings on the go and compare
while you shop

Learn more