Like any workhorse, the kitchen range is something we usually take for granted. Until it breaks down, that is, and all we’re left with is four walls and a sink. A range fills the home with appetizing aromas, is command central for holiday gatherings, and sustains the family—with some help from the house chef, of course.

Thanks to new features and more stylish choices, the old workhorse has become something of a show pony: New designs and placement of the controls have boosted their visual appeal. The latest models of stoves have powerful burners or heating elements to get pots boiling quickly and two ovens for more versatility, and some stoves even pair a gas cooktop with an electric oven to give you even more choices. Whether you need a new range now or are just considering an upgrade, here’s how to navigate the options.

Features to Consider and Those to Skip

When shopping for a new range, it’s easy to be seduced by fancy features—even if you don’t really need them. But remember that the more bells and whistles a range has, the higher its price. And more extras don’t necessarily mean that a range will be better at the basics or more reliable in the long run.

The best approach is to zero in on the features that increase safety, save time, and add convenience—and forget about the rest. To help you do that (and stay focused during a sales pitch), we’ve sorted popular features in order of importance:

Essential

  • High-power burners and elements are great for bringing water to a fast boil and for stir-frying a big pan of food.
  • Control lockouts let you disable the oven controls on stoves and are recommended when the control panel is at the front of the range, especially when young children are afoot.
  • Hot-surface warning lights tell you when an electric heating element is still hot (one warning light per element is best, though one overall light will probably cost less).

Nice to Have

  • Oval gas burners can accommodate griddles and elongated pans. (On electric stoves, an elongated bridge element that spans two burners serves the same purpose.) Most radiant smoothtops have elements that expand or shrink to match a pot’s diameter.
  • Convection can speed up baking and roasting, and improve browning.
  • A warming drawer comes in handy when hosting large gatherings or feeding stragglers.

Skippable

  • WiFi-enabled ranges let you preheat the oven, change the temperature, and more from another room or from across town. But for safety’s sake, it’s better to be close by when the range is on.

3 Things a Sales Rep Won’t Tell You About Ranges

1. Some ranges with front control panels and no back panel vent the oven’s air out the front. Not only does that heat up the kitchen but it also may make you feel uncomfortable while you’re stirring your gravy. When shopping for a front-control range, including pro-styles, see how it vents the oven’s warm air and how it keeps the controls cool during baking and cooktop use.

2. Few ranges are silent, but some are noisier than others. For instance, you may hear the fan (or fans) whirring during cooking or self-cleaning cycles or when using the convection feature. And the elements on induction ranges may hum or buzz at higher settings. Before buying, ask the sales rep about noise from fans and heating elements, and also check the manufacturer’s website to learn what noises you should expect from a model.

3. Oven racks can be hard to move around, which for bakers can be especially annoying. Even gliding racks, which are made to be easy to push in and pull out, can be hard to switch to another position. Move the racks around before you buy. If they drive you crazy now, imagine how you’ll feel after a decade of wrestling with them.


What's Better—Gas or Electric?

Each has its advantages. And if you absolutely can’t decide between gas and electric, consider one of the new dual-fuel models, which have a gas cooktop and an electric oven.

Electric Ranges

  • Electric stoves are more popular than gas, and the best electric models in our tests consistently outperform the top gas models, largely because their most powerful rangetop element delivers faster heat and their broilers tend to cook more evenly because they cover a larger area than those in most gas ranges.

Gas Ranges

  • Fans of gas ranges argue that it’s easier to control the heat when cooking on the stove. They have a point: When you turn down a flame on a gas range, the heat reaching the food is reduced almost immediately.
  • Grates on gas rangetops can stand up to any type of cookware.
  • If you live in a place prone to power outages, you might want to go for a gas range, which allows you to cook a hot meal with just the strike of a match. With an electric range, you’ll be eating cold cereal by candlelight.

Radiant Smoothtop Ranges

  • On radiant smoothtop ranges—the most popular electric type—it can take a few minutes for the cooktop heat to fully reduce, which can lead to burned or overdone food.
  • Flat-bottom cookware makes better contact with the cooktop surface. But the ceramic glass cooktop can scratch or crack under heavy pots.

Electric Induction Ranges

  • The cooktop elements on electric induction ranges use electromagnetic energy to heat only the pan, leaving the surface cooler than a range with radiant elements. The result is faster heat, precise simmering, instantaneous heat control, easy cleanup, and added safety.
  • Induction cooktops work only with cookware that contains magnetic material and should be flat-bottomed for better contact with the surface.
  • Though induction technology is popular in Europe, it hasn’t really taken off in the U.S., perhaps because models are often more expensive than either gas or conventional electric ranges—though they’re coming down in price.

Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the November 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.