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APPLIANCES : Stove-Makers Expand Elements of Styles

July 31, 1993|From Associated Press

Twenty years ago, surface cooking--whether it was done on the range or the cooktop--required either conventional gas burners or electric coils. The choice, for most of us, was a simple matter of preference. Today those two options are available in an array of products that sport a variety of cooking systems.

For example:

* Sealed gas burners. A significant improvement over the basic flame, sealed gas burners carry the cooking surface snugly around the heating element so spills stay on the surface where they are easier to clean.

Most cooktops with sealed gas burners are also equipped with an energy-saving electronic ignition. It uses up to 30% less gas by eliminating the need for a pilot light. To light the burner, turn the knob to the light position--the burner lights in three seconds or less. Four-burner models start at $425.

* Smooth-top elements. Smooth-surface cooktops and ranges have greatly improved since they were introduced. Originally, the smooth-tops were made from white Corning glass. The glass could not withstand very high temperatures, so the cooktops did not heat as well as traditional electric-coil cooktops. The glass had a tendency to stain and was not shock resistant, so it sometimes cracked.

All smooth-tops today are made from ceramic glass. This glass is shock- and scratch-resistant, so it can withstand temperatures of more than 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. Cookware with thick, flat bottoms heat most efficiently on smooth-tops.

Ceramic-glass cooktops can be fueled by either fast radiant elements or quartz-halogen elements. The high-speed radiant burners work similar to standard electric coils--the coils are simply placed below the ceramic-glass top panel.

Halogen heat, on the other hand, works in a fashion similar to an incandescent light bulb. With a halogen bulb, 10% of the energy given off is light; the rest is heat. These burners instantly glow red and shine through the translucent ceramic-glass cooking surface.

While some manufacturers say halogen burners heat slightly faster than radiant elements, they cost more initially and are much more costly to repair. Prices for smooth-tops equipped with radiant burners start at about $500. Cooktops with halogen burners start closer to $700.

* Solid-disk elements. Instead of coils, these Eurostyle cooktops have a solid cast-iron cooking surface that contains electrical wires below.

Slower to heat than traditional coils, these burners are coated with a non-corrosive surface, grooved for traction, and surrounded by a stainless-steel spill ring.

Like cooktops with sealed gas burners, these electric cooktops are also popular because they prevent most spills from leaking below the cooking surface. Baked-on spills, however, are difficult to clean off the cast-iron disks. Four-burner cooktops start at around $375.

* Magnetic induction. Using a very different approach to cooking than other smooth-tops, this surface transfers heat through ceramic or glass tiles directly to special metallic cookware. Heating is instantaneous. Magnetic induction units cost more than $3,000.

* Grills. Downdraft ventilation has brought the ability to grill with gas indoors. The ventilation fan is mounted beneath the cooking surface, pulling smoke and odor downward and then outside. Grills are typically offered as part of a modular surface cooking package: You can choose either gas or electric elements for the other two (or four) burners on the cooking surface.

Indoor grilling has received mixed reviews: Although many people enjoy the convenience of year-round grilling, others prefer to brave the weather and keep the spatters outdoors.

* Combination cooking. If you would prefer to have a combination of cooking surfaces, you're in luck. Some manufacturers offer modular units that enable you to choose up to three different heating elements, including indoor gas grills, griddles, smooth-top halogen elements and sealed gas burners.

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