Any stove will cook your food. But after talking to a bunch of experts and comparing more than 55 different electric ranges, we think these are the most important features to look for in a slide-in:
On a regular radiant-electric cooktop, you should expect a power element (or burner) of at least 3,000 watts, if not a little higher. With a stronger burner, you’ll find pots and pans heat up faster, which saves a few minutes waiting for big pots of water to boil or for a pan to get hot enough for a good sear. Most ranges also have at least one 1,200-watt simmer burner, as well as a low-wattage “keep warm” zone where you can hold or melt without risk of scorching anything. In total, there should be five burners.
For induction cooktops, found on some of the highest-end slide-in electric ranges, the standards are totally different. It’s a superior technology, hands down. Water always boils faster, the heat turns down nearly instantly (whereas radiant elements take a while to cool off), and the technology is excellent at holding low temperatures. So if you have the budget for a slide-in range with an induction cooktop, don’t worry too much about its particular specs—it’s going to be awesome no matter what.
Some readers have told us they prefer to have the two strongest burners in the front row of their cooktops because those are the burners they use most often and they find it more convenient to reach those burners that way. We favored stoves with this layout. But it’s worth noting that some pediatricians recommend boiling water on the back burner, where kids can’t reach. If that’s a concern of yours, consider a range with one of its two strongest burners located in the back row.
Pretty much any slide-in electric range will have a smooth ceramic glass surface. Smoothtop cooktops are much easier to clean than exposed-coil elements (which are rare on slide-ins anyway), and they look nicer and allow you to smoothly move cookware from one element to another. (However, this type of surface does scratch more easily.)
Flex-width elements are pretty common. They add some flexibility by allowing you to choose between two or three different element “sizes” to match the width of the pot or pan you’re using.
We strongly prefer cooktops that you can control with movable, physical dials rather than buttons, because they’re just easier and more responsive. However, it’s increasingly common, especially in induction ranges, to have touch controls or digital dials to control the burners. We’ve used these before and found them to be pretty frustrating, but a lot of people like that they don’t have to worry about accidentally triggering the dial.
Capacity matters a little, but most slide-ins have an oven that’s larger than 4.8 cubic feet—plenty of space for a 26-pound Thanksgiving turkey, a 16-inch pizza stone, or all but the very largest sizes of baking sheets or roasting pans. (No 30-inch range we’ve seen can fit a full-sized baking sheet.)
All but the cheapest ranges will have three racks in the oven. Some of the really high-end models will have one rolling rack, which is useful when removing dishes from a hot oven.
The vast majority of slide-in ranges have some kind of convection cooking mode. Convection means there’s a fan in the back of the oven that helps spread heat more evenly so you can cook at lower temperatures for less time. When it works well, large batches of cookies will bake more evenly, pastry crusts will come out flakier, and roasted meats and veggies should be crispier on the outside and juicier on the inside. Some convection ovens add an extra electric heating element near the fan, which (allegedly) makes temperatures more consistent throughout the oven, but we don’t have any data showing whether or not that’s true. (Depending on the brand, it’s usually called true convection or European convection, but we’ll call it heated-fan convection.)
We think that a self-cleaning mode is worth having, particularly a high-heat (aka “pyrolytic”) mode. Repair technicians tend to believe that high-heat cleaning will shorten the lifespan of your range by burning out the heating element or damaging the electronics, but it’s also by far the easiest way to clean an oven. Manual cleaning is hard, unpleasant work, even if you use a (smelly) cleaning spray. Some ranges have a steam-based, pseudo–self-cleaning feature, but it’s not very effective, according to most user reviews. Here’s our take: You should have the option to use a high-heat cleaning mode. If you’re worried about damaging your appliance, use it sparingly or not at all.
Build quality and design
The more finish options there are, the more flexibility you have when designing your kitchen. We gave a slight preference to those with at least three options; one option should be stainless steel.
For the models we were able to check out in person, we looked for knobs that feel securely fastened to the front of the range without too large a gap between the dial and the body. We checked for oven doors that opened smoothly but not too lightly, racks and drawers that were easy to slide out or remove, and a sturdy control panel—preferably with a glass touchscreen, because it looks sleeker than a control pad with membrane-style buttons. But if a range has a membrane control pad, it should be tight and responsive. (All of the units we saw were floor models, so they may have seen more wear and tear than a range in a typical house.)
We also like to see a number pad for inputting temperatures, as it’s a lot easier to use than up and down buttons.
Reliability and customer service
Reliability and customer service are difficult to pin down. But here’s the standard we’ve set for our picks: Owner reviews shouldn’t reveal any clear, consistent pattern of widespread defects, design problems, or egregiously bad product support. For this reason, we favored slightly older and more popular models because they tend to have more user ratings, so we know more about them.
Over our years of reporting on appliances, we’ve also gathered feedback from repair technicians about the brands that they think are the most reliable. But that feedback is highly anecdotal and not very consistent, so we don’t weigh it too heavily in our decisions unless there seems to be a consensus about a specific brand or product.
A temperature probe, griddle, or any other cooking accessory can be cool and useful, and many ranges come with one or more of these as a toss-in. But you can buy any of them separately, too.
Extra cooking modes like delayed starts, food-specific presets, proofing modes or scan-to-cook modes are all fine, but we doubt most people use them much. We of course didn’t go out of our way to avoid models with these cooking modes, but we didn’t favor them, either.
Wi-Fi connectivity won’t baste the turkey or turn the cookie sheet. It can make it easier to diagnose malfunctions in the range, which is moderately useful. Some models allow you to control the oven settings with voice commands, though we’re not convinced that’s useful enough to offset the potential security and privacy risks of having a connected appliance. Even if you think Wi-Fi is a little silly to have in a range, it’s common enough now that you might not be able to avoid it for much longer. You can always just choose to never set up the Wi-Fi.