Any stove will cook your food. But after talking to a bunch of experts and comparing more than 60 models, we think that these are the most important features in a freestanding electric range:
Any decent range will have, at a minimum, a 2,400-watt power burner, but you can expect up to 3,300 watts on nicer models. The stronger burners heat up your cookware faster, so you’ll save a couple of minutes waiting for water to boil or for a pan to get hot enough for a good sear. Some readers have told us that they prefer to have the strongest burners in the front row of the cooktop for easier access, and a few manufacturers have told us their own research shows that most stove-buyers have the same preference. But one advantage of having the strongest burners placed diagonally is that it’s easier to fit two large pots or pans on the range in that arrangement, and we’ve heard from a few people who would rather have one strong burner in the back row, so that they can boil water where kids can’t reach the pot.
Most ranges have a 1,200-watt simmer burner and a low-wattage “keep warm” zone where you can hold or melt without risk of scorching anything.
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.
Any stove that costs more than $600 should have a smooth-top surface. These are much easier to clean than exposed-coil elements. They look sleeker and make it easier to work with large pots and pans. (However, this type of surface does scratch more easily.)
We strongly prefer cooktops that you can control with movable, physical dials rather than buttons, because they’re just easier and more responsive.
Capacity matters, but almost every oven we found is larger than 5 cubic feet, which is big enough for a giant, 26-pound Thanksgiving turkey, a 16-inch pizza stone, or all but the very largest baking sheets or roasting pans.
Any stove you find will come with two oven racks, but with pricier models, we like to see three.
If you’re spending more than $600 on an electric range, you should expect it to have a convection cooking mode. This feature, if you choose to use it, turns on a fan at the back of the oven to spread heat evenly so that 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. Many electric convection ovens have an extra heating element near the fan, which (allegedly) makes temperatures even more consistent throughout the oven. Depending on the brand, it’s usually called true convection or European convection.
You should also expect some type of self-cleaning if you’re spending more than $600. Most models use really high temperatures to burn off filth, but some use steam. We’ve read too many user reviews slamming steam-clean modes as virtually useless, so we favored high-heat methods. Having both options, though, is even better. For the same reason we like physical dials to control the cooktop, we like to see number pads for inputting temperatures and cook times in the oven.
Build quality and design
The more finish options there are, the more flexibility you have in outfitting your kitchen. We gave a slight preference to those with at least three options, one of which should be stainless steel.
For the models we were able to check out in a store, we looked for knobs that felt securely fastened to 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 glided, and a tightly laminated control panel. (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.)
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.
We also took into account reliability data from J.D. Power and Yale Appliance + Lighting. Neither source is comprehensive, though.
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 it’s 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 brand or product.
A wok grate, temperature probe, 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, or scan-to-cook modes are all fine, but we doubt that most people ever use them. We didn’t go out of our way to avoid models with these kinds of cooking modes, because they’re hard to avoid, 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. Not too many freestanding ranges have Wi-Fi yet, anyway.