Ovens and cooking appliances in general are something of a passion for me as I like to cook and over the years I've experienced some good and some bad cookers, a couple of them really abysmal if the truth be told. It pains me greatly when we get people on the phone or in the forums complaining about an oven or cooker's performance as, with a bit of simple research, so many issues could easily be avoided. In fact, a bit of common sense in some cases could easily avert potential disasters when choosing a new cooker or oven.
I do apologise if this appears a little harsh but, it's all very well researching after the fact, why not do it before you part with your hard earned cash? Cooker and ovens produce results that you can admire for aesthetics, touch, taste and smell, few other appliances can boast that so it's worth spending a little time choosing one as you will almost certainly use it a lot and, taste the results literally.
In this article I will be concentrating on ovens, hobtops or cooktops are a totally different thing and, with most cooker including range cookers there is a choice of what sort of hob you want to match the oven you would like, be that gas or electric in general terms.
I can recall my grandmother having an old English Electric cooker many years ago if I recall correctly and this thing was built as if it was hewn from a solid lump of cast iron with the futuristic smooth curves that only the 1940's and 50's could deliver, it was incredibly well built in an offish looking cream colour and looked as if it had seen a good couple of decades worth of use, probably more. Then as I grew up my mother had a, for the time, a fancy Tricity cooker with two ovens, a timer and an eye-level grill and in its day this was quite a bit of kit. It also saw a good couple of decades worth of hot dinners albeit with the odd radiant ring or oven element having to be replaced. But, in those days, a cooker cost a few weeks pay and now things are a little different.
In the early eighties things started to change with appliances, cheap Italian ovens started to creep in as new fangled built-in ovens that we are all too familiar with today and, throughout the eighties and nineties as fitted kitchens became increasingly popular as they had done in the rest of Europe, the freestanding cooker's fate started to look quite bleak.
Of course the slot-in cooker or freestanding cooker (called that as it can stand free of kitchen units) has had something of a renaissance of late with the increasing shift towards large range cookers in a sort of AGA type style but without the hefty price tag. Then there's the designer range cookers which, to get a good one that will last and retain its looks you are going to spend some serious money on it.
Now cookers and ovens can come from anywhere as is the case with most appliances and there's a lot of bad ones out there, an awful lot. To my knowledge there is only the Stoves/Belling plant in Prescot that still manufactures cookers in the UK today for the mass market, all others are imported, even the UK brands and not all Stoves and Belling are UK made. However there are some niche manufacturers that are still proudly British.
Early built-in ovens were a bit hit and miss. Most of the cheap Italian ones, very often fitted by kitchen installers and builders, were often mis-installed (many still are), had grills that were next to useless as cooking with the grill is a UK/US pastime the Europeans don't do it, the build quality was iffy and the doors were terrible on many leading to heat escape. This got many a bad name, especially where people had had a real cooker in the past.
The point is though that now we expect things to be cheap, which is fair we enough to an extent, but what are we prepared to sacrifice to get the price? As I said, the old one's cost a few weeks pay but performed wonderfully and lasted decades. Now, several decades later, we expect the same for less than a week's wages, how is that going to work?
One of the things we try to explain to people a lot on UK Whitegoods is that there is always a sacrifice to achieve a lower price and, with ovens and cookers, this is very, very evident if you look into them in any depth.
What happens a lot is that you get someone, often a style based manufacturer such as Smeg, that come up with a new and fresh design and then a whole bunch of other brands copy it and try to make it cheaper. There is always an element of paying for the style or the badge but you also have to remember that the copies have been engineered to be cheaper. This means cheaper components, thinner steel, not such high quality door glass, elements and a heap of other things get sacrificed in order to meet a price point.
Smeg's A1 range cooker is a perfect example. Normally this large stainless steel range cooker is knocking on for £2000 in stores and yet you can buy one in Currys that looks remotely similar for less than half that price. How do you think they do that?
Let's just leave it that complaints about poor fitting doors, poor temperature stability, control panels being too hot to touch and so on are a lot more common on the cheap ones unsurprisingly. In short, it looks the part, sort of works but just isn't the original, or anywhere near it in terms of build quality or performance.
The sad thing is an awful lot of people think that they all do the same thing and should just all work the same way, after all an oven's an oven isn't it? Well, no, it's not that simple.
We have to wonder if the same people also think that all cars are the same, all work the same way and all perform the same. Quite regularly we see in the forums people wanting a look or style of cooker but as cheaply as possible, often not wanting to pay for the one they actually want or simply not able to afford it but there's a lot of people out there that want a Ferrari as well and very few can afford one but all accept that a Toyota MR2 or whatever won't work in quite the same way.
This also spills over when, as service agents, we have people complaining about a cooker's performance after buying one demanding that is should work in a certain manner. It just doesn't work that way I'm afraid, if you buy a Mini you don't expect Ferrari performance from it and yet that is exactly what a lot of people do expect when buying new appliances. And, as we often point out in respect to cheap home appliances, yes we can fix them, but we can't improve them.
The bottom line is that you get what you pay for. Fancy designs that are hard to construct cost more money to produce so, if you want the look and the performance you are going to have to part with the cash to achieve it. If you want just the look and not the performance buy whatever you like, just don't expect it to work very well if it's a cheap cooker or oven and please don't complain about poor performance as, you have been warned.
In light of the above it is also fair to say that many people do not get a choice in a new cooker or oven or, are simply not given a lot of options and, where it's a new home from a builder or a kitchen that is being fitted it is all too common that people don't quite get what they expect.
This is the murky world of contract appliances. These appliances are sold as cheap as chips, almost entirely based on the price, in bulk to house builders and kitchen companies.
The reason is that they get included in the price and people think that they are getting a bargain. So you go out and spend £5000 on a new kitchen thinking that you got a cracking deal because you have branded appliances fitted that were worth over £2000 in the shops.
Wrong. What you got was the cheap versions produced for the contract market which often have a lot of the decent features and performance stripped out.
It is sad and it happens a lot but very often the oven or cooker that's fitted in these installations is worth a couple of hundred quid at most, often ovens that are just over £100 retail. In other words, rubbish.
If you are offered appliances with a new kitchen or a new home, research and make sure that what you are getting is actually worth having.
This leads me to one of the most important things that I can tell you for when you get a new oven, don't trust that how you have done things in the past will work just the same as they always have. Technology moves on, things change and there are differences between the appliances.
This is one of the biggest hurdles and complaints that we hear about, basically the person using the oven has used the one they had previously for a number of years and, all of a sudden, the new one doesn't quite work in the same way. It generally won't do so.
There are a number of reasons for this and it's all fairly logical when you think about it, the element wattages will likely be different, the oven cavity won't be the same size, the airflow pattern will be different and so on. In short, it won't be just the same.
The same goes for gas ovens, of which some are truly, truly woeful, especially the cheap ones. The burner can be rated differently, the airflow different, the heat retention of the cabinet and so on.
All these factors affect how a recipe can turn out, especially anything that relies on an even temperature which is why, if you bake, I will always advise that you buy the best you possibly can. But, even if you don't it is not uncommon on a cheap oven with poor airflow, heat retention or a poorly situated element/burner to, for example, burn a pizza at the back while it's almost raw at the front. Even for non-cooks an oven that is at least useful is what you are after, not one that can make a mess of heating up a frozen pizza!
The bottom line is that, when you get a mew oven do not assume it will be the same as the last one you owned or used, every one has its own little unique characteristics.
This is an open ended question more than a "what to do" type thing as a lot depends on what you want to use the oven to do. By that I mean, if you want to heat up a frozen pizza or a TV dinner then a basic to mediocre oven will suffice, just, in most cases.
If you want it to last a long time and do that things change.
However if you actually want to cook with an oven then things change dramatically, especially if you want to bake or do any sort of cooking beyond a frozen pie or a basic roast chicken.
That said there's some basic things that you should be aware of when looking at an oven or cooker and I will explain the easy ones first.
The door is one of the most important parts of an oven from a user's standpoint. First of all it has to close and seal well, the hinges should encourage the door to smoothly glide and almost "snap" shut on the door seal. This is because the whole point is to have the heat kept inside the cavity on the oven, not escape to the atmosphere, the point isn't to heat the kitchen, but the food you put in the oven.
It is also extremely important that the door seals very well for baking as this means you don't get cold air creeping in at the top, so a more stable temperature which is required for baking. This is also what causes uneven cooking a lot of the time and there's often very little that an engineer can do to rectify the issue either, it's the design that's the problem.
This is the first thing that is easy for you to gauge, just walk into a store and check out the door integrity, you'll quickly appreciate when I say that the cheap cookers are a little lacking in this area.
As I said the object of a good oven is to retain the heat, cook the food and not bleed the heat out so, the thicker and better insulated that the oven is, generally, the better it will cook and, the less heat that escapes, the more even the temperature. A nice side effect of this is that, at the same time, this also makes the oven more economical as you are heating the space in the oven and not the surroundings.
The common mistake that I have seen people making is that thinking that the larger the oven cavity for the allotted space the better, well I have to ask, how do you think that manufacturers do that? Yes, they cut down the insulation.
This is also an area where money can be saved during manufacture by using thinner materials to build the oven cavity as well as cutting down on the insulation. So yes, you get a cheap oven, but it costs a fortune to run and doesn't cook properly.
If the oven feels as if it's made from tin and you think that the panels etc. are thing, they probably are. This is just another way in which costs are cut.
If it feels like it's no more chunky than the tin you get Heinz soups in, don't buy it!
This really confuses people when it comes to ovens and it applies more to built in ovens than freestanding cookers, but it applies to them as well to a degree in some cases. Basically you have to cool the thing on the outside so you don't get burned, both the facia and the door in particular and on a built-in oven, the only way to do that is with a cooling fan blowing hot air over the top of the cavity which draws up cool air from the bottom front of the oven.
Lately I have had call to criticise a few cheap freestanding cookers on sale at a superstore near you, for almost burning people's hands as they touched the controls on the cooker. The reason, if they'd fitted a cooling fan the cooker wouldn't have managed the price point. So, safety doesn't matter as much as price does then? The retailer says that they are only responding to consumer demand for cheap cookers and ovens that have a certain style.
When you go to buy an oven or cooker ask if there is a cooling fan fitted, if the salesperson doesn't know the answer to that simple question, you're in the wrong store or talking to the wrong person.
You get what you pay for. It really is that simple.
If you buy a cheap oven or cooker that seems to undercut rivals by some way then there's a reason for it and usually one that you won't like.
There are some really nasty cookers out there and even nastier built in ovens, beware and do your homework.
We hope this helps and that when you do buy a new oven that it serves you well and that this article helped you.