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Cheap Ranges Buying Guide

If you're in the market for a cheap range, the first and most critical decision involves the type of heat. Assuming you have a choice -- and in many homes, you don't -- there are two options: gas or electric.

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In our search for the best cheap stoves, we scoped out both types. Gas ranges usually cost more upfront but are cheaper to operate and give cooks more precise control over the heat under the pots and pans. Electric ranges are often easier to clean, especially if they have a smooth cooking surface, and oven temperatures tend to be more even.

Regardless, there's no need to spend more than $600 for a good inexpensive range. The winners are all basic models that give consumers value for their money. Our top electric stove picks include the GE JBS55DM (starting at $495), with its smooth cooktop, huge oven, and good price-to-performance ratio; and the Hotpoint RB757DP (starting at $404), the opposite of snazzy but a stalwart performer, nonetheless. Among gas stoves, our favorites are the Frigidaire FGF348KS (starting at $539), another solid yet simple range that gets the job done but is burdened by a few design quirks. We kept an eye out for low price ranges that truly disappoint consumers and ultimately decided to forgo that quest because there was no strong consensus among reviewers. (Note that model numbers/letters may vary slightly from those indicated in our buying guide depending on the color, or the finish, of the unit you're looking at.)

Although budget ranges are short on frills, there is some product variation. Take the finish, for example. Stainless steel is a big seller but adds about $100 to the bottom line -- plus, it's harder to keep clean. Cheaper options are black, white, and bisque, the latter two colors less prone to tell-tale streaking and smudging.

The stove-top burners are another distinguishing characteristic. Four burners are standard for budget stoves, but occasionally a model features a fifth. The very best cheap gas stoves come with a high performance burner and/or a simmer burner, but most provide four all-purpose burners. The burners on gas stoves are either open or sealed, the latter arrangement simplifies cleanup by preventing spills from seeping under the burners. Electric ranges almost always come with two small and two large burners that suit cookware of different sizes. The biggest divide among electric ranges concerns the heating element: coiled and situated atop the stove's surface or ribbon-like and sealed underneath a flat ceramic glass surface. The price gap between these two electric modes, once quite wide, has narrowed considerably and smooth cooktops are increasingly consumers' technology of choice.

One factor that frugal consumers won't have to agonize over is the outer dimensions of the stove. The standard width of a stove is 30 inches, and How Stuff Works notes that most kitchens are designed to accommodate stoves of this size. If you need to go smaller, good luck; stoves narrower than 30 inches are hard to find. If you prefer a larger model, be prepared to shell out bigger bucks; most are priced deep into the four-digit zone. The interior dimensions of the oven on a stove, however, are up for grabs. Ovens with at least 4 cubic feet of cooking space are the norm in the budget segment, and on some cheap stoves, the interior cavity exceeds 5 cubic feet. Some low priced stoves now come with a self-cleaning cycle, but this feature may add to the price.

Ranges are available in several configurations, including freestanding, drop-in, or slide-in. (Professional-style ranges attempt to replicate the cooking performance and appearance of restaurant ranges but are way, way beyond the Cheapism niche.) But here, budget-minded shoppers don't have much choice. Freestanding stoves with fully finished sides and a backsplash holding the controls are the cheapest, and all the models we researched are freestanding. Slide-in ranges lack finished sides and fit flush between two cabinets, and cost more than double what you'd pay for a freestanding model. A drop-in range has no backsplash and sits atop a cabinet baseboard for a very built-in look; drop-in ranges are also priced far higher than the cheap ceiling.

Review continues below

by Elizabeth Sheer (Google+ Profile)

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