Best Cheap Ranges
- Published on
- By Elizabeth Sheer
Frugal consumers won't sacrifice much by opting for a cheap range. To be sure, more money spent on top-end labels such as Viking, Electrolux, and Bosch will get you more powerful and specialized burners, more precision controls and electronics, more oven racks and rack positions (and perhaps a convection mode for the oven), and lots more heft (as in weight). But even at the lower end of the market, there's value to be had in terms of features and performance. The big names in this segment include GE, Whirlpool, Kenmore, Maytag, Amana, Frigidaire, and Hotpoint, and users of the best of these inexpensive ranges are more than satisfied with the meals produced, the ease of use, and the set of features.
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. 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.
Finding the best cheap stoves proved quite a challenge due to the paucity of range reviews for current models. As with most major and minor appliances, manufacturers discontinue models and introduce new ones all the time, although many replacements differ from their predecessors by little more than a tweak here or there.
This relatively short product cycle complicates the hunt for the best cheap stoves. We found that cheap stoves with lots of consumer feedback have disappeared from vendors' inventory and widely available newer stoves aren't yet the subject of many range reviews. We also noted that big-box retailers exhibit a fair amount of brand loyalty, such that Lowe's sells Whirlpool but Home Depot doesn't, and Sears is the exclusive on-the-ground purveyor of Kenmore ranges (although you may find a unit here and there online); local, independent retailers may be equally brand-centric. As a result, range reviews posted online are both limited in number and tend to cluster under the umbrella of just one or two sites.
Because range reviews for easy-to-find models are in short supply, our conclusions are based on a smaller number of user comments than we would otherwise prefer. Even so, the small sample of reviews suggests that consumers are relatively satisfied with their purchases: They like the value pricing and the overall performance. A few users even assert that their budget stoves compare favorably to upscale models. Chief among consumers' expectations are stoves with consistent and easy-to-control heat. Reviews also reveal that thrifty consumers favor ovens and electric burners that heat up quickly (gas burners reach the desired temperature almost immediately), oven temperatures that are true, and stoves that are intuitive and a breeze to clean. The stoves on our list hit all these notes, at least most of the time.
Based on the range reviews we read, the smooth-top electric GE JBS55DM (starting at $495) is a star performer. Consumers' comments at Best Buy cite even cooking and baking temperatures, the two high-powered 2,000-watt heating elements, and food that simmers without burning as supporting evidence. A few reviews posted on other sites, however, gripe about slow heating with the smooth ceramic glass cooktop and oven temperatures that run colder than the setting. Our second choice electric range pick, the Hotpoint RB757DP (starting at $404), earns kudos for what reviews at Home Depot describe as responsive controls, coil heating elements that actually keep food at a simmer, and perfectly baked desserts and casseroles. A consumer products testing site also notes that a large pot of water set atop one of the 8-inch burners quickly comes to a near boil. Another electric model we researched, the Kenmore 90112 (starting at $391), falls short of the other two. Range reviews at Sears consider its performance average, with some saying it heats evenly and quickly and oven temperatures are accurate, while others report that preheating takes forever and heat from the coils is uneven; the broiler, however, apparently produces a mean steak.
We identified two stand-out gas ranges, as well. The Frigidaire FGF348KS (starting at $539) wins over users with what they describe as precise controls, accurate oven settings, and heat a-plenty; one user claims a pot of water reached a boil in 90 seconds (no details on the size of the pot), although another gripes in a review at Lowe's that the flames aren't up to the demands of Asian wokery. Enthusiasm for the Kenmore 70402 (starting at $360) is a tad cooler, largely due to design issues that are discussed below. Range reviews at Sears say the oven and burners do what they should within the time specified in recipes, and for the price, it's hard to complain. The Amana AGR3311WD (starting at $385), another no-frills model we researched but didn't add to our list, disappoints some consumers. Several reviews, including one at AJ Madison, grouse that the heat can't be turned down to a simmer although other users seem to like the powerful burners.
Self Cleaning Ovens
Range reviews reveal that consumers appreciate user-friendly ranges. In other words, they don't want to feel as though they need a private tutor to figure out how to operate their stove. The models on our list generally pass this test, probably because bells and whistles are rare at the budget end of the market. Purchasers write of ranges for vacation homes or rental units (little can go wrong), for aging parents (intuitive operation), and for themselves (little time for, or interest in, fancy meal prep).
The GE JBS55DM, an electric range, has all the necessary (i.e., basic) features, say reviews, as well as dials that are easy to read and an indicator light that lets you know the surface is hot. The large window in the oven door of the Frigidaire FGF348KS pleases cooks, but the feature most often cited in users' comments about this gas ranges is the oval, fifth burner at the center of the stove top. Consumers report using this extra source of heat for pancake breakfasts, cookout-like burgers and steaks, and homemade tortillas. Users like the audible signal at the end of the preheat cycle on the electric Hotpoint RB757DP and the automatic unlock at the end of the self-clean cycle, according to posts at Home Depot; one writer, however, grouses that the oven control requires an extra step (that is, pressing "start") after the temperature is set.
Despite an overall consensus among thrifty consumers that the no-frills stoves on our list are straightforward, grumbles about design issues that interfere with usability occasionally surface. The Kenmore 70402 is a gas stove that takes a few hits for awkward design decisions: an oven vent directly under the controls at the back of the stove that spews very hot air (one consumer stresses the importance of wearing an insulated mitt if you need to adjust the controls while the oven is on), a drop-in broiler tray in a drawer near the floor that's tricky to pull out and return while the broiler is going, and high burner grates that waste heat. Slippery burner grates, hard-to-see temperature settings on the oven dial, and the lack of a window in the oven door on the Amana AGR3311WD, another gas stove, irritate some users. And for all the appeal of the smooth ceramic cooktop on the GE JBS55DM, some consumers chafe at having to use flat-bottom pans and special cleaning products on this electric stove
Ranges Cleanup.Ease of cleaning crops up occasionally in consumer reviews, and when it does, our top picks post impressive scores. The smooth ceramic cooktop on the GE JBS55DM, with its under-the-surface heating elements, is a big draw for consumers all too familiar with the drudgery of cleaning coils and drip pans on traditional electric stoves. Most reviews of this model posted on Best Buy say cleanup is a breeze, although several claim that boil-overs bake on and require a spot of elbow grease to remove. Not surprisingly, several reviews of the Hotpoint RB757DP assert that cleaning the metal drip pans is a chore and others report they stain easily and need frequent replacement; one user recommends buying porcelain-on-steel drip pans instead and running them through the oven's self-cleaning cycle.
Self-sealed gas burners of the type found on the Fridgidaire FGF348KC and Amana AGR3311WD are a housekeeping boon. Many gas stoves now feature this design, which keeps crumbs and spills on the surface and turns cleanup into a relative picnic. Although the Kenmore 70402 features open burners, users insist it's easy to clean.
Self-cleaning ovens, once a frill reserved for high-end ranges, are increasingly common in the budget segment. Among the models on our list, only the electric Hotpoint RB757DP boasts a self-cleaning oven; one cook reports on Viewpoints that this feature leaves the oven sparkling. The other electric stoves and gas stoves we researched all require manual cleaning, but the task doesn't seem to be onerous. One user of the Kenmore 70402 writes that a dab of oven cleaner made quick work of pie filling that ran over, and a user of the Frigidaire FGF348KC writes in a post on the company website that cleanup is accomplished in a matter of minutes. Still, a number of reviewers of these models say they would have preferred a self-cleaning oven, although its absence wasn't a deal-breaker.
Range Electric controls, Size and Durability
Electronic controls are among the standard range features on most ovens, including those in the budget segment. All the cheap ovens we researched, but for the Amana AGR3311WD, feature an electronic touch pad for the oven. One virtue of an electronic touch pad is the large number of possible oven-temperature settings; the Kenmore 70402 and Kenmore 90112, for example, offer 105 options between 170 and 550 degrees Fahrenheit (as with the cheap oven in the Frigidaire FGF348KS, settings can be changed in five-degree increments). One frequent complaint about the Amana AGR3311WD is that the dial for the oven temperature is marked in 50 degree increments, which makes for lots of guesswork when a precise oven temperature is called for. Do note, though, that if the electricity goes out, you won't be able to operate any part of an electric stove, including the cheap oven; on a gas range, you'll at least be able to get the top burners going with a match.
Additional range features, such as automatic oven shut-off and time delay, give cooks lots of flexibility. But these are rare features in the bargain stove market. Among the models on our list, only the Hotpoint RB57DB boasts a timed- and delayed-bake function. Both the GE JBS55DM and Frigidaire FGF348KS feature a Sabbath mode on the cheap oven, which overrides the automatic shut-off so that the oven will stay on for more than 12 hours.
Range Size.Most kitchen layouts are designed for cheap stoves that measure 30 inches across. All the freestanding ranges we researched meet this standard.
Another indicator of size is oven space, measured in cubic feet. Experts at CNET correlate oven size with the number of people living in the home: 2 to 3 cubic feet for one or two people; 3 to 4 cubic feet for three or four people; and more than 4 cubic feet for four or more people. Even so, a small family with a big baking habit might want to opt for a larger cheap oven. The good news for frugal shoppers is that all of the 30-inch ranges on our list provide at least 4 cubic feet of oven space; the GE JBS55DM boasts the largest cavity (5.3 cubic feet) and the Kenmore 70402 has the smallest (4.2 cubic feet).