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Ranges Ease of Use

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.

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