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Bruce Aidells Reviews 5 36-inch Cooktops

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Over the Top

Not quite at home on the range? No need to boast the most roast? For boiling, frying, searing, and simmering, the drop-in cooktop is king.

Wurstmeister and pork expert Bruce Aidells pigs out over the latest cooktops.
Wurstmeister and pork expert Bruce Aidells pigs out over the latest cooktops.

Centuries ago, when our ancestors slaved over simmering cauldrons on open flames, cooking was as much about chopping wood as it was about chopping vegetables. Ongoing culinary and technological advancements have made the modern-day kitchen a relative paradise of convenience and bastion of sanitation. However, the simple smell of onions sautéing remains as seductive as ever. We cook not only to sit down and enjoy a delicious meal, but because the process can be as gratifying as the digestive act itself.

Nowhere is this sensual appeal of cooking more evident than on the cooktop, where sauces simmer, meats sear, and wafting aromas originate. There’s something formulaic about cooking in an oven—just set it and forget it. Working on the burners, however, requires constant attention, and allows the chef to interact directly with his food—testing for flavor and continually refining his meal until it hits the plate. Just how exciting would Iron Chef be if Hiroyuki Sakai stood around peering into his oven?

While the range—a combination of oven and cooktop—is still by far the most common kitchen appliance, in today’s world, where kitchens can be as sleek as sports cars, the drop-in cooktop offers greater flexibility (and means that you can install the oven ergonomically, so you won’t break your back getting a turkey in and out). If you’re in the market for a cooktop, you’re faced with three choices: gas, radiant electric, and induction. We took a look at all three, inviting sausage-maker and pork expert Bruce Aidells to offer his opinions. We headed down to CG Appliance in Daly City, California, with pork chops in tow, to put five 36-inch cooktops to the test.

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What gets me about cook-tops (including mine, a GE gas ceramic-on-glass) is the placement of burners. The big burner, ie the one I use for searing and creating a lot of smoke, is invariably in the corner, out by the weakest coverage of my range hood.

I want the big burner (and there really only has to be one really big one: for searing and woks) to be smack in the middle. The knobs don't need so much room; just shove them towards the front.

Gaggenau is the only manufacturer to get this consistently right. (and their modular system that lets you mix and max gas and electric is sweet). Alas, I figured that out after having the granite cut to accommodate the one I have now.

You also don't mention cleanability. In this regard the ceramic-on-glass gas tops and pure electric tops are awesome. There's little more satisfying than starting to cook a meal on a spotless stove. The big honking stainless steel ones (like the gaggenau, I must admit) are a pain to clean, with all their nooks and crannies.