Home on the range

To cook like a chef, you must first shop like one

When Angel Powell and her husband bought a midcentury ranch in the South Windermere neighborhood of Charleston, S.C. two years ago, the kitchen was in desperate need of renovation. Powell, who owns a culinary public relations firm, South City Public Relations, also in Charleston, and works closely with chefs and cookbook authors, opted not to hire a designer because she knew exactly what she wanted. At the top of her list was a professional-grade range.

“I’m talking to chefs all day about what makes a great dish and their methods of preparation,” she said. “I see what they’re using and it makes me appreciate the difference. Even boiling water for a French press is so much quicker on a commercial-style unit.”

That fire-power comes thanks to high BTUs— which, on a residential cooktop usually fall around 7,000 per burner. On professional-grade models, it’s more like 15,000 to 20,000.

Professional chefs say high BTUs top their lists of range must-haves

“BTUs are the number-one thing we looked for when shopping for a new range,” said Colby Garrelts, the James Beard Award-winning chef who, with his wife Megan, runs Bluestem in Kansas City, Mo., and its sister restaurant, Rye in nearby Leawood, Kan. The couple is in the final stages of planning their home kitchen renovation, and like Powell, the first decision they made was about the range. “We wanted the ability to sear meats at a high temperature like we do at work,” he said. “The hotter, more consistent the heat, the better it sears, and the less of a mess it makes.”

But BTUs weren’t the Garrelts’ only consideration. As an acclaimed pastry chef, Megan Garrelts really wanted to be able to fit a commercial-size sheet pan in her home oven and have her treats come out as well as they do at work. And they both wanted dual convection to eliminate the chance of inconsistent heat zones for her baking and his broiling. In fact, the electric convection feature was a must-have for the couple. “It can be hard to control heat on an electric range top, but ovens are exactly the opposite,” Colby Garrelts said. “Electric convection ovens are so precise when it comes to the temperature.” And he reiterates that it just makes for better overall results.

The Garrelts are currently selecting the finishing touches on a range that will become the centerpiece of their updated home kitchen. They’ve landed on a commercial-style range with a dual convection oven below and a customized top featuring six burners. That rangetop also includes a built-in griddle. With two young kids, Colby Garrelts had his heart set on one for Sunday morning pancakes and French toast. “I’ve never had a griddle at home,” said Colby Garrelts. “I’m kind of excited to see what else I’ll use it for, too.”

The couple also plans to invest in a ventilation hood that can keep up with all the cooking they’ll do on their new range. “It’s so important to have a strong hood, otherwise food particles will escape and get all over your kitchen and ceiling, and anything you have on high cabinets,” said Colby Garrelts. -More than just a way to remove odors and grease, a hood is a necessity from a health and safety standpoint. Hoods are required in commercial kitchens, and many residential building codes require them, as well.

Having the restaurant-grade burners will also be a big change for Colby Garrelts. On his current residential range, where he often has all four burners going at once, he says he’s constantly starting something, like pasta water, on the highest-BTU burner then moving it to a less powerful burner to get another pot going in the one spot that has enough fire-power.

“It’s a great asset to have a fabulous range at home,” says Sohui Kim, the chef and co-owner of The Good Fork and the newly-opened Korean barbecue joint Insa, both in Brooklyn, N.Y. “It gives you the confidence to entertain, too. You know you can produce food quickly and more efficiently.”

Kim, whose friends often ask her for advice when renovating their kitchens, says that while professional units aren’t necessary for everyone, people who are really into cooking need a range with reliable, consistent, forceful heat something that’s only possible through a well-built commercial-grade unit. And just as important as that high, forceful heat is consistent heat, especially for cooks who like to simmer and temper. “I make a lot of bone broth and Asian braised dishes that go for a long time,” she said. “And you need to have that control over the gentle, consistent simmer.”

While most of Kim’s home cooking is done on the rangetop on a high heat or a simmer setting, she believes a good oven is just as important. “It needs to be well calibrated, well made and well insulated,” she said. And, like the Garrelts, she considers convection “a must,” especially for anyone who likes to bake.

For bakers who make danishes, laminated doughs, brioche, and the like, a convection steam oven would also be a great investment. “You need steam to get the yeast to rise, and the added moisture from the steam makes a really nice bread,” Megan Garrelts said. But more than just bakers will find value in this type of oven. The unique combination of convection and steam means home cooks can prepare any dish without drying it out, while still getting the caramelization you’d expect from a conventional oven. (Which makes it perfect for rewarming leftovers!)

Know your range

These underutilized features can help you cook with more confidence and control. Get to know them better.

Recipe developers use professional-grade ovens

Both Kim — whose cookbook, The Good Fork, was published last year — and Powell emphasize that avid home cooks also need to take into consideration the fact that most chefs, when developing recipes, are using professional cooktops and ovens.

“A good cookbook author is going to think about his or her audience,” Powell said. “But the truth is, they’re not using what the average home cook is using. They’re using really good professional equipment and you have to make allowances for those differences.”

Kim agrees. “More and more, home cooks are figuring out that you need a really well-made range,” she said.

These days, home cooks- especially those who are into elaborate recipes and preparing big meals are also learning that four burners, and sometimes even six, just don’t cut it. Luckily, there are all kinds of options when it comes to customizing and enhancing residential cooking surfaces. High-end ranges and rangetops often have the option to add griddles, charbroilers and French tops alongside the burners. And smaller specialty modules mean home kitchens can easily be outfitted with steamers, teppanyaki fryers or grills and more. Induction cooktops are also gaining popularity for more than just their sleek looks and easy-clean tops. A more energy-efficient alternative to gas, induction heat warms pots and pans directly and quickly meaning no energy is wasted on heating burners.

Despite different personal considerations, chefs agree a commercial-style range is worth the investment

At home, Kim cooks on an older commercial range with six burners and a built-in grill that she and her husband bought 10 years ago. “It definitely has the power and the BTUs and it’s a workhorse,” she said. What it doesn’t have is a convection oven, so she has a separate wall unit she uses for baking. She also hopes her next unit will feature a griddle in place of the grill.

Even with its shortcomings, Kim considers her range one of her prized possessions. The same goes for Powell, who had her heart set on a Wolf range from the get-go. Her only considerations were gas versus electric, and size — a six-burner model would have meant tearing out the entire kitchen. In the end, she decided on a 30-inch gas range, which has four dual-stacked, sealed burners making it easy to control a simmer or high flame, continuous cast-iron grates for easily moving pots and pans around, gas convection for baking and an 18,000-BTU infrared broiler. And, of course, Wolf’s signature red knobs.

“I had a dream of how I wanted to redo this kitchen and I didn’t even price any other brands,” she admits. Still, she said, “I’ve never regretted buying it. It was the single most expensive item I purchased for our house renovation but it’s been totally worthwhile. I cook on it almost every night and it makes preparing dinner so quick and easy. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

After a minute, Powell, who says she more often than not has four pots going at once, does admit to one regret.

“Actually, looking back, I would probably rip out the kitchen and go with the six-burner model, but I’m happy with my four burners,” she said. “There are certain things worth building a kitchen around, even building a house around. A good range is one of them.”