Wall Ovens Power Up the Heat

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Here’s a primer on this traditional appliance, but don’t be fooled—telescopic racks, smart technology, and French doors make it a modern kitchen helper

A wall oven is a very handy appliance in the kitchen, even if you already have one in your range. It doubles your ability to bake, broil or roast, especially important if you entertain frequently, like to cook ahead, or just want to host the holidays with more ease. What’s more, with a wall oven, you enjoy more flexibility with regard to placement, not only for its location in the cook space, but also height.

Wall ovens have seen a lot of advances since the last time you shopped. While you can anticipate the one you choose will operate more accurately and efficiently than previous models, you can also expect to find super-sleek styling, sophisticated digital controls to help you find just the right setting for everything, and of course, self-cleaning. Here’s a rundown of what to look for:

Choose your heat source

Probably your first decision will be gas or electric. Your choice will be based on the type of power you already have in your home. Most manufacturers still offer gas, which provides a lower-priced alternative to electric, and more of a moist heat. With electric, the temperature coming from the coils can be controlled more precisely than a gas flame, and heat is radiated from both top and bottom elements. Electric ovens may also offer Sabbath mode, which allows continuous, safe operation over several days without having to turn the appliance off and on.

Multiple sizes offer flexibility

Unless you’re replacing an existing oven and so locked into specific dimensions, you have some flexibility here, too. While the most common width is 30 inches, many manufacturers offer 27-inch and 36-inch wall ovens, and you will find some at 24 inches as well as 48. Think about what and how you cook, as you need to consider the cubic-foot capacity, too. If you host the family Thanksgiving, you want an oven cavity large enough to handle that huge turkey. Sizes range from as low as 2 to as high as 5 cubic feet with an average about 4 cubic feet. A large turkey usually ranges from 24 to 26 lbs and can fit into a 30″ oven with 5 cubic feet of interior space.

Go convection

Available in both gas and electric, a convection oven uses fans to circulate hot air within the oven cavity for faster baking and roasting, as well as the most even cooking. Your wall oven should be able to alternate between conventional and convection, as you wish, but some double ovens may offer one unit convection and the other conventional.

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Don’t forgo convenience

Who doesn’t want a microwave oven, even if it’s just for reheating soup or coffee? If space is an issue in your kitchen, consider a wall oven that includes a separate microwave, typically on top. It resembles a double wall oven, but not so tall.

Cooking on the double

In the ’70s, it seemed every kitchen (at least those on TV shows) had double wall ovens and a matching cooktop in avocado or harvest gold. While these color choices have been replaced by stainless steel or a return to classic white or ivory, the convenience of double ovens is worth examining. You get double the function, as mentioned above; while a single convection oven lets you cook simultaneously on multiple racks, a double oven permits simultaneous operation at different temperatures (great when you want the roasted Brussels sprouts to be ready at the same time as the broiled chicken, or to have a pie come out of the oven just as you are finishing dinner). It’s also cheaper than two individual wall ovens (unless you have, say, a kosher kitchen and need to keep the ovens in separate places). Just be sure to plan an adequate landing surface nearby to handle multiple hot dishes that may be ready at the same time.

Stay low-maintenance

What did we do before self-cleaning came along? Perhaps this is where the term “elbow grease” originated. In the past, you had to remove the racks and clean them by hand. Check with your salesperson, as some models now allow you to leave the racks inside while cleaning.

Warming selection

The warming drawer option first came on strong about 20 years ago, then interest tapered off as wall ovens hit the market with super-low heat and steam features that basically did the same thing. For households where family members eat at different times, or who often host a crowd, and for kosher kitchens, a warming drawer is still a handy appliance worth making room for.

Other fun features

Bells and whistles come at a price, but you may want to justify it for the added convenience, control, and safety (not to mention time) you gain. Here are a few examples:

*Operation modes have expanded beyond self-cleaning to control lock, as well as delay start and cook and hold—terrific for busy lifestyles! Even the broil function offers some variability to adjust for foods with different requirements, like the golden brown bread crumb topping or the blackened seasoned sirloin steak.

*Doors are making a statement, too. You’re used to grabbing the handle at the top and peering in while you dodge a blast of hot air to check the progress of your food, right? Manufacturers have responded to this practice by offering larger viewing windows. You can also find wall ovens where the door opens from the side, as well as French doors. A stylistic choice, they’re also ADA compliant, so you may also find it easier to access a dish inside with one of these types of doors (expect to pay a bit more).

*Investigate the racking systems. You’ll hear a term “telescopic,” which refers to a system whereby the rack extends fully with ball-bearing rack guides, to prevent tipping when removing heavy items.

For an even more functional and flexible cook space, why not take inspiration from the past and pair your new wall oven with a cooktop? Check out Cooktop 101: Basics on the Gas, Electric and Induction Cooktop and put your own modern spin on this retro trend.

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