Finding the best oven to cook for a crowd

December 30, 2010

If your guest list has outgrown your appliances, Consumer Reports' latest tests can help you get set up without spending top dollar.

A professional chef has no problem cooking for a crowd, and some new appliances are offering features to make that easier to do.

"Now is a good time to buy. Sales are slumping, so a lot of appliance companies are rolling out lots of bargains," said Sue Perry , Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports' tests of ranges show many once-pricey features are more common, like dual ovens, induction cooktops and high-power burners.

"All come in handy when you're cooking for a lot of people and preparing a lot of dishes," said Perry.

Professionals have always known the benefits of bigger ranges. In Consumer Reports' lab, the 36-inch GE Monogram has a built-in griddle and four high-power, natural-gas burners that simmer superbly. It also has convection heating that can shave cooking time, all packaged with pro-style design. But this range is a real wallet buster at $7,500.

Instead, consider an oven that does double duty.

"Dual ovens are a great option. They let you cook your main entree and bake a pie at the same time, at different temperatures," Perry said.

Consumer Reports recommends the GE electric, 30-inch double oven, for $1,000. It has excellent oven capacity and rated very well in baking tests.

Want to spend even less? Consider a high-tech hot plate, which can serve as both an extra burner for cooking and a food warmer at your buffet table. The Waring Pro induction hot plate is a Consumer Reports Best Buy at $140.

One thing that's interesting about induction cooking -- it uses electromagnetic coils that heat more quickly and efficiently than conventional electric elements. That's because they heat the pan directly. But be aware that means you need to use cookware that has a magnetic base, such as cast-iron pans.

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