Home renovation

What’s cooking in kitchen appliances

When I was growing up, we got our ice cubes in little refillable metal trays. Our dishwasher was so loud that when it changed cycles, you thought a tractor-trailer was changing gears in the kitchen.

How did we survive those dark ages? Today, freezers can dispense types of ice on demand: cubed, crushed, extra clear and artisanal. Dishwashers are so quiet you don’t even realize they’re working. And induction cooktops heat pans without a flame.

This is the world I entered last week when my husband and I went shopping for new kitchen appliances. DC and I are in the budgeting stage, what are we renovating the kitchen of. Don’t tell him I said it, but we’re a surprisingly good team. He cares about cost and performance. I care about looks.

As we walked through a Costco-sized appliance store, we ran into a guy who didn’t really work there, but clearly knew his way around the kitchen: Bob Luyckx, Territory Sales Manager for Sub- Zero Group, was meeting a leader. Probably because DC and I looked like lost wanderers, he asked if we had any questions. So DC asked something appropriate, like what’s new in cooktops?

Luyckx lit like a gas cooker. He took us to an exposed cooktop. There was a pot of water sitting on a cold burner. He turned on the burner and the water began to boil rapidly. Then he put his finger directly on the burner, right next to the pan.

“Are you crazy?” I think.

“Induction,” he says, beaming. “The heat only engages with the pan itself, so it doesn’t throw heat off the sides of the pan like gas or electric burners. Would you like to try?” He moved aside to let me touch the burner.

“No, I’m fine,” I said stepping back.

Although induction heat has been around since the 1940s, the last decade has brought prices down enough to bring this efficient cooking method within reach of the average consumer. “This is great news for people with electric stoves,” he said.

The next day I called Luyckx to grill it again. The pandemic has caused even the most reluctant home cooks to care more about their kitchens, he said, and the proliferation of TV cooking shows has made homeowners yearn for more professional appliances. Here’s what else he said about cooking in today’s kitchens:

More cooking control. While induction cooktops offer more precision than electric ranges, high-end gas cooktops offer better control thanks to dual-stack flame burners. These offer two fire rings instead of one, giving cooks better performance on both the high heat side and the low simmer side, he said.

Quieter dishwasher. “Today you can buy a mid-range dishwasher in the mid-40 decibel range, which is like a bookshelf,” he said. Note that due to the way decibels measure sound, a 50 decibel dishwasher is actually twice as loud as a 40 decibel dishwasher. The quietest on the market are 38 or 39 decibels. The one I had growing up, he confirmed, was in the 60 decibel range.

Not everything is better. Because devices have to meet increasingly stringent energy standards, some have lost their function. Some new dishwashers don’t dry as well as old ones, and refrigerators have lost some of their usable space as their walls have become thicker to improve insulation.

Increased connectivity. Smart devices allow homeowners to connect to smart devices, so you can preheat the oven remotely and tell your freezer to make more ice. Some refrigerators have internal cameras, so when you’re at the grocery store, you can see if you’re out of eggs.

Great ovens. See! It’s a microwave! It’s a convection oven! It’s a steam oven! Nope! It’s all in one! Homeowners are replacing their built-in microwave ovens with microwave, convection and steam ovens, Luyckx said. These versatile ovens heat up faster than standard radiant heat ovens. “If you want to reheat leftovers and not make them taste like reheated leftovers,” he said, “you want a steam oven.”

Better appearance. For me, the best changes are cosmetic. Branding is less obvious, so you can mix and match appliances from different manufacturers without starting a logo war in your kitchen. Controls are hidden or more discreet, and recessed handles replace protruding ones, so kitchens look sleeker. Many of today’s kitchen appliances can also fit directly into cabinetry, meaning refrigerators and dishwashers literally blend into the woodwork.

Marni Jameson is the author of six books on home and lifestyle, including “Downsizing the Blended Home – When Two Households Become One”. Contact her at www.marnijameson.com.