Best Ranges under 500 Dollars: Buying Guide

Our range buying guide will arm you with expert knowledge to pick the style and model that best suits your needs. You’ll likely fall into either the gas range market or the electric range market depending on what fuel type your kitchen provides. Let’s consider conventional smooth tops. They account for about 40% of all ranges sold.

Radiant elements heat the ceramic glass surface from below. Most smooth tops feature at least one large high-power burner for big pots and high heat tasks, like searing meats or bringing water to a boil more quickly, as well as a small element for smaller pots and quantities. Many models feature dual or triple elements to accommodate various sized pots and pans lending flexibility to your cooktop.

The downside to smooth top electric radiant elements is that they generally take longer for the heat to subside. Some cooks adjust by using two burners when a quick heat change is needed moving food from a boil to a simmer, for example. To avoid accidental burns, look for indicator lights that tell you if the surface is off but still cooling down.

These cook tops can be scratched by pots being dragged across the surface. Some manufacturers advise against using glass, ceramic, or cast-iron cookware, and recommend stainless steel or aluminum, which are less prone to scratching. Also, radiant smooth tops won’t deliver their ideal performance unless the pot bottoms are very flat. You can pay between $500 and $2,500 for a smooth top range.

Smooth top induction ranges look like conventional smooth top electric ranges, and in fact, the oven operation is no different from any other electric range, but the cooktop heating is what sets it apart. Every induction range and cooktop we’ve tested delivers fast cooktop heat and superb simmering. Beneath their ceramic glass surfaces lie magnetic coils that quickly generate heat in the pan.

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An induction burner can bring a large pot of water to boil several minutes faster than most gas burners can. While you’re cooking, the rest of the surface stays cool so spills won’t cook on making for easy cleanup. The burners don’t glow like a radiant smooth tops do. Some manufacturers are adding special lights and imitation flames so you can tell when it’s on.

If you’re considering an induction range, you want to make sure your cookware will work with it. Now, here’s a simple test. If a magnet sticks to the pan, it will conduct heat with an induction cooktop. Also, some cookware now comes with an induction approved icon.

When you remove the pot, it stops heating and begins to cool off, and if you accidentally turn on an element when there’s no pot, it won’t heat up. One drawback is a buzz or hum is common when using higher settings. At lower settings, you may hear clicking sounds. You’ll pay more for induction ranges from $1,200 to $4,000.

Another type of electric range using a coil heating element tends to be lower priced starting at $300 for a 30-inch model. You can get a recommended coil range for under $600. And paying more doesn’t guarantee good performance. Boil overs can be a little messy on a coil cooktop. Spills can pass through the coils and into the drip pan. But these parts can be removed and cleaned with soap and water. One downside of coil stoves is the indicator lights that don’t necessarily tell whether the coils are still hot and cooling off.

Gas ranges appeal to cooks who like the speedy response, adjusting the heat under the pan is simple. Some people prefer to see the flame rather than using high and low settings on a knob and you can use whatever type of pots and pans you like. Gas ranges feature a variety of burners, ranging from 5,000 BTUs to 12,000 or more.

Most gas ranges feature four burners in three sizes: one or two medium powered, a small burner for small pots and low heat, and one or two large burners to handle big pots for boiling or heavy pans for searing meats. Some models manage to fit in a fifth burner in the center. The response time of gas burners is quick and turning the flame down from high to low almost immediately impacts the pan and the food. That’s handy if you brought your sauce to a boil and need to quickly drop it down to a simmer. You can pay between $300 and $6,000 for a gas range.

Nothing says chef like a pro style range anchoring in the kitchen. Their stainless surfaces, beefy knobs, and rugged grates mimic restaurant equipment designed to serve up serious food. Their cooktop power is higher than regular ranges. They often have three or more high-powered burners. But keep in mind that BTUs are not a measure of how well a range performs. It’s what the range does with that heat that counts. A good range can maintain that low flame for simmering sauces or cooking risotto without scorching it.

Pro style ranges don’t have storage drawers below the oven and some have smaller ovens than you’d typically find on a conventional 30-inch gas range. We test 30 and 36 inch sized pro-style ranges. They are not the best performing ranges we’ve seen. We have tested expensive pro ranges that couldn’t hold a pot of sauce at an even simmer or broil burgers evenly, something that many regular gas or electric ranges do excellently. You can get a normal range with pro styling. Some here nicknamed them faux pro.

We test ovens for their baking performance. They must brown cookies evenly and consistently. We test the broilers by making sure burgers sear and have consistently cooked insides. When you’re using your oven to roast large cuts of meat or a turkey, you might also want space for side dishes as well. That’s why we measure actual usable capacity when rating ranges. We’ve seen some ovens with only about two cubic feet and others that measured almost four cubic feet.

A convection oven helps to heat food by circulating the hot air with a fan. The airflow can aid in browning and speeding up the cooking, but the benefits vary by cycle and programming design. Most convection ovens have multiple cycles. They may have slower fan speed for convection baking than for roasting.

And almost as important as roasting and baking, will your oven do a good job cleaning itself? Our testers slather a mixture of eggs, lard, cherry pie filling, cheese, tomato puree, and tapioca into each oven we purchase, bake it on, then run the self-cleaning mechanism. We look at the residue and rate the ovens accordingly. Some low price ranges do an excellent job, while we’ve seen $7,000 ranges that left a lot of cleaning to be desired.

Depending on the configuration of your cabinets, you can choose from ranges with unfinished or finish sides. Freestanding are the most popular and easiest to install. Their finished sides allow you to place them at the end of a line of cabinets or the range can stand alone. They generally have controls in the back. You must be careful of reaching over hot pots. More and more, controls are available on the front, but you’ll pay a little extra.

Ranges with unfinished sides are called slide in. They fit between cabinets with the cooktop slightly overlapping the gap for a custom look. The height of your counters must be considered carefully for these to fit correctly. Slide ins have no back panel, giving you more usable backsplash space and the controls are easily accessible on the front.

What sorts of features affect the price of a range and which ones can’t you live without? If you really love to bake and entertain, double ovens that you can set at different temperatures will get a workout, but be prepared for a little workout of your own since the lower oven can be really low. A variety of rack positions are a plus so you can adjust for flat sheet pans or tall items. Most ranges now have as many as five.

Oval-shaped burners accommodate long grill pans and large casserole dishes if you’re cooking for a crowd. Hot surface warning lights on electric stove tops keep everyone safe. And warming drawers maintain temperatures while the family gathers for that meal you’ve prepared. When selecting your range, keep in mind that the right one can make cooking a pleasure.

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