There's a reason the saying "Now we're cooking with gas!" means you're on the right track. With instant heat control, you can capture all the flavours in your favourite dishes with a gas cooktop. They look good too – with a variety of designs to choose from, including enamel, glass and stainless steel. But you need to consider more than just cooking performance and design when it comes to choosing one.
First things first
If you're building, or thinking of changing from a ceramic to gas cooktop, first thing is to check that mains gas is available where you live. If it isn't, then a ceramic or induction cooktop are the other ways to go. If your heart is set on gas then many models have the option of using bottled LPG but keep in mind this is more expensive than mains gas.
Beware models without flame failure!
While gas cooktops are impressive for their instant heat control, some fall short in terms of safety. We don't test or recommend any gas cooktop that doesn't have a flame failure safety feature.
What is a flame failure device?
Many gas cooktops are now fitted with a device whereby the gas will automatically cut out or reignite if the flame goes out. This feature should be standard equipment, but unfortunately not all models are fitted with this. Models without flame failure generally cost a little less but this shouldn't tempt you into buying one – if the flame goes out, gas can escape silently and invisibly, building up in the room.
How can I check for flame failure?
Look for two small rods sticking up next to the burner (one is for the ignition and the other detects the flame). However, models that automatically re-ignite have both functions integrated into the one device so will only have one rod next to the burner.
To be sure, check the specifications or ask in store.
Do you want a square or rectangular model? Make sure you have the necessary space on your bench to fit the cooktop, as well as ventilation space underneath. And check the specifications of the cooktop – there are minimum distance requirements for the bottom of cupboards or rangehood above a cooktop.
Things to consider
Laying it out
You need to consider the position and layout of the burners and their size in relation to the pots and pans you use.
- burners that are spaced out so you can use multiple pots at once and don't have to reach over one element to get to another
- a range of simmer, medium and large sized burners
- simmer burners positioned at the front so you don't have to lean over other burners to stir a sauce
- medium burners positioned at the back – these are best for simmering foods for a long period that don't require frequent stirring, such as casseroles
- a wok burner, if you love to cook stir fries. This is best positioned at the front for accessible and continuous stirring
- an oblong-shaped burner if you'd like to use a grill or hotplate for barbecuing.
Rectangular models are generally more spaced out, but you can find square models that have good element layouts too.
Control knobs should be a good size – ideally with a crossbar, so they're easy to grip, and a clear pointer. Controls shouldn't be positioned too close to the trivets or burners.
Any labels should be etched as opposed to bonded. Bonded labels sit on the surface and can fade if you use harsh cleaners, whereas etched are in the surface – you can feel the difference.
Look for a surface that's easy to clean with minimal dirt traps. The cooktop should be able to contain reasonable spills. Some gas cooktops have a spill catchment area and separation between burners to contain spills, whereas others (particularly those with a ceramic top) don't.
Single piece burners and burner caps that overhang the actual burner head are easier to clean and maintain.
Trivets or pan supports should be flat and stable on the cooktop. Those with rubber feet are less likely to move and won't scratch the surface. Trivets without large gaps allow you to slide pans around the cooktop without lifting them. Most cooktops come with bulky, heavy cast iron trivets, but if you can find enamel ones they're much easier to clean. Stainless steel trivets can stain easily so avoid these. Some cooktops have a trivet for each burner – you won't be able to slide pots around these cooktops but they're much lighter to lift and will fit into your kitchen sink with ease.
Installation and flame height adjustment
You'll need to get a licensed plumber to install and connect your new cooktop.
You can't always expect good heat control straight out of the box. We've found that some gas cooktops need to have their flame heights adjusted on some burners, typically the simmer and medium burners. Initially the "low" setting on these burners can produce too high a flame and in some of our low-temperature cooking tests (rice and white sauce) the result has been burned food. In these cases, we have a licensed gas plumber adjust the low setting on the affected burners to the lowest possible flame and this significantly improves their low-temperature cooking performance.
If you get a new gas cooktop, make sure the flame on the low setting in particular is adjusted to the lowest possible height, especially on the small and medium burners where you're more likely to simmer a pot. The high setting is usually OK and probably won't need adjustment. You may find some plumbers are unwilling to do this in case they void the warranty, but product installation instructions usually specify how to adjust the flame height, and service departments usually advise that a licensed installer or gas plumber can do this for you. If in doubt, call the brand's customer service centre first. Usually there'll be no problem with having the flame height adjusted by a professional, as long as they follow the supplied instructions.
From around $300 to $3000.