A freestanding oven can be a real showstopper in your kitchen. Whether you're replacing an old unit or revamping your kitchen, you'll be sure to find the right style and width to fit into any space in your cabinetry.
A freestanding oven (also known as a stove, range or cooker) is an oven and cooktop combined into one standalone unit. They're commonly available in 60cm and 90cm sizes and any configuration goes – an electric or gas oven with a gas, induction or ceramic hob.
Do you need one?
If you're building a new home or giving your kitchen a complete makeover, you'll have the freedom to choose between a freestanding oven or wall oven. Freestanding ovens are suitable for large families and people who like to bake – the large internal space is their biggest selling point. The ability to simultaneously roast two large turkeys, a tray of veggies and even a dessert at Christmastime would be the deciding factor for many keen cooks.
Keep in mind the shelves and baking trays in freestanding ovens are significantly wider than those of a standard one and can be difficult to handle – particularly when loaded with hot food. Being so wide, they're also difficult to clean in a domestic sink. Cleaning the exterior can be a nightmare too, so choose one that has a fingerprint-resistant stainless steel exterior, or better yet, enamel coating is much easier to keep clean. Look for a self-cleaning feature such as catalytic liners with good coverage or a pyrolytic function.
Freestanding ovens are suitable for large families and people who like to bake – the large internal space is their biggest selling point
The position of the oven means you need to bend to access the baking trays, or get on your hands and knees to clean the thing (even with a pyrolytic option, as you still have to wipe out the oven).
If you choose the gas cooktop option for your range, don't forget the heavy cast iron trivets and all the burner parts that need to be maintained. A ceramic or induction cooktop makes cleaning easier.
Preheat times can also be longer – on average they take 20 minutes to heat to 250°C. And we've found that some never quite reach their maximum heat setting on higher temperatures, so the pre-heat light is always on.
Freestanding ovens generally range from $600 all the way up to $10,000 (and in some cases even more), depending on how many bells and whistles you need and the calibre of craftsmanship you demand. When it comes to performance, all of the top scoring models in our freestanding ovens test cost more than $1500.
60cm wide models
These units are a common size and suit most kitchens. They typically have four cooking zones or burners, but only three out of four pots fit comfortably – there can be restricted access to some burners due to the smaller surface area. They either have a gas or an electric oven that can include simple function settings right up to all the multi-function settings you could possibly need.
90cm wide models
These are fairly popular with the option of a fashionable, commercial stainless steel look. They're multi-functional with an all-in-one combined grill. Or there's the old world charm of the enamel-coated traditional cookers available in an array of colours with old fashioned fittings. They come in one, two or three door ovens, usually with a separate grill, smaller main oven and a tall oven.
These ovens may be a case where appealing aesthetics triumph over optimum functionality. As impressive as they look, they can be expensive. These ranges have either five or six hotplates/burners with the option of flexi zones or fish burners.
70–80cm and 120–150cm wide models
These sizes aren't as common. The extra width allows for more baking space in the oven as well as giving more cooktop surface so there's less crowding of the cooktop with possibly five or six hotplate/burner arrangements. The 1200mm and 1500mm models usually have two ovens of different capacities and include extra hotplates/burners that allow for more versatility to accommodate char grill plates, Teppanyaki and simmer plates.
Controls and labels
They should be a good size, clearly labelled and easy to use. They should be easy to grip with a clear pointer. Removable controls help when it comes to cleaning. Controls positioned at the front mean your splashback can run across the whole back wall. It looks good, but the controls will be easy for young children to reach. Etched labels (as opposed to bonded labels) on stainless steel surfaces won't rub off over time.
Cooking zones / burners
Look for a layout that's well-spaced and includes a range of simmer, medium and large cooking zones/burners. Simmer and wok burners should be at the front so you don't have to lean over other burners to stir a sauce or stir-fry. When simmering foods that don't need frequent stirring, such as casseroles, you'd normally use a medium-sized burner; these are best positioned at the back.
It should fit comfortably over the cooking zone and not restrict the use of the other zones. If you've chosen an induction cooktop, make sure the cookware is compatible.
Residual heat warning light for ceramic / induction cooktops
This is a useful safety mechanism that stays on until the cooktop has returned to a safe temperature.
This is another useful safety mechanism whereby if a heat setting is not set for a cooking zone within a certain time after you turn on the cooktop, it will automatically switch itself off. This will also happen if a heat setting has been selected but no contact has been made with a pot on the element.
Take the measurements of your largest baking dish to the store rather than trusting the stated capacity. Manufacturers measure useable capacity differently, so they can't be compared across brands.
As part of our ovens test we generally measure from the deepest shelf or tray in the lowest shelf position to the grill element, side-wall to side-wall (at the narrowest point to fit the widest possible tray), and the rear wall to the door. In many cases you can slide a wide dish in between the shelf supports. Using the oven floor is not recommended in these ovens.
Gas or electric
You can choose from a gas or electric oven, however, the majority are electric and this type dominates the market. It's why we don't currently review gas oven options.
These should have safety stops to prevent them from being pulled out accidentally, and should not tilt when pulled out with a load. Look for a good range of shelf positions and three or more shelves/trays.
Telescopic shelf runners
These help to keep the shelf stable and make it smoother to slide shelves in and out, though they're not usually an included feature.
This should slide in and out easily and allow you to place food at the back. Look for a safety stop so it doesn't pull right out. A smokeless grill tray traps fat and grease below it, rather than under a wire rack. Many models lack this feature but this is important as splattering and smoking fat can be messy.
This should be set high into the ceiling or have a shield so it can't be accidentally touched. It should also drop down for cleaning the oven ceiling.
Separate grill area
This means you can cook in the main oven and grill at the same time.
This should be large enough for a clear view of all shelves inside – including the top shelf.
This is a handy storage space in some freestanding ovens where you can keep your baking trays.
You should be able to adjust the height of your oven to match the height of your benchtop, and for levelling.
It's important that your oven has:
- a smokeless (or anti-spatter) grill tray, with a perforated plate rather than a simple wire rack (this helps stop the collected fat from spitting and flaring up)
- two oven shelves
- a baking tray.
And as long as your oven has the following features as a minimum you'll be good to tackle any baking tasks.
This works well for multi-shelf cooking, reheating, pastries and roasts. It uses the fan with heat coming from the element surrounding it and generally heats up more quickly, evenly and efficiently.
Conventional or traditional
This uses heat from the top and bottom elements with no fan. It provides reasonably even heating, but tends to be slightly hotter towards the top, allowing food to brown on top. It's ideal for single trays of biscuits, scones, muffins, slices and egg dishes like quiche or baked custards.
This setting is ideal for foods that require a short cooking time and only use a maximum of two shelves. Heat comes from the top and bottom element with a fan that circulates the hot air.
As the name suggests, pizza mode is ideal for pizzas and other dishes where browning on the base is required, like meat pies, fruit pies, focaccia and bread. It uses high heat and a combination of 'base heat' and fan or fan-forced where heat comes from the elements surrounding the fan as well as the bottom element. The pastry bake function is similar, using the fan and bottom element.
This uses the grill element and the fan. It's ideal for large cuts of meat like roasts, or meats that require longer cooking times like chicken legs and sausages. It's also great for baked vegetables and for browning and crisping the top of pasta/potato bakes.
This uses heat from the grill element and is ideal for smaller, tender cuts of meat. Unless stated in the instructions, grill with the oven door closed and use one of the top two shelf positions.
This is an alternative to pizza mode where heat comes from the base element only. It's also ideal for foods that require a crispy base, like pizza. Cook in the lower half of the oven when using this function, and use aluminium trays for even browning.
Optional functions to look for
This setting uses heat from the elements surrounding the fan as well as the smaller element above the food. It allows you to preheat your oven quicker than you could in fan-forced mode. It's also ideal for cooking frozen pre-packed foods, which can be placed straight into the oven from the freezer.
This uses no heat, but rather air is circulated by the oven to defrost the food. This mode can also be used to raise yeast dough and to dry fruit, vegetables and herbs. However, to reduce the chance of bacteria growing on food at unsafe temperatures, we'd recommend defrosting food in the fridge or microwave.
Automatic cooking functions
Also known as assisted cooking functions, these include recipes that correspond with the information programmed in the oven. Simply follow the recipe and the oven will work out the operating mode, shelf position, cooking time and temperature.
If you cook lots of meat and roasts, an oven with a food probe will help take the guesswork out of achieving tender, juicy meat. Simply insert the probe into the fleshiest part of the meat and select the desired temperature or degree of cooking. The oven will complete cooking once the temperature is reached.
Adjustable pre-set temperatures
These give you a useful indication of what temperature is best for the food type and function being used.
Rotisserie and spit roast functions
These allow you to cook meat continuously without having to turn and baste the food. The fat in the meat drips over the surface as the rotisserie spins.
This setting uses the lowest temperature and the top element, providing a warm, moist environment that's perfect for proving yeast dough. Keep in mind any oven can prove dough by simply preheating to the lowest temperature and then turning it off. Place a bowl of water on the bottom and then put the dough on a shelf above, covered with a towel.
This maintains an oven temperature around 60–85°C to keep food warm without continuing to cook.
This setting uses heat from the top and bottom elements and a low temperature, usually around 70–120°C. Use this function for gentle, slow cooking of seared, tender pieces of meat in ovenware without a lid.
These can help separate an extra-large oven cavity into two separate spaces that can be operated simultaneously. For example, the top section operates as a grill, while the bottom section can be set to fan-forced.
As with any appliance, it's important to follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding installation.
In the case of freestanding ovens, it's a good idea to contact a qualified electrician before buying one. They can advise whether you have the right phase for the amount of power it will draw. With features such as extra oven compartments and being able to run them all at the same time, pyrolytic cleaning, fast heat-up and induction cooktops, the power consumption increases. This may be more than your home circuitry can handle, in which case the oven will need to be hard-wired by a licensed electrician.
If your oven is gas or has a gas cooktop, a plumber is required to connect the regulator and it's also a good idea for them to check that the burners are all adjusted to 1kPa.
Sustainability Victoria provides some useful tips for using your oven and cooktop more efficiently to help reduce your energy consumption and cooking costs in the kitchen.
When using your oven, check the seals and hinges to make sure they're working properly to seal the oven. Minimise opening the door during cooking, too – each time you open the door there's heat loss, resulting in more energy needed to get the oven back to temperature again.
If you have the space in your oven and you're cooking multiple dishes, pop them in all at once rather than cooking in batches. Alternatively, if you have a 90cm oven and you're only cooking one dish, consider if that meal can be cooked in an electric frypan, slow cooker, multi-cooker, air fryer or microwave, as smaller appliances use less energy than an oven and in some cases will even cook your food quicker too.
When using your cooktop make sure your pans have a flat base to ensure better contact with the cooktop and better heat transfer. It's also important to use the right-sized cooking zone to match the cookware you're using – pots and pans should cover the entire cooking zone to minimise heat loss.
Disposing of your old oven
If you're replacing your freestanding oven it's important to get rid of your old one responsibly. Metal, plastic and other components can be recycled and kept out of landfill. Contact your local council to find out the best way to recycle your old white goods. Alternatively, you can search on Planet Ark to find a recycler near you.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.