A freestanding cooker is an oven and cooktop combined in one freestanding unit. Any configuration goes – an electric or gas oven with a gas, induction or ceramic hob. Whether you're replacing an old unit or completely revamping your kitchen you'll be sure to find the right style and width to fit into any "hole" in your kitchen cabinetry. Many more features are now on offer, such as pyrolytic cleaning and a range of colour options, but often with a hefty price tag.
Are they worth the dough?
With a vintage décor revival happening, the choice of an extra-wide dual fuel freestanding oven may be a case where appealing aesthetics triumph over optimum functionality. As impressive as they look, the bottom line is that you can still get better performance from a built-in electric oven and separate gas or induction cooktop.
But if your existing standard or narrow upright stove has given up the ghost, and you're not ready to renovate, an equivalent replacement is a cost-effective solution. The alternative is to buy an off-the-shelf wall/underbench oven and cooktop cabinet to fill the gap and install two separate units – but it can be fiddly.
What's the downside of buying a freestanding extra-wide oven?
Their cooking performance usually doesn't quite measure up to a wall oven or cooktop, but freestanders can get the job done with a little extra effort on your part.
Separate units provide maximum flexibility in your kitchen layout, with the option of any type or size of cooktop or built-in oven, plus the fact that they can be positioned at the best height. For those of us that are vertically challenged, the thought of wearing stilettos in the kitchen to better access the rear burners of a cooker isn't particularly appealing … nor is contorting oneself on the floor to clean the oven cavity.
The shelves and baking trays of these ovens are significantly wider than those of a standard one and can be difficult to handle – particularly when loaded with hot food. Plus, 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 ash. Their trays and shelves won't fit in a standard kitchen sink either.
Preheat times can be significantly longer – on average they take 30 minutes to heat to about 200°C. And we've found that some never quite reach their maximum heat setting, so the pre-heat light is always on. For the quickest preheat possible, we recommend you choose the hottest function with the most elements switched on, but remember to switch to the appropriate setting before putting in the food!
Apart from their good looks, the large internal space is the biggest drawcard for freestanding ovens. Their ability to simultaneously roast two large turkeys, a tray of veggies, and even a dessert at Christmas time would be the deciding factor for many keen cooks.
What to look for
Controls and labels
Controls should be a good size, clearly labelled and easy to use. Controls will be at the front so your splashback can run across the whole back wall, which is convenient but can be risky if you have young children. Etched labels (as opposed to bonded labels) on stainless-steel surfaces won't rub off over time.
A good burner layout – 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 for a long time 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.
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 CHOICE testing we generally measure from the deepest shelf or tray in 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.
Catalytic liners (or self-cleaning surfaces)
These work by absorbing fat splatters. For the liners to work well, you need to regularly heat the oven to 250°C for an hour to burn off the splatters and, when cool, wipe them with a damp cloth.
This should be large enough for a clear view of all shelves inside – including the top shelf.
Shelves should have safety stops to prevent them from being pulled out accidentally, and should not tilt when pulled out with a load. 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 are 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.
You should be able to adjust the height of your oven to match the height of your benchtop, and for levelling.
Freestanding ovens generally range from $1500 to $10,000, depending on how many bells and whistles you need and the calibre of craftsmanship you demand.