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When clients want to be iron chefs

For homeowners with culinary aspirations, innovative technologies such as infrared burners keep propane- and gas-powered appliances in high demand.

By Cheryl Weber

Between the Food Network and shows from celebrities like Gordon Ramsay and Rachel Ray, everyone seems to be watching cooking shows these days. If millennials are known as the foodie generation, baby boomers, another big cohort, have the money to remodel their kitchens and the time to boost their cooking prowess. Those demographics bode well for the sale of serious kitchen appliances, many of which are fueled by propane.

Since their arrival in the late 1980s, pro-style cookers have retained their allure. Jeff Sweet, corporate product manager at Wolf, says the company is still seeing a strong desire for these robust beauties and that consumers appreciate luxurious-looking products that elevate their everyday lives. “The demand is driven by both aesthetics and performance,” he says.

“Commercial-grade appliances are still a big thing,” says Caren Rideau, owner of the Kitchen Design Group in Pacific Palisades, California. While sleek, low-profile appliances are on-trend for use in ultra-modern homes, the brawnier, gas-fueled ranges remain fashionable. “Unless your look is very contemporary, I think gas is still the optimum, but induction is also popular,” she says.

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Click to enlarge 

The induction option

Consumer Reports noted recently that homeowners like induction cooktops, which use electricity, because they are fast — they can bring six quarts of water to a near boil 2–4 minutes faster than conventional burners. They’re energy-efficient, too, since they use magnetic induction to heat the pan rather than the cooktop surface. No heat is lost between the cooktop and the pot, providing fast response time and precise temperature control. Another benefit: The glass surface never gets hot, so if you leave a burner on without a pot on it, no one will accidentally get burned.

Yet despite these advantages, consumers haven’t been in a hurry to bring these appliances home. Sales of induction ranges and cooktops are steady but slow, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers reported last year. As of October 2017, induction models accounted for only 16 percent of all cooktop sales and less than 1 percent of range sales. That may be because people are more familiar with gas and like the visual cues a flame provides when adjusting temperatures. Induction technology also requires special magnetic cookware, which may be a hard sell for folks who love their older All-Clad or Cuisinart set.

The infrared upgrade

Meanwhile, gas cooktops and ranges are giving induction a run for its money.

The latest propane- and gas-fueled cooking technology is infrared, which delivers restaurant-quality results. Infrared heat generates much higher temperatures and heats up faster than other types of heat, says Eric Beccue, a design engineer at Wolf. The company’s infrared appliances use gas combustion to heat up a ceramic tile with thousands of tiny holes in it. “When this tile reaches high temperatures, it begins to radiate heat in the form of infrared energy directed into the food being cooked,” he says.

Miele offers a range with a built-in infrared griddle made of a perforated gas panel, a ceramic plate, and a cold-rolled steel surface. “This combination allows the griddle to cook evenly on the entire surface — edge to edge,” says Miele’s Kevin Pchola. Some of Wolf’s ranges are equipped with an 18,000-Btu infrared broiler that lets cooks sear and crisp meats and vegetables, and finish off homemade pizzas with professional results. Wolf uses infrared technology in oven, grill, and griddle applications, but induction can be used only in cooktops because it requires magnetic cookware to generate heat.

With their hefty cast-iron grates, burly knobs, and high-Btu burners, pro-style gas ranges and cooktops still define the upscale kitchen and, in many parts of the country, will continue to rely on propane to keep aspiring home chefs cooking.

Published November 13, 2018

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