Co-author: Nicole Barratt
An oven is essential in any kitchen, but there are a whole host of different factors you need to take into consideration before making a purchase. An oven is a true investment, so you need to know your needs and be able to articulate them into the type of oven you’re looking for. Do you want electric or gas, convection or conventional, and are there any add-ons you desire? Our guide will help you navigate through the daunting task of figuring out what you want from an oven.
Even if you’re fairly new to the oven game, you should still know that there isn’t just one standard type. Like heat pumps or washing machines, there are multiple different types of ovens. The most common ones are:
Also known as built-in ovens, wall ovens are the most common type of oven. They are fitted either in a wall space or under a bench. Wall ovens give you a large degree of flexibility when it comes to your kitchen’s layout. You can also install them off the ground, so you don’t have to squat or bend down to use them. Examples of wall ovens include:
A freestanding cooker is a combination of both an oven and a hob. They are very similar to wall ovens in terms of appearance, but the key difference is that they do not have to be built in to a wall or cabinet. This can either be a good or bad thing: they are easier to install, but have less flexibility and are less convenient to use, as you have to bend down. As they come with built-in hobs, they are idea for smaller spaces and kitchens with few fixed cabinets. Examples of freestanding ovens include:
- Award 60cm Electric Freestanding Oven (pictured)
- Smeg Portofino 6 Burner Pyrolytic Dual Fuel Freestanding Oven
As the name suggests, a toaster oven is a counter-top appliance that is about the same size as a large toaster that can grill bread as well as bake food. They are much cheaper to buy than a large conventional oven, and simple to install, but generally do not offer the same bake quality as their bigger counterparts. Because of their size, the amount of food you can cook is also limited. Examples of toaster ovens include:
As the name suggests, they use steam to cook food. Steam ovens can be either placed on a counter or installed in a kitchen, and are primarily used for cooking vegetables and certain kinds of meat. As well as reducing cooking time, steam methods of cooking can preserve the flavour of foods, as well as retain vitamins and nutrients. They are easier to clean, too, but generally steam cooks a smaller variety of dishes than other methods. Examples of steam ovens include:
Bench-top convection ovens
Rather than letting hot-air circulate randomly, convection ovens use internal fans, like those found in most freestanding and wall ovens, to distribute the hot air evenly to create a constant temperature. They are more expensive than toaster ovens, but can cook faster, at lower temperatures and with better results. Examples of bench-top convection ovens include:
Or you might know them as microwaves, since you probably already have one. Technically, your microwave is a form of oven, and they are great for heating food rapidly. However, for the most part, they are sub-par when it comes to cooking, as they can not brown or crisp food and don’t cook evenly – hence the rotating table! Examples of microwave ovens include:
You can’t go wrong with an oven that cleans itself, and there are two types of self-cleaning ovens:
- Pyrolytic ovens, which feature a self-cleaning mode that heats the oven to temperatures as high as 500°. This reduces food and fat residue to a thin white ash, which you can then wipe away easily.
- Catalytic liners. These are specially developed oven liners that absorb fats and food particles. These are then burned off by running a regular cleaning setting, leaving the oven looking spotless.
Cleaning your oven regularly can greatly improve the quality of the food you make, so having these ovens do that for you can be a big plus. Examples of self-cleaning ovens include:
Gas vs Electric
Similar to cooktops, ovens fall under two main categories of energy sources – gas or electric. Gas ovens are, on average, quite a bit cheaper to buy than electric ovens of similar quality levels, although they come with some drawbacks. Firstly, you’ll need a gas supply. If you already have gas in your home, then it’s fine; if not, gas instillation, either bottled or mains, can be costly.
A common complaint about gas-powered ovens is that they tend to have hotspots and uneven heating. If you like baking, or have a problem with food browning, it’s important to look into whether you’d prefer a conventional or convection oven. If a gas oven is compatible with your current kitchen set-up and you’re not too fussy, then it could be the oven type for you.
Electric ovens work using heating elements placed on the walls of the oven. These ovens are the most common variety and tend to have a lot more options for cooking your food at the touch of a button. Electric ovens are the easiest to use, easiest to clean and the easiest to achieve even cooking. They are also available in both convection and conventional varieties, so if an electric oven is what you’re after, there’s plenty of choice to be had.
Conventional vs Convection
Conventional and convection ovens look the same, and both can be gas or electric. The difference between them is that the source of heat in a conventional oven is stationery, it rises up from the bottom. The heat from a convection oven is blown by fans, so the air circulates all around the oven. It means the heat in a convection oven is more consistent. In the grand scheme of things, it just depends on the type and quantity of food you cook, and whether your culinary efforts require more precise baking and roasting options.
If you cook a meal for an hour, including preheat time, you might expect to spend around $0.60 (depending on what your $/kWh rate is with your power provider), according to Power Shop. The NZ Government’s Smarter Homes guide notes modern conventional ovens are well insulated, but only about 10% to 15% of the energy they use actually cooks the food, the rest is just heating the air inside. Gas ovens are less efficient than electric ones, as they need higher air flows and often have a glow-bar that runs continuously to reignite the gas flame should it blow out.
Convection or fan ovens use about 20% to 30% less energy than conventional ovens, and you can cook more items at the same time, because heat is more uniformly distributed. Self-cleaning ovens are more efficient than standard ovens as they have more insulation. Overall, a microwave is the most energy-efficient type of oven, as it heats food directly. However the types of dishes you can use them for are limited.
As ovens are not given an electricity star rating, when purchasing one, it pays to check how many watts of electricity it uses. Do you need a 15,000W oven when a smaller 9000W one is enough for your cooking needs? The larger the oven’s wattage the more electricity it will use, so the bigger your bill will be.
Where electricity use is concerned, it always pays to check whether you’re getting the best deal. If you know you regularly use your oven at certain times of the day, why not swap to a provider that offers a free hour of power each day? Your savings could be considerable. To make choosing the best electricity provider easier, Canstar compares them on value and service.
Canstar Blue’s latest review of NZ power companies compares them on customer satisfaction. The table below is an abridged version of our full results, available here.
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Canstar Blue NZ Research finalised in May 2020, published in June 2020.
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What other oven features are there?
In addition to different sizes, ovens can also come with a variety of different features and modes that you might find handy.
Timers and clocks
The importance of a timer on an oven can never be stressed enough, as they can stop you from accidentally forgetting about your food and can even prevent fires. Some ovens will automatically turn off once the timer runs out, meaning that even the most forgetful people can’t burn their dinner.
Different heating settings
You probably know this already, but different meals require different methods of preparation. Therefore you need to find an oven that allows for all sorts of different settings, even if you don’t think you’ll use them very often. Settings you should look for include: bake, grill, preheat and even defrost.
This feature, as you might guess, allows you to pick a time for your oven to start cooking. This allows you to cook at a time when electricity prices are lower, or to set a meal to cook so that it’s ready when you return home from work.
A major feature you should look out for is the flexibility of the oven’s internal layout. This is particularly important if you need to cook multiple things at once, as not being able to rearrange trays could result in you having to wait for your dinner.
If you’re the kind who struggles with getting all the meal elements onto the plate at roughly the same temperature, you might want to consider a warming drawer. It works similar to a tea cosy, and is perfect for heating up plates, keeping side dishes from going cold, or preserving the perfect warmth for freshly baked biscuits.
For when one oven isn’t enough! Rather than just one large compartment, a split oven has two cooking compartments: one large, one small – the smaller one usually also functioning as a grill. Split ovens are handy for cooking dishes that require different temperatures at the same time, or, for example, separate sweet and savoury courses for a dinner party.
Whether you want an oven basic enough to fulfil your weeknight needs, or want something that a professional chef would envy, there’s an oven option for you. The next question is, what do you cook in it?