And other advice from our kitchen appliance expert

The Memorial Day holiday, which falls on May 26 this year, commonly has some of the biggest sales on kitchen appliances of the entire year. But choosing new appliances can be very confusing because of the vast array of styles, options and new features. What to look for…

REFRIGERATORS

  • Freezer-on-the-bottom models.These are the most convenient. If the average person opens a refrigerator approximately 20 times for every one time he/she opens a freezer, that’s 20 times more often that you have to stoop over with a freezer-on-top model. Most side-by-side refrigerators are not a good alternative, because the freezer is too narrow for many items.
  • Simple black, white or off-white fridges. They often cost hundreds less than stainless steel and will remain attractive longer. Refrigerators with stainless steel exteriors look great in the showroom, but they must be cleaned frequently to continue looking sharp… don’t hold magnets… are easy to dent… and are expensive to replace. My neighbor had to pay $900 for a new refrigerator door after she dented her stainless steel refrigerator with a broom handle.
  • Deep door shelves and relatively shallow interior shelves, rather than shallow door shelves and deep interior shelves. Space at the back of deep interior shelves is difficult to access.
  • COOKTOPS

  • Gas over electric. Electrically heated burners cannot change temperature as quickly as gas. Pots remain on high heat for several minutes after electric burners are turned down from high to low.
  • If there is no natural gas service in your area, consider purchasing a propane-fueled cooktop that uses a propane tank installed outside your house.

    If you do go with a standard electric cooktop, it’s best to get one with six or more burners. Preheat extra burners to the temperatures you will need later in a recipe, then slide the pot over to achieve the new temperature.

    Alternative: Consider an electric induction cooktop, which instantly adjusts temperatures. It heats iron or steel-containing cookware very quickly by means of an electomagnetic field. Induction cooktops are more energy efficient and easier to clean than gas cooktops, and they keep your kitchen cooler. Brands include GE, Kenmore and KitchenAid.

  • Large burners in the front. Buying a cooktop that has a small burner up front can be a mistake. Small burners are best for simmering — and most cooks prefer to leave simmering pots on back burners.
  • If you like to use large pans, lean toward “pro cooktops” (also known as “multipurpose cooktops”) that have 12-inch burners, rather than the standard nine-inch.

  • Electronic touch controls. Protruding knobs can get in the way during cooking and cleaning when they are next to the cooking surface.
  • If you choose a cooktop with knobs, the knobs should be positioned on the front surface of the unit. If you do choose a unit with knobs on the top, they should be grouped off to one side.

    OVENS

  • Electric over gas. Even though gas is good for cooktops, it is not necessarily best for ovens. Gas ovens are not as good as electric at temperature control or self-cleaning unless you choose the most expensive brands.
  • You might want to consider an electric convection oven, which shortens cooking time by circulating hot air continuously and evenly.

  • Easy-to-slide racks. Hard-to-slide oven racks lead to burned hands and dropped food. Test the racks in the showroom. Good choices: “Smooth Glide” racks found in Electrolux ICON-brand wall ovens ($2,200 to $4,000. 877-435-3287, http://kitchenappliances.electroluxusa.com)… and “TruGlide” oven racks, sold as an accessory for Viking Select and Premiere model ovens (starting at $3,000 for the ovens, $140 per rack. 888-845-4641, www.vikingrange.com).
  • Simple controls. Appliance makers have been adding more and more features to ovens in recent years — but the ovens with the most features also tend to be the most confusing to use.
  • Experiment with the oven’s controls in the showroom. If you can’t figure out how to use the oven in a few minutes, it is not the one for you.

    DISHWASHERS

  • High-end models. Home owners tend to exhaust most of their kitchen appliance budgets on high-end refrigerators, ovens and cooktops, then scrimp on dishwashers. They don’t consider that dishwashers have more moving parts than any other major kitchen appliance, so inexpensive dishwashers are more likely to break.
  • Good choices: My Miele dishwasher is 19 years old and still going strong. Miele, Bosch or top-of-the-line Kitchen-Aid dishwashers can easily cost twice as much as other models, but they also might last more than twice as long. For example, a high-end Kitchen-Aid could cost $1,000 to $1,400.

  • Multiple wash arms. The best indication of how well a dishwasher will clean is the number of wash arms — the parts that spin and spray water. Figure that two wash arms is good and three is better.
  • Appropriate racks. Don’t just look at cubic volume. Select the dishwasher with the layout most appropriate for the dishes you tend to use. Some people use lots of glasses, others lots of plates or bowls. Some people wash their pots and pans in the dishwasher, others do them by hand.
  • MORE INFORMATION

    Find out what other consumers think about their appliances on kitchen-related Internet chat rooms, such as…

  • HGTV KitchenDesign Message Board. http://design.hgtv.com/kitchen, then click the “KitchenDesign Message Board” link on the right.
  • GardenWeb Appliance Forum. http://ths.gardenweb.
    com/forums/appl
    .
  • Appliance Blog. www.applianceblog.com/mainforums.