If you’re ready to take your kitchen to a new level, check out these latest greatest appliances.
By Kate Jonuska
We’ve grown accustomed to constant technological improvements, including ever-thinner televisions, ever-faster Internet and ever-smaller computers. But most people only discover the world of high-tech kitchen appliances when contemplating a remodel.
After checking out this list of the best new appliances, you might find your next high-tech must-have is a cooktop rather than a tablet—or perhaps an oven with a tablet built in.
If it’s time to revamp your kitchen, you’ll find the high-tech world has infiltrated the cooking realm as well.
“In my opinion, by far the biggest innovation in cooking products is induction cooking,” says Steve Wright, assistant sales manager at Mountain High Appliance in Louisville. Induction cooktops use electromagnetism to transfer heat directly to the cookware on a burner rather than heating the stove surface itself. In other words, you can put your hand on the cooktop directly after boiling water and not be burned. The induction process is also more efficient than other methods.
“With gas, you have 45-percent efficiency, which means more than half of the energy is heating up your kitchen,” Wright says. “It’s 70 to 75 percent with regular electric, and 90 percent with induction. You can bring a quart of water to a boil literally twice as fast. And when you want to change the temperature it’s immediate—just like that.”
More responsive than gas but as easy to clean as a flat-top electric stove, induction cooktops have been around a while, but falling prices and freestanding induction ranges are boosting their popularity. A drawback: With an induction cooktop, you must use ferrous pots and pans (like cast iron or stainless steel). You can tell by placing a magnet on the bottom of your cookware. If it sticks, you’re good to cook.
Refrigeration is perhaps where new appliances most resemble The Jetsons’ futuristic cartoon kitchen. Modern fridges now perform self-diagnostics by connecting to the Internet via Ethernet or wifi. Many models offer touch screens. Samsung, for instance, offers an 8-inch screen that can browse the Web, use apps and talk to other devices. Some models also dispense carbonated water (Samsung) or hot water (GE) straight from the refrigerator door. Others have a TV built right into the door.
But the most obvious refrigeration trend is spatial, with a shift from side-by-side models to French-door fridges with drawer freezers. These models are more effective at storing stuff and accommodating odd-sized items like pizza boxes and vegetable bags. And the freezer drawer allows you to stack items so they don’t rain down on you every time you open it.
There’s also an increased availability of shallower counter-depth fridges that blend seamlessly into a kitchen’s cabinetry. Fridges are much more efficient, too, and not just in terms of Energy Star ratings. “We’re seeing more manufacturers push for air filtration inside the fridge, which helps control odors and preserve fruits and vegetables a lot longer,” says Mike Zavattaro, store manager at Specialty Appliance in Boulder. “More manufacturers are also coming out with LED lighting, which makes sense, because LEDs don’t produce heat and last substantially longer.”
Drawbacks: These new features cost more, of course, and new refrigerators won’t last the 20 years that your parents’ low-tech fridge did. Expect a life span closer to 8 to 12 years.
The steam oven is a novel high-tech innovation. This oven cooks with either 100-percent steam or a combination of convection and steam. “When you’re using a regular microwave or oven, the food easily dries out,” notes Stephanie Nedved, marketing coordinator with Mountain High Appliance. “Steam helps lock in moisture and flavor, and maintains the health benefits of vegetables and any other food you’re cooking.”
You can healthily—and often, more quickly—cook almost anything in a steam oven without having to use added fats or oils. Meats, fish, vegetables, grains, baked goods and more cook quickly in a steam oven. “Many people purchase it as their secondary oven,” Wright says, “but it becomes the primary oven because of its versatility.”
One drawback: Steam ovens are typically smaller than traditional ovens.
Fridges aren’t the only appliances to embrace tablet technology. Dacor’s oven line offers a full Android tablet built into the appliance. “As more manufacturers incorporate technology, it makes it easy to interact with appliances in the same way you do with your other devices,” Nedved says. “Today you can watch a cooking show or other TV show on your wall-oven control panel, then look up your favorite recipe online and view a preparation demo of it on YouTube.”
Wright adds that oven interfaces are often pre-programmed to teach the customer how to best use the appliance. “These appliances have better, quicker cooking methods,” he says, “but you could buy an oven and not understand how to cook your turkey through auto-roast convection. Without that interactive feature, (a consumer) might have no way of knowing.”
In terms of safety and utility, many ovens now offer roller or extension racks, which slide in and out of the appliance much more easily. And some manufacturers, like Bosch, make oven doors that open from the side instead of the top, which means no more leaning over a hot oven door to take food in and out.
Almost every kitchen manufacturer offers drawer models, including drawer dishwashers, fridges, ovens and microwaves. While the obvious advantage is creative space use, drawer appliances are great secondary units for large families or frequent entertainers. A drawer dishwasher and fridge can also be great choices for wet bars, rental units and kitchens with limited space.
“We have a drawer where you can actually adjust between freezer, fridge or pantry temperatures,” says Zavattaro, adding that the most popular are probably microwave drawers that fit in a cabinet underneath a counter. “It allows you to get better usable space,” he explains. After sliding out the microwave drawer, “you just look down into the microwave.”
In fact, drawer appliances are often a good option for customers with mobility issues because they can access the controls at a lower level.
One drawback: Drawer appliances aren’t as large as conventional appliances, so they’re best for complementing existing appliances.
Modern dishwashers have improved by leaps and bounds in efficiency, with both water and electricity. “They use sensors to control water temperature and keep track of things like food particles washing out of the water in order to clean properly and stay accurate throughout the wash,” Zavattaro says.
“The big thing in dishwashers is the push to three racks. -KitchenAid and Bosch offer that feature on most of their models,” he says. The thin upper rack is designed for long utensils, such as spatulas and tongs.
One drawback: A longer cycle time, but Zavattaro says the cleaning quality is way better.
According to appliance dealers, stainless steel still reigns supreme in terms of finishes, though mixing bold colors with stainless is a popular trend. GE recently stirred up the stainless market with its signature “slate” finish, which is silver in color but matte rather than shiny, creating an upscale look with the bonus of easy cleaning.
If you’re not shopping for an entire suite of kitchen appliances, the GE slate models have stainless-steel accents that help them blend with existing appliances and other brands.