“Cooktops" are essentially a stovetop separate from an oven unit. Depending on the size, these usually have four to six burners. Cooktops make a kitchen more workable by placing the labor-intensive cooking area in a more convenient place. Since they are mounted in countertops, they can be place above cabinets, away from busy sinks or centered in islands surrounded by plenty of countertop space.
Gas-heated cooktops have multiple advantages and are preferred fuel source for most professional chefs. Gas allows for immediate heating and cooling, precise and instantaneous temperature control, and visual gauging of the size of the flame. While some lower-end models still do not have this most gas cooktops now feature sealed burners, which keep any liquid overflows from leaking into the hard to clean areas below the cooktop. Gas burners can be covered either by individual separated grates or by grates which fit together like a puzzle to cover the whole burner area in a continuous large grate. Also, gas cooktops usually have knob controls, which many people prefer to the touchpad controls that are common on electric models. Professional-style cooktops always use gas, but it is important to remember that their super-high heating ability requires special cookware that can be quite heavy.
Electric-powered cooktops come in a variety of designs that deliver heat in several different ways. One design is a set of electro heating coils laid out like circular gas burners. These are less expensive than other designs, but they are not quick to respond to temperature changes from the controls, either heating or cooling. Another design is a glass ceramic top placed above radiant heating elements. These respond more quickly to control changes, but they require flat-bottomed cookware because grit can scratch the glass surface. Similar design uses halogen light-based heating elements to heat the ceramic glass. These allow the burners to get very hot and also cool comparatively quickly. One less common design uses solid electro-resistive disks that are embedded in cast iron as the heating element. These allow for very consistent heat distribution, with the added feature that they are simple and easy to clean.
An increasingly popular electric cooktop design uses electromagnetic induction to heat the cookware without heating the cooktop itself. This is accomplished by inducing a powerful magnetic field in the cookware. It requires special kinds of cookware (iron, stainless steel or copper not aluminum), but is very efficient because the only heat generated is in the pot or pan itself- the cooktop remains cool. Electric cooktops are usually controlled by touchpads, which are more precise than knobs and often have more features like timers and special modes.
Electric cooktops are also equipped with automatic shutoff valves an essential safety features because it is easier to forget to turn off a heat source that has no visible flame.
Some important features to look for in your cooktop include the number and type of burners. The two most common sizes, 30” and 36”, typically have four and five burners respectively, but larger and smaller cooktops are available-up to 48” and down to 12”. Industrial-style cooktops (called “rangetops”) often include other cooking surfaces and are available in sizes up to 60”. Certain models may have varying sizes of burners, or even especially large or small burners designed for simmering or high-BTU output cooking. These high-heat burners can sometimes be even more useful when paired with a pot-filler.
Other features include attached or modular units such as gas grills, griddles, or permanent woks. When incorporated into the cooktop: these can add many different layers of functionality within a very efficient, single-appliance space. The modular units offer the flexibility of mixing gas and electric heat sources such as gas burners with an electric griddle or an induction-powered cooktop with a gas grill.