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Why choosing the right hob is so important?

A hob is essential. You can do without an oven but regular cooking if your hob fails is difficult. Once hobs were purely functional, often forming part of the oven. Then they separated so that you could build in an oven at a higher level. This also offered you the choice of gas hob or electric oven (or vice versa). Gas hobs have traditionally been popular as they give more control and quicker heating than electricity.

Electric hobs have improved by using halogen light as a rapid heat source. There are electric ‘induction’ hobs that work quickly too. (With induction, the metal pan completes a circuit, giving fast heat and prompt switch off and cooling when removed.) Gas has responded to this development with lotus shape burners for a better heat spread.

Hobs are a style point in modern kitchens and are now available in colours, stainless steel and interesting designs. Wide versions, multi-fuels (electric and gas) and five or six rings offer flexibility but consider their use before buying. If your kitchen accommodates more than one cook at one time, position the hob away from the oven to avoid getting in each other’s way.

Ovens

Ovens are more than a ‘hot box’. Here a gas oven is ‘doubled’, topped by a gas hob and still fits beneath a woktop.

If you enjoy Eastern cuisine you can buy a speciality hob with a wok burner. Similarly if you are a barbeque fan, choose a barbeque grill. If you are left handed, go for front rather than right hand side controls. That eliminates the risk of reaching across the heat to access controls. If you cook for a large family, more than four rings will be useful. Young children? Then pay a little extra for a hob guard. In the case of gas, automatic re-ignition or cut off devices will protect you against the flame blowing out.


Ovens are more than a ‘hot box’!

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Once an oven was simply a hot box. It was a cast iron compartment above a real fire. Today’s much-improved version is the Aga but most homeowners do not have the money or space for such a large oven. Besides, although many favour range cooking, it does take a lot of getting used to!

Gas ovens have become sophisticated and are at home in modern integrated kitchens. Double gas ovens that build in to tall oven housing cabinets have been around for some years but the ‘slot in’ under worktop double gas oven is a real innovation. It is neatly finished off with a plinth spanning across neighbouring cupboards for a modern fully fitted look. The ovens are topped by a gas hob that sits snugly in a hole cut in to the worktop. Building in this way looks neat and makes the cooking zone much easier to clean.

Electric ovens have seen the most technological progress. Models are now available at a surprisingly reasonable cost and have fans, forced air, variable heat from above or below and even microwave or steam functions. If you want to improve your skills and enjoy a predictable high standard of food preparation, try the options on these ovens. You’ll discover tricks like bottom heat plus forced air eliminates the soggy pastry so often found forming the base of fruit pies.


A modern version of the pressure cooker

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Remember those old hissing pressure cookers? They had a number of advantages but have fallen in to disuse with the advent of microwaves and more advanced conventional ovens. Now steam cooking is set to make a comeback. It is now possible to buy a multifunction oven with a steam function to give a truly versatile appliance, all within a standard housing. As with steam pressure-cooking, the result is a healthier dish. Vitamin and nutrient loss is reduced and the food retains a better texture. Joints of meat do not shrink and are succulent as they remain moist, unlike simple heat or microwave cooking.

For many the main benefit is speed. Cooking times can be reduced by up to 30%. The joint is placed on a special casserole and steam comes through the base. A reservoir in the oven retains water and requires periodic topping up. Oven cleaning is easy when the sides are moist following a ‘steamy session’. Hollow meat such as poultry may be placed on a ventilating spike that releases steam and cooks from the inside out. This eliminates a common problem with poultry, raw spots within the meat retaining food poisons, even after cooking. If considering a new oven, look at the steam alternative. You still have multifunction plus the option of a healthy cook method for meats.


How good hob design can improve safety

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The hob is a major source of accidents and hob safety should start when you buy. Check the stability of pans on a showroom display hob before ordering. Some gas rings are very unstable. A good kitchen layout will help hob safety. You should be able to transfer a pan from hob to sink without crossing a walk through space. It is best if the hob is surrounded by worktop, giving safe space to rest a hot pan and space to turn handles so that they do not protrude in to the walkway or become too hot over a neighbouring ring.

If the hob is at the end of a run of units you risk knocking a pan on to the floor. Next to a sink bowl, and splashes may react violently with hot fat. Don’t position the hob near a window as users will reach across to open it, risking injury. Also curtains could ignite. Chip pans are discouraged nowadays as they can easily catch fire in a dramatic fashion. Should you suffer such a fire, do not move the pan or attempt to put it out with water. Turn off the heat if possible and cover with a thick blanket. Wise homeowners keep a fire blanket in the kitchen.

Hob Ring

This hob ring has been left on. Hard to tell by looking but it is dangerous. Check by looking at the hob controls.

Keep hob surfaces and components clean, especially if you use gas. Dirt can cause the ignition system to fail. When lighting a gas ring, always check that it has lit, making sure that the auto spark or pilot light has worked first time. After cooking make sure all heat is switched off. If you have children consider a hob guard or a hinged metal cover that conceals hot plates and controls so that little fingers are not at risk.


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