The Present

Fast-forward 25 years, to the finale of last season's This Old House Dream Kitchen project in Lake Forest, Illinois. The centerpiece of this kitchen—a 36-inch six-burner professional-grade range in stainless steel—has capabilities barely dreamed of in 1979. The burners ignite electronically without the aid of a pilot light and can pump out a torrid 15,000 Btu for searing or a gentle 600 Btu for simmering. With a convection oven to cook food fast and a separate warming drawer to keep it hot, the appliances do practically everything but prep the food itself.

    A New Era in Stoves Somewhere along the line, we went from a meat-and-potatoes nation to one that wanted the ability to cook restaurant-quality meals at home. To do it, we needed restaurant-grade equipment that wouldn't burn the house down. We got it when building contractor Fred Carl Jr. stuffed the walls of a high-performance range with thermal spun insulation, a technology borrowed from NASA, and created the first Viking range.

    Though pro-grade ranges account for only a small percent of the market, they've had a trickle-down effect on standard appliances, in terms of both style and performance. Today, even average ranges can be had in stainless steel, with convection ovens, electronic controls, and at least one high-Btu burner. And there are still more new cooking options on the horizon.

    Refrigerated ranges Whirlpool's Polara is equipped with a cooling element, which means you can pop in a roast in the morning and it stays refrigerated until the oven fires up at the preprogrammed time. If the oven isn't opened after an hour of keep-warm time, it reverts to refrigeration (24 hours is the max on refrigeration). The smooth-top surface burners can be used whether the range is in cooking or cooling mode.

    Trivection ovens A combination of thermal, convection, and microwave energies, trivection is the latest leap forward in speed cooking. The technology is said to cook food up to five times faster than conventional ovens. Electronic controls automatically convert your old recipes, so if Mom's lasagna usually bakes for 60 minutes at 300 degrees, just punch in those numbers and the oven takes over—serving the dish hot in about 15 minutes.

    Steam ovens For most people, steam ovens conjure up images of soggy buffet food. But in fact they can do a good job on everything from meatballs to custard. They're ideal for busy lifestyles—dishes cook up fast (20 minutes or less for most recipes), and because the high moisture content keeps food from drying out, steam is also great for reheating.

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