Monday, November 26, 2012

Something New’s in the Kitchen with Dinah

The week before Thanksgiving, I started my dishwasher and noticed that it sounded louder than usual, so after a few minutes I opened it to see if something was wrong and was greeted by a large puff of acrid smoke. Considering that the unit was at least 14 years old and probably 24 (it came with the house and we’re pretty sure it was installed when the house was originally built), it certainly didn’t owe us anything. And since the broiler on our stove hasn’t worked in years, we figured we’d take advantage of the Black Friday deals and replace both units at once.

Being the Queen of Research that I am, I immediately made myself a spreadsheet of all the features I wanted (or wanted to avoid) on each appliance, and began collecting information. I read consumer reviews on store sites as well as independent reviewing webpages. I compared prices, I compared availability, I asked friends for recommendations, I went to the store and kicked some figurative tires. And after much deliberation, I am now the proud (and satisfied!) owner of a new LG gas range and a Maytag JetClean Plus dishwasher.

For those of you wanting specifics, the range is an LG Electronics 5.4 cu. ft. 30 in. freestanding gas self-cleaning convection range in stainless steel (single oven), model #LRG3095ST, from Home Depot.

In the ad and in my kitchen

It has five burners, including a “Superboil” burner which boiled a large pot of pasta water in less than 5 minutes, and a small simmer burner for sauces or warming. The center burner is an oval burner with a built-in (but removable) griddle. Since we constantly kept a griddle on our old stove, I knew I’d get lots of use out of the griddle. The main drawback to the griddle is that it doesn’t run especially hot. The highest setting is about equivalent to the medium setting on my old stove. It’s hot enough for pancakes and grilled cheese, but I wouldn’t use it to sear meat like the manufacturer suggests. The burners all light on the first click of the igniter, and I haven’t had a problem with any of them going out accidentally when set to the lowest setting, which was sometimes a problem with my old stove. But even if that were a problem, there is an adjustment on each burner to tweak the flame, which is a nice feature.

Moving on from the stovetop to the oven, let me start by saying how spacious this oven is. Most standard ovens are 5.0 cubic feet, and you wouldn’t think that 0.4 cubic feet would make a difference, but this oven does feel really roomy. My old oven could handle a large turkey but this one seems like there’s much more room for air to circulate, and I could even tuck in an extra pan of stuffing or another side for warming. There are 7 different rack heights, which gives a lot of flexibility for fitting in different dishes. The oven comes with two racks, but with all this room it might be nice to have had a third. The racks slide in and out easily. The included broiler pan is a bit small for a large turkey, but plenty big enough for most uses. It also fits nicely into the roomy storage drawer, still leaving space for several cookie sheets and cooling racks. Another nice feature of the oven is that the light comes on automatically when the door is opened but it can also be turned on manually with the door closed so you can check on your meal (through the beautifully oversized window) without opening the oven door. And the girly-girl in me loves the cheery bright blue interior. The practical advantage of the blue interior – although some might disagree – is that it will shows spills better than a standard black interior, so you can scrub them off before they get charred on. Even during the self-cleaning cycle, the exterior of the oven stays relatively cool, which is a great feature for users with small children. And it pre-heats so quickly – only about 10 minutes to get up to 350! It even shows the actual temperature on the readout, so you know exactly how close it is to being ready.

The control panel is nicely designed and well-organized. The digital readout is large and bright enough to read at a glance from across the room. The oven can be set for standard bake, broil (high or low), convection bake, convection roast (not sure what the difference between those two is), or proof (for raising bread dough). There is a thermostat adjustment if the temperature seems to run high or low, but my oven seems to be consistently spot on. I haven’t tried the convection modes yet, but if they cook as evenly and consistently as the standard bake, I’ll be thrilled. And the sound of the controls is very pleasant – instead of an annoying, shrill beep like most stoves, the LG plays a pretty melody when it’s pre-heated, which has the added advantage of being several seconds long so you have a better chance of hearing it. And the entire range, including the control panel, is modern and sleek-looking.

And now on to the dishwasher: the Maytag JetClean Plus top control dishwasher in stainless steel with stainless steel tub and steam cleaning, model #MDB8959SAS, from Home Depot.

In the ad and in my kitchen
We were originally looking at the next model down in this series, but this higher-end model was on a special sale that made it even cheaper than that model, and I’m very pleased that we ended up with this one.
The first thing I noticed about this dishwasher the first time we used it was how incredibly quiet it is. With as little noise in the room as a radio on at a normal level, I had to check twice to even be sure it was running. The adjustable/removable top rack is a nice feature if you need to wash large items like serving dishes, cutting boards, or vases, although if you lower it slightly, even dinner plates are too tall for the lower rack. You need to be careful to pull the upper rack out evenly, as it comes off the track easily, but it's very easy to pop it back into place. The silverware holders have removable covers, which is nice because the slots are really too small for standard silverware. The cup racks are handy, and the cup racks in the lower rack have holders for stemware – no more washing wineglasses by hand, hooray! I love that feature. The first load that we ran did leave some residue on the glassware, but since then we’re used the autosensor feature that determines how much scrubbing a particular load needs, and everything has come out sparkling clean since. I’ve even washed some baking dishes with baked-on crud that I scraped and rinsed only minimally, and even they came out perfect. The organization of the racks and tines works well for combinations of plates, pots and pans, and serving dishes. Unlike our old dishwasher, which always seemed to have one rack full and the other empty, this unit can accommodate enough items in either the top or bottom rack that it seems to fill more evenly and therefore needs to be run less often. The cycle takes more time than our old unit (about 2-1/2 hours), but it is supposedly more energy-efficient, and if you’re in a hurry there is a quick wash cycle that takes about an hour.
The controls are tucked on top of the unit and are partly hidden under the counter when the door is closed, but I consider that a good thing for avoiding curious little hands. Some reviewers complained that they couldn’t see the buttons at all with the door closed, but our unit has just enough clearance under the standard-height counters that I can still see them. They are also designed so you can push Start, for example, with the door open and as long as you close it within three seconds the cycle will start as soon as the door is closed. There is a control lock in case the kids do manage to find and push the buttons, but unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a door lock. Even when the unit is running a wash cycle, you can open the door. Handy when you find one more spoon that needs to be thrown in, but kind of a pain if you discover one of the kids has opened it a crack and it’s stopped mid-cycle. The unit itself is very sleek and nice-looking, and the brushed finish cleans off nicely with just a quick wipe with a damp rag.
The bottom line is that our kitchen now looks beautiful and unified. Even though all three major appliances (refrigerator, dishwasher, and stove) are from different manufacturers, they’re all stainless steel and have similar styling that makes them look uniform and coordinated. It’s such a pleasure cooking a meal on a stove that heats quickly, cooks evenly, and cleans up like a dream, and then tossing the dishes into the dishwasher without having to scrub them first, knowing they’ll still come out clean and sparkling. I love my new kitchen!

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