Monday, June 22, 2009

Roast Chicken Notes -- the legs

Roast Chicken.

Just looking at these two words makes my palms sweat. No dish has caused me more anxiety and sleepless nights than this "simple" classic. If you have been happy with your roast chicken, I suggest you stop reading right here. What I am about to write might seem neurotic and deeply disturbing to some of you. Roast chicken is supposed to be about family gatherings, about happy childhood memories, about feeling good that the bird you are eating is "free range" and raised without antibiotics. It's a simple, comforting dish. A roast chicken should not be a study in the bird's musculature. You shouldn't try to dissect the poor beast 15 different ways to achieve the perfect ratio of crispy skin to succulent meat. You shouldn't need to try 5 different salting and brining techniques. You should just roast the bird and enjoy it; but I can't.

Every time I roast a chicken, it lets me down in some way. The skin is soggy in parts, or it's crisp but stiff, or the breasts are too dry, or the legs are too underdone, or the seasoning overshadows the chicken flavor. Sure, one can always marinate it in yogurt, rub it with spices, or put a stick of butter under its skin. These tricks can even produce rather tasty results, but they'll never yield that perfect chicken I always dream about -- the beautiful dish that lets the chicken be itself, but the tastiest self it could possibly be.

At some point, it occurred to me that I couldn't remember when I had this quintessential roast chicken. Maybe I never actually tasted it in real life, but it haunted my dreams for many years and I could easily conjure it up while lying awake at 3am. This perfect bird should have a crisp, fragile skin -- one that crackles and yields easily when you bite into it. The breasts should be delicate and juicy. The legs should be fall-off-the-bone tender with deep savory intensity.

"But wait!" you say. "I have a perfect recipe for you. All you have to do is..." Before you write up your chicken remedy to my persistent problems, let me just tell you what I have tried.
  • Salting at least a day in advance -- produces great flavor and is worth it. I got this tip from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook
  • Brining -- makes the meat artificially juicy (processed tasting in my opinion), ruins the skin (it browns too fast, and comes out stiff and chewy). Not worth it.
  • Soaking in yogurt and seasoning -- great flavor (more natural tasting than brining), same skin problems as with brining.
  • Rubbing the skin with some subset of garlic, rosemary, thyme, sage, oregano, cumin, coriander, paprika -- garlic bits burn, herbs are good in moderation, spices seem to detract from the pure chicken flavor I am after.
  • Roasting on a V-rack -- major pain to get it set up and clean up; the chicken sometimes sticks to the rack and ends up with torn skin; dripping fat results in smoke unless you put a lot of vegetables underneath (they usually burn and need to be discarded).
  • Roasting on a flat rack -- similar problems to the V-rack, but easier to set up (at least it is in my house because I use the flat rack all the time, but my V-rack is packed away in my pantry).
  • Roasting in a skillet -- easiest set up, least amount of dishes, best drippings, the skin on the back can get soggy.
  • Placing the chicken onto its breast for part of the roasting time -- helps the breasts cook slower and come out moister, helps the legs brown, definitely worth it.
  • Air-drying the chicken in the fridge before roasting -- if the chicken was salted a day or two in advance, I find it helpful to dry it thoroughly with paper towels and let it sit uncovered in the fridge for 3-4 hours before cooking, but if you let it sit too long, the skin gets stiff and chewy.
  • Stuffing butter under the skin -- usually results in greasy drippings, but does help the breasts stay moister.
  • Separating the skin from the flesh before roasting to help fat render -- it's easy and does seem to result in less chewy skin.
  • Poking holes in the skin with a paring knife to help fat render -- doesn't seem to be necessary if the skin is separated from the flesh before roasting, it also creates week points in the skin that can easily tear when you try to flip the chicken.
  • Butterflying -- helps the chicken cook faster and allows you to achieve moister breasts and more done legs (similar results as flipping the whole chicken onto it's breast while cooking).
  • Leap-frogging (a different form of butterflying a chicken that I found in a recent issue of Gourmet) -- helps legs cook to a much higher temperature than breasts and promotes excellent browning of the skin on the legs.
  • Basting -- you don't have to go nuts about it, but a few bastings with butter help the skin get beautifully brown.
  • Trussing -- counter productive. Even cooking is the last thing a chicken needs since breasts taste best at a much lower temperature than legs.
  • Oven temperatures from 250F to 475F -- the higher the temperature the tastier the skin, but the louder the fire alarms.
  • Roasting different chickens -- I've tried Bell & Evans, Giannone, Misty Knoll, D'Artagnan. Bell & Evans tends to have the least flavorful breast and the most card-boardy legs. Haven't tried D'Argagnan in a long time, but I remember it being quite nice. Giannone and Misty Knoll are by far my favorites. I know that Bell & Evans, Giannone, and D'Argagnan are air-chilled. Not sure if Misty Knoll chickens are. I e-mailed them, but haven't heard back yet. In theory, air-chilling should result in more crispy skin.
How could I still not be happy with my chicken after trying all this? Doneness. What I couldn't find out from any books, blogs, and magazines was the perfect doneness temperature. It is my belief that every protein (tuna, halibut, beef, lamb, pork, duck, chicken) and every part of an animal (tenderloin, rib-eye, shoulder) has an ideal temperature to which is should be cooked. It's the temperature that optimized tenderness and juiciness. Here are some examples of my ideal temperatures after the protein rests and comes to some sort of equilibrium: 125F for salmon, 125F for beef and lamb, 135F for duck breast, 140F for bluefish, 200 for beef/pork/lamb/veal braises.

Chicken was a mystery to me. All recipes suggest cooking it to the temperature at which every other animal tastes bad (160-170F). For years I assumed it was because of safety. Something terrible must happen if you eat chicken at 140F, right? Well, a bit of reading through on-line resources and consulting the Joy of Cooking seem to indicate that salmonela dies at temperatures as low as 131F if given an hour (140F if given 30 minutes, and 150F if given 10 minutes). Sure you might be taking a small risk by cooking it to 140F and only resting it for 10 minutes, but I am sure that driving through Harvard Square to buy the chicken at Savenor's is a much riskier undertaking. Besides, duck breasts are not safer than chicken, yet everyone orders them medium-rare in restaurants :)

If safety was not what was driving the "160F for breasts / 170F for legs" mantra, what was? After roasting 50+ chickens following 20+ recipes, my guess is that these temperatures are simply the least common denominator. Breasts might taste a bit dry at 160, but legs taste absolutely awful if they don't reach 170F. They have a lot of connective tissue that needs time to melt. Cook them to a lower temperature and you'll be eating a very juicy, but very chewy chicken. Since overcooking is a bigger crime in my book than undercooking, I was always afraid to go over 170 for legs. Yet at 170F, the flesh was never as tender and succulent as when I braise the legs until they fall off the bone. My problem with braised chicken recipes is the flabby skin; otherwise, I would have given up on roasting legs long ago. What finally occurred to me was that 170F doneness temperature for roast chicken legs is a compromise too. The legs don't really reach perfection untill they reach 200F (the temperature at which connective tissue is completely melted).

What does all this boil down to? A perfect whole roast chicken is a dish that defies the laws of physics: breasts that are cooked to 140F (150F after resting) and legs that are cooked to 195F (200F after resting). It's like cooking a pork tenderloin and a pork shoulder in one go and expecting good results. Yes, I know -- it's done when people roast a whole pig, which is way over-rated if you ask me. Somehow all these whole beast dishes always sound and look more impressive than they taste.

I knew the solution lied in reconfiguring the chicken. The question was how. I already had a little breast roast that I liked. I remove the breasts and wings in one piece so that the two breasts are still attached by the skin and trim the wing to the first joint. I got this idea from a package of duck breasts -- they are often sold attached together. I wonder why the chicken is never sold butchered this way -- it does wonders for the breast meat. You put the breasts together and truss them with a kitchen twine into a cilindrical roast. This gives you double the volume under the skin making the cooking time longer and allowing the skin to properly crisp up before the meat cooks through. It's a very compact and easy to rotate roast (rotating it in the oven is important to help it cook evenly). It's the first chicken dish I've ever done in a class. We cook it in our sauce class and then deglaze the skillet to make a porcini sauce. Even next to a porterhouse, and medium-rare tuna, this dish can hold its own. It seems to get people so excited that I started thinking about a chicken class, but first I needed to come up with something worthy to do with chicken legs.

This weekend, I finally struck gold. First of all, I found the best way to butcher the legs. I don't like separating them off the back. You always end up losing the "oyster" (the most delectable morsel of meat in a roast chicken that happens to be at the back). Inspired by the leaping frog method, I slit the skin between the legs and the breasts, pressed the legs open, and cut the back of the chicken cross-wise with kitchen shears to separate the bottom of the chicken from the top. This gave me two legs still attached by the back bone. I don't have a recipe for this dish yet because I haven't figured out exactly which of these steps made it so wonderful. For example, I used a Misty Knoll chicken from Savenor's. How necessary is that? I am sure Giannone would be equally good, but would Bell & Evans? I salted the chicken in advance, but I am curious if it would be just as good salted right before cooking. Does the type of skillet/roasting dish matter? This calls for many more experiments before I can come up with the simplest possible recipe without compromizing the results. But I took a ton of notes on what I did this time.

Chicken type: Misty Knoll from Vermont
Cut: two legs attached to the back (all in one piece)
Seasoning in advance: dried with paper towels, loosened the skin over the thighs, salted with Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (should measure salt next time) sprinkling it all over the skin and onto the flesh under the skin of the thighs. Kept in the fridge for 4 days in a large zip lock bag. I don't think 4 days were necessary. I just didn't get around to cooking it until 4 days later. According to Judy Rodgers at least 24 hours are required. Oh, how I'd like to set up an experiment of just salted, 24 hours, and 48 hours chicken side by side. It's a bummer that would be a logistical nightmare.
Drying: Dried with paper towels then placed in the fridge uncovered on a sheet lined with paper towels for 2 hours before cooking.
Seasoning right before cooking: rubbed with 1/2 garlic clove grated on a microplane (being careful not to leave any chunks of garlic on the skin), rubbed with 1 tsp softened butter, then sprinkled with fresh ground pepper
Roasting dish: used a 12 inch cuisinart saute pan with a huge flat bottom and straight sides. I wonder if it would brown better in a pyrex dish or a half sheet. The benefit of using a skillet was the ease of preheating it on the stove top before adding chicken (this ensured no sticking), but the chicken seemed to be browning slower than I expected and I had to crank up the heat a good bit.
Other flavorings: 1 red onion cut into wedges (about 1/2 inch wide), 4 smashed and peeled garlic cloves, 7-10 sprigs of thyme (should use leaves only next time), 1/4 of a lemon, cut into 4 wedges, sprinkle of salt over these veggies.
Oven temperature and roasting details: Preheated the oven to 450F with a rack on top third (assuming the chicken would brown better if it was closer to the top wall). I preheated the skillet on the stove top with 1.5 Tbsp olive oil. When the oil was just starting to smoke, I added the chicken skin side up and placed in the oven for 7 minutes. Then I added the onions, garlic, thyme, and lemon around the chicken and returned to the oven for another 5 minutes. I tried turning down the heat to 350F, but the chicken stopped making cooking noises, so I had to turn it back up to 450F. I also brought the oven rack and the skillet down into the center of the oven instead of the top third.
Basting: I basted with 1 Tbsp melted butter at 12 minutes and again at 20 minutes. At 20 minutes, I also placed whole garlic cloves that were around the chicken on top of the chicken. I removed them at 40 minutes back into the veggie mix after the garlic and the skin were starting to get nicely browned. At 40 minutes, I also basted the chicken with the juices that were accumulating in the skillet.
Cooking time: around 50 minutes
Doneness temp: 200F tested at the thigh
Resting: 10-15 minutes in the skillet

I almost forgot -- how did it taste? I don't think you can judge a book by its cover or the roast chicken by its picture. Let me try to describe it for you. The skin was perfectly crispy and delicate. The flesh was soft and incredibly savory -- the biggest punch of umami in every bite. The accompanying vegetables and aromatics provided a perfect background, but didn't steal the show. The onions gave it a hint of sweetness and lemons a hint of acidity to balance the saltiness of the skin. The garlic was a pleasant perfume, not an agressor. But the beautiful thing was that the whole was so much more than the sum of its parts and it really tasted like chicken! I know how rediculous this sounds. When people don't know how to describe an edible animal, they say, "it tastes like chicken." But this one tasted like the Platonic ideal of a chicken.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A sharpener plus 2 great knives for $35! is the answer to almost every kitchen equipment buying question I get in my classes. That and I almost never set foot into a kitchen store these days. Sure, it might be a fun outing, and a good way to get rid of some disposable income, but when it comes to buying useful kitchen equipment, I find going to stores to be counter productive.

There is still one tool that I have been sending my students to the brick and mortar Tags hardware for -- Accusharp knife sharpener. It's only $10, but the shipping on it costs almost as much, and that gives you free shipping on orders over $60 doesn't carry it. Well, Accusharp's day has finally come. It's now on Amazon (or maybe it's been there for a while and I just haven't noticed). It comes with free shipping if you spend $25. That shouldn't be hard. I am sure you could throw in some book or CD... Or how about an 8 inch Forschner Fibrox chef's knife and a 3 1/4 inch paring knife? Believe it or not, Amazon suggests those as "buy all three for $35" on the Accusharp page.

That's collaborative filtering at its finest! Now I truly appreciate why Jason spent 7 years at MIT. Sure, some scientists try to cure cancer or explore space, but collaborative filtering helps people cook better, and as Brillat-Savarin said, "The discovery of a new dish does more for human happiness than the discovery of a new star."

How do you use accusharp and maintain that lovely knife? Here is a piece I wrote for Culinate a few years ago that can answer your knife maintenance questions. Please ignore the picture of some person cutting celery with incorrect claw grip. It was not under my control. I promise.

p.s. I just realized that the title of this post makes me sound like a pushy sales person. In case, you are wondering I am not affiliated with either Accusharp of Victorinox. They have never even offered me free goodies in exchange for a post. They don't need to. I love their products so much, I am happy to do all the cheerleading for free.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Range Saga, part 6 -- BlueStar at Eurostoves

Eurostoves is the most fun a food geek can have shopping. Imagine Formaggio's with all their cheese samples (or Whole Foods for non-Bostonians). You wonder through the Disney Land of food, taking little bites and nibbles. Now imagine besides all those free samples you are also given thousands of dollars of equipment to play with. The most you can do in other appliance stores is place your pans on the range to see how they fit. The wonderful thing about Eurostoves is that the ranges are hooked up and you are encouraged to bring something to cook. If you don't bring anything, they are happy to give you ingrendients (for free!) since they teach cooking classes and have anything you can imagine on hand. I came here to try the BlueStar, but there were also Dacor, Capital, and Aga ranges ready to be used. What a shame that I forgot my camera. This was one phenomenal kitchen.

I did my usual salmon test under the broiler. I've never tried an infrared broiler and was wondering how it was going to compare to open flame. It worked with the same results as an open flame broiler, maybe slightly faster (browned fish in slightly over 3 minutes instead of 4). The mesh that spreads the flame into an even rectangle is not huge. I didn't measure it, but I am guessing it's 8x11 (the size of a page). So you probably won't be able to broil a huge pan of stuff all at once. I don't think it's a big issue, since I rarely broil more than 4 servings. I was almost relieved that it didn't do anything "super natural." It makes recipe testing a lot easier if my equipment behaves roughly the same way as most cooks' (at least those with a gas range).

The oven is indeed huge, which I could use. The burners are just fine. Yes, they are powerful, which is nice. But, I still don't believe this power is necessary (though I can't speak for stir-fries). My favorite thing about the burners on pro-style ranges is that a 12 inch and a 10 inch skillets fit front to back.

Not only did I get to cook on a BlueStar, I got to clean it. No, Eurostoves didn't make me clean up, they were happy to do it. But I wanted to see what the cleaning experience would be like and they were happy to give me a sponge and let me try it. Comparing cleaning a BlueStar to a Kenmore Elite, GE Profile, or Wolf is like comparing apples to oranges. BlueStar does not have that shiny spotless look. The burner bowls (what's underneath the grates) are cast iron and they are not meant to look smooth and shiny. The more you use them (and the more grease splatters on them), the more patina they develop, just like a cast iron skillet. You don't need to scrub them or try to restore their brand new appearance. You just wipe them and sweep any crumbs off them (I found it easiest to push the little crumbs through the burner onto a drip tray underneath). The most important thing is to keep them dry so that they don't rust. It's a whole new concept that grease splatters can blend right in and potentially enhance my stovetop's appearance. I think I can get used to that :)

Thank you Eurostoves (particularly Trevor and Karen) for your hospitality, extensive knowledge, and such a fun afternoon!

Finally, I know what range I am buying. It was especially reassuring when one of my students told me this weekend that she got a BlueStar from Eurostoves to work on propane and it works great. She even mentioned tearing up when she saw how evenly her first egg got cooked.

Phew! I can finally sleep at night.

If you are not in the market for a gas range, I am sure you'll be happy to know that the range saga is over and I will stop boring you with it. If you are shopping for a range, you might find the previous posts on this topic interesting.
Range Saga, Part 1 -- what to do if your house has no gas line
Range Saga, Part 2 -- pro-style ranges (Wolf, BlueStar, DCS, etc.)
Range Saga, Part 2.5 -- a closer look at induction
Range Saga, Part 3 -- truth and fiction about propane and btu
Range Saga, Part 4 -- trying out Kenmore Elite
Ranges Saga, Part 5 -- keeping parts on hand for faster service

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Range Saga, part 5 -- parts

There was an article in NY Times recently on appliance repair. You might need an account to view it, but here is the bottom line. The more complicated the appliance, the more it breaks and more expensive it is to fix. Here is one statistic that I found astonishing:

"And pity the purchasers of side-by-side refrigerators with ice machines and dispensers: after three years, 37 percent of them needed service."

Statistics like that on the ranges would be handy. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find any. All I have to go by is opinions. Most appliance repairmen that I called warned me to stay away from Kenmore Elite. It's an Electrolux product they warned me -- expect things to break. "But it's such a common brand," I thought. "Surely, if things were to break they can fix it in a day or two." This isn't like Wolf or BlueStar, where you have to mail order parts. As it turns out, not so fast. D + TW's brand new Kenmore Elite fridge broke, and it took weeks of frustrating phone calls and part shipping to get it fixed (actually, when I saw them on Tuesday, it was still broken, but the technician was coming the next day). D + TW, if you are reading this, I hope your friedge is doing better. Most technicians that I called said that they don't stock electrical control panels for ranges. They'd have to order them. This means more waiting. Unless, I pre-emptively order an extra panel for about $250.

All appliance guys were pointing me to GE. "They make the best electronics," they said. But with enough heat, even the best electronics can get cooked. Hopefully, they'd get cooked slower with GE than with Kenmore, but it is still wise to have an extra panel on-hand. Trouble with GE is that I hate the new grate design on the Profile. They made it all diagonal and curvy and moved the burners around in such a way that if you place a 12 inch skillet on the front burner, it hangs over the controls.

Something occured to me when I was thinking about ordering the electrical panels for Kenmore and GE. What if I called BlueStar and asked what parts I might need on hand and how much they would cost. From everything I read on-line, the ignition trouble seem to be most common. If it's the burner ignitor that dies, I can always light burners with a match, but if the oven ignition dies, I'll be ovenless. I called BlueStar and what do you know, these parts are very affordable. Here are the rough prices:
  • Oven and broiler ignitors - $63 each
  • Burner ignitors - $22 each
  • Shipping is $12
I say it's totally worth keeping at least one oven and one burner ignitor on hand. Matt from BlueStar was even nice enough to say that if they need to be used within the first year (while the range is still under warranty), they'd be willing to credit me back the cost of the part. I even found a handy video from on how to work with a BlueStar (including changing the spark unit, adjusting air shutter, cleaning, etc).

I never thought I'd say that, but BlueStar is starting to look not all that unreliable compared to main stream ranges. Luckily, there are very few parts and no electronics. If I have the most common parts on hand, maybe it's not all that risky. I am sure GE would be more reliable if I got the basic cheapy range with no electronics. But those seem to be all but extinct for the island fit. They would also only give me 8,000btu on propane. I was hoping for at least 9-10K. The last electronics-free island GE range that I tried to order had open burner, so there was hope that they'd be adjustable to higher output, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Range Saga, Part 4 -- Kenmore Elite

This is probably the first and last time that you'll see a skinless boneless chicken breast on my blog. No, they were not particularly tasty, but they did serve as a good test of Kenmore Elite burners.

I am fortunate to have friends who put up with my obsessions and crazy experiments. D + TW had me over for lunch today and let me play with their Kenmore Elite. Since it's impossible for me to play with different BTU burners on my own range (they are all 9,000), I thought it would be fun to sear the same thing on their most powerful (18,000 btu) and least powerful (5,000 btu) burners to see the difference. Chicken breasts seemed like good test material. They show off browning well due to their pale color, and are relatively cheap (so in case searing on 5,000btu burner is a bad idea, I wouldn't waste much money).

The 18,000 btu burner definitely had some umph when turned on high -- too much umph for a 10 inch skillet I was using. The flames were hugging my skillet from the sides and I had to turn it down a few notches to get them to stay under the skillet. I imagine it would be nice for a 12 inch skillet. The skillet came to temp in about 2 minutes and the chicken breasts browned beautifully and quickly. I kept lowering the heat to keep them from burning. Towards the end I was on medium-low. I was very happy with the color I got (see the picture above).

The 5,000 btu burner took 4 minutes to preheat the skillet (I think I should have waited even longer). I ran it on high the whole time and the breasts developed a golden color eventually, but not quiet as dark as the ones I cooked on the powerful burner. I don't think I'd be happy with 5,000 btu output. It was noticeably weaker than my 9,000 btu. But living without 18,000 btu burner will be fine too. My guess is something like 9,000-12,000 would be most useful unless you need to boil a lot of water quickly.

The broiler was fabulous. Browned salmon very evenly and in only 4 minutes. We set it on "High" and preheated it for 15-20 minutes before cooking the fish. After consulting the specs, I found out that the broiler is only rated at 12,500 btu. Somehow it did a better job than my 16,000 btu one.

The best part of all these experiments was having lunch with D+TW. They made a great salad with falafel mix and wheat berries with mushroom broth.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Range Saga, part 3

Range saga, part 1
Range saga, part 2
Range saga, part 2.5

What is BTU? I know it's an abbreviation for British Thermal Unit that is defined as amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of liquid water by one degree from 60° to 61° Fahrenheit at a constant pressure of one atmosphere.

But what is it really? And why have these three letters cost me so much sleep in the past month? The reason I started looking at pro-style ranges was my worry over the power loss with propane conversion. Everyone on chowhound and gardenweb seemed to think that the more power the better. After all, restaurant chefs cook on powerful ranges. I had a nagging suspicion that it's a perfect example of correlation, not causation, but no one seemed to agree with me. The sales guys tried to tell me that I didn't know what I was missing. The home cooks were raving about the performance of their BlueStars. I felt like an idiot saying that BTUs don't matter until I saw the post on cheftalk.

When professionals were answering home cooks' questions about what range to get, they all steered them clear of pro-style ranges explaining that you don't actually need that much power to cook at home. Restaurant range burners have the size and power to deal with huge equipment, to bring enourmous pots of water to a boil, and to preheat skillets super fast. When you are turning out 200 plates a night, every minute of preheating counts. But if it takes me 3 minutes to preheat my skillet instead of 2 at home, I really can't complain. I never stand idle waiting for my pan to preheat. I know how my range behaves and I am usually still chopping while my pan is heating up.

The two kitchen tasks that always come up when power is involved are boiling water and stir-frying. I can't say anything about stir-frying since I am not very familiar with Oriental cuisines, but I do have something to say about boiling water. My Mom always complains that water takes forever to boil on my gas range vs her flat top electric. Most people I talked to who converted from cooking on electric range to propane say that they have less power. When I prod what does that mean, they say it takes water forever to boil. Well, if water boiling will be my biggest problem, I can stop worrying. I'll get an electric water kettle or two (or an induction burner) and the problem will be solved.

I think I finally understand how to interpret BTU output of a stove top. The same way you interpret the inches of a penis. It's something very quantifyable, and everyone wants to have the biggest one. But a powerful range guarantees delicious food no more than a long penis guarantees great sex.

Somewhere in my quest to understand BTUs and propane conversion, I ran accross lots of fact and fiction about propane. Some of it is still a mystery to me, but I have gotten answers to some of my questions.

Myth 1: Propane is dangerous because it has no smell. You could have a leak and not even know it!
The reality: That's something I've heard from my appliance repair guy, and it got me scared. After doing a bit of investigation on wikipedia and my propane company, I found out that propane has a smell added just like natural gas.

Myth 2: Propane burns cooler than natural gas, so your range won't be as powerful after you convert to propane.
The reality: Propane actually burns hotter than natural gas (per cubic foot). But since propane is a liquid, the orifices your gas range comes with will need to be narrowed so that you don't get enourmous flames. The smaller orifices the range manufactures provide are usually so small that they result in some btu loss.

Here is what I am still confused about. If I understand correctly, the conversion kit gives you new orifices for each burner and the overall input of gas. Are they adjustable if you get a range with open burners, but not with sealed burners? I called GE and they said that GE Profile burners are not adjustable, but you don't lose any broiler or oven power. How do they manage to not let oven and broiler lose power? Why do they not do the same for burners?

Luckily, I found one completely outdated GE range that doesn't lose much power on propane (of course it doesn't have much power to start with either). It's just like my current range, with four 9,000 btu burners and 16,000 btu oven and broiler. On propane the burners go down to 8,000 btu, but the oven and broiler stay the same. I find it amazing that this cheapest model has a more powerful broiler than GE Profile (it only has 12,000btu). That's because in the old models, the broiler just used the oven element and it's quite powerful. Of course, it requires sticking the food in the bottom drawer to broil that most people don't like. I would be perfectly happy to live with that, if the broiler actually worked. Why am I so worried about BTUs all of a sudden? Because with a broiler, there is no pre-heated skillet to come to your rescue. It's just the food and the flame. But then again, I might be wrong. I am sure the flame positioning has a lot to do with it too, and I am hoping the more sophisticated ranges have better flame distribution and positioning (though knowing what I now know about manufacturers' feature priority, I have my doubts).

Two other advantages of this range over pricier models are that it doesn't have any electronics (less to break), and it's less deep than all the electronics loaded or pro-style models eliminating the need to cut the granit countertop.

Realizing that this little GE range is the the last of the Mohicans, I thought I should try to put one on hold somewhere. I am not set on going with it, but it's an option. There are only two places to buy it now: (none of the Best Buy stores in North east seem to have any) or at AJ Madison. AJ Madison said they can hold it until August and wouldn't charge my credit card until then (if I changed my mind before August, I could cancel the order). Best Buy could only hold it for a few weeks. I placed an order with AJ Madison. Unfortunately, their customer service turned sour so quickly, I chickened out and cancelled. They tried to deliver it last week; I called to straighten it out. They said they messed up and will hold it till August. Two days later, they tried to deliver again. I called again. They said they messed up and will hold it. When I asked to confirm that my credit card won't be changed till August, they said that was correct. Of course, my credit card did get charged and they conveniently were unreachable for 4 days. When I finally got a hold of them, I was fed up with their lack of process and cancelled my order. What were the odds that they'd deliver this range on the correct day and in decent condition?

I am back to not having a plan for the range. I am leaning back to GE Profile and Kenmore Elite. Will be going over to my friend D's tomorrow to check out the Elite. I've been bribing people to let me try their ranges by promising them lunch (broiled fish to be more precise). Luckily, D agreed.