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.


Anonymous said...

What research you are doing. Is it getting tiring yet? or is there any excitement about a new range setting in? Good luck in your continuing investigation.

Helen said...

Hi Applecrumbles,

What research am I doing? Reading on-line forums, going to stores to see the ranges, going to friends' houses to cook on them, talking to appliance repairmen, etc. Is it getting tiring? Yes, I am sick and tired of the whole thing. The excitement stage is long gone now that I realize I can either have a usable range or a reliable range, but definitely not both.


AJ Madison said...

Hi Helen,

First off, I would like to thank you for choosing AJ Madison to purchase your range. One of the reasons for our continued success is the outstanding service we provide our customers day in and day out. As with anything, however, there are times when things don't go as smoothly as we would all like. There indeed was some miscommunication which led to the order being released before the specified date in August. For that, I apologize. As for not being able to reach us for four days, we were closed for a Jewish holiday the end of last week. A full refund is being issued today.

I hope this answer has been satisfactory, and that you think of AJ Madison the next time you're in the market for a home appliance.

AJ Madison Customer Advocate

Unknown said...

I hardly broil anything, so this is not from personal experience, but Bittman preheats the broiler (pan included). That might give you a leg up on lower BTU...

Alex M said...

Propane is denser than air so it drops when released. Natural gas is not denser than air so it floats upward. This may have something to do with the heat loss at the burner.

AJ Madison said...


I brought up your problem with the range with one of our product specialists. Here is what he had to say:

"The GE range has 4 open burners that each put out 9,500 BTUs. That is very, very low. Then again, there are some open burner ranges that only put out 9000 BTUs. All of these ratings, however, are for usage on natural gas. She is right that when one does a conversion to Liquid Propane, the BTUs are less. In this case, instead of 9,500, one might only get 8,500. She also mentioned something about stir frying – you need a minimum of 16,000 BTU for wok cooking."

His name is Artie, and you can feel free to contact him directly at He can probably help you the best, as he's one of our top specialists.

As a gesture of goodwill, if you do choose to purchase your range with us, I'll be glad to remove the shipping charges from your order.

AJ Madison Customer Advocate

Angela said...

Well, I'm in the same boat Helen. Bought a gas Electrolux and I am returning it because the oven racks on ballbearings, while they are slick, offer very little adjustment inside the oven and take up a lot of room. Now, like you, trying to decide between the GE Profile and the Kenmore Elite both with 5 burners and convection. Leaning toward the Kenmore