Cooks both serious and casual rely on their kitchen equipment to help them create meals that will wow family and friends. Here’s our round-up of what you need to know when choosing your appliances.
Lovers of coffee would no more consider a kitchen without a coffee machine than they would countenance a bedroom without a bed. With such an array of coffee machines on the market it’s easy to find the right machine for your tastes and budget.
When shopping for a coffee machine you must first decide whether you want a built-in model or a freestanding unit. You should also consider which features and functions are of particular importance as each machine can differ significantly in the functionality offered, making it hard to compare items.
If you are considering a built-in model, you will need to think about where it will be positioned in the kitchen and if there is sufficient set-down space adjacent to this location.
If you think a freestanding unit is more your style, you need to consider if you have enough bench space for it to take up permanent residency (some models can be bulky) and make sure you have enough room around the steam nozzle to easily manoeuvre a jug underneath.
Given that this is often a regularly used appliance, it’s worth looking into the maintenance and cleaning requirements. Look for a machine with easy-to-clean surfaces and removable trays that can be added to the washing up. Also investigate how easy it is to remove and refill the water container.
A pump or pump thermoblock machine is generally considered the best choice to produce a coffee with an excellent crema.
Automatic, Semi-automatic or Manual? Automatic models grind the beans and produce a cup of coffee at the press of a button — all you need to do is top up the coffee beans and water. Manual and semi-automatic machines both use pre-ground coffee, which is loaded into the machine every time you want a cup. Semi-automatic models switch off when they have poured a preset amount of coffee into the cup, but manual machines must be turned off by the user.
Experts from Jura Australia say, “The grind setting determines how finely or coarsely the coffee beans are ground. This affects the flow-through time of the water, the so-called extraction time. If the coffee is coarsely ground, the water will flow through more quickly than with the same coffee at a finer grind setting. A longer extraction time results in more flavours being extracted. If your coffee isn’t strong enough for your taste, you can select a finer grind setting and therefore extend the extraction time. On the other hand, if it tastes too strong or too bitter, select a coarser grind.”
The crema, the thick, golden-brown foam which is formed on the prepared espresso, is made up of oils, proteins and different types of sugar, and contains a major part of the espresso aroma. Tip: The main criterion for making a fine and creamy foam is the temperature of the milk, which should be between 4 and 8°C. The type of milk used and its fat content are not of great importance. The protein contained in the milk is responsible for the consistency of the milk foam, and not the fat. Courtesy www.au.jura.com
The berries of the coffee tree are first picked (usually by hand) then processed to remove the bean from the flesh. Then they undergo a drying process and are roasted at around 200 degrees Celsius to either a light, medium or dark colour. This caramelises the sugars within the bean and develops the flavour. The roasted beans are then ground before being brewed.
Top chefs agree that if you want to cook like a professional you need to surround yourself with professional, quality equipment. A wellfunctioning cooktop that meets your individual needs is a must in any kitchen.
In general there are two choices: gas or electric. Gas cooktops feature instant heat and precision control in a variety of burner shapes and sizes. Electric cooktops are usually ceramic or induction although at the budget end of the market it is still possible to find solid cast or radiant hot plates. Ceramic cooktops feature a tempered glass with an element underneath while induction cooktops utilise electromagnetic energy.
One of the benefits of induction cooking is instant heat and cooling — a fantastic safety feature as well as being highly energy efficient. Ceramic cooktops take longer to come to heat and to change heat levels while cooking so tend to be less popular with more serious cooks.
Many homeowners are also taking advantage of dual-fuel options that combine gas and electric options to best suit the needs of their family. Cooktops are one of the most-used kitchen appliances, so it’s worth making sure the one you buy is perfect for the type of cooking your family does. Because this appliance is used almost every day, it’s vital that it be easy to clean and maintain. For ceramic or induction cooktops, ask what products should or should not be used. For gas cooktops, make sure elements can be lifted off for cleaning.
Consider the space you have available and work with your designer to look at the best place to position your cooktop. With the range of designs available, it’s not unusual to find corner “triangle” shapes available as well as the more standard square or rectangle shape. Also consider symmetry if your cooktop is to sit above an under bench oven – you wouldn’t want a 900mm cooktop above a 600mm oven as this would look out of proportion.
Safety is a must if you have children around, so look for units with the knobs positioned at the side or rear of the unit rather than the front. This is one area where induction cooktops are highly regarded; as soon as the pot is removed from the cooktop the element cools down immediately, leaving no residual heat.
How to buy
- Consider space and location — cooktops are available in a variety of shapes and sizes.
- Consider what you cook and how — look for a burner to suit your needs.
- Look for safety options such as knobs positioned where little hands cannot reach.
- Choose an energy-efficient model.
- Always ask about cleaning and maintenance requirements.
- Consider your budget and choose the best model within your means.
As the name suggests, counter top (or small) appliances generally sit on the kitchen counter and include such items as toasters, kettles, food processors, cookers, steamers, blenders, mixers and more. Most homeowners own and use a variety of these small appliances; some regularly, some more infrequently. Any item used every day, such as kettles or toasters, is usually kept out on the benchtop or stored in an easy-to-access cupboard behind a roller door. While less regularly used items such as blenders or mixers are slotted away into a drawer or cupboard until needed.
Homeowners who have the space and means will often keep their counter top appliances in a butler’s pantry, which can be hidden from view of the main kitchen but is where the real work is done. Some small appliances have been created to serve only one function — think omelette makers, fairy floss makers, etc — but many are multifunctional with optional attachments to make them even more helpful in the kitchen, such as food processors and the like.
“With any kitchen appliance you should look for simplicity and an appliance that gives you control for a better result,” says David Gubbin, Brand Director Australia for Breville. “It must be easy to clean and it should add to the look of the kitchen — particularly items such as kettles and toasters that are out in the open”.
Allison Cupillari is senior product manager for beverage and toaster products at Sunbeam and advises consumers to think carefully about what they need from an appliance before they buy. “Some things to consider are how much bench space do you have and how big is the family you are buying for?” she says. “You also need to think about why you are buying the appliance; is it for decoration and colour? Will it be on display or will it be put away? How often will you need to use the item?”
If your budget is tight, keep your eye out for appliances that can do more than one task. “Appliances that are versatile in their use, a rice cooker for example can do fried rice, boiled rice and risotto, will give you the greatest flexibility,” says Allison. “Blenders and stick mixers are a must because their uses are only limited by your imagination; cocktails, blended drinks, smoothies, soups, spice mixes, pastes, etc.”
“There’s no doubt that people are excited about food at the moment,” says David. “It’s not just about the personalities; it’s more about the food they are cooking. There is a big trend towards cooking from scratch, which means a big growth in mixers and food processors. Rich, big flavours are capturing our attention and particularly slow cooking, which produces such great smells and uses simple ingredients that make a nice meal at the end of the day. People are looking to buy quality appliances. If they are into cooking, they want appliances that will be with them for a while and aren’t interested in throw-away items”.
When buying kitchen appliances, make sure you consider the functional uses of the appliance, and the food you will be using in it. Bread has become larger over the years, so make sure you check that the slots in the toaster are large enough to take a variety of slice sizes.
Although dishwashers are often touted as a major consumer of water and electricity, most modern homes would not be without one, particularly if you have a large family or regularly entertain. There is a wide variety of choice in this category, so it’s worth doing some research before you head out to buy.
The main areas to consider are size, capacity, energy efficiency and water efficiency. Use the WELS rating system and the energy-star rating system for an independent reference point; check the stickers attached to the front of the unit as a quick way to compare brands and models. Capacity is normally measured in place settings (ie the normal items one person would use during a meal including plates, bowls, cups and cutlery).
Dishwashers today come in a range of widths to suit different needs and can be built-in, integrated or freestanding. Look for units that offer flexibility; height-adjustable racks and options for different shapes and sizes of crockery and cooking utensils. this flexibility will ensure the unit can be customised depending on your needs.
Depending on the design of your kitchen, it might be worth investigating an integrated model. Integrating hides the dishwasher behind a panel that matches your cabinetry, making it much harder to spot. This method is particularly popular with more traditional-style kitchens as it hides modern technology from immediate view.
Remember to check out the cycle options available. Most good-quality models will offer a range of wash options including gentle, economy, half-load, etc. Think about where you want the dishwasher located within your kitchen — do you have access to power and plumbing? Always add the cost of installation to the purchase price.
If you have small children, it might be worth considering a dishwasher with concealed buttons to make sure small fingers cannot accidentally turn the machine on. A safety-lock function is also recommended so the machine cannot be accidentally opened during a cycle.
All dishwashers have a filter and this will need to be cleaned, so it’s worth asking how accessible the filter is and what is required for cleaning and maintenance.
One size does not fit all. If your family is extra-small or extra-large, some manufacturers offer compact, benchtop or larger-size underbench models to suit. Always ask about size options if you think a smaller or larger machine may be needed.
An oven is an integral part of almost every Australian kitchen and again the range of options available in this category is huge, so it’s worth doing some research before you head out to shop.
Your kitchen designer will need to know what sort of oven you are considering as this will greatly affect the layout of the kitchen. Ovens can be free-standing or built-in. Built-in models can be installed underbench or as wall ovens.
Homeowners can choose from gas, electric or steam ovens but, while gas is still popular in cooktops, it is less so in ovens and the majority of homeowners choose electric models. Most electric ovens are multi-function with fan-forced cooking options available. Grill sections are still included but these days most ovens have this section within the oven cavity rather than as a separate unit.
Almost every major oven manufacturer now offers a steam oven within its range. Steam ovens have become more popular over the years as the benefits of this healthy style of cooking become more and more apparent. The ovens use adjustable humidity and temperature levels to trap moisture and prevent food being dried out as it cooks. Steam cooking is generally accepted as one of the best ways to retain the maximum amount of nutrients in the food you are cooking with the result being more flavour and colour, particularly for vegetables.
Many ovens are now available with self-cleaning options. The two main self-cleaning ovens on the market are pyrolitic cleaners and catalytic cleaners. A pyrolitic oven will lock and heat to an extremely high temperature turning any dirt or spills into an ashy substance that can easily be wiped up. The other option is a catalytic liner that absorbs grease splatters and, after heating the oven to a moderately high temperature (usually around 250 degrees Celsius), can be wiped clean.
It’s vital that the look of the oven suit the style of the kitchen. Homeowners with traditional or country-style kitchens tend to prefer free-standing cooker stoves while more contemporary kitchens suit underbench or wall ovens. Ovens are available in a wide range of colours and finishes, so it’s worth asking what options are available within the range you are considering. Each different finish will have different cleaning and maintenance requirements, so make sure you ask before you buy.
Tip: Take the dimensions of your largest baking tray with you to the showroom and make sure it will fit in the oven you have chosen.
Space is key:
- How much space do you have available in your kitchen?
- What is the actual capacity of the oven you are considering?
- Are the shelves removable and relocatable for maximum flexibility?
- Will the oven have the capacity you need as your family grows?
While rangehoods are a fully functional item, leaps forward in design have meant it’s possible to have an item that adds aesthetic value to the kitchen space as well. The idea of any rangehood is to remove odours and kitchen grease at the time of cooking to keep smells from pervading the rest of the home and to cut down on the cleaning required.
The popularity of open-plan kitchens has meant that this appliance, and how well it functions, has taken a high priority in the minds of most homeowners. Rangehoods will either be recirculating or ducted. Recirculating rangehoods suck in the grease and odours through a carbon filter, clean the air and recirculate it through the kitchen. A ducted rangehood removes the dirty air completely via a vent that leads outside.
Ask about how easy it is to remove and clean the filter, if you are considering a recirculating model, and whether or not the filter can go through the dishwasher. As a general rule, carbon filters will need to be cleaned annually although some manufacturers recommend cleaning twice per year, so check the specific instructions for the model you have chosen.
Rangehoods are also useful for providing task lighting to the cooktop below. Always ensure that you choose the correct bulb for your rangehood and look for an energy-conscious option where possible. Again, ask about the ease with which these items can be removed and replaced.
If you are particularly tall or short, you may like to look at where the rangehood is installed within the kitchen to ensure you can reach the controls and that the unit is not inconveniently placed when you are cooking. Check with your kitchen designer, who will be able to provide expert advice in this area. Try to choose a model with simple controls so you can easily monitor and change the settings.
Rangehoods can be noisy appliances, so check the dB rating — particularly if you have an open-plan kitchen.
The three main areas to consider when purchasing a refrigerator are storage (is the capacity sufficient for your needs?), maintenance (what is required to keep the machine clean?) and efficiency (what energy-star rating does it have?).
There are also many options when it comes to the configuration of the refrigerator; the traditional top-mount, the upside-down refrigerators, the side-by-side models and the French door designs.
A top-mount model has the freezer sitting above the refrigerator space and generally features a smaller freezer than refrigerator. An upsidedown refrigerator has the fridge space above with the freezer below and usually features drawer elements within the freezer for greater access. Side-by-side models have the fridge and freezer compartments sitting next to each other and, by virtue of the layout, will generally have narrower shelves than the traditional models. Refrigerators are also available in under-bench models for homes with a smaller capacity requirement.
A popular choice for more modern kitchens is to integrate the refrigerator so it is hidden behind matching panels of cabinetry. This gives the kitchen a sleek, minimalist finish.
Also in this market is the huge range of wine and bar refrigerators. These units can range from modest, underbench models to full-size models for the connoisseur. Perfect for entertaining, these refrigerators are normally positioned away from the central cooking zone of the kitchen so they can be easily accessed by guests without encroaching on the cook. Wine refrigerators boast special controls that allow you to set the temperature according to the type of drink you are storing without having to allow for food storage requirements.
Know your terms:
Top mount: freezer on top, fridge on bottom
Upside-down: fridge on top, freezer drawer on bottom
Side-by-side: fridge and freezer side by side
French door: double doors on top and freezer drawer on bottom
A well-designed and well-functioning sink is a must for any busy household. Today’s sink manufacturers offer a range of shapes and sizes to suit every kitchen; from ultra-simple, single bowl sinks to heavy duty, three-bowl sinks as well as the more traditional butler’s sinks.
Stainless steel is still the most popular choice of finish for a modern kitchen because of its strength, heat resistance and high levels of hygiene. Most butler’s sinks are constructed from fireclay porcelain and are often handmade. Some solid-surface benchtops are also designed to incorporate a seamless sink area. Ultracontemporary, these designs are very popular because there are no joins to catch grime, making them easy to clean and look fabulous.
If a sink is not incorporated into the benchtop it will either be top-mounted, inset or undermounted. A top-mounted sink sits on top of the benchtop (more commonly seen in bathrooms), an inset sink has a lip that sits on top of the benchtop with the body of the sink underneath and an undermount sink is installed below the benchtop.
Many sink manufacturers also offer a range of complementary accessories to make the sink more functional. Accessories can include cutting boards, drainers, sliding panels, colanders, strainers, racks, bowls and more. You should look for versatility in your new sink and consider what you will need to wash up. If, for example, you use many large pots and pans, it’s essential your sink has the capacity to meet this requirement.
Doug Trewin, Marketing and Export Manager for Tasman Sinkware (manufacturer of Oliveri sinks), knows that the best way to choose the right sink is to consider the makeup of your family. “For smaller households, especially those with a dishwasher, bowl-only sinks (when used in conjunction with stainless-steel utility trays and other accessories) are often sufficient,” he says. “Bigger families tend to steer towards larger sinks with multiple bowls and at least one drainer as the larger sinks extend the wet area space in the kitchen.”
- Style and design: does the sink complement the kitchen?
- Work surface: what type of benchtop do you have?
- Size: will the sink fit into the area allocated?
- Bowl capacity: will the bowl fit your largest piece of cookware?
- Accessories: do the accessories work in harmony with the sink?
- Tap landing: is the tap landing reinforced to support modern tapware?
- Functionality: is the drainer designed to minimise scratches?
- Material: is the sink made from 18/10, 304- grade stainless steel?
Courtesy Doug Trewin, Tasman Sinkware
Advice from an expert:
Expert advice is extremely valuable when considering any major appliance purchase, so we’ve canvassed a range of industry experts to get the inside story on what you should look for, what you should ask and how you can make sure you choose the right appliance for your family.
“The most important function of any major kitchen appliance, whether it is an oven, cooktop, refrigerator or dishwasher, is its performance,” says Rudi Niemoeller, Product Marketing Manager, Domestic Appliances, Miele Australia. “At the end of the day, most people want their appliances to first and foremost do a good job at what they have been designed to do and, of course, this should be achieved by using as little energy as possible”.
“Visit a well-equipped showroom where you can browse without pressure and, at the same time, obtain expert advice from well-trained product specialists,” advises Rudi.
Mary Karagiannakis is National Product Training Manager for Major Electrical Appliances, which imports brands such as Blanco and DeDietrich. She says: “Major advancements such as induction cooking have taken the world by storm, and not since the humble microwave oven have we seen such excitement about a kitchen appliance.
“You can usually save about 40 per cent in energy costs if you upgrade your kitchen, as new appliances are more energy efficient than their older counterparts,” she adds.
“Changing your kitchen appliances is a very personal decision and many other factors such as finance, time and availability influence the decision to upgrade,” comments Stan Bilinski, Senior Category Marketing Manager, LG Electronics. “Energy and water usage are two issues that are top of mind among consumers. However, there are other important factors to take into consideration, including cooking habits, storage needs in refrigerators and time of day in which you cook; it’s important to buy products that reflect these habits.”
Stan adds that it’s important to know the measurements of your kitchen before you head out to buy. “Appliances are designed to make consumers’ lives easier and if you know what you need and how you want your appliance to work for you, you are more likely to buy the right appliance,” he adds. “Once you’ve established your needs, the showroom staff will be able to help you find the best product.”
Before buying any new appliance, Peter Russell, National Marketing Manager for Fisher & Paykel, advises us to “research, research, research!”. He recommends looking into a number of key areas before you visit a showroom. “You need to know the basics,” he advises. “What size appliance can the kitchen cavity accommodate? How many people does this appliance have to cater for? What sort of energy usage do you prefer; gas or electricity? “
There are many considerations for appliance selection, not just its energy usage. Much like a hybrid or diesel car, one needs to weigh up the initial cost of that product versus the energy savings over the life of the product.
“With the kitchen now very much on display as the home has opened up, one’s appliances are also on display,” adds Peter. “We are now seeing the bulk of purchasers turning over their major appliances for aesthetic and ‘latest features’ reasons.”
Craig McKell, Group CEO of St George Appliances, says: “The kitchen is the heart of the home, which is why safety is an essential feature to consider when purchasing an oven. Look for ovens with ‘cool to touch’ technology, such as the quadruple-glazed doors on our St George ovens.”
Craig also advises us to think carefully about where the oven is going to be positioned within the kitchen and to consider using left- or rightside opening doors for easier access. “Take the opportunity to see the oven in action,” he adds. “Some brands, including St George, have a Home Economist who performs cooking demonstrations in-store year-round”.
Daniel Bertuccio from Ilve believes homeowners are in the best position to decide when to upgrade. “Kitchen appliances are a very personalised choice and are products we cannot do without,” he says. “Also, kitchen appliances and food are something very personal, so you can’t put an exact timeframe on an upgrade. When it’s time to upgrade, you’ll know.”
When it comes to making sure you buy the right appliances for your kitchen, Daniel knows exactly what you need to do. “Research is the key,” he states. “There is no such thing as a silly question. Know what is out there, use all the resources you have available and take the time to make the right choice.” “Don’t rush it,” he adds. “And bear in mind that the cheapest appliance isn’t always the best appliance.”