My stove sucks. Here's how I make the most of it.
Renter problems, amirite?
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I don’t mean to brag, but I know a good stove when I use one. I’ve cooked on a lot of them over the years—plus I reviewed ovens here at Reviewed.com for about two years—so you can trust me when I say I know my stuff. And you can also trust me when I say the stove in my apartment, well, sucks. Ah, the joys of renting.
The first time I used the rangetop after moving in, I couldn’t get the gas to start up. I tried everything I could think of, but no orange flames rose from the burners, and no telltale gas smell filled the kitchen either. Was this thing even on? Frustrated, I was about to give up when an awful realization dawned on me: these weren’t gas burners at all; they were electric coils.
There’s nothing wrong with an electric rangetops, but electric coils aren’t ideal, especially if (like me) you appreciate the control that gas rangetops offer. The coils on my stove are perpetually slanted no matter what I do, causing any liquids I cook to pool in one corner of the pan. They heat up satisfyingly fast, but take a long time to cool off. They’re a pain in the butt to clean, and the four burners are sometimes tough to share with my two roommates at dinnertime, especially since two of the burners are smaller than all of our pots. It’s not the end of the world, it just isn’t my first choice of stovetop. So how do I cook on it?
Unfortunately, in these situations, there’s only so much that can be done. Short of buying a new range, I’m stuck with what I have. Slanted electric coils can be pulled out a bit and resituated, but the ones on my range simply won’t lie flat. To deal with this, I’ve learned to periodically lift the pan up to swirl the oil around, keeping it from settling on one side of the pan. I take care to move food around with a spoon or spatula when appropriate, so that it doesn’t get stuck with too much or too little oil, or so that a sauce doesn’t heat more on one side than the other. I also have a newfound appreciation for nonstick cookware, which keeps food from sticking so badly, even if an area of the pan is without oil.
The first time I used the oven after moving in, I made popovers. I filled a pan with popover batter, placed it inside the oven, and waited. You’re not supposed to open the oven door when you’re baking popovers because it causes the popovers to deflate, so instead, I figured I’d look through the oven window to make sure my new oven wasn’t burning them.
The window appeared to be hidden under the hand towels my roommates had draped on the oven’s handle, so I pushed them aside, only to realize that there was no window hiding beneath them. My oven did not have a window. I’d have to either open the door early and deflate the popovers, or just cross my fingers and hope they wouldn’t burn. It was harrowing. Harrowing, I tell you!
The inconvenience of no oven window aside, my oven has a frustrating habit of over-browning the area of food that falls right above its heating element. This is pretty common, but that doesn’t make it ideal! To keep my food from such despicably uneven browning, I rotate the pan part way through cooking. I also often choose to place my food on the top rack of the oven, where it has more distance from the heat source. This tends to spread out the heat a little more evenly.
The bottom line
The moral of the story is that sometimes the appliances you have to work with aren’t the best of the best. If you want to avoid that, we have lots of great recommendations, but sometimes (especially for renters) it’s just not possible to have an awesome oven. In those situations, you just have to use common sense and make the most of what you have. The quality of your cooking depends on it.