How Do Electric Ranges Work?

Most electric ranges are designed with very similar set ups. The information below will help you understand how most electric ranges and ovens work. Before looking at the problems with electric ranges, it is important that you have an understanding of how they work.

Electric ranges basically take electricity and turn it into concentrated heat that you can use for cooking and baking. There are elements on a cooktop and elements in the oven that heat up when electricity travels through them.

On the cooktop you usually have 4 to 6 elements that heat up for cooking in pots and pans. There are three types of elements that are used today. The most economical and popular is the coil element. This type of heating element is flat or slightly rounded coiled wire. Heating elements are usually made from nichrome, an alloy of nickel and chrome. When the heating element receives electricity, it glows red hot. In most cases, these types of element plug into receptacles which allow them to be removed for cleaning or replacement. A few older models have wired-in coil elements. These bypass the receptacle. Ranges with coil elements have drip pans below them. These help reflect heat and provide an area that can collect any spills. These drip pans can be cleaned or replaced when they get dirty.

Another type of burner is commonly referred to as Euro burners. These burners are solid and smooth. They heat with electricity also, but do not glow red when in use. They can get very hot, so be careful when cooking with this type of burner.

The third style that is gaining in popularity is the radiant element. This style has a glass or ceramic top which covers the heating elements. Be careful to use flat cooking pots and pans. If you don’t use flat pots and pans, the temperature limiter may kick in, turning the heating element off to help prevent damage to the cooktop, and to help prevent a fire.

All of these types of elements have their temperature controlled by an infinite switch (sometimes referred to as a surface burner switch). Theoretically they can be set at an infinite number of settings. Simply by turning the switch between low and high settings, you can increase and decrease the electrical current to the electric burner. This will adjust the temperature of the heating element.

Most cooktops with the coil style elements allow you to raise the entire top for cleaning and service purposes. On these type of models the manufacturers like to put the model and serial number tag for the appliance here.

Operation of the oven is almost as basic. In the oven, there are two elements. The one on the top of the oven is used for broiling and the one on the bottom of the oven is used for baking. There are two main controls on older electric ranges. The racks inside the oven can be adjusted to hold the food at a desired distance from the heat source.

The thermostat controls the temperature, and the selector switch lets you select between bake, broil, self-clean, and timed-bake. Some of the selector switch features may be part of the thermostat or more than one control. The thermostat is located directly behind the knob that you set the oven temperature with. It is attached to a thin copper tube which goes down into the oven compartment. There its sensor detects the oven temperature and sends signals back to the control for more or less heat.

In the past, clocks were usually manual and worked with the selector switch and thermostat to set a time for the oven to come on and a time for it to turn off. Clocks today are usually electronic, and in some cases have taken over the control functions of the thermostat and selector switch. They connect to an oven temperature sensor to determine what the oven temperature is. The control sends more or less electricity to the broil and/or bake elements as needed. These types of clocks are usually referred to as Electronic Oven Controls (EOC) or Electronic Range Controls (ERC). The keypad that you use to set the EOC, along with the EOC itself can only be replaced, not repaired. On some models the keypad is available separately from the EOC and on the others it is one integrated part.

Some ovens are referred to as convection ovens. Convection style ovens have a circulating fan that moves the air all around the inside of the oven. Because the air is constantly moving and mixing itself, it makes sure of an even cooking temperature throughout the oven, and this will help cook your foods more evenly and thoroughly. Some of these ovens include a heating element built right into the circulating fan. This can help to prevent hot spots caused by a stationary heating element. Many other ovens put the heating element under the ovens’ floor. Convection ovens usually have a control that allows you to turn this feature off.

Most ranges have a light inside the oven compartment. The switch on the oven door turns the light on when you open it. Some models also have a manual switch on the range top that will let you turn the light on. Some models also have a light on the backsplash with a switch located near or on the control panel.

It is very important to use the proper pan size and pan material for the cooking you are doing. It’s common for people to use over-sized pans, but the outer edge of the pan or pot should be no more than one inch outside of the surface cooking area.

Aluminum cooking pans are great heat conductors, but may leave marks on the smoothtop surface. Remove these marks as soon as possible. Stainless steel by itself is a slow heat conductor, but if other materials like copper or aluminum are sandwiched between layers of stainless steel, it becomes a very good heat conductor. Cast iron heats slowly, but once hot, it cooks very evenly. Glass and ceramic are slow heat conductors but are easy to clean. Porcelain enamel is created when a glassy material is fused with a metal such as aluminum, stainless steel, or cast iron. The heating characteristics depend on the metal used.

Cast iron cooking pans should be seasoned properly before use for ease of cleaning and rust prevention. One way to season a cast iron pan is to rub a thin layer of vegetable oil all over the pan, and heat it up very hot, then just wipe it down with a clean cloth or paper towel after it cools off.


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