Gas Oven Broilers - Do Any Really Work?

MikeR | Nov 8, 201303:49 PM     56

I had a basic oven that came with the house I moved into 33 years ago. It was a Caloric 24" gas wall (built-in) oven and it had a perfectly functional broiler. Not as good as firing up the Weber, but much more appealing on days when the weather is crummy or cold. Anyhow, after nursing it along for the past five years or so, it finally was in need of a part that hasn't been made since 2005 so I had to replace it.

I had no interest in renovating the kitchen, so I was looking for a drop-in replacement or as close to that as I could find. I don't need timers or self cleaning, just a box that gets hot for baking or roasting, and a broiler that cooks meat quickly and browns it nicely. I thought this would be easy to find, but it turns out that gas ovens are rare and 24" ones are even rarer.

I was pleased to find that good ol' Sears had a Kenmore model on sale for small change over $400 that seemed almost exactly, featiure-wise, like what I had, so I ordered one, had it installed, and started using it. The model number for this oven, should you want to avoid buying one, is 790.3052.

The oven works fine, but when I tried to broil a chicken breast, it was a total failure. It seemed like it was taking an unreasonably long time to cook - it was getting firm, but not getting brown, and I observed that after the first ten minutes, the burner was cycling off and on, about 1 minute off and 1 minute on. This isn't like any broiler I've ever used, where in the broiling mode, the burner stays on until you turn it off. I ate my cooked but unpleasant chicken breast and the next morning, went back to Sears to ask what was going on. Was this normal? Was my new oven defective?

About five sales people, including the manager of the appliance department, all weighed in (none of them actually had ever used this model, or even seen it, since they only have 30" sizes on display) but concluded that it shouldn't be cycling like that, and scheduled a service techician to come out the next day to check it out and repair it.

In the mean time, I called the Sears customer service line and asked about this broiler cycling issue. The nice lady I spoke to there studied the manual (as had I) and consulted some other reference, and said that, no, it shouldn't be doing that, and suggested that I keep the service appointment.

So the service tech gets here, I demonstrate the problem to him, and he's a bit baffled (he, too, had never seen that model) so he called back to his shop to find out what they knew. His boss hadn't heard of that either, so he called the manufacturer (Frigidaire, the current maker of most Kenmore appliances) and the person there told him (I was listening on the speaker phone) that "this oven works differently than other ovens, and that the broiler will cycle like that." To keep it on steadily, I could open the main oven door to vent the heat so the thermostat wouldn't turn it off. He said it was a safety feature to keep the cabinet from getting too hot and starting the kitchen on fire.

So I tried broiling a burger with the oven door open, and indeed the burner remained on, but it took more than 50% longer to broil than in my old oven. Further, it hardly got browned. Taking apart the oven to see if I could figure out why, I saw that the burner was simply a straight tube with the flame coming out of holes on either side. A fairly hefty sheet steel baffle above it sort of reflected heat downward toward the broiler drawer, but it wasn't really radiant heat. My old oven had a large burner assembly with a sort of mesh covering which, after about a minute, became red hot and added radiant energy to just the high temperature. The way the new oven was working was sort of like cooking over a gas grill without the lava rocks.

So I go back to Sears telling them that although the oven wasn't broken, it just wasn't designed for good broiling. Some Web searching turned up a few similar comments, but not many, nor many praises either. It seems that people don't use oven broilers very much these days. One thing I like about Sears is that they're good about customer satisfaction and they were willing to swap it out for a different oven if I told them what I wanted (I'd pay the difference in cost, of course, which was fair enough). The problem is that I can't find anything either among the brands they sell or, so far, among what anyone else sells. It seems that there just isn't much choice.

The Sears salesman could only come up with a GE model JGRS06BEJBB, but like the one I had bought, he had never seen this GE model and only suggested it on the basis that he thought GE made better ovens than Kenmore.

I went to the GE web site, looked at the specs for this oven, and downloaded the manual. Other than the fact that it has a timer and the control panel layout is slightly different (same controls, just different positions) it appears to be identical to the Kenmore. I called GE customer service to ask if the burner in their oven cycled when broiling. The nice lady said she couldn't find anything about that (she was reading the same manual I had), but checked somewhere else and told me that she found a statement in another document that it did not cycle, but remained on continuously when broiling. That sounded encouraging, but in the spirit of "trust, but verify" I e-mailed GE Tech Support and asked the question. The reply came back that indeed the burner would cycle when broiling unless the oven door was opened, which they don't recommend (their manual specifically says to keep both the oven and broiler doors closed when broiling). In addition he described the burner assembly with the same baffle arrangement as the Kenmore oven has.

So there's no benefit to swap out the Kenmore for this GE oven. I'm going to do some more looking, but I'm wondering if anyone who has had the patience to read this far has a gas oven like what I'm looking for that does a good job of broiling. It's really not practical to switch to an electric oven because of the cost and cabinetry, unless I was doing a full remodel.

My analysis, based on my life as an engineer, is that controlling the burner with the thermostat even when broiling, was a feature that they had to add in order to get UL approval. It may now simply be a design requirement, or it may be a cheaper alternative to putting enough insulation around the box so that it won't get too hot with sustained burner operation. As far as the lack of a radiant heat source, I guess that's just a way to make the oven cheaper that they figure they can get away with since nobody broils in an oven any more anyway.

I suppose I'll have to stick with what I have and change how I do some of my cooking (maybe get a George Forman grill????), but if anyone has one that works and is new enough to be still available I'd like to check it out.

And if anyone, when buying an oven, has ever been asked by a salesman "Do you intend to use the broiler?" (because these don't work), I'm interested in that. I was amazed that all of the sales and support people who should be in the know about this weren't.

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