How to buy the best built-in oven
By Jane Darling
A good oven should last you a decade or more, so you'll want to pick one that fits well with your cooking needs.
Modern ovens can include a host of hi-tech features. But if you don't get the basics right, you could end up with one that's slow to heat up or cooks unevenly.
The best ovens will heat up rapidly to the correct temperature, and spread heat evenly throughout the oven.
Head straight to our independent reviews of the best built-in ovens out there to find the one for you.
Buying the best oven for you
Use our interactive tool to guide you through the main features to look out for when choosing a new oven.
You won't always have a choice over whether you go for an electric or gas oven, as this can depend on the fuel options available in your home. Similarly, unless you are buying a new oven when redesigning your kitchen, the size you choose will be limited by the space you have available.
Below, we explain the options and their pros and cons to help you decide if you want to make a more radical change or simply replace like for like.
Electric ovens vs gas ovens
Electric ovens are the most popular type. Whether you want a single or a double, you'll find plenty to choose from. Built-in gas ovens are harder to find these days. Only a few manufacturers offer them as part of their range, so your choice will be more limited.
In general, we find that electric ovens do better in our tests. How well heat is distributed through an oven's cavity is an important predictor of reliable cooking results – and have found that the best electric ovens beat the best gas ovens at spreading heat evenly.
On the plus side, gas ovens can be cheap to buy and run, and there are some decent ones out there. So if you've got gas installed, and don't want the hassle and expense of going electric, don't despair.
Single or double oven?
There are four types of built-in oven to choose from. All are around 60cm wide, but their heights vary.
- Full-height double built-in ovens are usually positioned at eye level, making getting food in and out easier
- Built-under double ovens as designed to go under a hob or kitchen work top
- Single ovens are more flexible, and can fit either under a hob or at eye level.
- Compact ovens are handy for either smaller living spaces or as part of a set up alongside or above a single oven
You can compare all the ovens we've tested, single and double, electric and gas by heading to built-in oven reviews.
Built-in oven prices vary from around £130 for an ultra-basic single oven to more than £1,000 for one with all the bells and whistles. We test ovens at all price points to find the best options for every budget. Many years of oven testing has taught us that you'll usually need to spend more than £250 to get a decent single oven, and at least £350 if you're after a good double oven.
We've found some respectable ovens from budget brands such as Beko, Belling and Hisense - as well as some mediocre ovens you'll want to avoid. If you're looking for a higher spec oven from brands such as AEG, Bosch, Neff, Miele or Smeg, you'll want to be doubly sure the oven will cook to perfection. Paying more doesn't always guarantee brilliant results, our tests have shown.
We've found several Best Buy single ovens for less than £300
Some pricey ovens do an expert job of cooking, as well as offering useful extras such as steam cooking or self-cleaning. But we've also tested models costing more than £1,000 which do a worse job of cooking than ovens costing less than half as much.
Our in-depth testing roots out the most accurate and efficient ovens, that are also easy to use and clean. See our top picks by heading to our round up of the best built-in ovens.
Best oven features to look for
- Self-cleaning – Pyrolytic ovens use a high-temperature program to reduce burnt-on cooking grime to ash. Catalytic liners help break down fatty spills and splashes.
- Digital controls – These can be more precise than dials. They can also offer more flexibility and guidance, and give a more streamlined look.
- Programmable timer – Lets you set the oven to cook for a specific time. The oven automatically turns on, cooks and turns off afterwards.
- Telescopic runners – These make pulling shelves out and pushing them back in again a smoother and more stable experience.
- Steam cooking – Some ovens come with a water tank that can be set to steam cook or to inject bursts of steam. Moisture settles on your food, then evaporates, which causes the surface to crisp up.
Using bursts of steam can help crisp up the outside of bread
- Automatic cooking controls – You select the dish you're cooking: and the oven sets the temperature, heat sources, moisture levels and time.
- 'Smart' connected ovens – Allows you to control certain functions or check on cooking progress using an app on your smartphone or tablet.
- Triple or quadruple glazed doors – Multiple layers of glass insulate the space, preserving heat and saving energy.
- Slide-away door – This is unique to Neff ovens, and allows the oven door to slide underneath the oven. Handy in tight spaces.
- Stated oven capacity can range from 51 to 76 litres
- The average capacity of a single oven is 64 litres
- The average capacity for a double oven is 62 litres for the main oven and 35 litres for the smaller one
- Layout and shelf positions also affect how much you can fit in an oven
Manufacturers generally quote the total internal volume of their ovens as a guide to size. But as food doesn't come in big cubes, this isn't especially useful. You can't use all that internal space to cook with, and the layout and positioning of shelves also makes a big difference to how much you can fit in. It's possible for an oven with larger dimensions to have less space available for cooking than a smaller one.
The usable capacity of an oven can be 27 litres less than the stated capacity
We measure the actual usable volume of each oven, ignoring any space that won't count when you're actually cooking, such as the top 3cm of the oven, and any space under the lowest shelf position. If you cram food into these spaces, you prevent hot air from circulating properly, which will affect cooking results.
We also use our collection of life-sized foods - a fake turkey, chicken and beef joint on roasting trays - to check what you can realistically fit in each oven. The biggest ovens will fit in a large turkey and still leave space for a tray of roast potatoes or veg. Smaller ovens may fit in a turkey but leave no space for extras, while others can be too narrow to even fit in a turkey on its own.
Some single ovens have a special divider that allows you to split the internal space and cook at two different temperatures. This is handy if you don't have space for a bigger type of oven, but want a more flexible cooking space.
Cleaning the oven is a messy, unpleasant job, so an oven that promises to clean itself is a tempting prospect. There are several options available:
- Pyrolytic cleaning The priciest option. Pyrolytic ovens have a special program that super-heats the cavity to around 500°C, burning off spills until all that's left is a fine ash that you can wipe away.
- Catalytic liners These can be found on the sides, back and sometimes roof of the oven. They have a special surface that absorbs fat splashes and spills, gradually breaking grime down when you cook at temperatures of more than 200°C.
- Steam cleaning Less common. This usually involves adding some water to a small dip in the base of the oven, which then creates steam to loosen burnt-on grime.
- Nano-cleaning Some brands, such as Beko, offer their own additional cleaning features. In this case, the glass in the oven door has a coating designed to repel dirt.
- Easy-clean enamel The most basic option. These are simply wipe-clean enamel surfaces.
Pyrolytic ovens are becoming increasingly popular and they can be very effective - we've found the best ones clean the glass door, too. Some models have a choice of shorter or longer cleaning cycles depending on how grimy your oven has become. Bear in mind, though, that you'll need to remove the shelves and clean them by hand.
While a self-cleaning feature will generally cost more, they will save on elbow grease and money spent on oven cleaning products over time. Also, we've seen prices for pyrolytic ovens tumbling lately as they become more mainstream, so they have become a more affordable option.
You don't have to splash out on self-cleaning for an easy life, though - some ovens don't have fancy self-cleaning features but still proved easy to clean in our tests. We've also found not all pyrolytic ovens are worth paying for, so make sure you check our built-in oven reviews before buying.
Conventional, fan or multi-function cooking?
There are several ways an oven can provide heat, and it helps to understand what these mean so you can be sure you get the option that works best for you.
A standard, conventional oven supplies heat from two heating elements - one towards the top of the oven and the other near the base. This can result in hot and cold spots, and food placed nearer the top of the oven tends to cook quicker than food near the bottom.
Conventional cooking can sometimes have the edge over using an oven with a fan - cakes, soufflés and flans fare better with just top and bottom heat - and anything liquidy that you want to cook slowly, such as a casserole, doesn't get any special benefit from fan cooking.
Most electric ovens today come with a fan which helps to distribute the heat evenly, and some gas ovens can also be fan-assisted. True fan ovens have a single heating element around the fan, while a fan-assisted oven is essentially a conventional oven (two heating elements) with a fan set in the back of the oven.
Food cooks faster in a fan oven, as warm air is constantly moved around the cavity. You'll need to reduce the cooking temperature, too.
In double ovens, the larger main oven usually has a fan and the other operates as a conventional oven, so you can choose the option that suits your dish best.
Multi-function ovens usually include top and bottom heat, a grill and a fan. They allow you to cook with these heat sources independently or in combination. So you could use just the top heat to give your lasagna a bit of extra browning when it's cooked through, or use bottom heat only for a pizza or quiche to get the perfect crispy base.
Multi-function ovens often also have a defrost setting. Some models use just the fan to move unheated air around, while others introduce a little bottom heat at the same time. Either way, the job gets done far quicker than simply leaving your food on the kitchen table.
Multi-function ovens are becoming increasingly common. They can offer more flexibility of cooking options, but be sure to check how easy they are to use as more options means potentially confusing controls.
Neff, Bosch or Zanussi ovens - which brands are worth buying?
Some oven brands have a reputation for being good for a particular job, or especially reliable. Neff ovens for example are a regular feature in the Bake Off tent, which has made them a popular choice among keen bakers. But is their reputation deserved?
As well as picking an oven that fits with your needs and does a great job of the basics, it's worth checking that the brand you choose has a good record for this type of product, in terms of reliability and customer satisfaction.
Using years of testing experience and data gathered in our labs, as well as feedback from oven owners about their experiences, we've put together comprehensive guides to each oven brand to help you find the most reliable and loved oven brands.
Head to our list of the top oven brands for 2020 to find out which brands you can rely on to cook your food perfectly and remain trouble-free for many years.
3 things worth checking when you choose an oven
1. How easy is it to see inside?
Can you easily see food when it's cooking? And if you need to change the light bulb, is it easy to get at? Some ovens have one light at the back, which will need changing regularly, while others have switched to long-lasting LED lights and placed more in the cavity for better visibility.
2. Can you remove the glass for cleaning?
Many ovens are designed to let you remove one or more glass panels for cleaning which is useful if grime has built up over time. If you do this, handle the glass carefully during removal, cleaning and replacement. The corners are particularly vulnerable.
Although tempered glass is very heat resistant, it is brittle, and a tiny crack, invisible to the naked eye, can grow over time and eventually cause the glass to shatter.
Also, avoid using scouring cloths or abrasive chemicals on the glass. Scouring can cause minute scratches that undermine the glass which could lead to it shattering further down the line.
3. How many shelves are supplied?
Cheaper ovens tend to be less generous with extra shelving, so you may find yourself shelling out for more. Some pricey ovens also have less than you might expect, though, so check what you get before you buy, especially if you specifically want something extra such as a grill pan.
When we test ovens, we check how easy they are to use and clean, as well as how many shelves you get and how much cooking space this amounts to. Use our built-in oven reviews to find the right oven for you.
Getting your oven installed
Finally, don't forget to factor in oven installation costs when buying. Changing fuels can be quite costly, but if you're replacing like with like, then John Lewis offers oven and cooker installation services for between £75 and £100, and will remove and dispose of your old model for an extra £20. Curry's current cost is between £75 and £90. It charges from £15 for removal and disposal.
Go to Trusted Traders to track down a local tradesperson endorsed by Which? who may be able to offer you a cheaper deal.
Do ovens cost much to run?
Ovens aren't typically as energy hungry as other large kitchen appliances such as fridges, freezers or tumble dryers. Models vary, but electric ovens tend to cost between £40 and £50 a year to run. Gas ovens are cheaper, typically around £20 a year.
On average, electric ovens cost £40 to £50 a year to run
We record how much each oven costs to run as well as rating the energy use of each oven, so if you are keen to pick an energy-saver, you can find the cheapest option.
Head to our built-in oven reviews to compare specific models.