A kitchen stove, often called simply a stove or a cooker, is a kitchen appliance designed for the purpose of cooking food. Kitchen stoves rely on the application of direct heat for the cooking process and may also contain an oven, used for baking. "Cookstoves" (also called "cooking stoves" or "wood stoves") are heated by burning wood or charcoal; "gas stoves" are heated by gas; and "electric stoves" by electricity. A stove with a built-in cooktop is also called a range.
Natural gas and electric stoves are the most common today in western countries. They are equally effective and safe, and the choice between the two is largely a matter of personal preference and availability of utilities. Bottled gas ranges are used where utilities are unavailable.
Prior to the 18th century in Europe, people cooked over open fires fueled by wood. In the Middle Ages, waist-high brick-and-mortar hearths and the first chimneys appeared, so that cooks no longer had to kneel or sit to tend to foods on the fire. The fire was built on top of the construction; the cooking done mainly in cauldrons hung above the fire or placed on trivets. The heat was regulated by placing the cauldron higher or lower above the fire.
His Rumford fireplace created a sensation in London when he introduced the idea of restricting the chimney opening to increase the updraught. This was a much more efficient way to heat a room than earlier fireplaces. He and his workers modified fireplaces by inserting bricks into the hearth to make the side walls angled, and added a choke to the chimney to increase the speed of air going up the flue. The effect was to produce a streamlined air flow, so all the smoke would go up into the chimney rather than lingering and entering the room. It also had the effect of increasing the efficiency of the fire, and gave extra control of the rate of combustion of the fuel, whether wood or coal. Many fashionable London houses were modified to his instructions, and became free of smoke.
The first half of the nineteenth century witnessed a steady improvement in stove design. Cast iron stoves replaced those made of masonry and their size shrank to allow them to be incorporated into the domestic kitchen. By the 1850s, the modern kitchen, equipped with a cooking range, was a fixture of middle-class homes. In 1850 Mary Evard invented the Reliance Cook Stove, which was divided in two with one half for dry baking and the other half for moist. Patents issued to Mary Evard are US76315 and US76314 on April 7, 1868. She demonstrated this stove with her husband at the St. Louis World's Fair.
Stoves of that era commonly burned charcoal as well as wood. These stoves had flat tops and the heat was concentrated on one side of the stove top so that cooks could cook things at different temperatures based on where the pot or pan was located. This was called the "piano" system. After coal was replaced with gas, French chefs continued to prefer the smooth cooking surface and so the majority of French gas stoves had flat metal surfaces over the gas burners, which continues to be known as the "French style" today.
Once electric power was widely and economically available, electric stoves became a popular alternative to fuel-burning appliances. One of the earliest such devices was patented by Canadian inventor Thomas Ahearn in 1892. Ahearn and Warren Y. Soper were owners of Ottawa's Chaudiere Electric Light and Power Company. The electric stove was showcased at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893, where an electrified model kitchen was shown.
The first electric stoves used heating elements made of high-resistance metal to produce heat. The stovetop (range) surface had one or more circular heating elements, insulated with compressed magnesia and sheathed in a spiral metal tube. Heating elements for the oven are of similar construction but an elongated loop to distribute heat. Elements were made as plug-in consumer-replaceable parts and could also be easily removed for cleaning. Temperature of cooking elements was regulated by adjusting a bimetal thermostat control switch, which switched power on and off to control the average heating effect of the elements.
Flattop grills are also being installed into kitchen counters and islands, which do double-duty as a direct cooking surface as well as a platform for heating pots and pans. A hot plate is a similar device, which is mobile and can be used as an appropriate technology.