Over the years, the oven has become practically synonymous with cooking of all kinds. Just about everyone has had some experience using an oven at some point, whether it be in their home or apartment, or while working in a restaurant or other commercial kitchen. Most of those who have experience using an oven would agree that operating the machine is about as straightforward as it gets: just set the temperature, position your food on the rack, and wait the appropriate amount of time.
But while ovens may be simple to operate, they are actually fairly complicated devices that come in a variety of different types and with a multitude of different functions. Purchasing the appropriate kind of oven for your establishment can be a tricky proposition, and unknowingly buying the wrong piece of equipment can often leave a restaurant helpless until a suitable replacement is found. This guide to commercial ovens will detail everything that you need to know when shopping for your restaurant's next (or first) oven.
Commercial vs. Residential
If you are purchasing an oven for a commercial kitchen, the first thing to know is that residential ovens can be ignored from the start. While residential ovens are great for use in the home, they are almost always less powerful than their commercial counterparts, and are typically designed to be used no more than once or twice a day, on average. A residential oven will not be able to withstand the wear and tear of being constantly used throughout the day, and will require replacement much more frequently than their commercial counterparts. Additionally, residential ovens are often significantly smaller than commercial ovens and will likely not hold enough food at one time to keep your kitchen running smoothly.
Commercial ovens, on the other hand, are designed to handle the stress and strain of frequent, everyday use. They are designed to heat faster than residential models, and can be operated for much longer periods of time without fear of straining or damaging the equipment. Commercial ovens are also designed to conform closely to restaurant health and safety codes: a requirement that residential ovens are not always guaranteed to fulfill. For almost all large-scale cooking applications, a commercial oven will be required to adequately meet demand.
Benefits of Commercial Ovens
The first step in deciding on what sort of oven you may need is to consider what sorts of food will be offered on your menu. Different types of ovens work best with different kinds of food, and choosing which types are the most appropriate for your business model can often be a bit of a balancing act when choosing between specialization and versatility. There are, however, certain universal qualities that are true of all commercial ovens:
- Consistency: One of the most obvious benefits of cooking in a commercial oven is the predictability of its performance. Generally, the food placed into an oven will turn out the same every time, assuming that the variables (oven heat, portion size, cooking time, etc.) are kept constant across each instance of a specific recipe. Cooking in a commercial oven is a great way to ensure homogeneity in each serving of your most popular menu items.
- Efficiency: Unlike many other methods of cooking, ovens can be used to easily cook large amounts of food at one time. Cooking in batches saves valuable time and energy, ultimately saving your kitchen money in the long run.
- Passivity: Cooking in a commercial oven is, generally, a very passive part of food preparation. Once the dish is prepared, the kitchen staff can simply put it into the oven and set the timer, allowing them to move on to other tasks while the food in the oven cooks. Many commercial ovens even feature support for programmable time and temperature presets to further reduce the time spent standing at the oven.
Types of Commercial Ovens
- Standard Ovens: These ovens are the simplest kind of commercial ovens. Also known as “radiant ovens,” a standard oven features a heating element in the bottom of the unit that transmits heat into the body of the oven. Standard ovens can be used to cook almost any recipe that requires the use of an oven. Additionally, they are generally the least expensive type of oven and are usually the easiest to repair. However, because of the inconsistent nature of radiant heat, standard ovens have a tendency to cook food slowly and sometimes unevenly if the oven temperature is not set high enough.
- Convection Oven: Convection ovens are very similar to standard ovens, aside from one major difference: air circulation. Convection ovens include fans within the body of the appliance that circulate the warm air through the oven. This air circulation allows food to be cooked faster (higher air velocity promotes faster heat transfer), more consistently, and at a lower temperature than is required from standard ovens. Circulating the air also prevents the formation of hot or cold spots in the oven, ensuring a more consistent cooking temperature and producing more evenly cooked food. Because of their reliability and versatility, convection ovens have become the standard in most commercial kitchens.
- Conveyor Ovens: These ovens utilize a unique method of cooking known as “impingement.” Conveyor ovens, as the name suggests, pull food through the oven on a looping conveyor belt. As the food passes through the oven, hot air is blown down from the heating elements through a perforated sheet above the food. The velocity of the air increases as it is forced through the holes in the sheet, allowing the items in the oven to be cooked very quickly and evenly by a constant, uniform jet of hot air. Conveyor ovens are ideal for pizza shops and restaurants that require a high, continuous output of various types of items, but the fast heat transfer of the impingement process makes them a poor choice for small or delicate foods. Additionally, the low clearance of the conveyor's cabinet limits the overall size of what can actually be fed through the oven.
- Cook and Hold Ovens: These ovens function both as slow cookers and heated holding cabinets for keeping food warm and moist until it is ready to be served. Cooking at low temperatures with gentle heat significantly reduces food shrinkage, making cook and hold ovens an ideal choice for roasting or braising meats and vegetables, as well as proofing and baking bread. Because cook and hold cabinets cook food fairly slowly, they likely will not make a good choice for busy restaurants that cook to order. However, they are perfect for preparing recipes ahead of time and maintaining freshness until the food is ready to plate. Cook and hold ovens also do not require expensive ventilation systems, making them a useful addition to restaurants without ventilation hoods.
- Deck Ovens:Deck ovens are different from standard radiant ovens in that the bottom of the unit is lined with a heavy stone shelf, or “deck.” The stone shelf is heated, and food is cooked by placing it directly onto the stone. Deck ovens are perfect for kitchens that produce a large quantity of bread-oriented items (such as pizza shops and bakeries), as the stone deck gives breads a traditional “hearth” quality that other kinds of ovens can't easily achieve. While deck ovens are ideal for cooking pizzas and other similar items, they are not as well-equipped for general oven use. The stone shelf takes a long time to pre-heat, and cold spots will develop as food wicks heat away from the surface, requiring the stone to reheat to its original temperature in between batches of food. In addition, not all foods can be cooked directly on the stone surface. But for pizza shops and rustic bakeries, the deck oven is the oven of choice.
- Rotisserie Ovens:Rotisseries are commonly used in restaurants for preparing large amounts of meat. The meats are placed on a rotating spit that constantly turns the meat as it is cooked, preventing the meat from drying out and retaining juices that would typically run out into the pan in a conventional oven. Rotisseries use either a rotating spit that turns the meat in front of a heating source or a carousel-style hanging basket design that circulates the meat through the oven, ensuring that your food is cooked evenly on all sides. Rotisseries can also be used to cook vegetables with the addition of a vegetable basket or other container.
- Salamander Broilers:Salamander broilers are small but powerful broiler ovens that are used to fully cook steaks, pork chops, and other meats. Salamander ovens cook by radiant heat, much in the same way that a charbroiler does, but the units are often much smaller and can be placed on a countertop or even mounted above an existing oven. Because they are so much smaller than regular broilers, salamanders are often only used to prepare specialty items or infrequently ordered foods.
- Cheesemelters:Cheesemelters are small, countertop ovens used to, quite literally, melt cheese. These ovens heat to very high temperatures that are ideal for quickly melting cheese, caramelizing ingredients, or browning foods that have already been cooked. Cheesemelters are typically intended only for finishing purposes, and are therefore not powerful enough to be used for actually cooking foods.