Lovin’ your oven


The heat turns up as we check out the latest technology to hit the market in commercial oven systems.

Ovens have a long history. Primitive clay, stone and brick ovens have been used to bake unleavened and leaven breads for thousands of years. But with advancements in metallurgy came cast iron and later steel cooking compartments that evolved to bring ovens indoors and drastically expand their use.

Ovens were originally fueled by wood, dried animal excrement or peat. But the use of coal, charcoal and later natural gas made ovens easier to stoke, clean and control. In the early 20th century, the production of man-made electric power and electric-resistant heating elements provided an even cleaner cooking option. Mid-20th century development of radar begot the use of microwaves that could pop popcorn, reheat and even cook foods.

While baking bread was their initial role, ovens quickly expanded to include roasting meats and poultry, baking or poaching fish and preparing pan-baked or braised dishes—plus a host of pastries, desserts and confectionary creations.

The needs of professional chefs, cooks and bakers have always driven new oven designs. Volume requirements, physical location, labor issues, available fuels and even facility designs have all played their role in oven evolution. Breakthroughs in burner design and heat transfer technology plus the availability of more sophisticated sensors, powerful on-board processors, cheap memory sources and intuitive, user-friendly interface systems have changed the face and complexity of the oven category as a whole.

Today, commercial ovens can be big or small, single- or multi-purpose, simple or sophisticated, labor intensive or highly automated. They can be heated by natural or propane gas, wood, coal or electricity. No other commercial cooking equipment category offers as much choice. But with rapidly changing technology can also come confusion. So let’s break down what’s really hot in the oven category today.

Big is beautiful

There is no shortage of big ovens available to wholesale and retail bakeries, large commercial and institutional commissary operators and other high-volume users. The biggest are vertical tray ovens and rotary rack ovens. For cook-chill roll-in rack combination (combi) ovens that can do multi-function cooking plus rethermalization (reheating) prior to serving. Rotary rack ovens are not just used by bakeries and commissaries. Some bakery café operators use single-rack models to handle all their bread and pastry baking needs at the store level. And some pizza operators use revolving tray ovens in place of deck or brick ovens to bake pies with less peel-pushing and pizza positioning.

Now big ovens can also be energy efficient. Baxter is a major supplier of rotary rack ovens and a supporting cadre of roll-in proofers and retarders. With the recent broadening of types covered in the EPA’s ENERGY STAR ovens category, Baxter’s big rack ovens are the first to earn certification under the new oven category efficiency standards. Its OV500 Series gas-heated, single- and double-rack models are now ENERGY STAR qualified, thanks to the efficient in-shot burner system, improved airflow design, triple pane viewing window and energy-saving programmable standby (idle) mode.

Let’s get small

Restaurant kitchens are often too small, and they aren’t getting any larger. Merrychef, a major player in the speed-cook oven category, has taken small-oven technology to the next level with the introduction of its Eikon e2s High Speed Oven. The e2s is only 14 inches wide, but it is packed with cutting-edge technology, including innovative placement of magnetrons and tuned air-curtain impingement, plus an icon-driven touchscreen user-interface. The manufacturer claims these ovens deliver cook times that are 20 times faster than conventional ovens. Like most fast-cook ovens, the e2s has a built-in catalytic converter for ventless installation. No wonder it earned a 2016 National Restaurant Association Kitchen Innovation (KI) Award.

Want to add pizza to the menu but don’t have room or budget for a big deck or traditional brick pizza oven? Equipex can set you up with the Sodir Concept Countertop Pizza Ovens. Available in 26.5-inch-wide Primo Series and 35.25-inch-wide Upper Crust Models, they can be double or triple stacked to add capacity in the same footprint. All Equipex pizza ovens can bake 16-inch fresh or frozen pies in three to six minutes, depending on crust and toppings.

Though small, these ovens have a firebrick stone hearth for authentic pizza taste and texture and use quartz heating elements to generate compartment temperatures up to 660 degrees. It has two thermostats: one for the oven compartment and a second under-deck thermostat that ensures a perfect bake, with thin or thick crusts.

A vacation from ventilation

Most ovens must be installed under a ventilation hood to capture waste heat, condensate, smoke and grease. While speed-cook ovens were first to address ventilation issues using catalytic converters, a growing number of other ovens have adopted this technology to provide freedom-of-location for electric ovens.

For example, Blodgett has addressed the hood issue with the introduction of Hoodini, a ventless hood system designed to fit atop its six- or 10-pan Mini combis. Hoodini removes smoke, odor and moisture from the cooking compartment, allowing preparation of proteins, including bacon, chops, bone-in chicken and hamburgers. That grease extraction even makes compartment cleaning easier. The Hoodini combi topper uses a catalytic converter with a moisture condensing system, which earned Blodgett a 2016 NRA KI Award for providing freedom from ventilation limitations.

A need for speed

Speed of service is a near universal operator need. Equipment that can prepare food in less time, without significant impact on food quality, is gold.

Alto Shaam is heating up the speed-cook race with Xcellerate, its new Hi-Speed Oven that incorporates microwave heating with forced air impingement technology to deliver cook times up to 10 times faster than conventional ovens. The ZL-300 Model is just over 22 inches wide while the XL-400 stretches-the-tape to just under 28 inches. Both can be mounted over or under the counter and double stacked. Both models also feature a fully programmed touchscreen that stores up to 100 programs, plus a USB port for program updating and menu management. A built-in catalytic converter removes smoke, odors and grease-laden vapors, providing freedom from a hood.

If slow is the way to go

While combi oven technology can increase meat yields when cooking with superheated steam, if you really want to tenderize meats and maximize product yield, you need the low-and-slow cooking capability of a cook-and-hold oven. Alto Shaam created this oven sub-category years ago with the introduction of Halo Heat Cook & Hold Ovens.

In addition to cook-and-hold ovens, many combi ovens can be used for overnight cooking (and holding) of prime rib, etc. And speaking of versatility, did you know there is a blast chiller that can also do low temperature cooking? Irinox USA has added hot-side capabilities to its line of Multi-Fresh blast chillers. In addition to typical blast chilling, shock freezing, thawing and food holding capabilities, they can be used to temper chocolate, pasteurize, reheat foods, proof dough and do low-temperature (cook-and-hold) cooking.

Their new MyA 7-inch touchscreen controls use intuitive icons to make mode selection and cycle programming easy. This unique marriage of cold- and hot-side heat exchange allows programmed thawing of raw product, slow cooking to desired doneness, followed by blast chilling and holding—all done overnight, without moving a pan, while you sleep.

Refreshing the range oven

A simple base-mounted oven is part of most range configurations. With the exception of offering a convection base oven alternative, most range ovens are pretty basic. Hestan Commercial is a new, California-based range company that has already earned a 2015 NRA KI Award for its movable Longitudinal Modular Broiler/Cheesemelter/ShelvingSystem, and a second for its heat-focusing Tri-Ferrous French Top design. Hestan has done it again in 2016, this time earning a KI Award for its unique range top burner design.

With this track record, you would expect Hestan’s range ovens to offer something special. You would be correct. Their heavy-duty range door is built to support 400 pounds and is hydraulically counter-balanced so it softly opens and won’t drop open with a crash. These ovens also boast a category-leading 150- to 650-degree operating temperature range and an energy-saving intermittent Pilot System. Other unique features include: a patent-pending heat exchanger design; five-rack-position side supports that hold bake pans without using wire racks; and a removable stainless steel drip pan for easier cleanups.

Keeping it simple

Vulcan began promoting a “simplified” combi to the school market but quickly found other combi customers also liked the idea of keeping it simple. The ABC7 Series Combi is a boilerless unit with just three control knobs that set cooking time, cooking temperature and compartment humidity. In addition, behind-the-knobs programming automatically adjusts optimum compartment humidity for the temperature set.

The Blodgett ABC7 Series is available in both gas and electric full-sized models with a seven pan/rack capacity plus double stacked versions of both. Their plan to keep it simple (as A-B-C) has been rewarded with a 2016 NRA KI Award.

Sophisticated and simple

RATIONAL has built and maintained its worldwide combi oven brand leadership by regularly updating and developing “next-generation” control package technology. In 2014, it introduced Self Cooking Center 5 Senses advanced control technology at the NRA Show and received KI Award recognition at the 2015 show. The system can evaluate current oven conditions and the consistency of the food; recognize the size, quantity and condition of products; and calculate the parameters for desired browning—all by itself. It then determines the ideal cooking path to deliver the desired results, changing mode, temperature, humidity and time as needed.

Now RATIONAL has simplified the control of multiple ovens with its new Kitchen Management System, which earned a 2016 NRA KI Award. It can control up to 30 of its combis from a PC computer and monitor through a Windows-based virtual control panel, download menu updates, upload HACCP data and monitor energy usage. It can be used with all Self Cooking Center 5 Senses and CombiMaster Plus models.


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