Riding the range is more than a pastime for the typical restaurant cook. The range is the production backbone of the kitchen and a cook’s most important tool. Ranges are an essential equipment item in almost every type of kitchen, be it a restaurant, school, fast food outlet, hotel or hospital. But is there anything new with this mainstay? Let’s look closely at what features manufacturers have been adding to make units more user-friendly and attractive at the same time.
In the past few years, manufacturers have become much more sensitive to the flexibility and operational demands of different needs in the kitchen. If you look closely, manufacturers have been adding some features to make units easier to use and attractive at the same time. Manufacturers have made efforts to produce ranges that work effectively for given menu and production volumes while also recognizing the aesthetics and merchandising considerations of today’s market. However, with these changes, don’t expect the outward look of a range to be different from what you have seen for years. The basic equipment and function are still intact and providing the same heavy duty use they have for years.
There are perhaps a dozen range manufacturers producing quality equipment in the United States. Some are regionalized but most market their product and have service capabilities nationwide. The majority of the basic operating features you will see one manufacturer displaying are common to most of the other manufacturers, with only a few exceptions. Oftentimes, though, manufacturers have a few of their own special features that may make them the supplier of choice for your specific needs. Some of these special features include a slightly narrower range for a very tight space, special rangetop configurations, or the availability of special finishes.
One of the more recent changes implemented by some manufacturers is to make energy efficiency improvements in their equipment. Over the past few years there have been many engineering changes to gas burners to get the most heat to the food from the gas the range consumes. Standing pilot lights that continually consume gas are being phased out on some units that are provided with an electronic spark ignition. Outside the USA, electronic ignition is more commonplace, however. Some manufacturers have also added more insulation to their equipment than in the past. The added insulation is especially useful in the performance of an oven base. The insulation will also provide more temperature separation for units with refrigerated bases – an option that is becoming more popular in today’s compact kitchens.
Most manufacturers have two lines of equipment, a heavy duty line that can be “batteried” together into a continuous lineup of ranges, and lighter duty series called restaurant ranges. Restaurant ranges are often smaller in both length and width, lighter duty, and built less ruggedly for lower volume operations. Even though the heavy-duty range costs nearly twice what a restaurant range does, most production kitchens would be advised to opt for the additional cost to get a range that may have twice the life span of its lighter duty cousin. The restaurant range does have its place in a snack bar or low usage area, though. Restaurant ranges have some nice features that would be welcome in heavy-duty versions such as the all-in-one range. These have a broiler, griddle, open burners and two ovens, all in one five or six foot unit, perfect for the small operation.
Aside from the “traditional” range and cooking battery, the Euro range style is gaining in popularity, and most large range manufacturers have introduced a version. Euro ranges, sometimes called Waldorf or island-style ranges, have been popular in Europe for more than a century. This style of back-to-back banked ranges have only recently made a big impact on the American dining scene, but are still gaining in popularity, especially with upscale operations and those with display kitchens. The great thing about an island cooking arrangement is that it merchandises well in an open kitchen environment and, when operated properly with trained staff, can put on a tremendous show by bringing your kitchen talent in contact with the dining room guest. The Euro style was originally developed as an equipment solution to allow cooks to pass food to one another in multiple step preparations. The range style has developed into a way to allow guests the best view of chef ’s handiwork in a format that is more visible than a traditional linear range battery.
Fuel is an important consideration in choosing ranges. Some manufacturers make both gas and electric models, while others specialize in one or the other. Many traditional chefs prefer gas equipment because of the instant heat. In most areas of the country, gas is less expensive than electricity, but utility availability and local fuel costs should be the determining factors. Be sure to note it when buying if you use bottled gas because the equipment requires special burners depending upon the type of gas.
Here are some of the range top configurations you may want to consider based on the cooking methods needed for your menu.
Open burners for gas or electric coils are the most popular rangetop configuration. There are burners sized specifically for smaller pans used for restaurant sauté and a la carte work and there are some sized for large stockpots for bulk production. Generally the six-burner style is for smaller pans and the four burners are for stockpots. Some ranges are built so there is a flat surface across the rangetop to easily move pans around the top without lifting or spilling. The rating of each burner of a typical sauté range is 20-35,000 BTU’s depending upon type and manufacturer. Even the 20,000 BTU is powerful enough for most saucepan work. By comparison, typical gas ranges for home use have a 9-15,000 BTU rating.
Hot tops are ranges with the entire top being a flat metal heating surface where any combination of pots and pans can be used simultaneously. Hot tops can be of the even heat variety, made up of flat steel plates for saucepans or stockpots. The top surface is different from a griddle and not for direct grilling of foods. The other hot top is the graduated heat top. It has a ring burner and top that is very hot in the center and cooler at the edges. The graduated heat top can be used for simmering pans around the edges and high-speed cooking or boiling in the center. Both types take a while to heat up, so they are often kept on at an 500-800ºF cooking temperature throughout the service period. While they have excellent features and are good for cooking, the amount of energy used and wasted is much greater than with the open burner range.
Griddles are used for cooking product directly on the range top surface. The thickness of the steel top and the burner configuration determine the production capacity and how evenly product will cook. Typical griddle tops are 3/4” or 1” thick. A 1” thick top is preferred for even heat and especially if you are cooking a lot of frozen product. The thicker top will recover temperature quicker and retain more heat but will take longer to heat up. Most griddles have a separate temperature control for at least every two feet of length. You may want to ensure there are several temperature zones along the length of the griddle if there is a need to grill different products at different temperatures at the same time.
Most manufacturers will build almost any combination of burners, griddles, and hot tops in approximately 12” widths. A quick look at a major manufacturer’s catalog shows 20 different standard rangetop configurations, along with numerous customized tops that can be special ordered. The tops can be tailored to suit your particular application. Some manufacturers also will split hot tops and burners front to back or provide steps up to the back row of burners that some chefs like for versatility. A few companies even make ranges with built-in cold pans behind burners or refrigerated bases. Prices for specialized combination ranges, except the more expensive refrigerated models, are usually the same or slightly more than regular ranges. If a custom configuration fits your application, consider it. Manufacturers are trying to provide options that make a cook’s job easier and give them the flexibility they need.
|Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm that specializes in planning foodservice facilities. A member of Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI), Bendall can be reached at 240-314-0660.|