Foodservice Equipment Reports

SPECIAL REPORT: Home On The Range

A foodservice kitchen without a range—especially a gas range—is a rare sight. From boiling a pot of water to sautéing an entrée to finishing a dish in the oven, a range is likely the one piece of equipment chefs and cooks feel most at home with. At some point, you’ll probably specify one for your operation

Full-size gas ranges are commonplace, available from many manufacturers—but not identical. While you might think a range is a commodity you can price-bid from manufacturers, there are subtle differences between similar models from different makers. As always, keep your operation’s unique needs in mind and consult with the people who use the equipment most to be sure you specify a model with the features you need or want.

For our purposes, a range is defined as a cooktop with a base that typically contains either a standard or convection oven. The base of a range also might contain a cabinet, and in some cases even refrigerated drawers, but a traditional range has an oven. And because most chefs/cooks prefer gas for stovetop cooking, we’ll focus on full-size gas models in this feature.

The smallest full-size range you can get has a 24” width, but 36” ranges are more common because ovens have to be at least 26½” wide to accommodate full sheet pans. (A few manufacturers make a 30”, four-burner model with a full-width oven.) Burners are traditionally 12” or 18” wide. So, a typical base model is a 36”, six-burner range with an oven. As noted, though, if you use larger stockpots more often than 10” or 12” sauté pans, you can get a four- and even a five-burner model in the same 36” width.

Ranges typically run in size up to a 72”, 12-burner model, but probably the most common in restaurants are six- and eight-burner models. Remember that for every 36” of range, you can specify either six 12” burners or four 18” burners. Most manufacturers design ranges so that the 18” burners provide more Btu for the larger pans and stockpots you’re likely to use, but many makers also offer these “power burners” in a 12” version.







Burners, Baby, Burners

Burners, in fact, provide the greatest point of differentiation among various makes and models. Besides the number and size of the burners you need, the most important question to ask yourself is what your range will be used for in your operation.

Most commercial ranges on the market have an open burner design, but a few models have sealed burners. Sealed burners have burner bowls that surround the burner, making spills relatively easy to clean. Open burners allow more air to get to the burner and provide an updraft of heated air below the cooking vessel, both of which, makers say, lets chefs cook faster. Virtually all open-burner ranges have some sort of crumb tray below the burners to catch spills, so they’re not much more difficult to clean than sealed-burner ranges.

Because ranges are designated open-flame equipment like charbroilers, people assume that the more heat the ranges produce the better they perform. People also assume that a range is probably the last piece of equipment to look to in a kitchen for energy savings. (Well, maybe second to last after that charbroiler.)

Manufacturers may try to sell you a gas range on the basis of Btu—the more the better. That may be fine if you’re cooking a lot of sauces or soups or need to bring pots to a boil as quickly as possible. But your chefs may want more finesse and control over the menu items they cook on the range, including the ability to simmer at very low temperatures. Depending on burner design, different ranges may provide more of the characteristics you need than others.

First, when it comes to power, Btu ratings alone don’t tell the whole story. Burner design—how a burner combines air and fuel and combusts it as it passes through ports—affects how efficiently the fuel burns. The ante for any range burner is 40% efficiency. However, some manufacturers have upped that to 45%. Doesn’t sound like much, but it means you’re getting more Btu from the same amount of gas.

Burner design also impacts performance in another way. How close the burner is to the pot or pan it’s heating as well as the shape of the burner ports—a circle or star, for example—can determine how quickly Btu are transferred into the pot and ultimately to the food product. The circle of flame on one burner, for example, might travel outside the diameter of a pan on the range when turned up high, wasting heat energy, whereas a different shape might put more of those Btu directly onto the pan’s surface.

Heat-transfer efficiency easily is measured using infrared sensors, and some manufacturers offer comparisons of how their burners stack up against others. Standard burner output ranges from 28,000 to 35,000 Btu. Power burners typically range from about 40,000 to 45,000 Btu.

Pilot-light design also affects overall energy use and costs; while it might not seem like much, the savings can add up over the course of a year and across a number of stores. Some ranges have a pilot light for every burner. More efficient designs have a pilot for every two burners.

Shielded pilot lights are best as they’re less likely to go out in case of spills. Some older designs still leave pilot lights exposed to food spills, so cooks are constantly relighting them.

At least one manufacturer offers an auto-ignition pilot. In the event a pilot light goes out, cooks can relight it easily with a battery-operated igniter instead of using matches or, worse, a flaming paper towel, which, while ill advised, is not uncommon.

Electronic ignition is an option on some models (and standard equipment on a few high-end models); most residential gas ranges now are available with electronic ignition. One reason most commercial models don’t is that if the cookline is plumbed for gas appliances it often doesn’t have many electric outlets. That’s changing as kitchen designers and consultants add more utility hookups to make layouts flexible and adaptable to menu changes.





What’s In The Oven?

Most manufacturers give you the option to specify a standard oven or convection oven in the range you choose. In many cases, makers have added a fan switch that lets you convert a standard oven to a convection and back.

Double-check to see that you’re really getting a convection oven if that’s what you want. Some models do have a blower wheel and fan motor for the oven, but they don’t provide even convection heat. Models that do include baffles and vents to even out the distribution of heated air; those companies usually promote their “true” convection. Some models with convection ovens offer two-speed fans; the lower setting speeds cooking of delicate items—meringues, seafood, etc.—without disturbing them too much or drying them out.

Burners in ovens are important, too, even though they’re not visible. Proper design and shape can help provide more even heating in standard ovens. And here, as on the cooktop, you might have a choice of pilot light or electronic ignition. Remember that models with electronic ignition require electric service.

Size also may be important to you. On some models, you can fit a full-size sheet pan inside in either direction, width-wise and length-wise (the latter leaving room on the side of the pan on the same shelf for extra items), but on others they’ll only fit width-wise. Be careful—some four-burner ranges can’t accommodate full-size sheet pans at all, while a few models do have ovens large enough for them. Always start your oven-size selection by figuring out the size pans you want to use and how many you need to fit at a time.

Ideally, the entire oven interior should be enameled or “porcelainized.” Not only does the finish provide better insulation and heat retention, it’s also much easier to clean. Some less expensive models leave the enamel off one or more surfaces.

Snap-action thermostats are fairly common on most ovens, and the typical temperature range on most ovens is 150ºF to 500ºF or 175ºF to 550ºF. How hot ovens get and how quickly they recover depends partly on oven design and how well heat is distributed through the cavity via baffles and vents as well as the burners’ Btu output. Typical output for standard ovens ranges from about 35,000 to 45,000 Btu. One maker’s standard ovens put out 50,000 Btu and have a temperature range of up to 650ºF. Convection ovens have a lower Btu output ranging from 30,000 to 33,000, although one reaches as high as 45,000 Btu.





Built To Last

A few manufacturers make more than one line of ranges, essentially “good,” “better” and “best” versions. In many cases, you’ll hear industry folk talk about “heavy-duty” and “restaurant” ranges. Typically, manufacturers that make more than one line build a heavy-duty model for institutional and heavy-use customers, such as hotels, casinos and large noncommercial institutions, and another somewhat less expensive line for restaurants. Other makers concentrate on fewer models, so it pays to look at construction details to get as much life from a range as you expect. Most ranges, whether heavy-duty, restaurant or part of a high-end line, are sturdily built and should provide years of trouble-free service.

The foundation of a range is its frame, which manufacturers typically fashion from 14-ga. steel. Most manufacturers’ lines use welded angle iron construction. More expensive models are built using unibody construction.

Burners and grates should be constructed of heavy-duty cast iron to withstand constant high heat. Burners on most ranges are two-piece so they can be taken apart for cleaning. Both burners and grates are typically enameled to make them easier to clean and protect them from food acids and cleaning chemicals. Pans also slide more easily on enameled iron burner grates, although one manufacturer uses stainless grates and another uses welded steel.

Finishes of exposed surfaces should be stainless steel and, like most equipment, the more stainless a range has, the higher its quality. Less expensive models, for example, have aluminized bottoms and side panels, while more expensive ranges use stainless steel.

Less expensive models use aluminized or enameled steel drip pans or crumb trays because they’re not visible, but higher quality ranges use stainless steel here, too. Crumb trays, depending on the model, might be one-piece for a six-burner range, but some models offer individual crumb trays for each burner width, and at least one manufacturer puts its crumb tray on a ball bearing slider for easy removal.

Range ovens should have heavy-duty hinges (you can be sure that one of your employees will test them by stepping on the oven door to get on top of the range to pull the grease filters out of the hood for cleaning). Many range models feature counterweighted oven doors that make them easier to close.

As mentioned previously, oven interiors should be enameled for easy cleaning; the more surfaces that have porcelain finishes, usually the higher the quality. A couple of manufacturers even offer models with stainless-steel oven interiors. Ovens also should have adequate insulation to help them retain heat and save energy.

Make sure fits are tight, especially things like grates so they don’t rattle. Also, it’s tough to set temperatures accurately if the knobs are loose. Knobs are typically plastic, but should be heat-resistant plastic, especially because most are located directly above the oven door and can get hot when the door is opened. Some makers offer models with cool-to-the-touch metal knobs.

Most manufacturers offer a choice of 4” or 6” legs or casters. Be sure legs are adjustable. Casters should be heavy duty, and at least two should swivel and have brakes.





Features and Options

A nice option that a few manufacturers now offer on their ranges is the ability to mix and match cooking surfaces on the same range. Choices include a flattop griddle, grooved griddle, tiered rear burners, French top and even a charbroiler in addition to regular burners and power burners. Because ranges often are built on a modular base, you can configure the type of cooking surface combination as well as what you want in the base (standard or convection oven, cabinet or refrigerated storage) and units can be built to order at the factory.

Some makers now also offer the option of dual-fuel ranges, i.e., a gas cooktop with electric ovens (as long as you have electric service on the cookline). Chefs sometimes prefer electric ovens over gas because the heating element retains heat for a while, resulting in narrower temperature swings.

Another feature often offered as an option, but is standard equipment on some models, is a flame failure shut-off. This safety device automatically shuts off the gas if a pilot light goes out, preventing the possibility of fire or explosion from free-flowing gas and saving energy.

Depending on the manufacturer, other options and accessories include quick-disconnect gas hoses, gas-pressure regulators, extra oven racks, different size flue risers, stainless-steel back shelves, temperature gauges, front rail cutouts, cable restraints (for ranges on casters) and cap-and-cover front manifolds.

While these kitchen workhorses may not have the technological glamour of equipment such as combi ovens or microwave ovens, ranges have their own individual character based on how they’re designed and engineered. While the differences may be small, they could be important to the chefs and cooks in your operation, making variations in how they prepare menu items. Take a careful look at the features and construction you want in a range. With all of the options available from a range of manufacturers, you’re sure to find a model that works for you.

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