While it is most closely associated with display cooking applications, more foodservice operators now to turn to induction technology to serve as auxiliary cooking equipment. This type of equipment generates heat by inducing eddy currents and hysteresis, which are the physical processes harnessed to generate heat directly in the fabric of the pan.
When first introduced, induction ranges had limited controls and were costly. This equipment now offers advanced power level and temperature controls and added durability for true commercial environments at a fraction of the cost of the originals.
Here, Dan Bendall, principal at FoodStrategy, Inc., Rockville, Md., provides insight on some key factors to keep in mind when purchasing an induction range.
Induction ranges are available as portable units that can be moved around or built-in models, which can be flush-mounted in a countertop.
This equipment requires special pans that have iron or ferus metal, rather than aluminum. These typically will have a label indicating suitability for induction.
When selecting an induction range, operators need to consider use in relation to wattage. Ranges typically use 1,800 watts, the minimum for omelet stations. There also are 2.5, 3.5 and 5 kW units available, which are well suited for back-of-house production work.
As with any other cooking equipment, induction ranges typically require exhaust hoods, although these are not typically utilized in the front of house or for buffet applications. Code requirements need to be met regardless.
The advantage of induction is that the cooking surface doesn’t get hot. Instead, the metal in the pan becomes warm and cooks the product inside. Because the pan temperature can get high very quickly, flash fires can easily occur from grease. Operators should be aware of this hazard when positioning induction ranges in the back or front of the house.
For front-of-the-house warming, operators should consider an induction warmer instead of a range top. These units typically operate on 600 watts and have a thermostat that goes up to 250 degrees F. Because warming units don’t require hoods, these are recommended for buffet use or hot food holding.
When building an induction range into a countertop, ventilation beneath the unit becomes necessary. If there is no ventilation, the magnetron, which produces the heat, will burn out.
New induction options, including griddles, have the benefit of very even heat distribution across the top. Units made for wok bowls have a curved surface.