Specifying Checklist: Combi Ovens

Combi ovens consolidate the conventional cooking technology of steamers and convection ovens to cook food up to 30 percent faster than convection ovens do. Generally speaking, low-pressure steaming units offer lower operating costs and higher productivity than pressure-less units do in the preparation of single items. This versatility allows foodservice operators to control the moisture level of foods being cooked and substitute for multiple pieces of equipment.

Combi OvenCombi technology may be appealing to many, but these highly complex pieces of foodservice equipment are not right for every operation. Menu and application (?? how so?) should serve as the driving factors when operators consider buying (in the decision of whether to buy?) a combi oven. Beyond that, here are a handful of questions and considerations to take into account before buying a combi oven.

What are some of physical considerations for a combi oven?
The unit should have access to a gas connection, electricity, a water supply and drainage. As a general rule, it is a good idea to allow as much clearance on the left side of the unit as possible. This is of particular importance if the unit will reside next to a piece of equipment that generates a lot of steam, heat or grease because these elements will damage the combi oven’s components. Allowing 16 to 20 inches between pieces of equipment is ideal.

Level floors are very important, too. If the floor is not level, combi ovens tend to encounter such issues as water pooling, drains not functioning correctly and the like. And wheeled units could roll on an uneven surface, introducing other safety and performance issues.

If the combi oven is going into an existing kitchen, the foodservice operator should try to identify other pieces of equipment it could replace, such as an (conventional?) oven, a kettle or a range. Whether other equipment can be discarded will depend on the foodservice operation’s menu and how the staff will use the combi oven.

Because most combi ovens are gas-fired, they have to sit beneath a traditional Class 1 ventilation hood. This is not the case for some electric combi ovens. If the operator wants to place the combi oven beneath an existing ventilation system, it is important first to verify that the hood will have enough available CFM to make it compliant with local codes once the combi oven is installed. Also, there must be enough space underneath the hood to allow for proper steam and smoke capture.

What maintenance can the foodservice operator’s staff perform?
Most combi ovens are designed to perform as much routine maintenance as they can with minimal operator interaction. Most units require staff to simply put in the detergent and then press a button to initiate the automatic cleaning function. If it is necessary for staff members to clean the inner cavity, it is important that they refrain from scrubbing the surfaces with steel wool and pads, which can scratch the steel, leading to diminished performance.

What are some of the other service-related issues foodservice operators should consider?
Water quality and water treatment play an important role in the successful operation of a combi oven. And because of the ovens’ complex technical nature and higher price point relative to other pieces of equipment, preventative maintenance plans can be very beneficial. Have an authorized service agent change the door gaskets and other parts (approximately every X years?), depending on use, to ensure that the unit has a long and productive service life.

Identify some common mistakes operators make when purchasing a combi oven.
Many operators will buy a combi oven that provides more capacity than they need because foodservice professionals often do not realize how fast these units are. Instead of buying a double-stack combi oven, why not purchase a single unit and supplement it with a hot holding cabinet? This lower-cost option allows the operator to reap the production benefit of multiple combi ovens but with less equipment.

Take advantage of the support the supplier and its network provides. Combi ovens are not a commodity item. Training and support for this high-end specialty equipment is important.

How has the use of combi ovens evolved?
At one time, combi ovens were used primarily by hotels, banquet facilities and other large volume feeders to crank out high volumes of food in short periods of time. As a growing number of foodservice operators have become familiar with combi ovens, these highly versatile pieces of equipment have continued to replace steamers and convection ovens in more-traditional white-tablecloth restaurants.

It is important to understand that combi ovens are not designed to replace culinary talent. Rather, combi ovens let operators maintain food quality while consolidating the amount of equipment they use in the back of the house.