Spec Check: Ranges

A range is a piece of equipment that's common to most operations. And, at its most basic level, each foodservice operator uses their range for the same purpose: they need the heat it generates to cook food. As a result, specifying a range boils down to three distinct areas: features, efficiencies and labor. The importance of each area tends to differ dramatically on a case by case basis.

Before selecting a range, it is important to understand the various options available from today's foodservice equipment manufacturers. A commercial kitchen range typically features a range top and a base. Restaurant or café ranges handle light-duty applications. Heavy-duty ranges are constructed of sturdier materials that allow them to stand up to higher volumes and heavier pots and pans. Foodservice operators may choose to have their heavy-duty models incorporated into an island cooking suite. Medium-duty ranges are typically free standing and offered with either standard or convection ovens. A variety of specialty ranges — such as tabletop, stockpot, Chinese and taco — are custom models created for specific applications. Induction ranges are also available.

While most ranges have six burners, operators can choose between four and ten burners. Temperature capabilities of range burners can run from 475 up to 600 degrees F. Exactly how many burners a foodservice operation needs depends on a variety of factors, including type of operation, menu type, production style and more.

For example, if the menu is heavy on sautéed products, then the operator will want a larger number of burners. Food production also plays into how many burners an operator will want. Are staff only cooking today's menu or are they making such stock pot items as soup or chili a day in advance? In addition, when looking at a range, consider whether a step-up top is appropriate. A step-up top places the rear burners higher than those in the front, keeping any pan handles out of the hot zone.

Also, because food tends to get spilled on to the burners as it is being cooked, operators should look for ones that are easy to clean. Many foodservice manufacturers offer two-piece burners that give operators easy access to the ports.

In the past, the burners' pilots were an open flame and not very well protected. Spills or overflows would splash on to the pilot and inhibit its ability to function properly. As a result, the pilots required more frequent replacing. To rectify this, many foodservice manufacturers have gone to covered pilots. Another newer feature on many ranges is a single source pilot, which means one pilot serves two burners, and an automatic start.

Induction burners provide instant heat but their durability needs to match the foodservice operator's application. The popularity of induction continues to grow because they allow foodservice operators to add an extra burner to a cook line or display cooking in non-traditional venues, like hotel ballrooms.

When specifying a range, here are a number of questions and considerations to take into account:

  • Flexibility: What is available in terms of options and sizes?
  • Does the maker have matching equipment for the lineup? This can help reduce the amount of mixing and matching necessary when composing a cooking line and it can make for easier installation, maintenance, etc.
  • How is the range built? Does the unit have a welded frame or a tack frame?
  • Is it possible to get a spatula in the grease troughs to scrape it clean?
  • Can the range accommodate an over-shelf to hold plates or ingredients? If so how wide of an over-shelf can it handle? How much weight can the over-shelf hold? Are multiple shelves an option?
  • Is it possible to mount a salamander or cheesemelter on the flue?
  • If specifying an oven as part of the base, on which side should it be placed, left or right?
  • Where will the range be installed? Obviously, the unit needs access to a gas source. But if it has an electric start, the range will need access to electricity, too.

In addition, many range makers now offer models with a convection oven in the base. This can be appealing to smaller operations who need to generate a lot of cooking-related productivity in a concentrated footprint. Some larger foodservice operators, like hotels, will look to arrange their kitchens by cooking platforms. In those instances, an oven at the base of the range may not be as important because primary baking and roasting functions will most likely take place in other areas of the kitchen.

If the oven beneath the range will play an important role in food prep, make sure it has sturdy doors, because staff tend to kick them closed or use them as a step stool. Also look at the handle on the oven door. If the handle rotates in the hand, it can lead to burning the operator's hand. Porcelain-lined ovens can be easier to clean and are not prone to rusting. And ribbing on the bottom of the oven allows for a more even flow of heat.
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