Hot Prep & Display

Types: This equipment is used for preparation and display of heated foods. Equipment in this category includes induction and gas-fired hot plates, countertop ovens, cooker/ warmers and hot wells, warming drawers and holding cabinets, and heated display merchandisers.


Capacities/Footprints: Capacity ranges from as few as 20 hot dogs to the 1,500 per hour that can be prepared on some roller grills. Countertop ovens have one or two 18- sq.-in. decks to bake pizzas, pretzels or flatbreads. Cooker/ warmers can hold one 7- to 11-qt. shouldered insert. Hot wells can be freestanding or built into countertops, and can hold one to four steam table pans. Drawer warmers usually hold one steam table pan per drawer, while low-profile heated holding cabinets can accommodate up to six sheet pans. Countertop merchandising cabinets normally hold individually packaged products, and capacities vary depending on cabinet size and number of shelves. Most units occupy from 1- to 4-sq.-ft.

Energy Source(s): With the exception of natural-gas-fired hot plates, most warming and display equipment requires 120V electrical power. Some larger food-warming units, such as those with ceramic heating elements, may require 208V/240V connections.

Manufacturing Method: Countertop warmers and hot wells have stainless-steel housings and linings, with insulating material installed in between to retain heat. Countertop ovens include steel tubular heating elements and removable ceramic hearths. Roller grills have stainless-steel exterior sheeting and employ a nonstick coating on their rollers. Gas hot plates typically include cast-iron grates and burners and stainless-steel bodies. Some gas models can deliver years of maintenance-free operation. Newer machines can offer high-performance 30,000-Btu two-piece burners for superior performance and sectional control. Some makers offer 2-, 4-, 6- and 8-burner styles to accommodate a variety of foodservice operations. Heavy-duty cast-iron grates stand up to constant use.

Standard Features: These include heating elements, thermostat controls that may govern separate zones, depending on equipment size, and insulation to ensure foods maintain temperatures above 140°F. for designated time periods during prep or holding. Heated display cases are available in a variety of profiles, ranging from full-service to selfservice and revolving merchandisers. Custom panels, end panels and bumper colors are available with many. Some heating systems eliminate the condensation and water associated with conventional equipment, which means less food waste and a consistent display of hot food freshness. Some models offer separate, adjustable heat zones and mirrored sliding glass doors on the operator's side. Smaller units are available with casters for mobility.

New Features/Technology/Options: New hot dog roller grills record the temperature of the units, as well as the temperature of the surrounding area. The grills then automatically adjust their temperatures to ensure safe food holding and reduce spoilage. Warming units for fries and similar products now use a combination of radiant and convection heat to extend the holding time of prepared foods. Display cases feature more stylized designs, such as rounded front doors for pizza display. Food merchandising has become the primary goal of display case design. Designer colors in a wide range of choices are available on many merchandisers. Also available are tables containing hot food wells that automatically add and maintain the correct amount of water. New two-in-one units include steamers that act as hot-holding cabinets once cooking is complete.

Some heated merchandisers come with flip-up doors for self-service convenience and higher impulse sales.

Prime Functions: Some units cook or heat frozen foods to safe serving temperatures, while other units hold or display prepared foods at temperatures at or above 140°F.

Key Kitchen Applications: Foods can be prepared in quantity in prep areas, then either finished or rethermed at counter or in display kitchens in front of customers.

Purchasing Guidelines: Displaying foods increases customers' perceptions of freshness and especially encourages impulse sales. Operators should be aware of local health department regulations regarding time limits on holding heated foods.

Maintenance Requirements: Depending on the heat source, bulbs or warming elements need to be replaced when they burn out. For units that require water, water softeners may be necessary and operators should regularly delime units to prevent scale buildup.

Food Safety Essentials: By rapidly heating foods and/or holding them at or more than 140°F., cooker/warmers and heated display units ensure foods are maintained at safe temperatures for customers.