Product Knowledge Guide: Heat Lamps

Heat lamps, classified in the warming equipment category, hold baked, fried, steamed or broiled foods at safe temperatures for short periods of time without compromising quality or taste. This equipment was originally used in conjunction with meat-carving displays in the front of house, but today heat lamps are often a part of kitchen food stations.

iStock 000021225223 DoubleOne emerging development with this equipment is the proliferation of hanging heat lamps, a category that was practically nonexistent a decade ago but now makes up a big part of units sold. Foodservice operators often use these to add visual appeal to pass-thru areas or food stations. Freestanding mobile versions on bases have become more popular in recent years as have retractable heat lamps for either the front or back of house. Clamp-on and counter-mounted buffet types also are available.

Foodservice operators can choose between strip- or bulb-type heat lamps. The strip warmers include one or two rows of infrared heating elements housed in a metal box. Depending on the type, these may include reflectors that intensify and/or direct heat. Calrod strip warmers are the most common and more affordable. The heat output requires a distance of no more than 1½ feet from food. Various sizes are available for use in the front and back of house. By comparison, ceramic strip warmers give off more heat and can be located as far as 2 feet from the target area.

More popular in front-of-house applications, bulb warmers generate less heat than the strip type but also provide light for merchandising purposes. The design of these heat lamps makes them suitable for smaller areas, such as carving stations. Freestanding units come in single-, two- and three-bulb models while clamp-on types have single or two bulbs. Counter units provide as many as eight bulbs for high-volume warming. Because bulb units use standard outlets, these warmers can be easily relocated for added versatility.

Average bulb heat lamp widths vary from about 6½ to slightly more than 11 inches, with heights ranging from 10 to 13 inches for standard watt bulbs and 13 to 16 inches for high wattage bulbs. Culinary heat lamps that use infrared bulbs also are available. Some manufacturers provide aluminum types with shades that can be cut from 18 to 144 inches in 6-inch increments for more or less coverage.

Heat lamp shades are available in a variety of materials, including aluminum, stainless steel, spun metals, plated metal and custom powder coats that provide various color options. Aluminum extrusion is common since it can be cut into different sizes and is more rigid. It also is durable enough to be used as a drop shelf, which offers added flexibility.

The type and size of the heat lamp’s shade dictates the coverage. A rule of thumb is that the distance from the bottom of the food warmer to the target area being heated is the amount of total coverage needed. For example, if the distance is 13 inches from the bottom of the heat lamp to the plate, 13 inches of temperature coverage to reach the target warming area will be necessary.

Depending on the manufacturer and heat lamp type, standard features may include reflectors with strip types that provide directional and more direct heat, wire guards for added safety and support, tracks for ceiling hanging and cutting boards.

Heat lamp options include scratch-resistant surfaces that help maintain appearance and provide easier cleaning, different shade types, pan and screen sets, trays, upgraded sockets, powder coating with different finishes, sneeze guards, adjustable and non-adjustable legs on counter units, extended wire leads, high-temperature wires, remote controls and enclosures, indicator lights and toggle switches.

Aside from new designs, there have not been many innovations in this equipment category. At least one manufacturer offers an energy-efficient LED heat lamp that is sanctioned for use in a heat environment. Designed for use in a standard socket, the LED uses 4½ watts versus the standard 60 and lasts 25,000 hours versus the standard 3,000 hours for incandescent bulbs. Although the bulbs cost more up front, the usage cost is less.

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