Due to their small size and versatility, microwaves have become a staple in many operations.
As a result of their position as a reheating tool, microwaves can often be underspecified in today’s kitchens and bars. This equipment actually completes a number of critical tasks typically reserved for other units, though. Microwaves can steam, rethermalize and defrost using minimal energy in a small footprint.
In fact, operators can designate microwaves for a variety of tasks that no other back-of-house equipment can achieve. Though dictated by menu and application, operators can use microwaves to cook fresh foods, reheat foods that were previously cooked as part of a cook/chill system, and heat further the items in holding cabinets.
High-speed combination ovens, or microwave-assisted cooking, utilize microwave technology but are higher-tech than traditional microwaves. These units combine microwave energy with traditional cooking energies like convection and infrared heat. This type of oven not only heats food fast, but unlike traditional microwaves, can also be used for browning. Some specialty microwave ovens can accommodate hotel pans and act as a steamer.
One big benefit to incorporating a microwave into the cooking equipment lineup is easy and more affordable installation without the need for vent hoods or, as required with steamers, drain lines. Microwaves require minimal (if any) training and are safer since the exterior stays cool to the touch. Because no preheating is needed and cooking times are quick, microwaves provide a more economical production method that also utilizes less energy than other equipment.
Microwaves are classified as light duty, heavy duty and specialty. Light-duty types typically draw between 1,000 and 1,200 watts, while heavy-duty models draw more than 1,200 watts.
A wide range of microwave sizes are available. Usable cavity space generally ranges from .8- to 1.56 cubic feet. Larger-size cavities can hold a 13-inch platter or two 4-inch-tall full-size steam table pans with covers. Cabinet sizes on most commercial models range from 13 to 25 inches wide, 13 to 25 inches deep, and 13 to 19 inches high.
The higher the oven’s wattage, the faster it cooks. For example, a food item that cooks in a 1,000-watt microwave oven at 4 minutes and 3 seconds will cook in a 2,200-watt oven in just 1 minute and 50 seconds.
The microwave’s cubic food cooking capacity is directly correlated to its chassis size and wattage. A larger unit may have a 1.6 cubic foot capacity cavity to accommodate
full-size hotel pans and operate at 3,500 watts.
Unlike most residential microwaves, the commercial version typically has a stainless-steel cabinet and cavity. More economical models with painted cavities are also available. Depending on the model and its technology, heating components are typically housed in the cabinet, with the microwave’s controls on a side and/or top escutcheon. Chrome-plated adjustable legs and powder-coated handles are common, while heavy-duty hinges are designed to withstand the wear and tear of repetitive door slamming.
Operators can choose from units that have dial or one-touch operation. Variable power levels of microwave energy measure between 0% and 100% and are usually selected in 10% increments. Sensors that automatically adjust power output and cooking based on how much power is being inputted are typically standard. For example, outlets may input 208 or 240 volts. The automatic voltage sensor will determine voltage input and adjust the microwave’s operation accordingly.
The majority of commercial microwaves offer programmability. Stage cooking, which controls how much of the oven’s energy permeates food during different stages of a cooking cycle, is a standard feature. This allows food to be defrosted, cooked and held with one cook cycle by pressing a button, which means operators won’t need to constantly monitor food and change the power level during the cooking process.
Commercial microwave components also include LED or VFD displays as well as a filter with clean filter reminder to protect oven components in harsh commercial kitchen environments. Most microwave ovens are equipped with an automatic shutoff device that prevents overheating. Doors are required to have two independent but interlocking systems that automatically shut off oven operations when a door is ajar. Doors also come with seals and absorbers to eliminate the chance of radiation leakage. Other features that some makers offer include Braille keypads, self-diagnostic capabilities, multi-stage cooking, bottom energy feed and drop-down counter-style doors.
Options for these ovens are centered around programming preferences, such as beeping that signifies the end of a cooking cycle. Those preferring manual operation or seeking programmed keypads should ensure that an oven’s cook cycles can be interrupted to input additional programming.