Cook-and-hold ovens become staple pieces of foodservice equipment for various operations, including caterers, because of their ability to cook, roast, reheat and hold in the same cabinet. This applies to a variety of menu items, including roasted meats, seafood, poultry, vegetables and frozen entrees.

istock 484344711Generally speaking, cook-and-hold ovens are easy to use, and operators can custom program some units to meet the needs of specific menu items. For example, catering operators can prepare meats overnight since the product cooks slowly and the oven automatically goes into holding mode once it completes the cycle. Operators can also use cook-and-hold ovens to rethermalize product that’s refrigerated or frozen.

Cook-and-hold ovens blend convected heat and radiant energy to cook slowly, typically between 4 and 12 hours. The benefits these ovens offer include reduced product shrinkage, with product yields increasing 10 percent to 20 percent. Low temperatures of between 160 degrees F and 250 degrees F also promote retention of natural juices and flavors.

Purchasing Considerations

Almost anything foodservice operators can prepare in a convection oven can be cooked in a cook-and-hold oven, too. Unlike convection or combi ovens, operators do not need to locate cook-and-hold ovens under a ventilation hood, so they can be less costly to operate and provide additional flexibility.

Because there are different types of cook-and-hold ovens, operators should first consider the applications prior to choosing a unit. One version utilizes natural convection without forced movement of air to cook hotter and keep humidity at close to 95 percent, while another model uses a lower cooking temperature and moisture level, combined with a slow air current and levels of humidity ranging from 30 percent to 60 percent. Other cook-and-hold ovens utilize a heated metal wire element embedded in the cooking cavity’s inner walls to transfer heat.

Operators looking for rethermalizing capabilities can choose a low-temperature conductive cook-and-hold oven that circulates fluid within the oven shelves’ heat transfer plates. These units directly heat pans or other containers placed on the shelves. In these units, product is first cooked for a set period of time, then the oven switches to a holding mode. Food stays between 140 degrees F and 160 degrees F, which prohibits bacterial growth.

These ovens are available in a variety of shapes and sizes for operations big and small. The four most popular types are undercounter, half size, double-stacked half size and full size. Widths range from 18¼ to 28¾ inches, while heights typically measure between 28 and 83 inches and depths are 26½ to 37¾ inches.

Take volume into account when choosing among sizes. In terms of capacity, a single oven accommodates 90 pounds of food. Some units accommodate more than 300 pounds of meat in 7 square feet of floor space. Depending on the model, pan capacities range from 5 18-inch by 26-inch pans to 32 12-inch by 20-inch pans.

Catering operators also need to consider available utilities as these ovens usually run on electric power sources ranging from 208-volt single phase to 240-volt three phase.

Since this equipment can operate at lower temperatures, cook-and-hold ovens use less electricity than conventional ovens. Hot food holding cabinets that have earned the Energy Star designation are said to be 65 percent more energy efficient than standard models. Models that meet this requirement often incorporate better insulation, which reduces heat loss and keeps the external cabinet cooler to the touch. Many certified holding cabinets may include additional energy-saving devices, such as magnetic door gaskets, auto-door closures or Dutch doors. The cabinet insulation also offers better temperature uniformity within the oven from top to bottom.

Cook-and-hold ovens feature heavy-duty stainless-steel construction. Some have porcelain interiors. The majority have thick insulation for maximum heat retention. These ovens also may include ceramic magnetic latches for easy opening and security during transport.

Standard features vary, depending on the model but generally include wire racks and drip pans, removable interior side walls, one-touch electronic controls and heavy-duty casters. In addition, electronic timers with digital displays indicate how much cooking time remains before a holding cycle begins. Other available options include removable interior pan supports for easy cleaning as well as locking castors, interior lights and stay-cool handles.

Technology has come a long way with cook-and-hold units. Software designed to interface with electronic ovens and hot food-holding cabinets is available for temperature recording. HACCP documentation software automatically records the cooking and holding process in compliance with food safety requirements.

Some manufacturers offer a meat probe that monitors internal product temperatures and automatically switches a unit over to a holding cycle once a meal item reaches its preselected cooked state.

Some cook-and-hold ovens have a smoker feature, which is a box for heating wood chips. These ovens do a great job with smoking meats using only a cup of wood chips to create added flavor. Many operators use this equipment for smoking turkey and sausage as well.

Cleaning and Maintenance

Cook-and-hold ovens have a service life expectancy of 5 to 10 years on average if well maintained.

A number of cook-and-hold oven features promote easier cleaning and maintenance, including removable interiors or top-mounted control modules. Smooth interior coved corners also help prevent food buildup. Antimicrobial handles on some units prevent pathogen growth.

Manufacturers recommend placing sheet pans beneath cooking foods to catch drips. This keeps cleaning time to a minimum.

Operators can perform a number of cleaning and maintenance tasks to extend the service life of their cook-and-hold ovens.

Essentially, cook-and-hold ovens are comparable to food warmers in terms of maintenance. Operators should routinely check to make sure the oven holds food at proper temperatures.

In terms of the interior, heavy solids will need scooping out, and manufacturers recommend using an all-purpose grease cleaner, stainless-steel solution or oven cleaner. Refrain from using cleaners that are caustic or harsh that could corrode the metal.

Wipe the door gasket at the end of the day, and check to ensure it doesn’t require replacing. Venting louvers should be cleaned and kept clear of dust and grease. Keep oven fans clean and free of debris, wiping them regularly and greasing as necessary.

Cook-and-hold ovens may have product probes, which users need to occasionally check for damage. Operators should take special care that the product probe doesn’t hang outside the door when it’s closed. Abuse of this component is the reason for the majority of service calls with cook-and-hold ovens.

Doors that are damaged from wear and tear signify that the unit needs replacing.