Cooking up innovation
Combi ovens and conveyor ovens are two of the most versatile and frequently used pieces of equipment in any restaurant kitchen. That's why manufacturers keep improving them, which may be one reason so many combis and conveyors were winners of Kitchen Innovation awards at this year's NRA Show.
Combis: Easy to use, easy to clean
Since today's sophisticated, computer-controlled combi ovens almost run themselves, choosing the right model often comes down to a matter of your available space, your budget and the features that will be of most use to you. And there's no shortage of useful features in the newest combi ovens, such as the Electrolux air-o-speed. It combines proprietary microwave technology with regular combi cooking functions to reduce cooking times. Hobart's latest combi, one of the KI award winners, comes with a scanner that allows the operator to "point and click" at the barcode on a food package to automatically set cooking time and temperature.
Like any piece of equipment that uses water, the combi's steam function means that it will need to be cleaned regularly. But even that task is being made easier. Rational's SelfCooking Center, another KI award winner, uses cleaning tablets that contain a de-liming agent to help its heating elements resist lime scale buildup and corrosion. Alto-Shaam's Combitherm line features a fully automatic cleaning system that uses jets of water to clean the oven's interior.
Conveyors: Keeping things moving
The principle behind conveyor ovens is fairly straightforward. As food moves on the conveyor through the cooking area (or tunnel), it is heated via convection or infrared units located on the top and bottom of the tunnel. Cooking temperature and conveyor speed can be adjusted, depending on the type of food being cooked.
Full-size ovens (with tunnel lengths ranging from 36 inches up to 70 inches) have traditionally been used for pizzas and baked goods. But smaller-sized tabletop models (with 18- to 24-inch tunnel lengths) are becoming increasingly popular—particularly in operations offering toasted sandwiches. Most conveyor ovens are designed to allow stacking of multiple units for high-volume operations. In this equipment, too, the features are everything.
Lincoln's new 3255 and 3270 Impinger conveyor ovens incorporate the Quest Energy Management System, also a KI award winner. Through reduced fan rpm and optimized burner settings, the system saves 40 to 65 percent on energy use during idle times. TurboChef's High h Conveyor 2020 electric model is UL-certified for ventless operation (in those areas where local regulations allow), and has eight cooking profiles to independently control belt speed, cooking temperature and airflow. Holman Proveyor ovens from Star Manufacturing have quartz infrared heating elements and forced convection to help keep the outside of the oven cooler—an important consideration if the conveyor is going to be in nearly constant use.
SELECTED 20-RACK COMBI OVENS AT A GLANCE
|Alto-Shaam Combitherm 20-20||76 x 47 x 48 in.||Gas or electric||Energy-reducing technology; special browning feature; programmable for up to 250 recipes|
|Cleveland Convotherm 20||78 x 42 x 37 in.||Gas or electric||"Disappearing door" that rolls along side of oven; closed system that controls moisture and heat; programmable for up to 250 recipes|
|Electrolux air-o-speed 201||70 x 39 x 37 in.||Gas or electric||Sensor-controlled automatic humidity adjustment; programmable for up to 100 recipes; 20 pre-set cooking programs|
|Hobart CE20FD||70 x 35 x 46 in.||Electric||Wireless Bluetooth barcode scanner; programmable for up to 100 recipes; auto-dosing detergent pump|
|Rational SelfCooking Center 201||70 x 35 x 31 in.||Gas or electric||Nine cooking modes; lime scale prevention system; programmable for up to 350 recipes|