The range is perhaps the most versatile piece of cooking equipment in a commercial kitchen. It can be used to cook a wide variety of foods, primarily those requiring the use of cookware such as pans, stockpots and skillets. Many range units are also equipped with a conventional or convection oven located below the cooktops, which makes the unit even more versatile.
The initial cost of a range is usually not the most important factor in making a buying decision. Many choose light equipment because of its initial lower cost, but later discover that the units are inadequate for their production needs. A range should be chosen on the basis of six characteristics: capacity, versatility, temperature consistency, serviceability, ease and economy cleaning, and over-all dependability.
Three major types of ranges are available:
Heavy duty ranges
Heavy duty ranges are designed for large heavy stockpots and other cookery. They are ideal for high-volume production in large restaurants, institutional kitchens, and industrial kitchens. These ranges are typically narrower than conventional units, measuring 36 inches wide, and are available in modular units with oven bases or open cabinet bases, or as table top models. Some models include other features, such as fryer sections, salamander broilers, ovens, and griddles.
Restaurant ranges are designed for lighter duty cooking than heavy-duty ranges. Even though the overall size of a restaurant range is generally larger than a heavy duty range, they best suited for smaller operations and short order cooking. The larger size accommodates more cooking elements, with each element capable of supporting lighter cookware. These units are available in lengths up to 72 inches and are often combined with a cabinet base or oven unit, salamander broilers, or griddles.
A variety of specialty ranges are available to suit specific food preparation needs. Some examples are:
- Chinese ranges, which are built for wok cooking. Some have water spigots and drain troughs to simplify cleaning.
- Stockpot ranges, which are designed to handle very large stockpots. These are typically only 24 inches tall to let a chef more easily access large pots.
- Taco ranges, which are made just for the unique task of preparing the contents of a taco.
New range technologies
Electric induction ranges represent the latest range technology. These units heat quickly, offer very precise temperature control, and are considered safer since cooking elements don't get hot. induction ranges are also the most efficient type, transferring up to 90% of their energy to the cookware.
Comparing electric vs. gas ranges
There are many factors to consider when selecting a range: initial cost, food preparation productivity, ease of operation, heat generation in the kitchen, and whether electricity or gas is used as the energy source. However, consider that energy only accounts for 3 to 5 percent of a typical food service establishment's total costs. Therefore, while one fuel may be less expensive in a BTU to BTU comparison, the best choice in cooking equipment is the one that minimizes total operating costs, not just energy costs. Features that reduce labor costs or result in higher food product yield will nearly always outweigh any energy considerations. Make sure that you include all of these factors in any equipment evaluation.
Therefore, when comparing gas and electric models, compare equipment that is similar in all ways except the energy source.
In addition, consider that cooking technique on a range is critical and is learned largely by trial and error. Therefore, chefs are resistant to change after perfecting their craft, and most prefer to use the same type of ranges they were trained on. Chefs trained on gas equipment are likely to prefer gas, and may reject electric ranges or even electric induction ranges. Likewise, experienced electric range users may resist switching to gas.
Advantages of electric ranges
In general, electric ranges offer these advantages:
- Electric units are generally more efficient, adding less heat to the kitchen which ultimately must be removed by the cooling system.
- Electric units are less prone to cause fires when grease spills over onto the range.
- Electric units require less maintenance and less ventilation.
- Electric induction units offer the highest energy efficiency, come up to temperature very quickly, and offer precise temperature control. These are also safer because the surface never gets hot.
Energy and money saving tips
Here are a few common-sense operating tips that save money with any range.
- Make sure the bottom of the pot rests flush on the heating surface.
- After a pot comes to a boil, reduce the heat to a level that maintains a simmer. Adding more heat to boiling food does not cook it any faster, but just wastes energy.
- Cover pots with a lid to retain heat.
- Cook at the lowest possible heat level that yields satisfactory results.
- Turn the unit off or at least reduce its temperature when not in use. For closed-top units, preheat only as needed, and heat only the section of the closed-top unit being used.
- Group pots on closed top ranges to use as little surface area as possible.
- Here are a few common-sense operating tips that save money with a gas range.
- Adjust the flame until it is entirely blue. A yellow-orange tip means you are using too much gas and it is not burning completely.
- Gas flames should just cover the bottom of the pot. Flames extending beyond the pot bottom are dangerous and waste money.
Range equipment is available in many different sizes and configurations. Most units are 36 inches high and 30 to 32 inches deep and vary from 18 to 60 inches wide. Smaller units contain only two cooking elements, while larger units can contain more than a dozen. Ranges can be free-standing or mounted over an oven or cabinet base. Some free-standing units on a counter-top and are sometimes called cooktops.
All ranges have some type of cooking element. The various element types are described below:
- Open top element The most common type of cooking element is the open-top element. Open top gas burners have a steel or cast iron grate that holds cookware in place. Gas burners below the grate produce a flame that directly contacts the cookware bottom. Open burners provide precise temperature control by adjusting the height of the gas flame and require no preheat time. Each burner is individually controlled by a gas valve on the front of the unit. Comparable electric units are commonly known as open coil hot plates. Cookware rests on an electric resistance coil which, when heated, transfers heat directly to the cookware bottom. These units usually take a few minutes to preheat when turned on and a few minutes to cool down when turned off. Each cooking element has a separate thermostat to control temperature.
- Hot top element Hot-top elements use the energy source to heat a thick metal plate rather than heating the cookware directly. These units have a 12 to 18 inch square plate about one-half to one inch thick. The heat source, which can be electric resistance elements or gas burners, heats up the metal plate. Cookware placed on the plate then heats by conduction from the plate. Since two stages of heat transfer are involved, these units are typically much less efficient than open-top designs. Furthermore, the plate can take 30 to 60 minutes to preheat and cool down. Therefore, chefs typically allow these units to continue operating even during slow cooking periods.
- French plate element A French plate falls somewhere between the open top and the hot top. The cooking element is a round plate about 6 to 10 inches in diameter. The plate heats up from electric resistance coils or gas burners mounted to the bottom (although most are electric). The plate provides even heat distribution and each "eye" is controlled separately.
- Induction element The electric induction element is significantly different from other types. Induction coils located under a ceramic surface induce an electric current in the cookware, producing heat. These units offer precise temperature control. These units are by far the most energy efficient because they heat the cookware directly instead of the range surface. The ceramic surface is durable enough to sustain heavy use even when sautŽing.
Manufacturers offer a variety of optional features for their ranges. Some units are combined with a conventional or convection oven, griddle, or charbroiler. Some provide space for holding cooked food. Some manufacturers offer units with a combination of cooking elements such as hot tops and open tops. Many ranges also have a shelf or a salamander broiler attached to the back of the unit.
Range operation tips and issues
A range cooks food by transferring heat to cookware that in turn transfers heat to the food by conduction. With the exception of induction units, the cookware is heated by an electric resistance coil, a gas or electrically heated solid-top element, or by coming in direct contact with a gas flame. Ranges can use a variety of cookware; but when solid-top elements or resistance coils are used, the bottom of the cookware should be flat to allow good contact with the elements. Rounded bottom pans reduce the amount of heat transferred to the pan.
Gas open-top units apply a flame directly to the bottom of the cookware. The chef controls the temperature by adjusting the height of the flame, which provides the visual feedback many chefs prefer. Gas units can typically be used with any type of cookware.
Solid-top units or flat-top units can be heated by electric resistance coils or gas burners. While these units take several minutes to preheat, they provide a very uniform temperature across the surface of the plate. Heat from the plate transfers to the cookware by conduction. Solid-top gas units are much less efficient than their open top counterparts because the plate must heat up before transferring heat to the cookware. Also, with greater preheat time, these units are typically left on while other types of units can be turned off when not needed.
Cooking on a range can be more art than science. An experienced chef has the finesse to get the best performance out of a range. For this reason, less experienced food service operators have difficulty producing consistent food product quality. There is no substitute for trial and error in learning how to adjust temperatures properly. In most cases, it's also important that cookware have a flat bottom to make good contact with the hot top or electric resistance coils.