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How To Choose Your Commercial Catering Equipment

Jan 25, 2008
Catering equipment choices for the first time caterer can sometimes prove to be a purchasing headache. How do you purchase a large piece of expensive equipment with little or no experience to justify what could potentially be a massive financial outlay?

So make sure you take into consideration the type of establishment your equipment will be used in. This will usually be based on the amount of covers you will be serving during any service period. Catering equipment units will more often than not be available in various sizes or capacities so be careful when making your choice.

Choose too small a unit and your machine will be overworked and potentially could break down, therefore need replacing sooner, but choose a unit that is too big and not only will you be wasting money on the initial purchase, your running costs will be higher and will take up valuable kitchen space. So here is a brief guideline to some of the equipment you may require for your establishment.

Commercial Microwaves

Microwave ovens are a hugely important part of every professional kitchen. As a standard microwave-only oven they can perform essential functions such as safely re-heating frozen or chilled food, which is at the heart of many menus in informal dining restaurants and pubs or in room-service for hotels. Where they get much more versatile is when they become a combination microwave oven. The combination is the addition of convection hot air and a grill. This transforms a simple re-heating cabinet into a multi-function cooking oven. In fact almost all of the functions of a standard oven can be performed in the combination microwave oven.

Manufacturers group commercial microwaves into four power bands.

Light-duty - The oven will have a power ranging between 900 watts and 1100 watts. This is suitable for use where demands are light.

Medium-duty A power rating of 1100 to 1500 watts, proportionately more robustly built than a light-duty oven and suitable for restaurants where the microwave is only in occasional use, busy cafes, pubs or leisure centers.

Heavy-duty Powered from 1500 to 1900 watts and the most popular power range used in catering. Suitable for busy pubs, hotels, busy restaurants or staff catering. Built to with-stand hard and heavy use.

Extra heavy-duty These are usually where large quantities of food are needed to be reheated quickly rather than just individual portions. They can take up to a full gastronorm tray. While all other power bands are connected to a 13amp socket, this very heavy duty oven will need hard wiring into the mains.

While the general rule is the higher the wattage the faster the food will be heated, much beyond 2000 watts and food risks being burned on the outside before it is heated on the inside.

Rice Cookers

The preparation of rice has traditionally been a cooking process which requires attention to ensure the rice is cooked properly. Rice cookers simplify the process by automatically controlling the heat and timing, while at the same time freeing up a heating element on the range. Although the rice cooker does not necessarily speed up the cooking process, the cook's involvement in cooking rice with a rice cooker is reduced to simply using the correct amount of water.

Once the rice cooker is set to cook, the rice will be cooked with no further attention.

Typically, a rice cooker contains an insulated outer container containing a heating element, into which is fitted a non-stick or teflon-coated inner removable bowl, which often has graduations marked in cups of rice.

Whereas less expensive and older models use simple electronics and mechanical and thermal sensors, high-end rice cookers use microprocessors with fuzzy logic to control the cooking process and often incorporate a timer which can be used to set the desired "ready time". Many rice cookers can keep rice warm safely for up to 24 hours. This helps to avoid the dangers of food poisoning. New rice cookers normally include a small measuring cup, and a plastic paddle for serving the cooked rice.

The rice is measured and added to the inner bowl. Cold water is measured and added or the bowl is simply filled up to the appropriate graduated mark in the inner bowl. Different kinds of rice require different amounts of water. Usually, there are graduated marks for the right amount of water only for white rice, but sometimes there are separate scales for brown rice (as more water is required) or for cooking other food in the appliance. Once the lid is closed and the cooking cycle has been activated, the rice cooker does the rest.

Higher-end models give a countdown in minutes to the "ready time," and beep when done, whereas less expensive and older models simply click or ring a bell when done. Many people prefer to let the rice soak for a while before cooking the rice; additionally, some like to allow the rice to "rest" for a while after cooking before eating the rice. Higher-end models automatically time the soaking and resting periods.

Contact Grills

Contact grills are an increasingly must have item for many food outlets. A contact grill offers the benefit of allowing the food to be cooked without turning therefore locking in the foods natural juices and taste. Contact grills provide the caterer with a faster and more versatile way of cooking a healthier product for your customer. Sandwich based snacks are still a popular choice and with a contact grill you have the opportunity to add a hot snacking option to any menu.

Contact grills are available with various options including different types of cooking plates, such as ceramic, cast iron and non-stick. A ceramic plate contact grill reduces the amount of food and carbon that sticks to the plates of your contact grill, whilst a cast iron contact grill offers greater heat retention properties. A contact grill is an easy to use and easy to keep clean addition to your catering equipment requirements.
About the Author
Shaun Parker works in the catering industry and helps advise people looking for catering equipment, bar equipment and bar supplies.
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