Ranges have always been the workhorse of the kitchen. Here's what to look for when you buy one.
Range manufacturers have been adding features to make units more user-friendly and attractive, but the basic equipment and its functions are much as they have been for years. But one range type is relatively new. Induction ranges have become a well-received alternative to standard gas or electric cooking units. These units are as fast as gas, powerful and don't add waste heat to the kitchen. Unfortunately, no American manufacturer yet makes a full floor-mounted induction range unit.
Several manufacturers have experimented with induction as an option for a rangetop configuration, but nothing has hit the market yet. Single or double countertop units are available. The technology uses an intense magnetic field to instantly transfer heat to an iron or magnetic metal pan. The magnetic field heats the pan causing the food to cook. The burner itself does not get hot and neither will anything else on the surface other than the pan. When the pan is removed from the unit, it will automatically shut itself off, thereby conserving energy. Because there is no heat from a flame, ventilation and air-conditioning cost could be lowered by using induction. There seems to be great potential in induction as we become more sensitive to energy conservation.
As for traditional ranges, there are two basic lines most manufacturers offer: (1) a heavy-duty line that can be “batteried” together into a continuous lineup of ranges, and (2) the lighter-duty series called restaurant ranges. Restaurant ranges are often smaller in both length and width and built less ruggedly for lower-volume operations. Even though the heavy-duty range costs nearly double the price of a restaurant range, most production kitchens would be advised to opt for the additional cost.
The restaurant range does have its place, though, in a snack bar or low-usage area. Restaurant ranges have some nice features that would be welcome in heavy-duty versions such as the all-in-one range. These ranges have a broiler, griddle, open burners and two ovens all in one five- or six- foot unit, perfect for the small operation.
For heavy-duty ranges you need to decide what to put above and below the cooktop to take full advantage of the available vertical space. Above the range you can opt for a variety of shelves or a broiler to melt cheese and such. Below the range your basic choices are an oven base, storage base or no base if you mount the range on a table or on a specially constructed refrigerator. A storage base is sometimes convenient for storing pans when not in use. The most popular base is an oven. The oven seems to always come in handy and is not expensive. Also available are convection oven bases that tend to be costly and have limited capacity, although they may prove to be useful.
A last item to consider is the fuel source. Some manufacturers make both gas and electric models while others specialize in one or the other. Many traditional chefs prefer gas equipment because of the instant heat. In most areas of the country gas is less expensive to use compared to electricity, but availability of utilities and local fuel costs should be a determining factor in the fuel source decision. If you use bottled gas, be sure to mention it to the manufacturer because the equipment requires special burners depending upon the type of gas.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He's also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. He can be reached at 241-314-0660.