Customers not only want their food fresh, they want it fast — and that's the challenge for manufacturers of today's cooking equipment. Here are a few items that have been developed to meet the demand for high-speed cooking.
Accelerated cooking oven
One is the accelerated cooking oven, which combines the best features of the convection oven, microwave oven and the impingement oven to produce high-quality food at an incredible rate. It, like other high-speed cookers, will change the way operators think about producing food.
Because of patents on the new technology, each company has its own twist on how to “speedcook” food. Two of the more popular cooking methods use combinations of cooking types. One oven combines forced air similar to an impingement oven with microwaves. Super-heated air is forced over the food to brown the outside for taste and appearance. At the same time microwave energy is added to penetrate the food and heat it through. Others use infrared radiant heat in addition to other heating sources. Similar to the microwave hybrid oven, heating is fast with virtually no preheating required.
These units are generally small, can easily fit into existing kitchens and can often be installed without an exhaust hood, making installation of electrical power the only utility consideration. We advise that you try out a demonstration oven to ensure this is the product for you before you buy. Many of these units have high price tags — up to as much as $10,000 or more. Weigh the payback of cooking speed versus cost for your individual operation.
Keep in mind these units are not a replacement for all your cooking capacity. They may have limitations in volume of product cooked simultaneously, though some lack of volume is offset by sheer speed of operation. Users will need to experiment with recipes to determine how to adapt cooking time and temperature for a specific item to the units.
Speedy sandwich grill
One manufacturer has just introduced a sandwich grill with microwave heat. The microwave addition ensures a sandwich that is heated through, while reducing grilling time significantly. Many sandwiches can be made in less than two minutes, rather than the traditional five.
Another item that has become widely used in restaurants in recent years is the induction cooker. These 14-inch-square countertop or in-counter units work like this: A power supply generates a magnetic field through a coil located under the ceramic top of the unit. When an iron or magnetic metal pan is placed in the magnetic field, currents are induced in the cooking utensil and instant heat is generated due to resistance of the pan. Heating is instantaneous and can be regulated by output control buttons. In addition to being superfast, induction units are more energy efficient than gas or conventional electric heat.
Look for more heavy-duty back-of-house production cooking equipment to be introduced in the next few years. Induction is widely used here on buffet lines in restaurants. It's well-suited for an omelet station or a stir-fry area because it's safer than open flames in these close customer-contact areas.
Be aware that although induction means an exhaust hood is not necessary, in many locations you will need a hood. In some municipalities, you'll even need a hood over units intended to warm buffet items. One manufacturer, however, has developed a unit that's been accepted by local code authorities just about everywhere. This induction warmer has several fixed temperature settings, limiting the maximum setting to just over 200°F. There is also an induction unit made for wok cooking with a curved bowl cooktop. Watch for other innovations in induction cooking in the next few years.
Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm specializing in planning foodservice facilities. He is also a member of Foodservice Consultants Society International. Bendall can be reached at 301-233-5226.