The range is one of the prime pieces of kitchen equipment. It's essential to have the right size and style for your brigade's needs - and, of course, choosing an efficient, economical model is more important than ever.
There's a range in just about every commercial kitchen. It is simple to use and most chefs will cook with it every day in settings as varied as fine-dining kitchens, chain restaurants, church halls, clubs, hospitals and large hotels. A range can be powered by either gas or electricity and primarily consists of either a conventional or fan-assisted oven under a top with elements or burners for heating pots and pans.
Roughly speaking ranges divide into three categories:
Medium-duty ranges - these stand-alone units are available in various widths, from 600 to 1,800mm and can sometimes be ordered with two or three different types of tops on a single unit. They are lighter and cheaper than their heavy-duty counterparts. The oven is generally about 7.33kW (or 25,000BTU).
Heavy-duty/modular ranges - these normally come in a standard width of between 800 and 1,000mm, depending on the manufacturer. They are built to withstand the weight of heavy stockpots and to last longer under the strain of constant use. Designed to be banked together to form a continuous line-up of cooking equipment, the oven has a heat output of between 10.25kW and 14.65kW (or 35,000-50,000BTU).
Range suites - often the chef's pride and joy, these suites are modular cooking centres that are arranged in an island formation as a focal point of the kitchen. They are especially popular in open kitchen designs such as those used for theatre cooking. While range suites are expensive they can look stunning, incorporating designer colours and materials well beyond basic stainless steel.
ON TOP OF IT ALL
The most popular range tops are gas burners. These have a cast-iron or steel framework that supports the pan above the gas flame. There is usually a removable tray beneath the grates to catch any boil-overs or spills.
Various different versions of electric hobs can be specified, from traditional solid rings through to modern induction hobs.
For both electric hobs and gas burners it is a good idea to choose a top with different sizes of burners - and at least one that is extremely powerful for rapid heating.
Another option is the solid top that covers the whole range and is heated from underneath, either by strategically placed gas jets or by electric elements. These tops can accommodate more pans, size for size, than an open-burner range and pans can be moved around from fierce direct heat to a cooler part of the top as required.
Griddle tops can be fitted over part of the range. These usually have a splashguard around the back and sides and a grease trough across the front, draining into a grease container. Griddle tops are especially useful where a menu might include large quantities of burgers, steaks or pancakes.
As a range is in operation throughout the cooking period it will be a major consumer of primary energy (gas or electricity) so it pays to look at ways of energy-efficient operation.
â- Only open the oven when necessary. Try cooking in batches.
â- Solid-top ranges can be wasteful because areas not in use are heated up. Some modern ranges offer the energy-saving option of heating up only part of the top.
â- Induction hobs are an extremely energy-efficient alternative.
â- Fan-assisted ovens are quicker to heat up and use less energy than conventional ovens.
The induction hob - an energy-saving, fast option
Although induction hobs have been around for some time, they have been seen as an expensive option until recently. But with rising costs this energy-efficient heating technology is becoming an increasingly attractive option. Induction hobs use substantially less power than standard gas or electric hobs.
Induction hobs work by using electromagnetic fields to heat up the cooking pan itself (which needs to be made of magnetic or ferrous material). This heat is then transferred to the contents of the pan. As soon as the pan is removed from the hob, the energy use is cut, too.
The advantage of induction hobs is that they are faster than standard hobs. They offer precise temperature control, changing instantly and accurately, giving chefs complete control of the cooking process - even with very low cooking temperatures (unlike some gas hobs).
Because induction only heats the pan, there's less waste heat released, which means the kitchen is cooler and the ventilation won't need to work so hard. This lack of excess heat makes induction cooking ideal for front-of-house, theatre-style cooking.
Q We are fitting out the kitchen at our social and sports club but we haven't appointed a chef yet. What main cooking equipment should we budget for?
A Every chef is familiar with operating a range, so it's a very safe choice. Make sure you select one that is big enough to handle peak demand (ask your equipment supplier for advice). You might want to consider an induction hob as it will keep energy costs down.
Q We're installing a new-build production kitchen and have at least 12 members of staff involved in cooking. What is the best layout for our prime-cooking equipment?
A Several chefs and assistants can work together around an island suite, and its arrangement allows for easy communication between everyone. Such a design can include one or more ranges, hot tops, griddles, ovens, prep areas and shelving as well as refrigeration, braising pans, kettles, warmers and other speciality equipment.