There just might be no single piece of restaurant equipment more central to a busy kitchen than the range top. For many of us, it's what we think of first when we think about stepping into a kitchen to cook. It's also far more versatile and supportive of a wide range of uses than most types of restaurant equipment. Allowing chefs and line cooks to fry, grill, sauté, simmer or boil, along with adjacent oven options, the commercial range is vital to a food service business.
Types of Kitchen Ranges
One of the first things to know is that there are two major types of commercial ranges called “restaurant ranges” and “heavy duty ranges.” Restaurant ranges are standalone models that tend to be smaller and lighter than heavy duty ranges. This leads to a common misunderstanding – isn’t a restaurant range a fairly big and durable range top? Yes, but heavy duty ranges do more with a design that usually involves banked multi-range configurations. So while the typical restaurant range is a minimum must-have, the busier kitchens are going to want multiple modules for a row of heavy duty range tops that are higher volume and more expensive than their rivals.
One more word about specialty range tops – certain types of ranges have different builds for specific uses. One is the wok range, where high-BTU burners and a different shape facilitate different kinds of stir-fries and Asian cooking with this stand-alone piece of equipment. Then there's the stock pot range, a very different type of restaurant range in which a single wide burner is paired with a lower build. This allows for busy cooks to take a large stew pot or other boiling container to or from the range in a more ergonomic way, and more safely.
Electric and Gas Ranges
Chefs will also want to choose their range tops according to their energy source. Electric ranges come in different voltages, for example, from 208 V to 480 V, with thermostats typically between 150 and 500 degrees fahrenheit. Gas ranges tend to offer higher numbers of BTUs, more granular controls and more efficiency, along with that instant light-up that means cooks don't have to wait for the range to heat up in order to cook – inspiring that oft-heard battle cry: “Now we're cooking with gas!” Gas models do, however, require expensive hookups and equipment and different safety procedures.
Range Top Configurations
Let's talk a little bit about range top configurations. This part of the discussion will highlight some differences in regional cuisine and the traditional ways that chefs cook on burners and flat surfaces.
For instance, in addition to the typical range burner that you see on a restaurant range, there's also something called a charbroiler that is much more reminiscent of pre-industrial cooking. The charbroiler is a grill or grate that is placed over open flames (although some are now electronic), with enough distance underneath to prevent food from being singed. It's good for cooking meats and large vegetables that won't fall down through the mesh.
Here's another distinction between modern and traditional equipment – two other types of range top configurations are the griddle and the plancha. These are similar in design, with one key difference: with griddle cooking, the heat is evenly distributed across a flat countertop space. There aren't any individual range modules on the surface – it's all heated. That means cooks can throw on short-order items like eggs or packets of pre-sliced meat, and turn out all kinds of quick fare. A cheesesteak sandwich? No problem. Ditto for a well-seared piece of tuna. You often see these griddle tops in open kitchens, for example, in Hibachi restaurants, so that the skilled cooks behind the counter can strut their stuff.
The difference with the plancha is that you have the flat countertop space, but the heat radiates from the middle. That allows experienced chefs to control the heat on a dish by moving it from the center to the edge of the planter. Named after the traditional Spanish term for a grill, this is a more traditional way to cook that, again, mimics some of the build of historic kitchens.
Range Tops and Bases
In addition to choosing the right range top, you want to choose the right base to go under it. Some of the most common bases, as mentioned above, are standard oven bases, or space saver or convection oven bases, in which the range sits above the oven. While chefs are mostly familiar with cooking like this, other kinds of bases can also be useful. For example, a storage base or refrigerator base means that there's a cooler area below the range, where you can keep perishables for quick use. Depending on what you're doing in your restaurant, this can come in handy and eliminate quite a lot of time that would be spent moving from the walk-in to the range top and back again.
The salamander or broiler base is another specialized equipment setup that can be done to save time, and eliminate repetitive motion injury. Some also call these types of add-ons cheesemelters. Many of them are built above the range top, instead of below it. The idea is that the cook can use the range top to provide frying or sautéing heat, and simultaneously use the salamander or broiler for evenly controlled heat to brown the top of the dish, melt cheese, or perform some other localized type of heating that's going to enhance the finished product.
Space Under Your Hood
Here's an additional buying tip: you also want to make sure that your range fits under your kitchen hood. Think about health regulations that require 6 inches of additional space beyond the range footprint. Being in compliance may require you to be a little proactive in designing your kitchen space.
Features and Add-Ons
After you've done all of the above work, you can think about some little extras for adding functionality to your range top. Automatic ignition for gas models can be a lifesaver in a busy kitchen. Casters can allow your range to roll to where it's needed, in case you have to reconfigure your staff’s workflows. If you have practical experience in kitchens, you know how often this type of issue comes up. Space is at a premium, so how you organize your equipment makes a huge difference in operational results. These are a lot of the big questions that you're going to tackle when looking for a commercial restaurant range.
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