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The Kitchen Workhorse

The Kitchen Workhorse

HOME ON THE RANGE. Choosing the right range to meet the needs of your operation is as important as the food you prepare.

Ranges are the backbone of today's kitchen production equipment. While these workhorses have changed little in past generations, they are an invaluable item in every kitchen.

The term "range" originally described an appliance that could cook a "range" of dishes at the same time. Today, just about any appliance with flat cooking surfaces may be referred to as a range.

Selecting the right range requires design consultants and operators to work together to consider production needs, menus and work flow so that the range selected is a key component in an integrated cooking battery where everything works together for a particular operation's needs.

There are at least a dozen range manufacturers producing quality equipment in the United States. Most of a range's basic operating features are common to most of the manufacturers, with a few exceptions. At the same time, these features can be important enough to make a given manufacturer the supplier of choice for specific needs. For example, some ranges are slightly narrower, to fit into tight spaces; others have special range top configurations, or are available in special finishes.

Most manufacturers have two lines of equipment: a heavy-duty line that can be "batteried" together into a continuous lineup of ranges, and a lighter-duty series that may typically be referred to as "restaurant ranges." The restaurant ranges are designed for lower-volume operations; they are typically smaller in both length and width and are built less ruggedly. Even though a heavy-duty range costs nearly twice that of a restaurant range, most production kitchens would be advised to opt for the additional cost.

Restaurant ranges do have their place, though; they are often a good choice for a snack bar or low-usage area. Also, they sometimes have features that would be welcomed in heavy-duty versions. An example is the so-called "all-in-one range" that offers a broiler, griddle, open burners and two ovens all in one five-or sixfoot unit. Such a model can be perfect for a small operation.

Another alternative to the traditional range and cooking battery is the so-called "island range," sometimes referred to as a "Waldorf" or European-style range. These have been popular in Europe for more than a century.

Such designs with back-to-back banked ranges have only recently made a big impact on the American dining scene, but are expected to become more popular in coming years. The great thing about an island cooking arrangement is that it merchandises well in an open kitchen environment. When operated properly with trained staff, the island range battery can put on a tremendous show by bringing your kitchen talent in contact with the dining room guest.

Most of the other differences in range configurations have to do with their cooktop designs. As manufacturers have become more sensitive to user needs, they have begun to offer options that were not readily available in past years, such as cooktops that also have a refrigerated cold pan unit.

Range designs also vary in terms of how they take advantage of the space available above and below the main working height. Let's first look below the range. The 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 sautè pans when not in use. However, the most popular base is probably an oven, which at about a $500 upcharge over a storage base is the least expensive oven you will ever buy.

Also available are convection oven bases (these tend to be costly, about $2,000 more than a standard oven.) Typically, the convection oven is just large enough for an 18" x 26" baking pan but is only about 14" high inside. Convection oven bases often add to the depth of the range, so be sure to consider this when making a purchase decision.

The heating source is an important consideration in choosing ranges. Some manufacturers make both gas and electric models while others specialize in one or the other. Many chefs prefer gas equipment because of the instant heat; also, in most areas of the country, gas is less expensive to use than electricity, although this is not a universal rule. Also, if you use bottled gas be sure to note this: propane-fired equipment requires that special burners be installed.


  • Ranges require surface fire protection in the form of chemical agent spray.This system must be wired to shut off gas or electrical supply to each item of cooking equipment.
  • Ventilator exhaust hoods are required over all gas and electric ranges. Often specific requirements apply to hood size and quantities of air needed to be exhausted.
  • Salamander broilers are available for mounting above ranges using no additional floor space. Use them for browning and finishing product.
  • Specify a high backsplash at the rear of ranges to catch spills and help sanitation at the range line.
  • Have gas burners calibrated on a regular basis for optimum fuel efficiency and best product heating. Clean the burners after spills to allow complete gas combustion.
  • Convection oven bases can be useful options beneath a range. Be sure you have an available 120 volt electrical outlet and allow for several extra inches at the rear for the fan motor.
  • Remember to allow at least 16" between a fryer and a range with an open flame as required by fire regulations. Range spreader sections can be used to space the units appropriately.
  • If using electric ranges, high wattage units (480 volt, 3 phase service) are often less costly to operate in energy cost.
  • An investment in stainless steel exterior range surfaces is often worth the extra cost for cleanability, increased life, and easier maintenance.
  • Depending on the manufacturer, range widths are 32", 34", or 36". Space considerations and cooking area may help make the decision on which manufacturer to use.
  • Ranges can be bought on casters with flexible gas hoses or electrical cords.The mobility is preferred by some operators for ease in cleaning under and around equipment.
  • Compare heat output in BTUs for gas ranges and kilowatts for electric ranges.The higher the output usually, the greater the production capability.
  • Look for easy clean up features on the range you buy. Removable grates on open burners and pull-out crumb pans beneath range tops are beneficial.
  • Ranges with four or six open burners are more energy efficient than hot plate ranges but limit the number and size of pots and pans to the available burners
  • Hot plate burners on electric ranges are available in either the solid French hot plate or high speed open coil styles. The open coil has a faster heat up while the French plate has a more even heat.
  • Overshelves built into the range backsplash can be bought as an option giving a convenient location to hold pots and pans.
  • Purchase only NSF listed ranges for sanitary features and AGA certified gas equipment and UL listed electric ranges. Otherwise, there may be problems getting the installation approved by various governmental inspectors.

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 240-314-0660.


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