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Working A-range-ments

If you expect your cooks to be “riding the range” every day, you should make sure you choose user-friendly equipment that will also get the job done. Lately, many manufacturers have been adding new features to make ranges more user-friendly and attractive while also recognizing the menu and production volumes of today's market. However, the basic equipment and functions are the same that rugged duty ranges have had for years.

Most manufacturers have two basic types of traditional range lines — a heavy duty line that can be “batteried” together into a continuous lineup of ranges and lighter duty series. The latter are typically referred to as “restaurant ranges.”

Restaurant ranges are often smaller in both length and width and built less ruggedly for lower-volume operations. Even though a heavy-duty range costs nearly twice the price of a restaurant range, most production kitchens are much better served if they opt for the additional cost of the heavy-duty model.

Restaurant ranges do have their place, though, and they are often well-suited to a snack bar or other low usage area. Restaurant ranges also can have some nice features that would be welcome in heavy-duty versions. For example, the all-in-one restaurant range has a broiler, griddle, open burners and two ovens all in one five- or six-foot unit — perfect for a small operation.

In addition to the cooktop choice, you need to decide what to put above and below the cooktop to take full advantage of the space that is available vertically, not just at working height.

Above the range, you can opt for a variety of shelves or cheesemelter-broilers that will help you get the most of every square foot. 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 sautee pans when they aren't in use. However, the oven base is usually the most popular option. It will always come in handy and is the least expensive oven you will ever buy. Convection oven bases are also available but they tend to be costly and have limited capacity.

Recently, induction units have become a well received option to standard gas or electric cooking units. The technology uses an intense magnetic field to instantly cause the iron-containing base of a metal pan to heat up. This heat transfers directly to the food for cooking.

The “burner” itself does not get hot, and neither will anything else on the burner other than the iron-containing pan. Also, when the pan is removed from the unit, it automatically shuts itself off, thereby conserving energy.

Induction units are powerful, as fast as gas, 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 range top configurations, but none have yet introduced such a product. Those that are available are single or double countertop units. There seems to be great potential in induction as we become more sensitive to energy conservation.

One last item to really consider is the fuel source when choosing a range. Some manufacturers make both gas and electric models while others specialize in one or the other. Many traditional chefs prefer gas equipment because of their ability to deliver instant heat.

In most areas of the country gas is less expensive to use than electricity, but availability of utilities and local fuel costs should be a determining factor in the fuel source decision. If you happen to use bottled gas, be sure to note that when purchasing because the equipment will requires special burners.

Dan Bendall is a principal of FoodStrategy, a Maryland-based consulting firm that specializes in planning foodservice facilities. A member of Foodservice Consultants Society International (FCSI), Bendall can be reached at 240-314-0660.

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