Guide to Purchasing a Restaurant Range
By: Chris Stern
The most central and often used piece of foodservice equipment in a restaurant kitchen is without question the range. Ranges are extremely versatile, as they can be used to cook, broil, boil, sauté, grill, bake and more. Since ranges are used extensively on a daily basis in a commercial food service environment, it’s important to make sure you have the right size, top configuration and oven for your operation.
This guide will help take you through the process of selecting the correct range for your particular operation. Here’s a closer look:
Size and Range Type
The first thing to consider when purchasing a new range is size. Even if you are shopping for a replacement range, you should take a moment to reflect on whether the old model was adequate based on its size and do you have the space to move up to a larger range. Ranges come in sizes anywhere from 12 to 96 inches wide. The range size your restaurant requires hinges on a variety of different factors.
Space? What size space do you have and do you have adequate ventilation if you expand to a larger footprint? Most codes require the hood to expand 6” beyond the equipment footprint.
What is your output during peak lunch and dinner periods? How big is your restaurant? The busier you are and the more volume you can handle, the larger the range you’ll likely need.
How many operators will be near the range preparing food? More operators mean more work area resulting in the need for a larger range.
What are your hours? An establishment operating for long hours per day may need to purchase a Heavy Duty Range instead of a Medium Duty Restaurant Range.
What are your main cooking applications? If your dishes require a lot of sautéing, searing or boiling, you will likely need ample burner space and would want to consider purchasing a larger model or multiple models. Do you need to prepare products on a variety of different cook tops? You may need a combination of burners, griddle (flattop) or Charbroilers?
What is the oven used for? How often will the oven door be opened and closed during the day? Are you finishing products in the oven? Do you have a need for convection to achieve a browning specification for your products? Frequent oven usage and door openings could mean you need to purchase a Heavy Duty Range. Do you need a high temperature finishing oven?
Heavy Duty versus Medium Duty Restaurant Range
Heavy Duty Ranges are typically constructed with heavier gauge steel and possess a fully welded frame. Heavy Duty Ranges operate with higher burner and oven BTU ratings. Heavy Duty Range burner BTU’s range between 32,000 and 40,000 BTU’s compared to Restaurant Ranges at 24,000 to 30,000 BTU’s. You need to decide if higher BTU’s are really necessary. Heavy Duty Ranges have more stainless steel throughout the product construction. This includes the outer body construction as well as the burner box, crumb tray and in some cases the oven cavity optional on Vulcan Heavy Duty Ranges). Heavy Duty Ranges offer considerably more top configuration options than Restaurant Ranges. Heavy Duty Ranges are purchased as stand-alone ranges or in line ups consisting of multiple cook top configurations and as Cooking Suites which are custom built to specification. Heavy Duty Ranges typically have steel knobs instead of plastic.
Budget, work flow, menu type, staff experience and daily volume are major considerations when selecting which range series to purchase. Heavy Duty is going to cost you considerably more than Medium Duty Restaurant ranges but the investment may be worth it in the long run. Heavy Duty Ranges will run in high traffic areas for 10 years or more while restaurant ranges may last 5 years.
Commercial Restaurant Ranges are available in gas or electric models. Gas is by far the most popular method for cooking. Gas is typically a cheaper utility and operators like the instant ability to turn temperatures up or down. Electric ranges are more expensive to purchase, however, electric range burners are more efficient (85% versus gas at 40%) because most of the utility goes directly from the burner into the cooking vessel. Electric ranges produce less heat in the kitchen so you save on ventilation (hood) costs, air conditioning cost. Electric cooking provides a cooler working environment for employees.
Grates and Pots
If you are using larger pots and pans you will want larger grates on the back of the range to accommodate very large stock pots. Most ranges have grate systems that allow you to easily slide pots across the top, however, establishments using smaller sauté pans may find issues with the pan tilting on some grate configurations. Smaller burner and grate configurations such as the 12” grate are ideal for sauté work in smaller vessels. High volume sauté work points to the need for many burners to ensure high output during peak periods.
Standard Oven or Convection Oven
What are you planning to cook in your range oven and what type of pans will be utilized? The majority of ranges sold have standard ovens. They are less costly to purchase than convection technology and work for many applications. Standard ovens work well as finishing ovens and are easy to maintain. The primary reasons convection technology is used in place of standard ovens are for speed and browning specifications. The expectation is that you can cook 33% faster in a convection oven verses a standard oven. This is a misconception that leads to disappointment due to the food characteristics and type/size of pan being used. For example, a whole chicken or roast cooked in a high sided pan will not cook faster using a convection oven. Convection technology works best for thin proteins and baking applications. If you bake in high volume and/or require repeatable and consistent browning specifications on specific food products, you should consider full size free standing convection ovens to do the job. These ovens have higher BTU’s and sophisticated air flow that will help you cook faster in many cases.
Efficiency and Customization
A final major consideration when it comes to purchasing a new commercial range is exactly what type of operation you’re running and how to maximize its efficiency to best serve your customers. Ranges can be outfitted in a number of ways. For instance, if your establishment serves breakfast, you might choose to add a griddle onto one end to cook pancakes, bacon or sausage. Salamander broilers and Cheesemelters are common accessories that are often purchased with Restaurant Ranges to melt cheese and heat sauces placed on top of entrees. If adding this accessory, make sure you have the proper hood clearance to accommodate the added height to the range.
Don’t forget to consider all of these factors in your selection process when shopping for your new Restaurant Range. It’s also a good idea to contact manufacturers with additional questions, or visit a dealer showroom since most dealers carry Restaurant Range inventory and are trained to help you evaluate all of these factors. In order to assist you in this process please utilize the Vulcan range configurator at http://www.vulcanequipment.com/Vulcan/Products/Configuration/.
Chris Stern has been with ITW-Vulcan for over 20 years. Chris has held positions as Director of Product Development, Vice President of Marketing and General Manager.