Buying Guide: How to Choose a Commercial Range for Your Foodservice Establishment
Commercial ranges are the workhorse of any commercial kitchen. These are versatile pieces of cooking equipment that can perform virtually any cooking task, including frying, sautéing, steaming, simmering, boiling, blanching, braising, and stewing. Commercial ranges with an oven base also allow you to bake, roast, and broil, depending on the type of oven that your range comes with.
To help you choose the best commercial range for your foodservice establishment, we have created this comprehensive buying guide that shows you the different types of ranges, the factors that affect your purchase decision, and some tips to help you choose the most suitable commercial range for your establishment.
Types of Commercial Ranges
1. Heavy-Duty Commercial Range
Heavy-duty commercial ranges are extremely rugged and durable. They are made from extra-strong, industrial materials, such as heavy metals with thick gauges, to ensure that they can withstand all-day use. They also generate plenty of heat power to keep up with the demand of providing food for diners all day long.
Because of their durability, heavy-duty commercial ranges can handle large, heavy pots and pans that are typically used for preparing high volumes of food. The increased heat power also produces shorter cooking times, which is essential in commercial kitchens that have a lot of mouths to feed. This makes them perfect for use in institutions and large facilities, such as hospitals, correctional facilities, and high-volume restaurants.
Also called modular ranges, commercial ranges can be combined with other units to provide additional cooking space, an important feature if you’re expecting growth for your operations in the future. These ranges can also be customized to any configuration and may include open burners, griddles, French tops, or any other configuration you need for your kitchen.
Not all commercial establishments need a heavy-duty commercial range. Think about how much cooking you need on the range every day. If it’s always being used the entire day, then it may be wise to invest in a heavy-duty range. The upfront cost, as well as the energy and servicing costs, are definitely higher than that of a restaurant range. However, the rugged construction and high heat output of a heavy-duty range will help you meet the demands of your clientele with more ease than a restaurant range.
2. Restaurant Range
Restaurant ranges are not as hard-wearing as heavy-duty ranges, but they are durable enough for use in restaurants, specifically restaurants that serve less than 150 customers at a time. They’re also great in smaller kitchens, such as church and shelter kitchens, where you don’t need to use them every day.
For most commercial kitchens, the restaurant range is the commercial range of choice. It is often a standalone unit with a range top that can be configured to your needs. Restaurant ranges can be as small as 24” wide for small mom-and-pop diners and can have larger widths of 72” or more for bigger establishments.
Restaurant ranges are more affordable than heavy-duty ranges in terms of upfront, maintenance, and energy consumption costs. Some manufacturers have a line of heavy-duty restaurant ranges, which have some of the rugged elements of heavy-duty ranges. Higher-end models can also generate enough heat power comparable to heavy-duty ranges.
3. Specialty Range
Some commercial ranges, such as wok ranges and stockpot ranges, are designed for specialty use. A wok range has a raised ring to keep rounded-bottom traditional-style woks in place. It also has a high BTU output to generate lots of heat for the fast-paced, high-heat stir-frying that is normally done with a wok.
Another type of specialty range is the stockpot range. As you can guess by its name, the stockpot range is a low-profile range designed to accommodate large stock pots for making huge batches of soups, stocks, and broths.
Factors to Consider When Buying a Commercial Range
The range top is the part of the range where a lot of the cooking is done. It usually has open burners or grates where you can place pots and pans for cooking. However, different models can also have different range top configurations, some including griddles, cheesemelters, charbroilers, or combinations of different cooking surfaces.
To decide the configuration for your commercial range, take a look at your menu and figure out what food you need to cook and how much. If you’re cooking breakfast items most of the day, such as eggs, bacon, and pancake, you will benefit from buying a range with a griddle top. If your mac ‘n cheese is a favorite at your restaurant, consider getting a range with a built-in cheesemelter.
Below are the common configurations for commercial ranges.
a. Open Burner
An open burner range is the most common configuration because it is also the most versatile. It is powered by gas and must have the right gas connections to work properly and safely.
An open burner is a controlled area that produces an open flame to provide concentrated heat to cook food in a pot or pan. It has a burner head where the flame comes out and a burner cap to cover the head. Open burner ranges have metal grates, typically made of cast iron or stainless steel, to hold the pot or pan. Normally, they also have a drip tray to collect food spills.
Rangetops can have as many as 12 burners or they can have no burners at all. There are plenty of things you can do on an open burner, from frying to boiling, simmering, and sautéing. Each burner typically generates up to 30,000 to 35,000 BTU.
b. Hot Top
A hot top is a flat cooking surface that uses atmospheric gas burners below the plate to heat up the entire area. At maximum heat output, a hot top burner can get as hot as 500° F to 1,000° F for premium models.
A hot top doesn’t have concentrated heating zones like open burners, but many models allow you to create a temperature gradient from front to back. You can use this, for example, to easily slide a large pot of stew that has been boiling on the hotter front section to the cooler section where it can continue to simmer until it’s done.
A hot top is also useful when you need to prepare several small orders at a time as it allows you to fit as many cooking vessels as possible, as opposed to the open burner which limits the number of pots and pans you can use.
The downside to using a hot top is that it has slow heat-up times and can typically take anywhere from a half hour to an hour to reach its maximum heat output. Kitchens that use a hot top typically have their range on the entire day so that they don’t have to wait for the range to heat up. This leads to high energy consumption and can generate a lot of heat that raises the ambient temperature in the work area.
c. French Top
A French top is characterized by concentric metal rings, typically made of cast iron or rolled steel, that are placed directly above a gas burner. You can adjust the heat of a French top by removing one of the metal rings. The closer to the center you are, the hotter it is. It gets cooler as you go to the outer rings.
A French top is derived from French cuisine, where traditional cooking requires chefs to simmer their soups and sauces over a low fire while waiting for other dishes to cook. The center ring is used for high-heat cooking, such as bringing soups and stews to a boil. You can then slide the pot to the outer areas to continue simmering your soup using lower heat to prevent it from overcooking.
You can also place several pots or pans on the French top to keep food items warm without worrying about them boiling over or evaporating. The center ring can also be removed to provide an open flame where you can place a wok and keep it steady for some high-heat stir-frying.
d. Griddle Top
A griddle top is a wide, flat cooking surface where you cook food items directly on the plate. A griddle is mainly used for cooking eggs, pancakes, burger patties, steaks, and sandwiches.
The cooking plate is made from metal, typically cast iron, stainless steel, or chrome-plated stainless steel. Cast iron is more heavy-duty than stainless steel, but it rusts easily and can be harder to clean. Stainless steel is corrosion-resistant, while chrome plating gives it a sleek shine that also makes it easier to clean. Typical plate thickness can go from 1/2” for cooking delicate items to 1 1/2” for high heat retention that’s useful for searing steaks.
Griddles usually come with 12”-wide sections with separate heating elements that can be individually controlled. They can have anywhere from 1 to 2 sections or more.
Some griddle tops also come with broilers underneath. The broiler typically has the same size as the griddle. Broilers are used for rapidly cooking meat dishes under intense heat coming from above. If you need to quickly sear meats, such as steaks and burger patties, frequently, consider getting a griddle top with a broiler.
A plancha is a flat surface that looks and works like a griddle. The difference, however, is that a plancha uses a circular heating source where the center of the surface produces the most heat. Similar to the French top, the temperature gets lower as you move out to the edges of the plancha.
Planchas are useful for preparing the same items that you can prepare on a griddle, but at a lower volume. You can cook items in high heat at the center and move them to the outer edges to keep them warm before serving.
A charbroiler has cast iron or stainless steel grates where food is placed directly to be cooked above extremely high heats that can go up to 550° F and up. Most charbroilers are heated by radiant heating elements. Gas or electricity flows through these heaters, which lights up a pilot that produces heat for the charbroiling grid. Some charbroilers are also heated by direct flame, lava rock, or solid fuel.
g. Combination Surface
Many commercial ranges have combination surfaces where you’ll find two or more configurations on the range top to accommodate different cooking methods in a single range. Most combinations include at least one open burner since they are very useful in most commercial kitchens.
Common combinations include open burners with a griddle, open burners with a griddle and a broiler, and open burners with a hot top. Some manufacturers also accommodate customers who would like to have their range tops customized to their needs.
2. Power Source
Commercial ranges are typically powered by gas or electricity. A new method, called induction, is also increasingly becoming popular in commercial kitchens because of its effectiveness and efficiency.
Gas ranges provide an open flame to provide instant heat. You don’t have to wait for the range to heat up. The burner instantly responds to heat adjustments that you make with the burner control valve.
Many professional chefs prefer using a gas range because it gives them precise control over the intensity of the heat, with the open flame providing a visual aid for determining how hot or cool the cooking vessel can get. While they produce a lot of ambient heat into your kitchen, they also cool down easily after use.
Gas ranges require a gas connection. If you already have one, you can disregard the costs of having a gas hookup installed in your kitchen, but it can add to your upfront costs if you don’t have a connection yet. Because gas ranges produce open flames that can cause gas leaks and fires, you need to take the necessary precautionary measures to prevent fires from occurring, such as installing a quick disconnect hose.
Gas is also more affordable than electricity in some places so it makes sense to use a gas range where you can save on energy. Gas ranges also don’t suddenly die off on you when a power outage happens.
Electric ranges are easier to install than gas ranges. You simply put the plug into a wall socket and start using the range. An electric range works when the electricity that travels from the outlet is converted into thermal energy that heats up the metal coil below the surface of the range.
These are more energy-efficient than gas ranges and are also easier to clean because of the smooth, flat surface. However, electric ranges don’t have an open flame that serves as a visual indicator of the temperature, resulting in less precision cooking than a gas range. Electric ranges also heat up slower than gas ranges and respond slower to temperature adjustments. For this reason, they’re better for small establishments that don’t need to prepare large amounts of food.
Upfront costs for electric ranges are higher than gas. However, some parts of the country have cheaper electricity costs. If you live in an area where electricity is cheaper than gas, investing in an electric range may bring you more savings in the long run. Just keep in mind to keep a backup power plan nearby in case an outage occurs.
Induction ranges use a new technology that harnesses electric and magnetic forces to generate heat for cooking. This type of range has magnetic coils situated below the ceramic or glass surface of the range that produce a pulsating magnetic field. When you place a pot on the cooktop, the magnetic field goes through the pan, creating electrical currents that act like a heater. This “heater” is then used to cook what’s inside the pot.
Induction ranges have plenty of advantages over gas and electric ranges. For one thing, they produce instant, precise heat even more so than gas ranges. They are also more energy-efficient than an electric range because it heats up only the part of the range where cookware is placed, which means most of the electricity it consumes is used directly to cook food.
Induction ranges also heat up to the right cooking temperature faster than gas or electric ranges and adjust immediately to temperature changes. They activate once you place a cooking vessel on the surface and deactivate when you remove the vessel. To top it off, induction ranges are very easy to clean because of their flat cooking surface. This makes induction ranges suitable for repeat usage.
However, induction ranges require you to use induction cookware. These are special types of pots and pans that are made from magnetic-based materials such as stainless steel and cast iron. The initial cost is expensive but may pay off in the long run if you need to use an induction range often.
3. Range Base
The range base consists of the part of the range below the rangetop. To help you maximize space and reduce the footprint of your equipment, manufacturers often include different bases for the commercial ranges. The most common range bases you’ll find are the following:
a. Oven Base
Many commercial ranges have an oven base that can either be a standard oven or a space-saver oven with compact measurements. Other models have a convection oven, which has fans that circulate hot air around the baking chamber to produce uniformly baked food products.
b. Cabinet Base
If you already have separate ovens, you may find that the oven base on a commercial range may be redundant. You can opt for a cabinet base instead where you can store pots, pans, utensils, and other kitchen tools.
c. Refrigerated Base
Another alternative to an oven base is a refrigerated base. This provides extra cold storage for your food items and a convenient way for cooks to reach for ingredients when they’re at the cooktop.
Commercial ranges use two common types of ignition: pilot ignition and spark ignition.
a. Pilot Ignition
If your range has a pilot ignition, it uses a small pilot light that is on at all times. This keeps the thermocouple hot. When you turn on the burner knob, the thermocouple signals the gas valve to open. This then allows gas to flow to the burner to create a flame.
A pilot ignition system is not as energy-efficient as spark ignition because it consumes a small amount of gas to keep the pilot light lit. In some cases, the pilot light can go out, which can create a major inconvenience if it goes out during the middle of operations.
There is a variety of reasons for a pilot out getting snuffed out, from a simple breeze to a clogged gas line. In case the latter occurs, the line that delivers gas to the pilot line gets clogged with grease or debris and fails to deliver the gas to keep the pilot light lit. You’ll need to contact a qualified technician to clean the gas line and have the range working properly again.
b. Electronic Ignition
Electronic ignition is also known as spark ignition because it uses an electric current to create a spark. When you turn the burner know to turn on an electronic ignition range, you get a loud clicking sound that indicates that the spark has been created. This spark comes in contact with the gas and ignites the gas to create an open flame.
Electronic ignition eliminates the need to keep a small yet constant flow of gas to a pilot light. This makes it a more energy-efficient option than pilot light ignition.
Tips to Help You Find the Right Commercial Range
Commercial range sizes go anywhere from 24” wide with 2 to 6 burners and a single oven to 72” inches wide with 4 to 12 burners and at least two ovens.
To find out what size of commercial range you need, consider the average and maximum number of customers you serve every day. If your volume output is on the higher side, investing in a larger commercial range instead of one or two smaller ranges can help save on upfront costs and energy. It’s better to go for a range that is slightly bigger than what your maximum volume output requires to stay on the safe side. This will also provide some clearance in the future in case you add new items to your menu as well.
Also, think about how much space you have in your commercial kitchen for a range. Obviously, a larger kitchen space can accommodate a bigger range.
2. Burner Output
Gas ranges produce heat that is usually measured in British thermal units (BTUs). A gas range with higher BTU can heat up faster than a lower-BTU gas range. It can also provide more power for longer periods of time for large commercial applications that need to do a lot of cooking all day long.
Keep in mind, though, that the higher BTU you have, the more expensive your gas bill will be. The range will also put out much more heat than its lower-BTU counterparts, thus making your HVAC system work harder to keep the kitchen cool and comfortable for your staff.
Also, take a look at your cooking methods. Lower-BTU gas ranges don’t heat up as quickly, making them suitable for processes such as simmering, steaming, and frying. If you need to cook in large pots for serving large groups, such as in fast-food restaurants and production cooking, you will need a more powerful gas range with a higher BTU.
Check with the National Fire Protection Association and International Mechanical Code as well as your local codes, which lay down the regulations for the use of exhaust and ventilation systems. Having proper ventilation removes grease-laden particles from the air produced by commercial ranges and other cooking equipment to minimize the chance of your staff inhaling grease and smoke.
Also, almost all commercial ranges are required to have a fire-resistant back. Heavy-duty models usually have back guards with a built-in flue, while restaurant ranges typically have a stainless steel back guard. Ranges must also be positioned with plenty of clearance for breathing space. At least 6” is needed for the surrounding area to allow the range to vent off heat.
4. Energy Efficiency
The government’s ENERGY-STAR program, spearheaded by the EPA, has yet to classify commercial ranges. However, they do offer several tips to help commercial establishments choose an energy-efficient model.
ENERGY-STAR recommends that establishments use induction ranges to reduce their footprint and help protect the environment. Induction ranges have extremely accurate controls, even more so than gas ranges, making them very energy-efficient. However, they do cost more upfront than gas and electric ranges. If you have a smaller budget to begin with, the EPA suggests that you go for a natural gas range, which can save as much as a third of the energy consumed by an electric range. Choose a gas range that uses electronic ignition instead of the standing pilot light, which wastes a lot of gas.