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Microwave Ovens – All you need to know

Microwave ovens are a hugely important part of every professional kitchen. As a standard microwave-only oven they can perform essential functions such as safely re-heating frozen or chilled food, which is at the heart of many menus in informal dining restaurants and pubs or in room-service for hotels.

Manufacturers group commercial microwaves into four power bands.

Light Duty

  • The oven will have a power ranging between 900 watts and 1100 watts. This is suitable for use where demands are light, such as a café, satellite kitchen or petrol filling station.

Medium Duty

  • A power rating of 1100 to 1500 watts, proportionately more robustly built than a light-duty oven and suitable for restaurants where the microwave is only in occasional use, busy cafes, pubs or leisure centres.

Heavy Duty

  • Powered from 1500 to 1900 watts and the most popular power range used in catering. Suitable for busy pubs, hotels, busy restaurants or staff catering. Built to withstand hard and heavy use.

Extra Heavy Duty

  • These are usually where large quantities of food are needed to be reheated quickly rather than just individual portions. They can take up to a full gastronorm tray. While all other power bands are connected to a 13amp socket, this very heavy duty oven will need hard wiring into the mains.While the general rule is the high the wattage the faster the food will be heated, much beyond 2000 watts and food risks being burned on the outside before it is heated on the inside.

Where they get much more versatile in when they become a combination microwave oven. The combination is the addition of convection hot air and a grill. This transforms a simple re-heating cabinet into a multi-function cooking oven. Jacket potatoes can be softened then crisped, pastry dishes can be reheated and crisped, in fact almost all of the functions of a standard oven can be performed in the combination microwave oven. The main limitation is of load capacity and the absence of steam in a standard-size microwave oven. Although it is possible to buy a combi-oven which incorporates microwave energy.

A general rule of thumb is that microwave only is for re-heating, combination microwave ovens are for reheating and primary cooking.

There is a minority view among caterers that all microwave ovens are the same, the only difference between commercial ovens and domestic ovens being the power and price. This is completely untrue. There are clear cooking, construction and food safety differences between microwave ovens designed for domestic use and those designed for the professional kitchen.

Domestic microwave ovens are often low power, which means they will take far longer to reheat, defrost or cook food than a commercial oven. While domestic ovens have a power rating from 600 watts to 900 watts, commercial microwave ovens can be up to 2000 watts. The term watts is a unit of measurement for the heating power of a microwave oven.

The device which produces the energy waves which heat food in a microwave oven is called a magnetron. Domestic microwave ovens usually just have a single magnetron while commercial microwave ovens usually have two magnetrons which are built to a higher specification, making them faster, more efficient and longer lasting.

A commercial build microwave oven is built to withstand hard use every day, while a domestic is designed to be used just a couple of times a day, which repeated use of a domestic microwave oven can lead to a loss of power with the associated food safety risks.

Microwave energy needs to be evenly spread around the oven cavity to ensure that all parts of the food inside are safely heated. Where chilled or frozen food is not thoroughly heated, harmful bacteria within the food is unlikely to be killed, risking food poisoning. Many domestic microwave ovens use simple turntables to try to distribute the microwave heat, while commercial microwave ovens have sophisticated heat mixing systems in the oven cavity.

The casing of most domestic microwave ovens is painted mild steel which will chip, corrode and cause food safety hazards. Most professional microwave oven have casings made with hard-wearing stainless steel which is easy to keep clean and will not corrode. Commercial microwave oven are likely to have far more sophisticated cooking programmes, often push-button pre-sets, so staff can reheat properly and easily every time. The oven cavity size on a commercial microwave is usually based around the gastronorm system, making it easier to accommodate industry standard sized food dishes.

Most commercial microwave ovens have a cavity space of ½ gastronorm, but they are also available in 2/3 gastronorm and full-size gastronorm.

This buyers guide will hopefully have helped make your decision on which is best for you, but if you need any further guidance please do not hesitate to call the Sales Team on 01254 824265.