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Though sometimes shunned by chefs, the typical commercial kitchen benefits from having one of these around because they provide a fast way to retherm pre-cooked foods. They enable you to get food out to customers faster and increase your kitchen’s output, which means you can serve more meals each day. Because even the highest-powered units in this category don’t actually produce heat, they can also warm food without increasing ambient temperatures. More ▾
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With units that go as high as 2200 watts, these are capable of some lighter cooking, though they may still have issues with inconsistent heating and drying foods out if that’s what they’re used for. They’re best for reheating things that have already been cooked, quickly defrosting items, and for quick but gentle warming of foods like sauces and chocolate.

Light-, Medium-, and Heavy-Duty Units

As with BTUs in other cooking equipment, wattage for a commercial microwave oven is a pretty good measure of how much power a unit offers. While there can be variations based on how efficient a given model is, typically higher wattages will deliver faster cooking and increased production.

To help you sort through our models, we have defined them as light-, medium-, or heavy-duty based on their wattages. Models at the low end offer fewer than 1,200 watts, middle-of-the-pack ones will range from 1,200 to 2,000, and everything over that will be classed as heavy-duty.

Light-Duty

The power of these units is comparable to that of most residential models, which makes them best suited for smaller and low-volume operations. Their best applications are in:

  • Office break rooms
  • Hotel rooms
  • Hospitality suites
  • Small concession stands

While their comparability to residential units may tempt some people to save a few dollars by opting to put one meant for home use in a commercial setting, we cannot advise strongly enough against this. For one thing, those units don’t deliver the microwaves in the same way, which means they may not keep up with commercial demands. They’re also likely to wear out when they’re used regularly throughout a day, rather than a few times a week as they are in the typical home.

Most importantly, though, if a piece of residential cooking equipment causes a fire during use in a commercial setting, business insurance isn’t likely to cover it. That means the owner is left with a potentially massive cost that far outweighs the few dollars he or she saved by not getting a suitable piece.

Medium Duty

These models are powerful enough to stand up to the demands of most foodservice operations. While they won’t offer the speed of a beefier unit, they do provide a quicker, more reliable cook than those on the low end. They can be a good choice for:

  • Operations that will use them multiple times a day
  • Most restaurants
  • Delis

Heavy Duty

Perhaps the clearest way to demonstrate the differences between these models and those already covered is with a comparison. Imagine you have an 800-watt microwave oven at home that you have used to perfect a recipe that you want to scale for your commercial kitchen. You’ve found that it takes exactly 10 minutes to get the level of doneness needed at home, but when you set that same time at work, your food comes out a charred lump.

The difference is that the higher wattage oven heats food more quickly, which means those models can prepare the recipe you made in 10 minutes at home in about 3 minutes if you’re using a 2200-watt unit. That speed makes these models best for high-volume operations like:

  • Institutional kitchens like those in hospitals and schools
  • Commissaries
  • Casual eatery chain locations

Finding the Right Pan Capacity

After power level, the size and number of pans accommodated by a given model will likely be the most important thing to consider when buying one of these units. Not only do those specifications let you know if the oven will accept the pans you use to prepare your recipes, it also give you a hint as to the volume it can produce.

Cooks who will prepare large batches of food will likely benefit from a unit that can fit a full-size pan, which in this case is a 12 x 20-inch plastic food pan. As with home units, these cannot be used with metal cookware or utensils. They also can’t accept a full-size sheet pan, which will measure 18 x 26 inches.

Those larger units are also good for kitchens that don’t need to prepare large batches of any one thing, but may need to heat smaller portions of multiple foods. Models that accommodate a full-size pan can typically accept two half-size ones, though that can vary depending on the size of the rims around them, enabling you to prepare two different foods at once.

Most models will accommodate a half-size food pan, though some more compact ones won’t have a cavity large enough for that, so be mindful of the interior dimensions if this is a consideration for you. Preparing food in a pan like that will mean you don’t have to keep coming back to the microwave to pop in individual portions. That saves you time, and that can increase customer satisfaction.

Advantages of a Programmable Microwave

Most models with a touch pad will offer functionality to program recipes, which makes it considerably easier to prepare your menu items. Making the heating of dishes you prepare frequently as simple as one touch of a button can save a noticeable amount of staff time, which is great for busy kitchens. For establishments that have to deal with the high staff turnover that has been a hallmark of certain segments of foodservice, this can also be invaluable because it means anyone can prepare dishes without knowing specific cooking times.