These units are great at doing just what the name implies - melting cheese over the top of finished dishes like sandwiches, French onion soup, nachos, and more. They can also be used to finish and brown other types of food, from toasting bread, to caramelizing the outside of desserts just before they are served. You'll also find these being used in many restaurants as a plate warmer to heat dishes both before and after plating. More
These are basically a lightweight broiler, which deliver direct, radiant heat from above the cooking racks with a gas burner or electric element. Unlike a convection oven, which circulates heated air to cook food, the heat from a top-mounted burner or element is direct, much like the heat from the sun on a sunny summer day. This results in the ability to heat the very top layer of food items quickly and intensely, while the inside of the food doesn't continue to cook. These units are not used for baking, only finishing.
Adjustable Racks for Precise Control
The height of the racks is adjustable in many of these units. This feature gives chefs control over how close the food they are finishing gets to the heat source. More delicate food items might need a little more distance from the burners than items that need a more intense blast of heat. With an adjustable rack, there is less risk that some foods get burned while others don't get heated to the desired level. This feature is also useful when you want to use the unit as a plate warmer because those can be moved further from the element to avoid getting them too hot to touch. The controls for adjusting rack height are on the outside of the cabinet, and have a cool-to-the touch knob or handle so the racks can be adjusted safely. Some include trigger grips, which are handles that are designed to be gripped in the palm of your hand and adjusted by pressing a trigger with your finger, making for smooth comfortable operation.
The steel cooking racks in many of these units are plated with chrome to aid with the distribution of heat, as chrome retains and distributes heat more evenly than steel alone. The exterior of most of these is stainless steel, so they're durable and easy to clean.
Multiple Cooking Zones
Many of these units include several burners or elements with individual temperature controls that can be operated independently. This gives you the ability to create several different temperature zones, so multiple types of food can be finished in the same unit at the same time. Some even include removable separators, which can be used to create sections within the main cooking chamber. These features provide more control over the finishing process while expanding the variety of items that can be put in the food finisher at one time.
There are different configurations of cheese melter available, meaning you can find one that fits your needs. Traditional, cabinet-style models have the same basic structure as a toaster oven, and some have a clear, hinged door that opens downward, similar to that other piece of cooking equipment. Other models feature conveyers, where you place the dish to be finished on one end and it is automatically taken through the unit. These have a landing platform on the other side, where servers can pick food up. Other units feature a deck style with an open front, where you can slide pans in and out on a steel or chrome rack. This makes monitoring the progress of heating food simple.
Some of these have a weight-of-plate feature, which turns the unit on only when a plate is inserted in the cooking chamber and shuts it off again when the plate is removed. This means that no gas or electricity will be wasted when there is nothing in it to be heated. The weight-of-plate feature also makes operation simpler because it returns the unit to the same temperature each time a dish is inserted. This reduces the likelihood of mistakes being made due to improper temperature settings.
Benefits of Digital Controls
Some units have programmable controls, which store times and temperature programs for commonly heated items. This reduces the likelihood of operator mistakes, so it's a great feature to have in kitchens with inexperienced cooks. These include a digital display as well, which shows the cooking time and temperature, so operators can make sure that all settings are correct for whatever is being cooked
These can operate on electricity, natural gas, or propane (LP). The choice between these may be as simple as understanding which utility is available in your area. Some locations may not have access to natural gas or propane. In other regions, the difference in cost between gas and electricity will be your deciding factor.