A range is typically a combination of many pieces of equipment in one unit. The result is one flexible work station where you can prepare a large portion of your menu all in one place. Most all of them include a cooktop, with burners, griddles, french tops, or a combination of those. Beneath the cooktop you will often find an oven, and there are a few different types of these as well. Conventional, convection, deck, and holding ovens are the most common.
Range Top Configuration Options
A griddle is a broad, flat heated surface, usually made of steel. Food is cooked directly on the griddle surface, so there is no need for pans or pots. These can cook all kinds of foods, from breakfast foods like eggs and pancakes to dinner dishes like shrimp and steak. They are equipped with a grease trough along the front and splash guards along the sides to capture liquids and scraps from cooking.
The most affordable option on a cooktop is a coil-style burner. These are just like the ones you'll find on most electric residential ranges, so they're familiar and easy to use for anyone who has used a range at home. The disadvantage of a coil burner is that they're not as durable as the alternative styles, and the intricate coil and well beneath it can be hard to clean. If you'll just use your burners occasionally and for lighter applications, these are just fine.
For more heavy-duty use, you should consider a flat or closed plate burner surface. These will either be made of cast iron, stainless steel, or glass ceramic. All three are more durable and better-suited for repeated use than a coil-style burner. Cast iron tops are rugged and offer great heat retention. This means that they will return to the set temperature quickly after you add cold cookware. The other type of flat cooktop is glass-ceramic. These can be easier to clean than cast iron because they're smoother, but the heat retention isn't quite as high and burnt-on foods can be tricky to remove from the cooking surface.
A hot top is similar to a griddle in appearance and construction, with a smooth, flat top made of metal, but it's designed for use with cookware, not for cooking foods on. The entire surface is heated, so unlike a burner surface, you're not restricted as to where you place your cookware; as long as you can set it down, it will get heated. This setup offers plenty of flexibility to cook with large and small cookware. The only downside is that these are not as energy-efficient as a burner, because you have to heat the whole surface at once. There is no option to heat just enough space for a single pot.
A French plate is sort of a cross between a hot top and a burner. It's a round surface with a heating element underneath the center. The temperature is highest in the middle and gets cooler near the edges, so you can move cookware to different areas to vary the heat it receives. This can be quicker and more convenient than having to adjust temperature controls, but tends to take up a lot of space.
Range controls are either manual or thermostatic. Manual controls are the most common, these are also referred to as infinite controls because they will allow infinite adjustments between the lowest and the highest heat intensities and do not correspond to any particular temperature. Manual controls are preferred by many experienced chefs, but there might be a learning curve for inexperienced staff.
Thermostatic controls provide a range of specific temperatures. You can set the control to the temperature you want, and a thermostat will keep the surface close to that temperature. Thermostatic controls are easy to understand and can take some of the guesswork out of the cooking process They're often preferred in kitchens with inexperienced cooks.
The first type is the standard oven. Sometimes called conventional ovens, these are similar to the ones found in households across America. These cook food with an element at the bottom of the cooking chamber. Because the heat comes from the bottom and is not spread out evenly, the heat in a standard oven tends to be uneven and cooking in them is slower than in other types.
The most common type of oven is convection. These use a fan to move heated air around the cooking chamber, spreading the heat out evenly. Temperatures in a convection oven are more even and consistent than in a standard oven. This reduces the likelihood of hot spots, so cooking is more predictable.
Some of these units also include warmer ovens, which are not used for baking but rather holding food and keeping it hot until it's time to serve. If you want to cook a lot of dishes ahead of time and have them ready for the rush, one of these could be useful.
The final option is a space saver oven, which is the same as a standard oven but more narrow. You'll sometimes find two together to form as a base for a range. These are great if you want to cook smaller quantities of food, just remember that they can't hold larger pans and you may run into some of the same inconsistent heating that you would with the larger ovens. Otherwise, they're a good choice if you'll need to heat small batches of food at different temperatures.
Finally, many of the ranges you'll find here will have no oven included at all. Instead, they have storage space beneath the cooktop, so you can store away pots, pans, or commonly used ingredients. Because many restaurants rely on standalone ovens to handle their baking, storage space would be much more useful than an extra oven that would hardly get used.