Commercial Microwaves Buyers' Guide
While many chefs disdain the use of microwaves in commercial kitchens, their convenience cannot be denied. A commercial microwave can allow you to keep up with demand, get food out to customers faster, and ensure you are delivering food at the proper temperatures. Even if not used for cooking or reheating, a microwave is indispensable for defrosting frozen ingredients quickly or melting butter.
While it may be tempting to use a residential microwave instead to save on the initial cost, commercial microwaves offer many benefits that make the initial investment more than worth it. Commercial models have internal stirrers to ensure food is heated evenly, and are tested more stringently for increased safety due to their heavy usage. Because of this, a residential microwave may cause problems with health inspections and insurance policies. Read more to learn about commercial microwaves, so you can find the perfect fit for your commercial kitchen.
A commercial microwave's power is determined by its power, which can range from 1000 to 3200 watts. Higher wattage models will produce higher output and faster cooking times, and can handle more frequent use. Microwave power is divided into three main groups, though there may be some wattage variance within each group.
- Light-duty microwaves are ideal for low-volume operations such as breakrooms, hotel rooms, and concession stands. Power-wise, these are very similar to residential microwaves at 1100 watts or less, but they meet the more exacting standards required of commercial foodservice equipment.
- Medium-duty microwaves range from 1200 to 1800 watts and are suited for most restaurants, convenience stores, concessions stands, and breakrooms that see heavy traffic.
- Heavy-duty units start at 1800 watts and top out at 3200 watts. Because of the immense amount of power these models use, they can heat food much faster than a light-duty unit, and are often used in schools, hospitals, or other high-volume foodservice operations.
Most commercial microwaves are made to accommodate either a full or half-size pan. These terms refer to plastic food pans, which are 12 x 20 inches at full size, not an 18 x 26 sheet pan. Some compact models are smaller than the half-pan size, so pay close attention to the interior dimensions to ensure the unit you choose will be able to handle the volume your kitchen produces.
The exterior dimensions are also important to consider. Some models have the control panel mounted on top of the cabinet, while others have it mounted on the side. The latter makes the unit wider, but those are also shorter, so they more easily fit under cabinets or other equipment. Widths vary from 161⁄2 inches to 223⁄4 inches. Some models are also stackable, which can save a lot of space if you need multiple microwaves.
A commercial microwave will have either dial or touchpad controls. Units with dial controls are easy to operate and are usually cheaper, making them very appealing to foodservice operators on a budget. However, touchpad controls often come with the benefit of being programmable. A programmable microwave can be of great benefit in a busy kitchen with many recipes that require the use of the microwave, particularly if the location has high employee turnover so that some users may have little training.
Commercial microwaves have several special features available. Many have glass doors, allowing you to keep an eye on food as it cooks, and ADA-compliant braille touchpads are also common. Most microwaves come with an air filter to help protect the unit's internal components, and many have 'clean filter' reminders that either show up at pre-determined intervals or can be programmed to show up at times you decide on based on how frequently your unit is used.
Steamer microwaves are also available, with a shelf that allows you to put a pan of water underneath the cooking food to help retain more moisture. These models can also be used to double the space you have for cooking, as both shelves can be used for food as well. These units have magnetrons above and below the cooking chamber to ensure even heating.
Another helpful feature available on some microwaves is varying cooking powers. This feature is often offered in conjunction with the ability to program cooking in stages, meaning you could program a recipe to shift from heating on low power for defrosting to a higher power for cooking without having to manually change the settings between the two. This convenient feature can save a lot of time in a busy kitchen and make it much easier for new employees to follow recipes that require multiple heat levels.