Cook and Hold Oven Buyers' Guide

Cook and Hold Ovens

Cook and hold ovens are designed to cook foods slowly at low temperatures, often with added humidity to help keep food juicy and tender. The oven will cook the food until it is done, as determined by cook time or internal temperature, then switch to a 'holding' mode, keeping the food warm and fresh until serving. This method can save a great deal on labor, allowing kitchens to prepare many of their popular dishes ahead of the rush and keep them hot until they're ready to finish or serve. It's also a fantastic way of preparing items that need to cook for a long period at lower temperatures, since they can be left in the oven overnight without overcooking and be held at safe temperatures for hours.

1. Decide on a Size

Cook and hold ovens come in three main sizes. Undercounter ovens are the smallest available, while half-size ovens are a little larger, usually 30- to 50-inches high. Full-sized units are the largest at about 75 inches tall. Most models are rated by their weight capacity and also by how many standard-sized pans they can hold, starting as low as 3 pans and going up to as many as 18.

Just as important as the size, however, is how the inside of your oven is set up. Some ovens are set up for racks, while others include pan slides. Most of each type are adjustable, and how flexible the oven allows you to be in arranging the slides and shelves can have a big impact on how much use you get out of the space it provides.

2. Select Your Heating Method

All cook and hold ovens are powered by either gas or electricity. Electricity is more energy efficient, but gas heats up faster, so you spend less time waiting on the oven to preheat. Electricity is the most commonly used, as it provides more mobility for the unit than gas. Mobile models can be brought out to the serving area, so that the food can be held at safe temperatures until it is ready to be served. They are also popular with caterers.

How the heat moves around in the oven is also important. Models that use natural convection use slightly higher temperatures and high humidity, at around 90 to 95 percent, to cook food. Forced convection, however, uses blowers to move the air around, and cooks at lower temperatures and with less humidity. In most cases, higher humidity will mean you get higher yield out of your product, as the moisture loss is minimized.

3. Choose Your Controls

It is important to purchase a cook and hold oven that features controls that allow you to get the most use out of your equipment. Some ovens have solid-state controls, such as dials and switches, but many manufacturers have begun incorporating digital controls into their design. Many digitally-controlled machines include a programmable menu, allowing you to start a cook cycle for any menu item at the push of a button. The cooking can be done for a set amount of time, and some ovens offer the option to cook until food reaches a certain internal temperature, as determined by a probe that comes with the oven. These often have a dial or digital readout on the outside of the oven so that you can see at a glance the temperature of the food inside.

Some manufacturers include humidity controls on their units, such as the CVap, or Controlled Vapor Technology, from Winston. This allows users to determine what humidity level is best for each batch of food they cook. Others, such as Alto Shaam, keep the natural moisture in the food rather than using added humidity.

4. Learn About Special Features

Different brands of cook and hold ovens offer a variety of other features that may influence your buying decision. Not all units have drip trays, and some only have external trays. Internal removable drip trays can make cleaning your machine much faster and easier.

Also be aware of the ventilation requirements of the models you are considering; all gas models will require ventilation, while local codes often allow for most electric ovens to do without a hood.

Some models come with reversible doors, which may come in handy if you have to move locations or if the oven is going to be mobile.

If you like to keep an eye on your food as it cooks, some models offer windows in their doors.

Ovens Food Service Technology Center. Accessed August 2015.