Conveyor Oven Buyers' Guide
The conveyor oven is prized in restaurant kitchens that demand speed, simplicity, and efficiency for baking dishes in high volumes. Chain restaurants especially depend on this type of oven to churn out dozens or hundreds of similar or identical products each hour. Pizza is a classic example of the type of item that bakes well in an oven like this. Sandwiches are another, but virtually any dish that bakes in 20 minutes or less can be sent through a conveyor oven with satisfactory results.
Conveyor ovens owe their ease of use to the fact that users need simply to set the conveyor speed and temperature, then, after a warm-up period, place items on the input end of the conveyor belt. The belt will take foods through the baking chamber and to the other end where staff can receive them. With the right setup, it's nearly impossible to overbake items using this method because they exit the baking chamber onto a landing platform, which can be expanded by installing the oven next to a work table or countertop to collect pans and dishes as they exit.
Conveyor ovens are sorted by the length of their belts, which will also determine the volume of throughput that can be achieved by the unit. Near the smaller end of the spectrum are 31- to 36-inch belts that are ideal for lower-volume venues like snack bars and pubs, or can be a solution for preparing appetizers and other small batches of snacks. The most popular models have 40- to 50-inch belts and are large enough to be used as the primary oven in busy pizzerias and cafés. Establishments with an especially high-volume should consider an oven with a 78- or 80-inch conveyor belt.
Conveyor oven belt widths are another point to consider. The most popular belt width is 16 inches, but it's not uncommon to find larger ovens with belts that are nearly twice that wide. This dimension will determine the maximum width of products that the oven can accommodate. Wider belts can also allow two or more pans to be sent through side-by-side, essentially doubling the capacity of the oven.
The majority of conveyor ovens have a single-piece belt to carry food through the cooking chamber, but split-belt models are available. In a split-belt conveyor oven, the two belt sections can be set at different speeds so users are able to send items that need to bake longer on the slower belt and items that bake more quickly on the faster belt. While 50/50 splits are common, with the width of each section being the same, 70/30 splits are popular in kitchens that need to send smaller batches through at a different speed than main dishes. The latter type could be used to send sandwiches through on the small belt at a quicker pace while pizzas are sent through on the wider belt on a slower setting.
One last dimension to keep in mind is the height of the product opening that food passes through to enter the cooking chamber. A common size is 3 inches, while some are adjustable from an inch up to 4 or more. Smaller openings bring increased energy efficiency by keeping more hot air inside the oven, but limit the thickness of items the equipment can accommodate.
Conveyor Oven Control Options
The simplest conveyor ovens have mechanical controls consisting of basic dial timers and thermostats that adjust the belt speed and temperature of the oven, respectively. More high-tech models come with electronic controls, often with easy-to-read LCD displays and touch pad controls that offer superior water and damage resistance.
Electronic interfaces often accompany computerized controls that bring with them several time-saving features. Among those are programmable settings that can store cook times and speeds in built-in oven memory, which can recall those at the press of a button so the correct cooking procedures can be used each time an item is prepared. Another common feature on ovens with digital controls is onboard diagnostics that monitor for problems with the oven's performance and display trouble codes to help operators and service technicians rapidly correct issues as they arise.
Many conveyor ovens also fall under the category of high-speed oven because they incorporate impingement cooking to supplement the standard convection heating. Impingement is a method of forcing heated air through perforations to create high-velocity jets aimed at food to break up the "cold halo" surrounding it that forms a barrier to heat. That method results in accelerated cooking times compared to ovens that rely solely on convection.
Most traditional cooking equipment, including the majority of conveyor ovens, must be located underneath a hood to allow grease-laden vapors and other potentially-harmful emissions to be vented from the kitchen. This limits where the equipment can be placed and may be prohibitive in operations where there isn't enough room under the hood. To solve those problems, conveyor oven manufacturers have developed ventless versions of their equipment that are not required to be installed underneath a hood. Instead, these models include built-in catalytic converters that scrub the air in the ovens free of problematic emissions before the air is exhausted or recirculated, meaning they can be installed virtually anywhere in the kitchen or even behind service counters.
Another major benefit provided by some conveyor oven models is that they can be stacked on top of each other, as many as three units high to help conserve kitchen floor space. This means that your output can be easily increased without the need for additional equipment as the popularity of your baked items grows or as you expand your menu.