A Guide to Convection Ovens
Convection ovens are the workhorses of many commercial kitchens, quickly and consistently cooking many items you'll prepare. For example, three racks of cookies will bake evenly, and meat roasts more quickly while browning perfectly. You can even reduce the time it takes to bake many items by as much as 20 percent over a conventional oven.
Not only do these machines bake evenly and quickly, they can also warm, roast, and rethermalize. Unlike conventional – also called standard – ovens that use radiant heat, convection ovens work by using one or two fans to circulate hot air within the cabinet. When choosing a restaurant convection oven, there are many options, limitations, and benefits you should weigh.
Capacity & Size
Pan Capacity: The number of pans you need your oven to accommodate will largely depend on the number of sheet pans you have. Each deck will have 9 to 12 rack guides. If you're baking cookies, you can usually put in 11 full size sheet pans in a full size oven, but deeper pans or items that will need to rise may require you to bake fewer items within the cabinet.
Depth of pans: A commercial convection oven will hold pans that are either 21⁄2 inches deep or "bakery depth" of 4 inches. You may opt for bakery depth if you'll be making a lot of bread, as the deeper pan allows for better air flow and allows for the side-by-side placement of pans.
Number of ovens: In order to save space in your kitchen, ovens can be stacked up to two decks high.
Built to Bake: Oven Construction
The exterior of the cabinet will be made of stainless or painted steel and will be bolted or welded onto a steel frame. Bolted units are typically more economical and may be easier to ship, while welded units bring a higher price tag but are stronger, more durable, and should last longer. The galvanized steel used on some models will be dipped in zinc to inhibit the growth of rust, but this type of metal scratches more easily than stainless steel does. The zinc provides a single layer of protection that will wear away over time and when it's scratched may rust. Stainless steel's protection, on the other hand, goes all the way through to prevent rust, no matter how deeply it's scratched.
The three interior options are aluminized steel, porcelain, and stainless steel, with aluminized steel interiors generally being the most common and most economical. Steel adds strength to the workability of aluminum to create a strong interior that will hold up better than its porcelain counterpart.
The slickness of porcelain interiors helps reduce the buildup of bacteria and food, and also makes the interiors of these units easier to wipe down. But, the porcelain can crack or wear out over time, which can mean costly repair bills.
Stainless steel interiors are overall more durable than porcelain, but it does have a higher initial price point. Stainless steel will be durable and stain- and corrosion-resistant. Its smooth surface is also easy to wipe clean.
No matter what interior material you opt for, we always recommend units with coved corners, which are rounded, rather than angular. They eliminate the most common places spills can collect and harbor bacterial growth. Additionally, coved corners help maximize airflow, further improving heat consistency and speed.
Doors undergo a ton of use and abuse in the kitchen. There are some options available to make your oven's doors stand the test of time.
Tempered glass doors and solid doors each have strengths and weaknesses. Tempered glass doors allow viewing of the contents without opening the doors, allowing the user to check the product without letting heat out of the unit. Besides protecting your baked goods, that also helps keep ambient heat to a minimum.
Solid doors may offer more heat retention and durability. They also tend to be less expensive to purchase; however, you may find that repeated opening of the door simply to see how dishes are coming along may cost more in the long run through added utility bills.
You might also look into units that have triple-hinged doors for additional durability. In order to keep your operators happy, you really should consider choosing a model that has dependent doors so that opening both doors just requires one hand. In the case of independent doors, they offer the ability to open only one door at a time, reducing heat loss when adding, removing, or checking products. But, it's essentially impossible to open them with one hand.
Controls & Technology Options
Oven Fan Options
One of the more important options when choosing a convection oven is how you need the fan to function. Depending on the needs of your kitchen, you may need to be able to disable the fan for certain recipes. For example, cake and soufflé batters may not hold up to the force of the fan, which could ruin these dishes.
You may want a fan that gives you more than one speed setting, so you can cook delicate items under a low fan and more sturdy items with the fan on high. Getting an even bake when the fan is on low may require the user to turn the pan during the cook time, but there are some models that will turn the pans for you. These are typically used by bakers, that need to be able to cook with the fan at low speed while still getting consistency.
Temperature & Time Regulators
It's important to remember that a commercial convection oven will cook foods more quickly than conventional ovens. To compensate for that, some models have a feature that automatically adjusts the time of your recipes. For instance, if the recipe calls for something to bake for two hours, you would enter two hours into the unit's computer, and the unit will automatically set the time that would be necessary with the quick cooking of the convection oven.
A core probe will offer the most precise indication of when recipes have reached the appropriate temperature.
Many units will have highly technical controls with programming capabilities. They have options that will allow you to program times and automatically rotate shelves. These units are ideal for creating consistency for restaurants with unskilled labor or high turnover rates. However, they may have a slightly wider body to allow room for the computerized control systems.
Manual controls, on the other hand, give the user more flexibility for individualized cooking. They're great for and even preferred by more experienced chefs who want precise control over every setting. However, they may be a little more difficult for inexperienced cooks to get the hang of.
A few manufacturers offer a mechanism that can be programmed to automatically turn racks for you, which allows for limited user involvement while still producing the even results you're looking for. Some also have designs that will offer your guests the ability to watch your products bake, if you're interested in showcasing the baking process.
Other Convection Oven Features
Cook & Hold
Many units will offer a cook and hold feature that will switch the oven to holding mode to keep the food at the desired serving temperature without continuing to cook it. Typically these models will have an alarm that will notify the operator when the food is ready.
Steaming & Dehydrating
To create artisan crusts on bread, and to keep items like turkey and beef moist while baking, some units feature a steam option. Ovens that have this capability will need to have easy access to a water connection, and you may want to opt for a water filter or softener to limit scale from harming your oven. On the other side, dry convection ovens are ideal for dehydrating meat, vegetables, and fruit as well. Of course, both types will provide the consistency and speed that are the hallmarks of this type of cooking equipment.
Gas or Electric Power
There are benefits and drawbacks to both gas and electric models. You'll need an electrical outlet, regardless of the model you choose, as the fan and controls will run off electricity.
Your ability to choose a natural gas unit will depend mainly on whether the utility is even offered in your area. An LP model is a good choice if you have room to store a tank. Electricity is generally available everywhere, but the cost may be prohibitive. Check with the U.S. Energy Information Administration to see what the rates are for each power option in your state. Gas will generally heat the unit more quickly, while electric models tend to be more flexible in terms of installation and often provide more even temperatures.