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For many foodservice operators, the holiday season is one of the most profitable times of the year.
Types: As their name implies, combi ovens combine various technologies to cook food. Combis can act as a convection oven, convection oven with moisture, steamer, low-temperature steamer/sous vide cooker, combination oven using heat and steam and as a re-thermalizer. Some of the newer applications include frying without oil (or bake frying), proofing dough, serving as a cook and hold oven and cooking with a temperature probe. Combi ovens can run on either gas or electricity.
Capacities/Footprints: Capacity for a combi oven ranges from six half-sheet pans to 40 full-size steam pans. Combi ovens can actually save kitchen space by combining the functions of two (or more) pieces of equipment into one. These units also can be double stacked, providing more production capacity in a smaller footprint.
Energy Source(s): Combi ovens that run on electricity require 3.9 Kw and 208V for smaller, countertop units and as much as 75 Kw and between 208V and 220V for larger models. Gas units, all floor models, range in Btu requirements from 45,500 to more than 170,000.
Standard Features: Units include steam venting, stainless steel wire shelves and side racks, support rails, adjustable legs and a detatchable meat probe.
New Features/Technology/Options: While combi ovens are complex pieces of equipment, their user interfaces are becoming more icon driven to facilitate greater ease of use. In addition, many units allow operators to pre-program recipes, making the units easier for staff to use and allowing for greater consistency when cooking food.
Prime Functions: The combination of speed and versatility make these units right for high production environments, ranging from school foodservice to fine dining.
Key Kitchen Applications: Combi ovens can quickly and efficiently prepare food items, ranging from roasted meats to steamed vegetables to puff pastries. Simply put, anything a foodservice operator can do in a convection oven or steamer they can do in a combi oven. This includes roasting, steaming and even oven frying. Because these units allow for precise temperature control, they are also suitable for sous vide.
Purchasing Guidelines: A variety of factors contribute to determining the correct number of combi ovens needed and what size those units should be. When purchasing a combi oven, foodservice operators should consider the type of food they are cooking, the anticipated volume and any other considerations. Operators should work with a foodservice consultant, rep or chef to help determine what they need.
Combi ovens require space under the kitchen's exhaust hood, so it is important to make sure enough room exists before purchasing it. Because the unit can combine the features and functionality of other pieces of equipment, those items may prove to be redundant, thus freeing some space beneath the hood.
In addition, the unit requires access to a water supply, drainage, electricity and, perhaps, gas. When deciding where to place the unit, it is also important to allow sufficient clearance for the combi oven's doors.
Look at the operation's volume before deciding on oven size and type. Smaller facilities need to factor in catering needs, if applicable.
Maintenance Requirements: Foodservice operators should hose out their units and wipe the gaskets at the end of the day. Most units feature their own cleaning cycles, which operators can use each day, too. When the unit requires heavier cleaning, operators can use dishwasher cleaning pellets and factory developed cleaners, per the directions outlined in the manufacturer supplied owner's manual.
With boiler models, standard boiler maintenance applies. And operators should periodically delime the cooking cavity.
It is important to test the foodservice operation's water quality, paying particular attention to solids and minerals, to ensure it meets the specifications established by the combi oven manufacturer. Water that falls outside of the manufacturer specifications can cause the combi oven's inside cavity to rust and fail. How often the water needs to be tested will vary by location.
Food Safety and Sanitation Essentials: Combi ovens can help a foodservice operator function in a more food safe manner by allowing staff to cook precisely to the proper time and temperature, holding product at food safe temperatures and reducing food handling by staff, which takes risk out of the system. In addition, many combi units will record HAACP data.