Cook and Hold Ovens

Types: As their name implies, cook and hold ovens allow foodservice operators to cook food products at a relatively low temperature and then hold these items until it is time to serve them to customers. The market consists of two basic unit types: those that use radiant heat and those that employ convection.

In units that use radiant heat, the air does not move within the cavity, unlike convection units that may use a fan to generate airflow.

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Capacities: Cook and hold ovens can hold anywhere from 25 to 240 lbs. of food, depending on the size of the unit.

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Energy Sources: Because these ovens retain heat well they tend to use relatively low levels of electricity to cook and hold menu items. If an operator uses one of these ovens on a serving line, which may require staff to open and close the doors a lot, then electricity consumption could increase.

Standard Features: Units tend to feature stainless steel construction and insulated cabinets, which allow the cook and hold ovens to retain heat rather well and keep from being hot to the touch. In addition, these low-temperature ovens do not generate a lot of heat outside of the cavity, which is why they tend not to require any ventilation. This keeps operating costs low and allows operators to place the units where they deem most useful.

Cook and hold ovens tend to feature stainless steel interiors and exteriors, wire racks, drip pans, and heavy-duty casters for easy movement.

Purchasing Guidelines: Exactly how many cook and hold ovens are appropriate for a given foodservice operation depends on production volume and what menus will be cooked in these units.

Kitchen Applications: These units allow for precise cooking of various menu items and offer operators the ability to hold the food product at a specific temperature until it is time for service. Most units transition from cooking to holding modes on their own. Oftentimes, foodservice professionals will refer to these units as prime rib ovens, overlooking the many different items they can cook in there. Cook and hold ovens can cook all proteins, hold convenience items like baked potatoes and tamales, and bake a cake.

Other applications suitable for cook and hold ovens include: braising, sous vide-style cooking, proofing bread dough, and re-heating convenience items. The units' low and slow cooking process allows them to make tougher cuts of meat tender.

Most units today allow the operator to cook by either time or by probe. Cooking by probe gives the operator more precise control by changing processes from cooking to holding when the menu items reach a desired temperature.

Pass-through units are good for use on serving lines, holding convenience items. Kitchen staff can load from one side and staff plates from the other.

Maintenance Requirements: The sturdy construction and generally low-tech nature of these units allows them to last upwards of 20 or 30 years. Many manufacturers offer a lifetime warranty on the heating element. Many foodservice operators will run these ovens 24 hours a day, seven days a week, only turning them off to clean them. To maintain these units, periodically clean them out following the manufacturers' suggested procedures and use of chemicals. When the heater cable stops working the unit will need to be replaced.

Food Safety and Sanitation: The lowest temperature at which these units can safely hold food is 142 degrees F. Timers and electric probes can help determine when products are done. In addition, smooth interiors and coved corners prevent grease and food build-up.
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