Microwaves are a steadfast part of most commercial kitchens, making it vital for operators to ensure the models they use are appropriate for the needs of their business. In order to make your purchasing decisions easier, we gathered the UK’s top microwave experts together to answer your most pertinent questions.
I’ve seen other caterers using domestic microwaves. What is the single biggest factor that sets a commercial unit apart from a domestic one?
Most domestic models have turntables. Commercial models do not. Also, to withstand the repeated use and prevent a potentially dangerous drop-off in power output, commercial units will often have two magnetrons — the devices that produce the microwave power. “A domestic microwave will not maintain the same output power after repeated use, leading to the risk of food not being properly heated through before serving,” warns Scott Purdom, commercial manager at Daewoo Electronics. “At the very least, this can result in food being sent back. In extreme cases, it could even lead to the risk of food poisoning.” It is also worth noting that domestic models will have no warranty for commercial usage.
I use my microwave dozens of times a day, seven days a week. How long can I expect it to last?
A commercial microwave oven should last for a considerable amount of time if it is operated and maintained correctly, especially as it should have undergone stringent test procedures. “Commercial microwaves are required to be tested approximately 200,000 times for durability as safety regulation,” says Daewoo’s Scott Purdom. In order to maximise service life, staff must be trained to operate, clean and look after the oven correctly. “Typically, with average usage, and if looked after and serviced annually, the expected life should be at least five years,” suggests CESA chairman Glenn Roberts. “If used in a very heavy-duty environment, then this could be reduced to three years.”
Is there a correlation between the power and internal capacity of a microwave? For instance, if I want a microwave that holds larger portion sizes, does it require more power to do so?
“It is often the case that the higher the output on the microwave, the larger the cavity,” says Ian Harbinson, product marketing manager at Burco. “So, for example, a low powered microwave is likely to be smaller in size than a medium powered microwave. Similarly, a high powered microwave over 1900w is likely to be larger again. There is no industry standard when it comes to the size of a microwave, however it is commonplace that more powerful microwaves are larger in size.” Kurran Gadhvi, marketing manager at Valera, believes operators shouldn’t get too hung up on power versus capacity: “The larger the capacity, the more power is needed ideally but the most important factor is the consistency of cooking across a larger surface area to avoid cold spots,” he advises. And Ray Hall, managing director of Sharp microwaves supplier RH Hall, notes: “Most microwaves have a fairly standard-sized cavity, regardless of the power output. However, there are some machines on the market that are designed to take multiple or large portions for batch output, which start with a minimum power output of 1800w.”
What factors determine the power ratings that come with microwaves, and can this be distinctly categorised into ‘low’, ‘medium’ and ‘heavy’ duty?
A true light duty commercial microwave oven, typically with a power rating of 1000w to 1200w is suitable for applications like point-of-service heating, desert / sweet dish reheating and in low volume restaurants where speed isn’t critical. The most popular heavy duty models have power outputs of 1800w / 1900w, though they can vary from 1400w to 3200w. “The build quality and components of the machine will determine which category a microwave falls into,” says RH Hall’s Ray Hall. “However, operators should not assume that the power of microwave they choose is a testament of its duty rating — the components and build quality have a huge impact on this. Avoid cheap imported models and always check the warranty. A truly heavy duty machine with a high output should come with at least three years on-site warranty.”
Is a 1000w microwave likely to be less rugged or durable than a 1900w model? Or is the difference in rating purely a question of power and speed?
A 1000w microwave will be of a lighter duty and less rugged than a medium or heavy duty 1500w to 1900w model. If, however, a 1000w microwave is used correctly and appropriately, the life period should be the same as a higher-powered model. “The durability of any microwave, whether it’s a 1000w model or a more powerful 1900w model, depends on how it is used, but generally the difference between any commercial microwave is that the higher the wattage, the faster the food will cook,” explains Lysette Geraghty, product manager — microwaves at Samsung. Pat Bray, MD of Regale Microwave Ovens, advises: “A 1000w only requires a single magnetron and high voltage circuit. Some are only ‘uprated domestic microwaves’ so care should be taken to choose a ‘branded’ low powered model that has been specifically designed for a commercial environment.”
What’s more important when choosing the right model for my business: How frequently I intend to use it? How much food I want to cook at once? How quickly I want it to work?
If you need to use it frequently, cook a lot of portions or want it to work quickly, you’ll want a model with oomph, insists CESA’s Glenn Roberts. “A higher power model gives more flexibility, since you can always reduce the power. You can’t increase the power of a lower powered model!” Flexibility and anticipated usage are the watchwords for Daewoo’s Scott Purdom: “Will the business grow and will the microwave under consideration be fit for purpose in six months or a year? Many kitchens will decide they need two or more ovens. Specific ovens can be stacked two high, which is major benefit in a space-limited kitchen.” Burco’s Ian Harbinson thinks the key factor that should influence the size and power of a microwave is the quantity of food being produced. “Sites looking to use regularly thoughout a service will require a larger, more powerful unit than those who will only be using the appliance on occasion. For those looking to serve a delicious soup a couple of times an hour, a 1000w microwave will be more than capable, while a larger business regularly using a microwave to heat meals and larger food items, a 1800w microwave or larger would be needed.”
It’s been stated that the feature that operators should pay closest attention to when buying a microwave is the number of magnetrons it has. Is that true or false?
“On low powered ovens there will only be one magnetron; on 1500w to 1900w there will be two magnetrons and two high voltage circuits,” explains Regale’s Pat Bray. “It is important that when there are two magnetrons, one magnetron should be placed at the top of the microwave and the second one under the base plate. This will ensure a better cook pattern across the food, especially if two plates are stacked one above the other.” In the grand scheme of considerations, Burco’s Ian Harbinson suggests operators should be basing their choice on other factors. “In the majority of cases, I would say this is not relevant to an operator. The two main factors that an operator should pay close attention to when purchasing a new microwave are the wattage and the usage levels. The magnetrons are not usually stated in the specification of a unit when purchasing.” Valera’s Kurran Ghadvi agrees: “The number of magnetrons is important, but also to ensure it is top and bottom feed for consistency of cooking for higher power rated microwaves. I don’t think it is the main feature, but it is in the top three.”
Microwaves can get dirty quickly. Is it important to make sure my oven has a removable cavity liner?
Food debris build-up will cause cavity burn-ups and will lead to reheat time issues. Problems caused by a microwave oven not being kept clean will not be covered under the maker’s warranty. “Some brands offer a removable cavity liner as an accessory. If used correctly and kept clean, it will help protect the microwave oven cavity,” agrees Glenn Roberts. Regale’s Pat Bray says it isn’t so much that microwaves get dirty quickly, it is the fact that food particles splash onto the ceiling plate and start to burn holes, ceramic glass base plates get broken and lens light covers become dry and start to peel off — all of which he says are unlikely to be covered under the manufacturer’s warranty. “Most of the major restaurant groups and brewery groups realise the savings on repair costs from having a cavity liner pre-fitted into the microwave. And by keeping the microwave clean, it can help to extend the life of the oven.”
Some microwaves come with manual dial controls and others with programmable touch controls. What are the pros and cons of each?
“There are pros and cons for both manual and programmable controls, and businesses need to decide what will be better for them in the long run,” says Samsung’s Lysette Geraghty. “Manual controls are easy to use, but are limited in relation to menu options, whereas programmable controls offer a greater choice of cooking options, allowing them to be used for a variety of recipes. Though, with more options comes greater complexity that could make it harder to use.” Valera’s Kurran Ghadvi adds: “Programmable controls help with major chains and for menus that are the same all day long to reduce human error. Manual dials are good for when people have a heavy change of usage throughout the day, giving the chef a bit more flexibility.”